Thursday, December 16, 2010

Beginnings - Part 3 - Balancing Acts

A continuation of -this post- from several months ago.

I've been meaning to get back to this topic for months now, but just haven't found the spare time. Adjusting to being a mother as well as squeezing painting time in hasn't left me with quite as much ~other~ time, like rambling in here.

So anyway, I left off last time at where I got my first few illustration jobs. Parallel to that however I was doing something else as well, which I think separates me a little from my other artist peers. Most of the other artists I know seem to fall into those who mainly make their living doing work for publication/commissions/illustration or working for a large game or movie company doing concepts or in-house art; and those artists who don't bother with the entertainment market and instead focus purely on licensing and print sales. Basically artwork that is dictated by someone else's needs and designs, vs. your own artwork which you then need to find a way to market and sell (if you intend to make a living out of it). Somehow I managed to land straddling in between with one foot on either side.

With the former, your self-marketing approach is to focus on the art directors. The ADs and their companies worry about the publicity and distribution of their products (featuring your artwork). However, landing the jobs and keeping your pipeline full is your responsibility. It can get tiring tracking the various jobs and commissions and making sure your schedule is not over (or under) booked, and keeping yourself on track and not procrastinating. Also your art becomes focused on realizing other peoples' concepts.

The latter model gives artistic freedom (of a sort). You're free to draw and paint whatever your heart desires; as long as you can figure a way to make it something your audience will want to hang on their wall. If you're fortunate, you can find that audience; and then things become a balance of staying true to your own artistic vision while resisting the temptation to just create "easy to sell" art. The key is to love what you are creating. If you ever feel pressured, unhappy, or forced to do subject matter then it is time to re-examine why you're doing it in the first place. If I didn't love painting what I paint...I might as well go back to getting a programming job. The down-side of this business model is that it's time intensive. You become a retailer of your own artwork: maintaining a website shop, traveling to shows to sell, dealing with shipping and licensing, etc.

Being in between these two has let me enjoy illustrating for publication the subject matter that I actually want to do. I don't have to maintain a constant packed commission pipeline because the other part of my business gives me the freedom to choose the jobs that really appeal to me. This results in me producing better artwork. Subject matter that you connect to is always going to inspire the creation process so much more.

A rather long aside, but to get back to my original tale about how I managed to find this path:
Parallel to sending out my portfolio to art directors of various game companies, I started my website. I also started posting artwork on Elfwood, which was only a couple years old at that time. I donated some artwork for Thomas to use on the web design, and for that favor I got links from the front page of the site to my gallery, and from there to my website. That was the beginning stream of traffic I had directed to Now there are many other gallery options as well - Epilogue, DeviantArt, GFXartist, etc, from which to gather traffic. This is good and bad I think. More options as an artist. But more options dilutes the viewers as well. I think that the successful results I saw were due in part to the limited websites of this sort, which focused attention. Similarly when I began to post prints to Ebay, the smaller size of it in 1999 meant my listings weren't just floundering under everything else.

I get asked by young artists how to establish themselves. I'm afraid there's no easy answer; my own path has been meandering and a result of serendipitous timing and emerging markets on the internet. I think that each artist has to find their own way - and in part the artwork itself dictates how that will happen. Even at the same place and same time, someone with a different style and voice would have to go about it in another fashion.

Two and a half years into my "two year post college plan" I found myself still in my software job. By this time however I had stretched out various tendrils in several directions. I was getting regular commission work from various game publishers, and I had a reasonable revenue stream coming from my website and ebay. It was hard to think of quitting software though. Health insurance, stable predictable job, stock options! But then some calamitous events in my personal life triggered me into finally quitting software and stepping into what seemed terribly scary - self employment, in 2001. I actually resisted completely severing all ties at first and managed to get Plumtree Software to agree to give me an extended leave of absence. However, I never returned.

For the first few years I did a whole lot of commission/game work. There's a sparkle and excitement to seeing your work in print. After a while though, that sparkle wore off and I realized that though being in print was a thrill, doing artwork that had meaning to me, AND that could be in print was even more amazing. At that point I started being more picky about what jobs I took on, deciding that it was better to dedicate my resources to personal work in between commissioned projects, and only taking on the jobs that really called to me.

... Perhaps to be continued again sometime in the (near) future. Any topics in particular you'd like to hear about? Please let me know!


  1. Would love to hear how you go about planning your GORGEOUS compositions. Shapes, colors, how you break it up you theories on this would be wonderful to read.

  2. I agree with Anonymous, ecspecially about the colours couse they are always amazing. And next I wanted to ask you if you are planning an art book anytime (soon I hope ;-D) it would be wonderful too have a book smocked with your beautiful works!

  3. Thanks, some good suggestions!

    As for an art book, I am thinking to do that next, but I need to clear out some space in my garage first (i.e., sell more of The Art of Shadowscapes Tarot Minor Arcana) before I can do another book run. I've nowhere to fit anymore boxes of books at the moment! So it would probably be at least another year.

  4. More more more please!!!! This is such an amazing topic! I'd love to hear more about managing your time as a self employed artist, how to avoid burn out, if you ever had an hurdles or a lot of rejection along the way, if you were ever tempted to return to the 9-to-5 grind during dry periods, etc.

  5. Thanks for the topic suggestions! I'll keep that in mind when I continue this.

  6. Thank you so much for taking the time to share these jewels with us!