Of Eggs and Baskets

I want to be a fantasy illustrator, creating interesting and entertaining works for the public to enjoy while they play the games and read the books they love. That is what drives me and what gets me out of bed in the morning.

But there is something that causes a little bit of fear, too. Something that sends me back to bed some mornings when I feel defeated and unmotivated. It’s the acknowledgement that the freelance life can be unpredictable and extremely difficult to maintain if you don’t have a steady stream of clients coming in at all times. Chatting with other freelance artists has taught me that being a freelancer is like living on a roller coaster, with highs and lows and twists and dips and loops. And that’s great, I love that about freelancing.

However, it’s also bad in that if we’re to make freelance life our entire career, it can be extremely stressful and sometimes it can cause us to downright fail if we let it.

How do we avoid those times in which our clients have all but vanished at the same time (it happens) and our bank accounts reach that horribly ugly number – 0? How do we enjoy the freelance life if we’re constantly struggling to find the next client?

One way I’ve learned of from much more successful art entrepreneurs than I, and am currently implementing myself, is Multiple Revenue Streams. Also known as “putting your eggs in various baskets.”

What this means is that while Fantasy Character Illustration may be my main objective (as an example), I need to develop other ways for income to be generated that doesn’t rely on clients hiring me for specific assignments. There are a plethora of ways to do this, and I can’t begin to list all of them, but I’ll talk about my plans and maybe they’ll help you to find your way, if you need it.

Tawny’s Plans For Not Starving

I. First and foremost, I’ve built a portfolio that is beginning to strengthen. This is very important, especially when you’re just starting out. You have to have work you are comfortable showing to potential clients and art directors. One key tip is to make sure you are only showing work you want to be hired to do. What this means is if you want to paint characters but hate painting creatures (again, just an example), do not have creatures in your portfolio! You will invariably be hired for the things you don’t like if those things are in your portfolio. If you enjoy environments, and that’s what you want to paint, only show those off! This will save you a lot of frustration and heartache in the long run.

If you’re not sure WHAT you should have in your portfolio, because you’re not sure what you love to draw, I have  a quick exercise for you. I totally stole this idea from Char Reed, but I’m sure she won’t mind my sharing it with you:

  1. Get out a piece of paper and a pen.
  2. Write down 10 things you love to paint.
  3. Make sure the 10 things you write down are things you enjoy creating and won’t get sick of, at least for a while.
  4. Organize the work you already have that fits those categories.
  5. Create new works based on that list.
  6. Show the world your portfolio.
  7. ???
  8. Profit.

This is the method I’ve started to use, and guess what? I’ve started to get work based on what I put in that portfolio. Try it. The worst thing that can happen is you create new portfolio pieces you love. Not a bad fail, if you ask me.

II. Another path I’m taking that I’m hoping will generate some followers and potentially some income, is sketch cards and traditional portraits.

a. People love sketch cards of their favorite characters, and it can be a relatively quick way to produce new art that you can turn around and sell for a few bucks. Depending on your brand, the character, the client, and a few other factors, you could potentially sell a sketch card for upwards of $25. That’s not terrible for something that ideally took less than an hour to create.

b. Custom traditional portraits seem to get a lot of attention from collectors and the public. Sometimes, the general public doesn’t really understand digital art and how it’s produced, so they tend to put a little bit more value on traditional drawings. Again depending on various factors, some artists are able to sell portraits of characters, celebrities, and people for a couple of hundred dollars each. My plan is to create portraits on toned tan paper using black Prismacolor and white charcoal pencil. I just love the look of it, so I enjoy the process of creating them.

An added benefit of these types of art is that they offer me a creative outlet that gets me away from the computer for a while when I’m feeling burned out. I can also sit and work on these while spending time with family and friends. We will all sit down to watch some TV or hang out and I can sketch at the same time. I won’t feel the guilt of “wasting” time and it’ll cause me to be more productive! Win/win.

III. Passive Income. A while back, while “productively procrastinating”, I learned how to create neat looking documents in Adobe Illustrator. I love to-do lists and other organization type printables, so I made a few of my own. I listed them on Etsy and did a little marketing. Very minimal marketing, actually. I posted about them on Facebook and Twitter and then wandered back to working on my character illustrations.

Every couple of weeks, though… someone will buy one. They’re printables, so once they’re listed and the file is attached, the customer can immediately download the thing and enjoy their product. I don’t do anything on my end.

So, my plan is to create a few new printables every couple of months, keep my shop updated (Etsy items “expire” and you have to re-list them periodically), and market them a bit more as I have time.

In a crunch, I can ramp this up and push them more, which will create more of a customer base and bring in more income. I just haven’t done that yet. There are other ways of creating passive income, mine is just one example. I’ve seen a plethora of artists create tutorials and post them on gumroad. Once the thing is created and posted and available for download, it becomes a source of passive income.

Have you heard of any other ways to generate passive income? If so, share them in the comments! I may create a blog post in the future with a list of ways to do this.


Basically, these are some ideas I’ve had about how to take my career to the next level. If I’m distracted by the fear of not finding clients and not being able to pay my bills, I won’t be productive. I have to find ways that are creative, related to art, and interesting that will help to keep me on track. These things also serve as a way to give me a break from digital painting while also remaining productive and making progress.

I hope this post helps and I wish everyone the best of luck in finding multiple baskets for all of your colorful eggs!

Always Be A Student

I just realized I never posted a blog entry last week. What in the, I say, what in the hell is up?!

Anyway. I’ve been pondering the concept of “always be a student” for a few days now. I was doing my morning “run” – and by run I mean shuffling down the street like C3PO on a sand dune – and it occurred to me that I was enjoying the training I was putting myself through.

See, I don’t like running. I’ve never liked running. But I love the concept of clearing your head while cruising down a back country road, fresh air, birds, etc. I also like the idea of jogging down a sidewalk in a cute little town or something. The concept of running has always appealed to me. So, I set out to learn how to run properly so I could actually enjoy it.

I realized while running the other day, concentrating on my breath count and rhythm, that I was enjoying the learning I was doing. I was thoroughly engrossed in the progress I was making. It was then that I noticed that I enjoy the process of learning in a whole lot of other areas of my life.

As I continued to breathe in for 4 counts and breathe out for 4 counts repeatedly, I thought of other things I’d decided I wanted to learn over the last couple of years. I very recently taught myself how to French braid my kid’s hair. Now that I can do that, I’ve learned how to do dutch braids and side braids and fishtail braids…

I taught myself how to cook. That one took years. I failed so often it’s not even funny. But now I feel like I am a pretty decent cook and I love finding new recipes.

In relation to art, I’ve enjoyed learning from others how to paint digitally. Composition, color theory, perspective, anatomy, etc., are all things I’ve had to learn on my own through watching and learning from other artists. The thrill I get from realizing I understand a concept I didn’t previously grasp is exhilarating. It’s a moment in which I can almost physically feel that I’ve learned.

I made a decision at IlluxCon that I wanted to start oil painting. I didn’t know the first thing about oil painting and was actually quite intimidated by all the paints and mediums (wth is a medium?!) and thinners and chemicals. So I started asking around for tips and techniques. I bought Patrick Jones’s book about oil painting techniques. I bought paints and brushes and boards and canvas paper. I just jumped in. I decided to do what I do best which is to fail until I succeed.

I don’t view failure as a negative. I love failure. I live to fail. Every failure is an opportunity to learn. An opportunity to strengthen myself in whatever endeavor I’m attempting to take on.

I’ve been failing like a champ at oil painting!

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But then I succeeded a little bit.

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That gave me the confidence I needed to fail on a larger scale/project:

Underpainting for a personal project

Underpainting for a personal project

Laying down paint

Laying down paint

I’ve got a long way to go, but in the meantime, I’m still learning. If we master something, what’s the point of continuing? To remain good at it? Why not keep pushing ourselves to see what else we can do with the thing we’ve mastered? For me, that seems to be what it’s all about. To always be a student, and to love every minute, every failure, every success, everything.

Do I have days where I want to quit and throw things? I certainly do. I get extremely frustrated and discouraged. When that happens, I go back to something that I know I enjoy and that I know how to do, for a little bit of a “win”.

When all else fails, draw Batman. Or Darth Maul. Or Maleficent.

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Draw what you love, draw what brings you back to your love of the thing that has you frustrated, and it will all be alright. I promise!