Why I don’t offer (much) limited edition art

Tonight at an art reception I was very rightly advised to offer my digital art in limited editions. I’ve been sounded on the issue many times before, and I recently had fun offering a limited run of painted archival prints for Kickstarter’s make100 promotion. So why don’t I do this regularly?

Quite simply, limiting my art would be in direct conflict with my personal goals. Firstly, I want every person on Earth to be in possession of my art one day. Secondly, I want everyone who genuinely loves a piece of my art to be able to have that piece in some way, shape or form. Lastly, I want my art to change lives.

This means that the vast bulk of my art must necessarily be unlimited, widely shared, and affordable to everyone. My idols and role models are the artists who tag trains or illustrate comics, books and album covers that embedded themselves in the public consciousness.

My artist seal deliberately references Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, because he made amazing posters that were discarded after an event, and the Japanese ukiyo-e artists of old whose brilliant and colorful woodcuts were used as wrapping paper and box stuffing before they were wadded up and thrown away.

I have no desire to make myself sacred, or even to make myself rich. All I want to do, before I die, is make myself felt.

I do have a soft spot for my fans and clients, however. So, if someone commissions an exclusive or limited piece, and I know they like the actual art and don’t just want a valuable piece of colored paper with resale value, I’ll accommodate them. I know people like traditional pieces and sketches too, and I try to always bring a good number of my traditional pieces for those who must have a unique item. I’m not made of stone.

But I’m also not here to line anyone’s pockets by deliberately creating art with the main point of being collected and resold. If a person does not genuinely like and want a piece of my art, I’d rather not sell it to them. I’d rather sell a $15 print to an excited teenager than a $1000 limited edition something-or-other to a collector who doesn’t look at it except to gauge its future market value.

In the latter case of someone only buying my art as an investment, I haven’t touched anyone. Worse, a piece of art that I truly cared about is now buried away in some warehouse or in a single person’s residence. One of my art professors once stated, “A museum is a place art goes to die.” It’s a similar situation to me when someone buys a piece just to hide it away and treat it like a precious commodity. Art is not only for the privileged, and it must move out in the open, among everyone, to stay “alive.”

So if you’ve ever wondered why I’m not rich, now you know!

The Two Kinds of Art

For me, there exist only two kinds of art. Medium has nothing to do with it, nor does whether the piece is one-of-a-kind or reproduced, technically perfect or relatively unskilled, famous or obscure.

No, for me the only two kinds of art are Art you make for yourself and Art you make for others.

There is a lot of discussion and judgement on both sides from artists who believe that commercial art is not “true art,” or successful artists criticizing their peers for not considering the “business aspect” of art. All of them have valid ideas to consider. As for me, I only have one big assertion to make about the two kinds of art as I have defined them:

It doesn’t matter which kind you do.

If you’re capable of creating things and practice your ability, you are an artist. If you fashion an image from nothingness, then that is art. Asking every artist to make only “art for art’s sake” and to all have some grand life’s work is like asking every doctor to discover the cure for a deadly disease. Most doctors simply go into work, heal the sick, save a life or two, and go home. And they are an essential part of our world.

If you are an artist, you have a skill set that most people don’t have. This means that the entire world needs your help with an endless array of tasks. They need someone who can design apparel and effective advertising and packaging, create papers, home furnishings and textiles, design layouts, cars, and buildings, make distinctive lettering, help to create movies and illustrate books and video games, make individualized portraits and mementos and restore treasured photographs…the list goes on forever.

Even people who don’t “care” about art are constantly using it to understand the world. All these things fall into Art you make for others, as do commissions and yes, even art you made because you knew it was likely to sell well.

Art that you make for yourself, often thought of as “art for art’s sake,” is really just you sharing your personal obsessions with everyone. To share your dreams and work on your passion is an incredibly hard thing to do and it’s also deeply emotionally satisfying. These are the people who end up being recognized by name if they touch millions, unlike, say, the artists who have slaved to create and refine the Coca-Cola logo.

If you’re incredibly lucky or clever, you may end up being revered for making art for yourself. If you’re reasonably skilled, you are much more likely to be compensated well (or adequately) if you make art for others.

It is much, MUCH easier to make a living from the art you make for others. That’s because people like things that are about them!

Even collectors who are supposedly into fine art are specifically looking for art they believe will appreciate in value, and this means it must be popular or culturally significant in some way. Visionary artists achieve this when their ideas and convictions end up resonating with the world…canny artists purposefully choose themes to please people or create a sensation.

A lot of people feel like this is what makes some artists unrealistic for not painting art for others, whereas a lot of other artists bemoan the fact that they cannot seem to make money because they will not “sell out.”

This is where a hefty dose of realism and self-examination comes into play.

What do you want out of life?

If you won’t be happy unless you’re following your dream and screaming your vision to the heavens, you should immediately stop expecting to make any money at it.

The most successful artists who were making art for themselves became successful because their passion overlapped with something other people wanted. Since you may or may not want the same things as other people, this is not a sure-fire way to earn money.

That doesn’t mean this is a waste of your life or an immature thing to do. It’s simply not the safest way to make money doing art.

But if you have something inside you torturing you to be let out, the only waste of your time will be not going for it. You could never earn enough money to buy the feeling you will get from working on something you love and completing it (or parts of it), or the way someone’s eyes light up when your work touches them.

By the same token, if you’re not experiencing as much happiness and fulfillment from working on your own art as you do when you earn good money doing something else, you should follow your path of greatest happiness and focus on using your skills in a way that pays better.

Your personal enrichment might come from being able to afford trips that change your viewpoint, or having money to donate to a cause you believe in. This is no less noble than being a “starving artist.” It’s up to you to make an impact with your skill, and you can do this in so many ways. Don’t ever let someone tell you what you’re doing isn’t worthy.

I like to combine the approaches.

I have a lot of stories I want to tell, and I do this whether I make money or not. (I’ve been pretty lucky in that I’ve made some money but you’d better believe I didn’t expect to.) I also have a real gem of a friend, an amazing comic writer that I want to work with on many projects regardless of whether our comics “take off.”

I’ve also always wanted to have children and a house, and for either one it’s far preferable to have a stable way of making money. To help maintain my family and my house, I worked very hard to find an art industry job I liked. I also get a lot of mileage out of the art I make for myself by offering all of it as unlimited prints and merchandise (like shirts or journals) that might be more useful to some people than wall art. Finally, I take commissions any time I believe they will teach me something.

I treat my 9-5 job like 8 hours of drawing practice, and my commissions as art challenges. I definitely do a fair amount of art for others, yet I don’t ever feel bad about using my special skills to solve someone’s problem or fill a need.

Art you make for yourself is not intrinsically noble, and art you make for others is not intrinsically cheap.

If you think about it, why should screaming “HERE’S WHAT I THINK!” be any more noble than saying “Sure I can make a nice picture of the pet you lost.” I did that once, and the client genuinely cried in front of me. Then (with shaking hands) she took the picture of her departed doggy, hung it in the place of honor in her house, and it helped her remember the good times.

Now, you can probably tell that I prefer making art for myself. In fact, it’s almost always my personal art that leads my clients to me. In the case of the image above, I made the art on the left for myself and it led to the commission on the right. Drawn + Drafted tells us that you should pitch potential art directors and clients with the kind of art you want to make,  and I guess they must be right! That’s been my experience anyway.

But I really do feel proud that I drew a pet portrait that brought tears to someone’s eyes, and I guess I always will.

Art for yourself, since it carries your unique convictions and ideas, can break the mold and influence millions of people. Depending on who you are and what you care about, your art could also end up only ever being special to you and a small circle of friends and family. If that’s enough to deter you from working on your dream, you can probably do without it. You shouldn’t spend the next 50 years beating yourself up about it, either.

In the same way, you may or may not earn a big name for yourself doing art for others. In most commission and portrait scenarios you might only be helping one person or family, whereas the logo you helped design might be burned into everyone’s collective consciousness for centuries. It’s also worth remembering that the Old Masters are known almost exclusively for religious and portrait commissions. Most of what we see in the art history books was hired work.

And in both cases, I might add, you might become rich seemingly overnight or you might be completely screwed out of your rightful compensation and recognition.

That’s why I say it doesn’t matter.

If you make art for others, you’re making other people happy. Also, consider that every store, site, office or other commercial setting that features a piece of hired work by you is now your gallery. Even if it’s the new design for a cat litter package, you’ve still conveyed an idea using art and gotten it seen on a wide scale. Children are walking by your drawing in the store and pointing to say, “Kitty!” You are part of everyone’s daily lives, their memories and ambient thoughts.

This is just an example, but you should always be proud of the impact you’ve had with every one of your creations, not to mention the positive impact you can make with the money you’ve earned.

If you make art for yourself, you’re taking advantage of the unbelievable opportunity so many of us have nowadays to tell your story, in the way of your choosing, to everyone with an internet connection. Now, more than ever before in history, creators have a chance to influence thoughts all over the world. Even a meme or a comment can do this; what could you do by showing a work of art that has everything of you in it?

Do either one or do both, but most importantly DO WHAT FULFILLS YOU.

You have one life, so stop fighting about who’s a sell-out and what constitutes real art and just use your talent.

Some way. Any way.

 

 

 

How to be a successful client

Play money imagery

Simply put, a successful client is someone who receives their completed project on time, within budget, to their specifications. You might be surprised at how often this does NOT happen…but it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are several ways you can avoid being an unhappy client.

1. Know where to ask.

Some people never get as far as the client stage because they have no idea where to find an artist. Fortunately with the internet, these days there are a lot of ways you can find your artist. Here are a few:

  • Use your own network. Ask friends and family (on Facebook, in person, etc) if they know an artist.
  • Local art galleries have a huge network of artists at their disposal.
  • Local framing shops and art supply stores also often have relationships with artists.
  • Tattoo parlors often employ talented artists.
  • deviantART, Behance, Society6 and Redbubble are all places with a huge variety of artists. Most of them have their contact information displayed so you can easily hire them.
  • You can also advertise for an artist. Communities like deviantArt’s Commission-an-Artist have a place set up advertise your project and find available artists. Craigslist.org and conceptart.org are other good places to advertise for an artist.

2. Get a contract!

Some people are concerned that a contract is only there to protect the “other guy.” I’ve had two clients who know better. In the first client’s words, “It took a lot for me to try hiring an artist again. The last time I did, I paid the artist but they never delivered the art and now I can’t find them.” And another client had this to say when I took on a rush job for them: “We’re so glad to turn this over to you, the last artist flaked out and left us in a bind. We’re out of time!”

Why did these nice folks have such awful experiences? There wasn’t a contract. A contract protects your project by clearly stating a timeline for its completion, and conditions under which the project will be considered “done.” This is your protection as a client that you will get your art delivered, on time. A contract should also define the artist as an Independent Contractor. This protects you because the artist is not considered to be an employee of your company, and thus any inappropriate conduct of theirs does not come back on you.

3. Compensate the artist.

Again, many people assume this is only to the artist’s benefit. Nothing could be further than the truth. Allow me to share more horror stories from people I’ve spoken to: “I’m still waiting on some commissions after two or three years but I don’t trouble the artists because I respect their talent!” and “I’ve been looking for years but I just can’t find anyone to get in on this project with me. I’m starting to worry it will never happen.”

These are two more nice folks. And they’re having so much trouble because they didn’t offer compensation (payment) for their projects. In the first case, the young lady who is waiting years on her commissions is doing so because the artist has no real reason to complete them. There’s no incentive. In the second case, the young man who wrote a great story has no one to illustrate it because he is offering no payment to undertake a huge comic book project. Again, there is no incentive for the artist.

No matter how much you resonate with an artist, there is little chance that they are automatically going to care about your baby as much as you do. There are only two ways to get the artist to care about your project SO MUCH that they will sacrifice their own sleep, family time, cooking, showers, and tools and materials to work for you. You must either make it worth their while with fair compensation (be it money or goods and services), or you must be their close friend and have them so in love with your project that the two of you have become equal partners in a business venture.

The catch is, the second scenario of an artist working shoulder-to-shoulder with you purely for love of the project is only likely to happen if you were such a great client in the past that they came to love and trust you as a genuine friend. And that means you fairly compensated them for their work in the past.

4. Don’t have a million frivolous revisions.

This will negatively impact the time and costs associated with your project. Freelance artists are generally very careful to build revisions into the contract, and set aside guidelines for how long you may take to tell them about the revisions. Within the guidelines, timely revisions are a fantastic way for artist and client to craft the perfect project together. This has in fact been my experience with my clients, even those with a lot of revisions…since those revisions improved the project! But throw in tons of revisions that weren’t in the original scope of your project, or fail to alert the artist about revisions in a timely manner, and you’ll end up paying more for all the extra work and possibly having your project behind schedule.

5. Be available for communication.

You don’t have to be glued to your phone, but if you want to get what you want on time you definitely need to make a reasonable effort to check your email/texts/etc so you can respond to the artist’s questions and suggestions in a timely manner. Again, if you have revisions you MUST tell the artist in a timely manner and then be available to discuss the changes until you’re both on the same page. If not, you risk a late project.

6. Let the artist promote your business.

Your artist will probably want to display the work they did for you on their website or in their portfolio. Unless there’s a business reason not to do this, LET THEM! Get their agreement that they’ll display your link or logo appropriately along with the piece and sit back as you get more backlinks and exposure for your endeavor. If they ask you to do a testimonial, there’s another good chance for a link back to your business, as well as making you look like a swell guy. Artists are perfectly happy to sing your praises and pepper their site with your links if you’ll simply let them display the awesome work they did for you.

To Summarize: Follow the Golden Rule.

In a nutshell, trustworthy and reputable clients are attractive to trustworthy and reputable artists. This is exceedingly important because you want an artist who made sure to obtain font and photo licenses, use legal tools and resources to complete your project, and credit the proper people. If not, you run the risk of your company or project getting slammed with legal fines, or being associated in people’s minds with shady business practices. You do not want this.

Fortunately, if you make sure to get a contract and fairly compensate your artist, you should have this nailed. In the first place, by playing fair you will have attracted better artists. In the second place, that precious contract will protect you. Keeping the communication lines open will also help you notice if anything untoward is going on.

Lastly, if you get a reputation of being a fair client to work with, that good reputation is going to be spread to your artist’s network. This expands your reach to more reputable, professional artists, the kind of people you want to work with. This is infinitely more reliable (and ultimately, time-saving and cost-effective) then plumbing the depths of the internet for cheap artists who are scared of contracts and who may evaporate before a project is completed. “You get what you pay for” is all too true.

Have you had any nightmarish experiences as a client or artist that I haven’t touched on here? Feel free to deluge me with them in the Comments section.

Artists: 6 Reasons you should team up with a good freelance writer

Friends Lauren Tharp LittleZotz Writing and Heather Landry Sandpaperdaisy Art

A few years ago I became friends with Lauren Tharp of LittleZotz Writing. I didn’t know she was a freelance writer, only that she was the significant other of my incredibly talented artist buddy Ramiro. When I did find out about her occupation, I was mildly interested simply because I wanted to get to know her. Little did I know exactly how invaluable it is for an artist to know a good freelance writer, or how mutually beneficial our friendship would prove to be over the years.

Here are a few reasons why you really need a good freelance writer in your life too!

1. They know formal and proper ways of dealing with hellish clients.

We both have them, but artists might not always be as practiced in making articulate written communications with clients, debating over important points in the contract, renegotiating, and so on. Your writer buddy may have had to do this a thousand times over, even early or mid-career. The next time you have no idea how to politely tackle a rough client and avoid burning your bridges (or getting screwed) ask your writer friend for help!

2. They believe a freelancer should actually be…you know…PAID FOR WORKING.

Artists are prone to have their work severely undervalued or valued at nothing at all. People will often stare blankly when you suggest they should pay $20 for that print on $5 archival rag paper that you spent 10 hours carving on a $3 linoleum block. Worse, this doesn’t just come from prospective clients. I have heard plenty of artists speak as if they were ashamed to ask for payment.

Your writer buddy is working in an industry that is at least slightly more inclined to pay them for working. Their clients are used to the concept of paying by the word or the article, and most people seem to realize that journalists, editors, novel writers, ghost writers, script writers and the like are supposed to be paid for their work. Sometimes when you as an artist are tempted to give your hard work away or ashamed to ask for more than a few pennies (or deviantART points), your writer friend can remind you that YOU DESERVE TO BE PAID FOR WORKING.

3.They know people who constantly need art assets for their articles and books. Heck, they might even need art themselves.

This is great because your friend is a trustworthy client you resonate with, who you know won’t cheat you. (See #2.) They, in turn, don’t have to hook up with an artist they don’t know and possibly get burned. You both win big time. By the same token, if they point you towards one of their business acquaintances, you’re dealing with a potential client who has to some extent been vetted by your friend. Having a little knowledge beforehand is always preferable to approaching clients out of the blue.

Incidentally, you might need a writer someday! Wouldn’t you rather have someone you know and trust?

4. They know people in tons of disciplines because they have to constantly interview people and write articles about diverse subject matter.

They might even write an article about you someday! Connections and referrals are essential to your life as a freelancer, so here again you can both help each other out handsomely by pooling your knowledge and your networks. Both of you increase your reach, and you may end up getting more exposure while your friend gets more things to write about, and hence more work and a richer portfolio.

5. They’re always having to learn website and SEO skills to maintain their online presence.

The discussions you can have together about this can be absolutely invaluable to your art presence on the web. In my case, my friend is great at SEO and I have a bit more experience in web design and coding. We give each other advice and help all the time, when it’d cost money for us to be coached by other experts. Better, since we’re friends we can solve each other’s problems and help each other while in the midst of the fun conversations we actually want to be having. (Retro gaming! Nail Polish! Cat stories! …okay I found your coding problem. Surreal Japanese movies!)

6. If you’re up late working alone, chances are they are too. Encourage each other and keep each other company!

It’s so much better with a friend at your side. And trust me, having a friend to share all the ups and downs of freelancing with (the dreadful hours, the never-ending cycle of learning new programs and tools, the agonizing process of actually getting your money and then fulfilling tax and bookkeeping obligations…) may well be the thing that keeps you sane through your next project.

To summarize, I believe Artist/Writer is a beautiful and beneficially symbiotic friendship.

I formed my friendship without having a clue how useful it would end up being to my career. But if you’re interested in making new friends, you can’t do better than a writer, except possibly “Rich Art-Appreciating Fellow with Rich Art-Appreciating Friends.” And if you do meet that rich fellow, introduce him to your wonderful writer friend! They’d probably love to do an article on him or help him ghostwrite his latest Rich-People Novel.

The basics of setting up Patreon from a clueless comic Creator

Sandpaperdaisy Art on patreon

As of early this morning, I have a Patreon page! It was all unfamiliar to me, so I’ll share what I learned while setting up.

Keep in mind, I just learned about Patreon yesterday. I’d seen it once or twice before but I didn’t understand the mechanics. Well, I stayed up all night until my eyes bled, reading over everything and carefully combing through other creator pages. Here’s what I gleaned:

      A Creator sets up a system where supporters (Patrons) can pay them for the work they release.

Creators can get paid by the creation (in my case, per comic page) or monthly, if they make several creations a month.

By-Creation Pledges:

        Patrons can select a pledge option, like “$1 per comic page.” Then, if a Creator releases a new comic page and marks it as a “paid” work, the patron will be billed their $1 at the first of the month, or $3 if the Creator made 3 pages within that month, and so on. If the Creator made no “paid” work, Patrons are charged nothing for that month.

Monthly Pledges: If a Patron has pledged “$1 per month,” they will be charged $1, once a month, and so on with other amounts.

A Patron can select a monthly cap on pledges, so if a Creator releases 10 comic pages in one month but the Patron has a cap of $5 per month, they are only charged $5.

A Patron can cancel their pledge at any time before the first of the month and they will not be charged for that month. (Patreon states they are only interested in collecting pledges from people who actually want to support the artist, so no one is under any obligation to fulfill their pledge.)

A Creator can release a piece of work as “free” and everyone can see and enjoy it without paying any pledges.

Lastly, a Creator can also be a Patron, and pledge to support other Creators.

[Admittedly, I have not even tried to go into the fine points of payment, account setup, and so on, but I was able to figure everything out from Patreon’s FAQ. They can explain it better than I can!]

So, after I read all that stuff, I decided it seemed pretty reasonable, at least worth a try. I had considered Kickstarter before, but there were some things that I didn’t like about the model. Mainly, I was wary that so much depended on getting people to pledge money and make good on their payments. Artists using a Kickstarter understandably have to be pushing for it constantly or they could be in real financial trouble! They might also find themselves obligated to fulfill rewards that they have no way of realistically meeting.

With this system, people can give you a small amount of money one time, they can set a cap, or they can cancel before paying you at all. I prefer that as someone who has to pinch pennies myself. Better, they’re not paying you for a huge project you may or may not even be able to accomplish. They are only paying you for the work you have really done, and they are only paying you in order to give you some support. You can certainly give them rewards for this, but you aren’t contractually obligated to complete some huge, grand endeavor.

You may notice that I didn’t include my art projects or simple illustrations in the creations I chose to be paid for. I made it solely for comics since I am already being paid for all the exhibition and freelance/commission pieces I make. (I know, when in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would say THAT.)

But anyway, since comics is the only thing I still do without any expectation of payment, I realize that it often has to take a backseat to my other art projects. “Well, that’s kind of a shame” I thought, so I’ve made this page in order to get support as I muddle my way through my currently unpaid comic projects. Anything I do normally get paid for (my personal art projects, freelance work, etc) will not go on Patreon as a “paid” work but you will probably get to see it as my friend looking at my feed!

Do you have a Patreon Creator or Patron page? Please feel free to share it, I’d love to find some new friends. If you’ve had any experiences with Patreon, bad or good, I’d love to hear about those too.

https://www.patreon.com/sandpaperdaisy

And after you set up your patreon page, head over to The Muse’s Library for this fabulous tutorial on how to run your page, including tips on scheduling and reward fulfillment, and even templates for patreon share buttons and banners!

What to do with a mat that is ugly, faded or damaged

So! You got caught with an ugly mat. (Well how ’bout that.)

Well babies, don’t you panic, because I am going to show you three ways to AWESOME-FY your hideous or damaged mat.

1. DUCT TAPE

Yes. Evenly wrap your mat in duct tape, leaving the beveled edge on the inside window uncovered. Sounds crazy, right? But if you use an appropriate color and evenly apply the tape in pleasing, straight lines, no one will even know it’s duct tape. It looks like some really cool, textured mat with a light sheen. Of course, this is merely what I did…all you duct-tape wizards out there can no doubt find ways of creating criss-cross and plaid patterns, or using a busy duct tape pattern that somehow goes with your art piece and makes the overall framed piece more complete and fabulous. The possibilities are endless.

A caveat: this approach may be better suited for “edgy” shows and venues. In my own experience, I used this approach in a cyberpunk-type solo show and I found that telling customers about the duct tape was a selling point, not a drawback. Both of these pieces are gone now.

2. TISSUE PAPER

That cute, crinkly green mat you see there is a mat wrapped in tissue paper, then gone over several times with mod podge. Again, something that people liked and appreciated when they came across it. Tissue paper comes in all kinds of colors, so you can have a field day with this. As with the duct tape tip, just make sure your crazy, unique textured mat is appropriate for the piece inside it! This one is also “cute” enough to merit most venues.

An alternate version of this would be to creatively cover your matboard with attractive paper (origami paper, etc), like beautifying a damaged or ugly wall with wallpaper. Just make sure everything is straight and glued down perfectly, no bubbles.

3. EXTEND THE ART PAST THE WINDOW

I’ve done this plenty of times with perfectly intact mats. It’s a great approach to take with many pieces that just can’t be contained in that rectangular little window alone! But as you can probably guess, this approach can be ideal when you have an unsightly gouge or scratch on your otherwise pristine mat. If my matboard here had a nasty gouge underneath that origami pine there, you’d never know it.

Collages lend themselves well to this technique. You already have tons of interesting elements in your picture, and some of them may extend past the main body of the image and have graceful or interesting forms that you just cant bear to cover up. Don’t!!

My only caveat with this technique would be to make sure you take an even and consistent approach. If you just have one little element pasted onto your mat in an odd place, people are likely to guess why it’s there. But if you artistically extend your composition past the mat in a way that is visually pleasing and improves the picture, “making sense” to you and the viewer, you will not only have covered your mat’s damaged spot but you will have made a better piece of art! This should always be the goal regardless of what you are doing to your picture.

I hope these 3 little tips have given you some ideas of how you can stretch out your money and use those “unusable” mats moldering in the back of your art cabinet. Do you have any tricks you employ to get more mileage out of your matboards? I’d love to hear them in the Comments section!

The specter of spec art

The specter of speculative art

A lot of artists and other freelancers have opinions about “working on spec,” that is, doing work without compensation in hopes of obtaining a job or some other benefit in the future. Some maintain it’s a necessary evil in the industry, some believe it’s a good way to get exposure, and some urge you to avoid it like the plague.

So, which approach is best?

My answer is “a little of all three.” (Okay, a TINY bit of the first two and a LOT of the last one.) How could all three approaches be valid, you ask? Let me explain…

Spec art as part of your job

There are two circumstances that I would condone spec art as part of your job as a freelancer. The first is in the dreaded “concept stage.” During that stage, arguably, you may be doing a lot of work that does not end up being used. Fortunately, you can easily avoid all that work falling into the realm of “spec art” by anticipating the need for it and charging accordingly if you have a flat fee, or recording it faithfully if you have an hourly fee.

The other circumstance would be work you deliberately do to try and win a specific client. Many clients don’t merit this, but there will come a client that you will gladly do a fantastic piece purely to show them. This is speculation, all right, but it’s highly targeted to one person (or company) and you will have hopefully done your research well beforehand. My only caveat is that you should do your absolute best work if you take this route. That way, at worst, you will have a great portfolio piece.

Notice that in neither instance did the client ask you to work for free. In the first one, the client has already hired you and you have proceeded to the concept stage. In the second scenario, the client does not know about you yet and you are wooing them. NEVER DO FREE WORK FOR A CLIENT unless you have your own personal reasons for doing so. Good clients will not ask for this, and bad clients will ask for it and go on asking for it for the duration of your relationship.

An exception to this would be spec art as a charitable donation. But you’re arguably being compensated for this because it has given you the opportunity to do a good deed or aid your community.

Spec art for exposure

This one is even more narrow. There is literally only one reason you should ever do this. ONE. You should only take part in a contest, or answer a call for entries with a huge pool of applicants, or do free work for a zine, or similar, if the contest or project perfectly aligns with something you already planned on doing for yourself.

That’s it! That’s the only reason you should ever do this. There are so many other superior ways to get exposure that there’s no reason to fall for the “do free work for exposure” line. However, if you already wanted to do a specific piece for yourself, and you find out you can enter it in a contest or zine, go for it. IF the contest doesn’t have unreasonable rules about the ownership of your art. Check this thoroughly. In many instances you would get far more exposure from being free to promote your work as you see fit, rather than having to adhere to the rules of some contests.

Besides, if you slog through a theme that doesn’t interest you at all for a contest or zine, the judges will smell your insincerity a mile away. (Trust me on this one *cough*)

Avoiding spec art like the plague

This is the approach you should probably take a good 95% of the time (or more). In the majority of instances, people asking you for spec art are are up to no good. Your time on this earth is limited and priceless, and if you are not spending it working on either 1) personal projects with a personal meaning for you that give you pleasure and fulfillment or 2) work in which you are fairly compensated for your time and opportunity costs, you are wasting your time. Worse, you’re wasting your time on behalf of clueless or unethical people who will not appreciate your sacrifice.

You don’t want this.

To summarize, it’s best to only engage in spec art when the work is something you already planned to do for yourself. And you should NEVER agree to work for free unless you wish to make a charitable donation of your work. That way, you can’t get burned, you won’t be wasting your time, and the resulting pieces in your portfolio (whether they accomplished your goal or not) will be representative of you.

As always, these are my conclusions based upon my personal experiences of what was worthwhile and what wasn’t. You might have had a different experience, so don’t hesitate to tell me your ideas in the Comments!

How having kids saved my art career

Yes, you read that right. Having two attention-demanding, resource-sapping, energy-eroding, time-consuming, WONDERFUL little children actually saved my art career.

So how did this happen?

Well, before I had children I was enjoying life as a young woman, travelling around, working hard at a casino and making good money at the time and spending it all on entertaining myself and my husband and friends. I was also, incidentally, making VERY LITTLE ART! Why? Heck, I was having too much fun indulging myself.

After I had my first child I suddenly had a host of new considerations:

  • Money was suddenly scarcer than ever before.
  • I had to learn to manage my time.
  • I wanted my son to grow up to be proud of me.
  • I had to take care of my health and energy more than ever before.
  • I had to return to a “learning” mindset.
  • I was constantly reminded of my limits.
  • I was forced to do things I didn’t think I was capable of beforehand.
  • I had to become authoritative and at the same time, trustworthy.

Reading over this list, you may begin to see how parenting may have really had a hand in helping me develop as an artist. After all, before you develop as an anything (artists included) you must generally first develop as a person, and parenting is a very effective way to force that upon even the most stubborn of people (like me for example).

Now, let’s examine some of the points in this list a little more closely.

Money was suddenly scarcer than ever before.

This one’s a no-brainer. We all know that kids cost an inordinate amount of money. Even the most blissfully brand-oblivious, easily entertained child will one day go to the ER and cost you thousands of dollars, often through no fault of their own. It’s life. …but how on Earth can you hope to keep buying your art supplies with another human being or two (or six, I don’t judge) adding exponential food, health, clothing and shelter expenses to your budget?

You learn to pinch pennies, that’s how.

Suddenly, you’re eyeing that sturdy but ugly wooden frame in the flea market and realizing you can buy it for a buck, buy spraypaint, and have a sturdy frame that will go in any swank gallery. You learn to barter for supplies with other artists, or swap something for babysitting, or buy your clothes from nice consignment or charity places. You begin saving money with everything you do…survival depends on it! And suddenly, you have many more art supplies than you’ve ever had, because you’re not going down to that expensive chain store or one-size-fits-all printing place for all your needs, just like the casual shopper next to you. You’re starting to really think like a businessman in your field. Buy low…sell high!

I had to learn to manage my time.

You are busted if you can’t figure out how to do this with a host of kids running around your feet. Those are little thinking people who not only need your financial support, they need your attention. If you can’t figure out how to give them at least some of your time, you risk having unhappy kids and possibly disadvantaged teens and adults later. So isn’t that a huge setback to your art?

Well, in my case I’ll show you some examples. In 2007, before I’d had my first child, my artistic body of work consisted of a lot of indifferent school figure-drawing exercises, a hefty amount of fan-art about my favorite video game and anime characters, and something like FIVE serious recent pieces I could be proud of. I’d had one solo show (in school) and been in about a dozen group shows (in school). I was 26 and this was what I had.

Fast forward to me at 33. My C.V. almost entirely consists of work that occurred after I had either one or both of my sons. Between 2008 and 2010, I worked intensely on developing my style and working on my technique. The result? From 2011 to 2014 I did around 50 shows and I have another dozen or so lined up for now through Summer. All of these shows involved me making new work. This was only possible because my kids taught me to manage my time and prioritize.

I wanted my son to grow up to be proud of me.

Having a child not only forced me to at least try to become a role-model; I also experienced an unpleasant brush with my own mortality a time or two during each pregnancy. You have to sign forms that force you to decide what to do if they have to choose to save you or the baby, and in the case of my second son, I had some real trouble during my second pregnancy. It’s scary! But confronting your own mortality forces you to think: “What am I leaving behind me?” Well, my answer to that (besides my awesome kids) was: “I want to leave a huge, fantastic body of artwork behind me darn it!!”

This was also the realization that finally got me off the “Fan-Art Habit.” Now, I still enjoy making fan-art from time to time, and it’s fun to do little sketches for friends and fans on devinatART or tumblr or what have you. But fan-art, just like fanfiction, has the highly unfortunate tendency of becoming the only kind of art or fiction you produce. Generally fans of a series form a tight-knit community, friends and members frequently praise you and demand more art or fiction (or both!) …and before you know it, all you do is fan-art. Some people even make good money off of this, which I will not attempt to go into in this post…but ultimately, is any of this something you could proudly show your grandkids?

“Look little Billy, I consider this to be my best drawing of Rainbow Dash. It got 5000 pageviews!”

…well in my case, I wanted something “more” to show my kids.

I had to take care of my health and energy more than ever before.

Or in other words, “I had to learn to take care of myself.” Before I had kids, I sucked down sodapop all day everyday in wild abandon. I ignored vegetables. I slept a couple of hours, then went to work (or returned to smashing porings in my video game du jour). I got drunk more frequently.

Was it fun? Sure!! But it made me into a tired, pudgy thirty-year-old who had to figure out how in heck to sleep enough and eat the kind of foods that made me want to do anything at all past lying on the couch and waiting for death. I needed energy to change and teach and feed those kids! Well, I forced myself to develop better habits and aside from having two happier, more-loved kids and a husband with a renewed twinkle in his eye, it also resulted in HEAPS OF FINISHED ART. For once!!

I had to return to a “learning” mindset.

Since I had to go back to being more interested in math, science, history, politics and the world around me in order to help my sons gain an understanding of these things, I was much better prepared when I had to learn how to set up a comic book in Amazon…or learn how to use SAI and MangaStudio, or learn how to frame my work.

When I was younger, I was cocky. I sometimes reached a “cap” where I lost patience with learning new things for a project, and I assumed that if I had to learn “that much new stuff” to reach my goal, the goal was absurd! Now I realize that the old saw “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well” is absolutely true. If a project or dream requires me to learn new skills, it’s not the project’s fault. It’s time for me to step up…and once I do, I’ll be infinitely more desirable and valuable to clients. How can I lose?

I was constantly reminded of my limits.

This may seem like an odd principle to follow after my above affirmation that it’s great to learn new skills for a project. However, learning my limits as a mom taught me to delegate and allow myself time to recover from big challenges. If you need to learn a new skill, you need time to learn that new skill and you need to be patient with yourself as you try and fail. If you recognize this, you’ll be a lot more realistic in projecting the amount of time for your next project.

I was forced to do things I didn’t think I was capable of beforehand.

After you’ve taken care of a newborn, or survived the nightmarish process of potty-training or enrolling your child in school for the first time, you will feel like YOU CAN DO ANYTHING. Obviously we all have limits, but they’re apparently a lot farther out than we thought they were! Often we fail to try a thing simply because we are convinced beforehand, without researching it or trying it out, that we can’t do it. With kids, you don’t always get the option of being afraid to do something…you have to do it anyway because if you don’t, no one will.

Art is the same way. If you don’t grow your art career and constantly strive to appear out in the world and sell and develop your work, no one else will either.

I had to become authoritative and at the same time, trustworthy.

Welcome to parenthood…and freelancing!! Suddenly, you have to be an “authority.” With your kids, this is because you are an adult with more life experience than them. With clients, this is because you are the artist and they are not. Sometimes your client is an artist themselves, but they chose you to do the job. Then you still have to be an authority on how much you’re willing to do, for what compensation, in what timeframe.

In all cases as a freelancer, you have to be confident and professional.

A lot of artists do NOT start out as confident people, and their work can suffer for it. They can end up not demanding enough compensation and become disillusioned or forced to give up on art altogether when it fails to pay adequately. Alternately, they can be repeatedly bulldozed by clients with unsuitable ideas until they find they have created a body of work that looks nothing like who they really are, and may even violate their own moral considerations.

Neither of these scenarios makes for a happy artist or your best work, and worse yet if you become known for a certain type of work, that is what other clients will hire you for regardless if it is actually what you want to do. How is the client to know you don’t actually want to spend your life painting exactly like Norman Rockwell or making sparkly GIFs of teddybears and poodles if that’s all they ever see in your portfolio? (I personally like teddybears, but you get the idea.)

Bottom line, you have to be an authority on yourself and what you do, and you have to be professional enough that your client will trust you to help them make the very best decision for the project. Same with galleries, publications and so on…you need to know and project exactly what you can do, while being trustworthy enough that they have no problem allying your art to their livelihood by featuring it in their place of business.

Are any of you Artist-Parents? Did the kids help or hurt your personal journey?

For me, the kids literally saved my art life from ending and becoming a life spent in personal indulgences and occasional hobbyist art, art that I would not even own the copyright to if I chose to do mainly fan material. Others with different styles of working might have a much different story to tell than mine, so I’d love to hear your experiences in the Comments. All in all though, I hope this post may encourage some people who believe children must automatically mean the death of all other dreams.

Art tips: Bartering for supplies, services and payment

People enjoying the art and making deals at the Abbey Road Coffee and Bean Emporium, 2012

I have just been invited to a very active and exciting local Barter Group on Facebook, so I’d like to discuss bartering with you today as a good means of getting art supplies, services and payment from clients and friends.

Bartering, as we all probably know, is agreeing with another person to trade something you have in order to receive something they have. Ideally, you are trading them something you don’t need that they want or need very much, and you will be receiving something very useful or desirable to you in return. (That’s the way I do it anyhow.)

So the question is, “What do I have that I can barter?”

The answer is generally ART! But how does an artist go about making such a barter?

Table and Booth Spaces

In my case, I have one arrangement where I do art for a certain event. This event is run on a tight budget, so they are not in an ideal position to pay me what I am worth. However, this event has one thing I very much want: table spaces where artists can sell to the large crowds who come to it. I approached them, and once both of us examined what we really needed out of the relationship, it was quite simple to draw up a contract where I do the art for this event each year, and each year I get a free table. This table doesn’t cost the organizers too much to give me, but it earns me hundreds of dollars (much more than they could comfortably pay me).

The advantages of a barter such as this are evident: Not only does the artist receive a payment of higher value, but the client is gratified that they were able to save substantial money that can now be budgeted elsewhere. This is the magic of bartering. In the case of an event like this, the artist also receives exposure and the opportunity for making numerous contacts and future deals, as well as a fun time! These things drive the value of the deal well above the actual money made from sales, and also add more value to the event, pleasing the client more.

In another deal, I did a comic book for a client and was provided with a free booth at a comic book convention as part of my payment. Those booths aren’t cheap! But it benefited my client to have help running the booth to promote our comic, and I ended up making a good friend and steady business partner in the process of selling side-by-side with him. That may be the most priceless deal I have ever made!

Gift Cards

Another deal I made was designing a piece of glassware for a local restaurant. In return, I received a gift card for a substantial amount of free food and alcohol. This gift card had a value significantly above what the restaurant might have budgeted for monthly glassware artwork. But since it was a gift card, the restaurant saved money and I got paid a greater value than I would have gotten in cash money.

There’s no reason this “gift card” barter wouldn’t work with any other kind of local business. The business saves money and you get paid more. You might find this suggestion useful when trying to boost your payment from a project, if the business is somewhere you would want to spend your money anyway. And businesses are generally lovely places to try and get your art shown or sold, because a very wide variety of people come there or work there.

Lastly, bartering your work for an occasional gift card here and there to a nice place can improve your spirits and quality of life. At long last, you can go to that nice restaurant or taste steak or sushi again!! If you’ve been going through a dry period, there is just no over-emphasizing how much this will boost your mood and make you feel like a “normal” person again. It can be frustrating living a frugal existence while all your friends with “day jobs” are posting their latest food-selfie.

Other items

The bartering principle works for anything, as you may have guessed. And since you are a person as well as an artist, don’t hesitate to get together with your local environmentally conscious and artist friends (or meet some!) and begin swapping your art, unneeded supplies, or even your unneeded household items for anything you might need in the way of personal or business supplies. An artist needs to save money anyway they can, and with local groups being willing to barter invaluable services such as babysitting time, you can’t afford not to learn about local bartering systems in your community.

Other Artists are your friends

Another very handy tendency of artists is to go to art school and have supplies left over, or try a new art form and not like it, or hoard up useful items for art and then find they might not be able to use them. Pounce on this! You can relieve your friends and acquaintances of un-used supplies and save yourself untold costs in overhead. They might very much have a need for some item or piece of art you did that you could readily part with, or you can swap them your supplies that you decided you don’t have a use for. Everyone wins!

Now go forth and BARTER!!

I hope I have given you a few ideas about how bartering can be insanely useful to the active artist. Let me know in the Comments if you have any experiences with bartering or ideas for getting the most out of it that I haven’t covered!

About this Post:

You may remember when I was interviewed for Penny Hoarder awhile back. The subject of that article was saving money as an artist. The wonderful and talented author of that article, Lauren Tharp of LittleZotz Writing, suggested that sometime I needed to expand on my suggestions for the article. So, I’ll be doing so over the next several days. Incidentally, you may have noticed the “30 Day Blogging Challenge” tag. You can learn more about that here.