AMBITION: 25 YEARS OF BEING THAT GUY

As a part-time freelance artist, I’ve raised money for day trips and dates, medical help for family members and friends, art supplies, booth rentals, and presents. I even managed to raise some money for charity. I’ve had a pretty good run! I’ve been able to do many things I could not have otherwise done.

It is with these things in mind that I will now proceed to destroy my artistic reputation forever.

Lol destroy your what?

I’ve been a jerk more times than I can count, although I will attempt to count them for this article. But one common thread has united virtually all of my artistic knavery.

I speak of AMBITION.

Almost every (art related) act I’m ashamed of stemmed from my artistic ambitions. It’s not pretty! But if you’ve seen my gallery, you already know that “pretty” is not the goal here, so let’s get started.

Sh-Shut up, I’m pretty!

Part One: LYIN’

Ooh yeah. Lying. Falsehoods. Let’s get into it!

For our purposes, we shall define “lying” as “misrepresenting oneself.” In other words, you deliberately give someone else a false impression. How many times have I lied in the name of potential artistic success? Let me count the ways.

ZINES: I’m not really sure how many zines I have gushed to in my day. Many of them, I was at least able to read up on their website and be reasonably certain that Yeah, I liked their output. But there have been at least one or two where I couldn’t find much about them at all. And in all cases, even ones where I was sincere in my admiration, I never had any issues of the zines! I was pretty broke for a lot of my life and I did not have what we will call a zine “budget.”

So I was never a reader of any of the zines I approached in hopes of working with, until I worked with them.

I (clumsily and ineffectively) attempted to give many of them the impression that I was a fan, though. I’m a little too straight-laced to just bust out a big fat written lie, like “I’ve been a reader for years!” but I definitely tried so hard to seem like a hep, loyal reader with a long history of admiring the zine.

Publishers can smell this however, so when I misrepresented myself it never worked. Not once, I don’t think.

SUCCESSFUL ARTISTS: Same deal basically. If I very much wanted to become better acquainted with an artist I felt like was a big deal, I did my best to make it seem like I’d been following them forever. Or had bought and read their comics. Even if I had literally just become aware of their existence.

Evidently artists can smell this too. The only successful artists I’ve managed to exchange 3 words with were the ones I did actually follow. They remembered seeing my name pop up over the years, or I contacted them in ways only a fan or customer would know about.

TWO-TIMING: There have also been times when I have simultaneously wooed two competing clients, in hopes of discerning which one had the better offer and then choosing that one. But in the process, I hardly came off as a model of sincerity and forthrightness. In short, both of the potential clients would have felt dismayed by my conduct. Which is probably a good reason to not do that.

TALKING NONSENSE: There have been plenty of times, during art-related discussions, that I had plenty to say. Maybe too much! I would often weigh in on matters I’m not an authority in. Uninformed opinions and advice are just as misleading as intentional lies.

MESSAGE BOARDS: Alas, even strangers on the internet were not safe from my clumsy attempts at deception. I made multiple commission accounts when I thought some pieces of art didn’t go with my “brand” and died miserably trying to maintain the different identities. (The different watermarks and tags alone were harrowing.)

Heck, I even pretended to be an anonymous fan of my own work and posted it in forums, or had my friends join forums merely to post my art. But if you think that’s the most pathetic thing you’ve ever read in your entire life, wait until you see…

Part Two: CHEATIN’

For purposes of this article I will define “cheating” as “trying to obtain the same benefits as someone else who actually followed the damn rules.”

COLD SUBMISSIONS: I usually justified all my cheating as “you’ll never know until you try!” Some publisher or some client had a lot of specifications or demands that needed to be met before you should even think of contacting them and I didn’t have everything they asked for. So I figured I’d just blow in there with my winning smile and sweep them off their feet!

My winning smile.

Since I hadn’t done proper research or preparation, I submitted color pages to strictly black and white publications more than a few times! That was an instant red flag to them that I wasn’t really a big fan. I also blew past a lot of “we are not accepting submissions at this time” warnings because hey, MY art was different. MY art would melt their icy hearts.

the diver from deep star six, and awesome movie
Cooool how’d that work out for ya

If you have ever seen a “Me looking around for who the heck asked you” meme, you will know the response I got from my unsolicited outpourings of art.

NICHE PUBLICATIONS: Often I would see an exciting looking niche publication and bust down the door submitting to that, too. The most recent of these was actually this year! In my years as an artist, I’ve expressed an exaggerated interest in everything from slime monsters to demons to ants to people with blenders instead of heads.

Granted, I would enjoy drawing all of the above. But here’s where the cheating comes in: I haven’t spent any time in those fan “communities.” I have a hunch that niche publications would prefer contributors to not just have a neutral opinion of their passion, but for them to actually share their passion. Anyone else, to an extent, is out to make a quick buck off their passion. Well, that’s gotta hurt when you’re already feeling somewhat alienated.

For these reasons, my most disastrous run-in with a niche market was when one very kind reader of The killing of Dreams encouraged me to submit an early draft of the comic to a lesbian-themed publication. In my hubris, I ran right over to their website and did so.

Well, as it happens I’m straight. I’ve never had to deal with the social consequences of being gay. My lack of experience in this regard undoubtedly shows in my writing. In fact, the publisher wrote back to me in detail the many ways it showed in my writing. Emphatically. My backside may still be smoking from that one.

Crispy.

I had the same thing come up with a gay sci-fi themed zine as well. I submitted a story that I didn’t think had any “tropes” that were offensive or harmful to the community. Boy howdy, did I get schooled. Much like the slime monsters and the folks with blenders for heads, it wasn’t enough to just approve of the subject matter. I had to be passionate and knowledgeable about it in a way that I was not.

TRACING: Oh. My. God. I. Have. Traced. So. Many. Things.

Now, this is one of those art tricks that is allowed if you have the rights to the source materials and you disclose what you used and why. It’s used all the time in art school with projectors and onion paper and light tables, and it’s even easier with a computer. A beautiful silhouette or better anatomical pose is right at your fingertips, why reinvent the wheel?

But you should cite the damn thing. I often have not bothered to cite this. I’d call that cheating! And in case you doubt how this plays into ambition: it was my pathetic ambition that you would think I knew what the hell I was doing.

In other words, I hoped that you truly believed I knew where exactly to put that damn woman’s chin or shoulder, or how far to space her eyes, instead of what I DID which was find some random vintage or royalty-free photograph. Because I can’t EYES.

OR DO YOU DOUBT ME EVEN NOW.

Digital art has plenty of room for yet more source image shenanigans, which I have also done, but I will go ahead and file those under…

Part Three; STEALIN’

Incidentally, it was nice knowing you all. I think I hear sirens. But to continue:

SOURCE IMAGES: So. Source images are a big deal! Again, I’m not a proponent of constantly reinventing the wheel when there’s just acres and acres of lovely legal images that you can use for collages, digital art, decoupage, patterns, or to trace for comic book poses, or whatever you may need them for. But you have to make sure they’re legally yours to use in your art. Guess what I didn’t bother to do back in the early days of the internet? Oh hell yeah.

Back before I knew all the rules, I just grabbed stuff here and there, altered the hell out of it, and went on my merry way. I had heard some lie somewhere or other about “how much you had to alter an image for it to be transformative” and I just went with that gossip. Well, that’s all baloney my friends.

The truth is, you need to research every single image you use. You have to find out what the creative commons license on it is, if there’s model release forms, if it got stolen and then put on a free-image website, or if it was made long enough ago to be out of copyright and the copyright was not renewed by the descendants of the rights holder.

I know to some people that sounds like too much, but remember that some of these images may be saving you ten or twenty hours of work. Even if you command pathetically low rates like I do, that’s hundreds of dollars. The same laws protect your work, so that’s why it’s so hard!

But when I was young and stupid I just rampaged through the world of imagery trampling everything in my wake. Not cool.

I stomped on the righteous and the wicked alike.

SOURCE IMAGES PART 2: ELECTRIC BUGALOO: Whoah! You managed to wade through all that and used legal source images?! Bravo!

NOW CITE THEM SOMEWHERE.

I totally didn’t for the most part. Well, that’s “stealing” the glory due to the originator of the source image. It leaves you with the impression that I knew exactly how to draw all those branches, or at least that I snapped a darn nice tree photo, when I did nothing of the kind. Even if I paid for the source image or made sure it was royalty free, it’s not cool to pretend I did everything when I did not.

Thankfully, the Tracing/Source Image Use sins are actually ones I can do something about.

For the most part, I made sure to keep all my source files over the years! I would like to say I did it for legal reasons, but it’s closer to the truth to say I’m a hoarder. Either way though, my next project will be to go through and cite any source images that are part of my art pieces, or that were traced in the process of making an art piece. I shall call that article “The Great Cleansing” or “Atonement” or something.

If I can’t find the source or it’s not a 100% clear piece (ie I simply drew everything, you know like you’d expect an artist to do), OFF THE INTERNET IT GOES! FOREVER!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Speaking of which…

FAN ART: Yes I did me some fan art and yes, sorry you guys, it’s stealing! I don’t own the IP (intellectual property rights) and legally, that is the beginning and the ending of that argument. “Parody” will rarely work as a legal defense since it has to literally be a piece made for commentary and review.

The only valid reason to do fan art after you realize that is “but I wanna!” Which, I understand. I wanna, too. And I have! And I will.

…but it’s still stealing. It’s a guaranteed number of reblogs and retweets and likes from people who are not our fans, but fans of this other property. It’s even guaranteed sales if you go that far, which is even illegal…er. “Illegaller.”

ILLEGAL AS ALL GIT OUT IN OTHER WORDS

On the bright side, you can often reach out to the creators and build a friendly, symbiotic relationship with them. Some people even go on to make art for the original creators. Print-on-demand places like RedBubble and Teepublic now have contracts with several intellectual properties that allow you to make fan art and sell it on there. That’s licensed fan art. Heck, even my lawless butt has made licensed stuff for publications like Printed in Blood.

As more creators embrace the idea of cooperating with fan artists, the future of fan art is looking brighter! But I’ve been at this a really long time, before it started opening up, and I’ve definitely made things that I didn’t have permission to share with the world. Whoopsie doodle!

…yeah that’s all going away too. Entire tumblr accounts are about to vanish. Everything must go! In the meantime though let’s move on to more horrible things.

LOWBALLING: Lowballing is arguably a way you “steal” sales from your comrade artists by undercutting all their prices. Well, I totally did that too.

I can’t point to an actual artist I snatched money from, I suppose. But I’m aware that my prices were and are often significantly cheaper than the guy one table over. Whenever this happens, three delightful things ensue:

  1. The sane, reasonable artist who is asking for a living wage, incurs the disbelief and wrath of customers who are led to believe my stupid prices are reasonable and what they should expect.
  2. My own clients expect ultra low prices from me forever and ever and ever.
  3. I work my tail off and come home from a table show with 1/4 of what everybody else made that day.

Lowballing bad.

LEECHING: I don’t know if there’s an industry term for it, but when I did this I went about it like a little leech, sapping the life and vitality from my victim until my rotund body, swollen with their lifeblood, lazily fell to the earth with a juicy “plop.”

Basically if an art buddy found a cool art opportunity, I wanted in on it.

Now, there have been plenty of times when a friend told me about a cool new art gallery or asked me to try a new art venture with them. But there have been just as many other times where I was the one initiating it. “I saw you got into that gallery, do you mind giving me an introduction?” “I saw you worked with that zine, how were they? What did you have to show them?” Or I just simply submitted things to any place I noticed that a colleague of mine had gotten into, reasoning that maybe that meant I had a chance too.

The problem with this (besides the creepy stalker vibes) follows a similar principle to the niche publications. Maybe my friends gravitated towards that zine or that gallery because they genuinely liked and admired it. My goal was purely to get in. This can also lead into…

STEALING THUNDER: I’m usually pretty good at being the loudest and most obnoxious person in any given enclave. (Shocking after all these self-involved articles, I know.) But that’s a problem when you’ve just horned in on a friend’s budding art arrangement with a gallery or client. You can end up overshadowing them simply because you’re “louder.”

I would not care to guess how often this has happened.

two shadowy faceless men, one staring at the viewer
But feel free to tell me in the comments ~

STEALING THE SHOW:

I’ve also sometimes tried to make events into art opportunities when it wasn’t really what the venue or occasion called for. And of course, these art opportunities were tailored to the kinds of things I wanted to show, or sell. You can’t shove a square peg into a round hole though, so all this would result in an unsuccessful event that should have been another type of event, or an event with a more suitable artist for their clientele.

How successful would the retailer or venue have been that day if I hadn’t bullied them into thinking that I was what they needed? How successful would some of my clients be if I hadn’t worked so hard to convince them that I was the artist for them, when their instincts told them otherwise?

Well I guess we’ll never know, now will we.

Well I think that’s about all the horrible art things I’ve done more or less.

How about you? Would you like to try to not be a complete jackhole for most of your professional life? Bravo! You’ve stumbled upon the reason for this long and rambling article.

I would like you to avoid my mistakes!

It’s true that I did everything I did assuming it would make me a more prominent and successful artist. But what in that dubious catalogue of sins above did I do to be a more talented artist? What up there did I do to be a more compassionate and giving artist? What did I do to be a more experienced artist?

I’ll save you the trouble of re-reading: you won’t find those goals anywhere above.

So if you, like me, were wondering why 25 years was not enough to make me more than what I currently am, I think we both just found our answer!

Now go forth and don’t suck. I already did it all so you don’t have to.

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