Friday, May 29, 2009

Time Management & Sketchbook Meanderings

There has not been much spare time to fritter away these days. The next few months look to be a fairly tight packed schedule. Two more Dreamscapes chapters in June, matting prints (which I hateHateHATE doing) to ship to DragonCon (alas I will be missing this year for the first time in 9 years), L5R cards that I had committed to, and a couple of private commissions.

How does one manage time as a freelance artist?

Well first of all you need to be of a personality type that can handle self-discipline. I think that perhaps might be the most important quality you need to make a living with art, after a love of creating art in the first place. You need to be able to handle drawing and painting for X hours every day, as well as manage the random other less fun aspects: tracking orders and jobs, responding to emails, keeping up your website, dealing with complexities of tax as self-employed (or a corporation). Because here's the thing - if you don't do it, you can't sit around twiddling your thumbs hoping that someone else will. There's no coworker to pick up your slack. There isn't anyone else.

I'm fortunate enough to have had a programming background from my pre-full-time-artist days. As a result, I've been able to write my own system that keeps track of due dates and pending jobs I've got going at any one time. Generally when I have a job incoming, I estimate how long it will take me, and whether I can fit it into the current schedule while working within the client's timeline. Sometimes the timelines just don't mesh and I have to regretfully tell them so.

I like to give myself some nice padding of days with my estimates because the business model I've ended up with is that only about half my income comes from actual commissioned jobs. The rest is from prints, products, and originals, largely from paintings that I do for my own personal expression. It's an arrangement that has worked out well for me because I do enjoy creating work for publication, but I also need the freedom to paint my own concepts as well.

It's possible to eke out a living as an artist from a variety of combinations of commission vs. private work; from solely doing commissions in which you need a constant pipeline of work streaming through and a very precise scheduling of your time, to solely doing private work and selling prints, originals, and products. The former requires more up front investment of time and constant marketing of yourself to potential clients to keep your work fresh in the minds of art directors. The latter may seem more laid back, but the work comes on the tail end - once you finish a piece, comes the work of selling it, processing sales orders, or personally selling your work in some kind of venue or show circuit - be it website, gallery, street fair, or conventions. You have to figure out where along that scale you fit, and your comfort level with other peoples' deadlines and concepts as opposed to your own.

What this all comes down to, is that while it's a wonderful fantasy that all an artist has to do is sit back and create, the truth is that those creations are just the beginning.

* * *

Private commission currently in the works. A couple of the preliminary thumbnail sketches. "Too fat!" she said of the first one. I put the dragon onto a diet.

Random old oak I sketched while at Fanime last week. I think this might work its way to being a painting in the next months.

Another Fanime sketchbook doodle...

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Fanime Tidbits - "hardcore thirty or something"

Halfway through the weekend. Some Fanime tidbits:

* I watched a guy stake out the corner of the hall near my booth as his personal lightsaber skillz showcase arena. Basically a much more agile version of the infamous Star Wars Kid, done right out there in the open: at least twice as old, completely unashamed, reveling in his audience. That's the fun of cons -- letting yourself just be a big kid with no excuses and no self-consciousness. Letting go!

* Chatted with a fellow who stopped by my booth. He turned out to be a lawyer from D.C. on a business trip to San Francisco. He was told by someone back home, "Oh, you should just stay in San Jose. It'll be quiet and peacefully dead there. Nothing ever happens in San Jose." Well he showed up at the Fairmont Hotel, to find this strange thing called an anime convention going on, with a constant parade of costumes and huge crowds of people. Not exactly "peacefully dead". He took it all in stride and jumped right into the fun with a weekend pass. He was talking to me about how after seeing all the artists here, he wanted to go home and see about starting up some pro-bono work for artists. I told him there was definitely a need for that. Far too many artists naively walk into contracts that end up biting them, and there's little most artists can do about it because the size of the jobs just doesn't make it economically feasible to consult a lawyer for every contract. We learn by trial and error, and hope that we don't land into too big of an error.

Incidentally, something I recommend for anyone who has an important contract to review -- look up to see if your state has a Lawyers for the Arts group. They charge a nominal fee, but can give you very good advice, and look over contracts that you really don't want to get screwed on. Unfortunately each state has their own group, and some I hear are better than others. I have had very good experiences with California's.

* Overheard from a fan who was gushing at a neighboring artist a couple of tables over. "OMG! You're only twenty-four? I've been watching your art and I always thought you must be like this hardcore person that's like THIRTY or something."
Gah. Didn't that make me feel old!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Inklings II shipment arrived!

Well that's a huge load off my chest. I was worried that UPS wouldn't arrive in time before I had to leave for my hour long drive to the south bay tonight. Having had all kinds of UPS-woes in the past, I have low expectations; though the situation seems to have greatly improved once I moved out of an apartment and into a house instead. I used to scream curses at UPS and Fedex on a regular basis when they foiled my plans.

At any rate, Inklings II is here. I'll probably be spending a good portion of Fanime doing the cover sketches for the pre-orders. It'll give me something to do during the downtime at the show! I should have them ready to ship by the next Friday.

For any other artists looking for a POD company with good quality greyscale (NOT the laser dots that you'll see with most PODs, which incidentally was what made my search take so long, I recommend QualityPOD. Tell them that I sent you. :)

Inklings II

* $20.00 (+$15.00 for an original ink drawing on the inside cover)

* 56 pages of b&w ink drawings

* 8.5x8.5 inches, perfectbound

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Ah ha! Managed to finish this in one day (sort of) by limiting my distractions. Approximately 15 hours of painting (with a few interruptions and a couple of short errand-walks), and maybe another 5 hours of an early start yesterday. She's given me a tough time. This was definitely one of those paintings that I struggle with on the colors the entire time. I'm still not sure I'm satisfied, but there comes a time when you just have to set it aside and let time mellow the inner critic.

* * *

13 x 18 inches
Medium: watercolors
details, prints, original, all that good stuff, *click here*

Like a strange blossom, or a butterfly emerging from its cocoon with crumpled and still-damp wings; she stretches out her tendrils. Uncoiling, unfolding, unfurling so slowly you might not notice it. She shakes her filaments, and reaches to the firmaments.

Like the turn of the seasons, one stretch-tumbling into another, and all tied in a linked cycle of no ends and no beginnings and no ends and no begin---

Like death decaying into the soil to spring out with emerald fronds of life.

Like a phoenix's flames surge up in its own successor!

She tilts her head up. She closes her eyes. She feels the pulse within her: no ends, no beginnings.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Unfurling sketch

That's what my garden has slowly been doing after the most recent rains and then the heatwave. Tomato plants have shot skyward happily, and the poppies are poking through with ferny fronds.
Prepped sketch on the board for the next painting coming up, roughly based on that border ink drawing I did a couple of weeks ago. I liked it enough that I wanted to spend more time with the concept and do a full painting of it, after some revisions to make it a more balanced composition instead of a lopsided border.

13x18 inches. I wonder if I can finish this by mid Thursday when I have to leave for Fanime. I don't work well on paintings away from my desk, so it won't be coming with me; and once I return, it'll be time to start on the Phoenix chapter of Dreamscapes. Which means if this isn't done by Thursday, it'll have to be tabled for a while.

Expecting the shipment of Inklings II on Thursday as well. Cutting it close for the convention!

So, enough blogging, and start painting!

Sketches That Want to Grow Up to be Paintings

In addition to rooting through my office preparing for Fanime, I've similarly been rooting through my sketchbooks for a little project I'm not quite ready to reveal the nature of (yet). But I'm coming across various sketches that just never got the opportunity to become paintings. I've got stacks of these Strathmore recycled paper sketchbooks that I start scribbling in whenever I get into Brainstorming Mode.

These books are like a bank savings account of concepts to an artist. Random doodles. Discarded alternate poses for commissions. Lightning inspiration that fades as suddenly as it strikes. They might seem like garbage at the time of sketching. But they are a treasure trove of ideas for the future when I'm stuck and I need a good starting point for a vague idea in my head that just hasn't found the right paper incarnation yet. Sometimes I won't even take a whole sketch, but just a hand or a facial expression; but that little bit will be enough to get me out of a current rut.

I'm often asked, "Do you ever run out of ideas?" (i.e. Artist Block)

Well first of all as a professional illustrator, you can't afford to be blocked. Perhaps some pieces might be less inspired than others, but creating a composition is a lot like solving a puzzle. In a strange way, it can be as logical and straightforward as designing a computer program (says the inner programmer in me). Once you find the right spark to jump start the piece, the rest falls into place in a natural way.

And as for my personal work that is not done on commission, there's never enough time to be blocked. There's always a dozen little bits waiting to be discovered in old sketchbooks. They just need that moment to be able to see them with the right frame of mind, and suddenly the possibilities are opened.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Kicking up the Dust

A few days before any convention seems to be the time for really kicking up the dust in my studio. Diving headfirst into the closet and mounds of prints and trying to sort them out into portfolios and boxes in order to bring with me to the show. The frequency of my attending shows is spread out just enough that I have time to disperse all the products back to various corners of the house, garage, basement, and office, until the next convention rolls around. There's probably a better way of managing this, but physical organization has never been my strongest suit.

Fanime is coming up this Friday. Fortunately this one isn't too far; just an hour's drive south of where I live, in San Jose. Close to where I grew up. It's a good chance for me to hang around with old friends during the evenings, and with the few of them brave enough to venture out to see what conventions are all about. Most of them are a bit wary of the prospect. My mother-in-law came to visit me at New York Comic-con one year. She came back to my booth after an hour of exploring, and exclaimed wide-eyed, "There's someone there selling Voodoo Babies!" And we won't even go into my own mother's reaction after a quick trip to the restroom at Baycon a decade ago. Let's just say she was a bit perturbed at some wardrobe malfuctions that were being fixed up.

Taking a break for now. Experimenting with various Riccarelli recipes. Haven't quite found The One I'm looking for yet. Well, they ended up looking quite nice.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Sun Worship

"Sun Worship"
10x15 inches
Prints, details, and original available -click here-

I walk along a dark path in a dream.

Sidewalks edged by the crashing sea. It is a strange juxtaposition. The glint of no-light on seaspray is the only illumination. But there is no scent. There is no wetness amidst the turbulence. It is curiously silent.

In the burn of morning light, the mists peel back from the ground. The last stray tendrils evaporate in the golden haze of sunlight as if physical fingers reach out to brush away the clinging tenacious cobwebs.

That strange pathway is a half forgotten vision within the first few moments of the glimmering day, so distant, a world away. The sun beckons from beyond the slated blinds, with the myriad voices of the birds, in a dozen notes, in a hundred singing dust motes. Let illusions fall away beneath this brilliance!

* * *

Matched piece for Moonbathing from a few weeks ago:

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Sun Worship sketch

Started with just the figure, but then I decided it would make a nice matching piece to Moonbathing, and so set about creating the background accordingly to make an almost-mirror shape with the branch. I've never been too fond of absolute symmetry because I find it makes for boring compositions. So toss in a bit of variation.

Going to have to limit myself to more standard colors for this one however, as it'll be going into Dreamscapes as a step-by-step.

Speaking of sun...I could use some this morning. It's freezing here! Makes it hard to hold a paintbrush.

"Sun Worship"...the other thing that title brings to mind, is Lake Merrit nearby with all the cormorants. They love to perch along the strings of buoys that criss-cross the lake. Long rows of birds with the wings outstretched to dry, necks straining up towards the sun. Dana and I always laugh that they look as if the hordes are praying to the sun.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Inklings II previews & taking pre-orders

Well after searching high and low for a printer the past several months and being frustrated at several turns, and delayed, and delayed again, I've finally found what I was looking for.

The proof arrived in the mail today, and it looks good, so I'm going ahead with the run.

The other good news is that because it took so long to find a suitable printer, I eventually added another 6 pages of new art that came about during that intervening time span. So this one's 56 pages of ink scribbles.

If all goes as expected, they should be ready by the end of this month. Currently taking pre-orders for shipping approximately the first week of June. As with volume 1, I'm offering two options:
* book for $20.00
* book with an ink sketch on the inside cover for $35.00 (if you ask here nicely, I'll do a requested subject).

Here's a peek inside the covers:

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Delving Below

I find all kinds of interesting forgotten things when I go delving around in old boxes in the basement. I was searching for some of my Tree Free Greeting cards today so that I could send one to my mother-in-law for mother's day. I knew they were hiding somewhere in the basement. They were of course in the last box I thought to check. But during the hunt I came across some other interesting things:

* My home-made Wiz-War game set. An addictingly entertaining game. Too bad it was never reprinted. The next unsuspecting visitor to my home will be forced to play this.

* Photos of my brother and I at the Takashi Murakami installation that was a pleasant surprise at Rockefeller Square in NY when we were there years ago.

* My old Rapidograph technical pens. I had a real love-hate relationship with these things. On the one hand, they were my treasure, $50.00 bought from my hard saved stash of Chinese New Year lucky money as a teenager. But they were more trouble than they were worth, always getting clogged. I prefer nice disposable gel pens these days. Picking them up, I got flashing visions of laboring over a sinkful of hot water trying to unclog stubborn nibs.

* An unsent letter from 2001. I suppose it got lost in a shuffle and I forgot to ever mail it.... I was in Japan, having just quit (sort of) my software job. As I read this again in the dingy basement it struck me how confused I was back then. It's easy to forget, now that I've found my niche. I'm often asked by artists who are starting out how I went about it. Well, this isn't that whole story (maybe I'll get into it another time), but it is a glimpse into some of it. The intended recipient never got to read it. Someone should.

* * *

October 14, 2001
Dear ##### --

Greetings, from Japan.

So... I am here now. It is very odd how quickly it went from being something in the distant future, to Now. No longer speculation and the safe distance of "a time yet to come." The weeks sped past, and then I was giving notice to the landlady. And then to work. And then after a flurry of stress and packing and unpacking and packing once again (San Francisco ->Los Altos -> Tokyo), suddenly theee months have whirled past and that date that was "three months from now" has become "two weeks ago".

I finished a book today -
The Forgetting Room by Nick Bantock. It's a combination of art and story. Anyway, the thing I thought might be of interest to you, and worth sharing, was an excerpt in there of one of Garcia Lorca's poems:

The duende is a power.
The duende is of the earth...the dark sounds, a struggle, not a concept.

The duende is not in the throat, it surges up from the soles of the feet.

It is of blood, of ancient culture, of creative action.
It calls one out.


I have settled in here finally I think, after two weeks. It still feels a bit like an extended vacation, but I have not been lazy!

You first, months ago, the Grand Plan* was to go here and work for Plumtree Software part time and do art as well with the rest of my time.
But in July I went to a fantasy convention**. I was there as an artist for a small company I did some illustrations for - they paid for the trip in order to have me there at their table to talk to fans/customers. Well it gave me a chance to go and be among other artists who had made that world their life. For four days, I mingled with them, asked questions, was welcomed by them, and when i got home I suddenly wondered what was I doing as a programmer? I was so demotivated at work, and at night I was painting in a frenzy.

need faded a bit after a month, though I kept wondering if I should quit Plumtree. I could do it. Monetarily at that point, art brought in enough. But...I would miss the people. But...there's the apartment. But but but....

At the end of August I went to another convention in Atlanta***. I'm afraid after that, my "but's" were evident to me as only excuses. And so...after considering it for a month, I told Plumtree I would not be working at all in Japan.

Thus...I am here, on indefinite leave of absence from Plumtree (though I doubt I will return to it) working full time as a freelance artist.

I went to a flamenco class
last Tuesday. Afterwards I came home and flopped to the couch, exhausted. And then it hit me -- that I could lie there and luxuriate and enjoy relaxation without the nagging feeling that I should be painting with those sparse two hours I had in the evening. Because I can paint all day now and do all the other things I want and need to do at night. I can read, or write this letter to you. It's such a wonderful feeling of freedom!


* * *

* The "Grand Plan" upon leaving Berkeley was to spend 2 years maximum at a software job while working my way into art. In the end the lure of the dot-com era and stock options kept me for 3.5 years.

** It was my first Gencon. Until then, I'd only attended small local shows, and the prospect of flying somewhere for a convention was daunting!!!

My first Dragoncon. I was fortunate enough to be sitting next to Robin Wood. She scolded me plenty for spending far too much time away from my table when I could have been making many more sales. But I was pretty wide-eyed and couldn't get enough, wandering around.

Flamenco is surprising
ly popular there. Had no trouble finding a class to take, and it was a nice way to meet new friends, seeing as I spoke maybe five words of Japanese.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Stationery Available

As requested, I'm now offering stationery based on those border designs I had been recently posting. You can find them here.

On the website I'm currently only selling them in packs of 10 sheets of an image. If you instead want to mix and match a selection (minimum 10) of any of them, feel free to drop me an email and it can be arranged.

Two more new ones:

And more to come over the next few days.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Rainy days & more Inks

Musical sound of raindrops outside all day. I love the rain...when I can stay nice and warm indoors. Unfortunately had to run out and do my Friday stint of errands (which includes a jaunt to the post office to drop off the week's orders) and got rather soggy. Me soggy, not the orders.

At any rate, off to prep for a flamenco/belly-dance fusion show at La Taza tonight. A little under the weather from a cold last week, but pretty much recovered by now. At least I can't spread it to any of the other dancers or musicians seeing as they've all already had it at our last show 2 weeks ago!

Meanwhile, some more inks for your enjoyment:

* 1st image - narwhals!
** 3rd image - feeling silly: "rawr," goes the kitty. *scamper* goes the rat. "rawr," goes the kitty. *scamper* goes the rat. "RAWR!" goes the rat. *cower* goes the cat.
*** 4th image - inspired by this
**** 5th image - intentions to take this concept, rework the composition to be not so obviously a border design and probably paint it sometime in the next month.