For part 2 of the ‘Earn With Your Art’ series we’ll be exploring the notion of operating within a niche, and how to find success as a visual-specialist within a particular field.
Read on for the skinny…
Generalists do not fare well, in this day and age. With your creative services, the worst thing you can do is offer something ‘generic’. Successful creatives offer something unique, a creative vision that cannot be easily replicated, or found elsewhere. The generalist who does everything and anything is a commodity. These people compete on price, which is the absolute worst thing that you can do. There’s always a guy or girl in a developing nation who will do an equally good job, at a fraction of the price.
A great way to develop a specialism, is to attach yourself to a ‘Sub-Niche’. A sub-niche is a small topic, group, or community. For instance, after producing flyers / posters for regional dance events in my youth, I finally had access to internet… so I transitioned to a sub-niche of the music genre I was already working in (Drum n Bass, to Darkstep Drum n Bass). I was ecstatic to be working in a more aggressive scene, which suited the macabre / horror aesthetic I preferred to work in with my personal art. These were the Myspace glory days, and I fully immersed myself into the scene – which wasn’t too difficult, as I enjoyed the music and attending the events!!
As a fan of the genre, I had a deep understanding of the aesthetic mood / style to complement the music. This allowed me to provide an incredibly laser-focused service to the event promoters and record labels in this micro-niche. The Darkstep Drum n Bass scene has a small, but very passionate following internationally, so I was able to dominate with relative ease. At one point in time, I believe I was one of the most prolific artists for the genre.
In short, I became known as the ‘Darkstep Drum n Bass Artwork Guy’. I looked the part, I talked the talk, and even though my skills weren’t so sharp back then, I did give it my all. Now imagine, if I tried to play this game in a wider niche, such as Dance Music, in general. I don’t think I would have stood a chance in hell (I would have been decimated), competing with fiercely competent Digital Artists and Designers worldwide, specialists in their respective fields.
I’ve seen this tactic played out, time and again – to great success. I have colleagues from university and industry that have carved out considerable names for themselves, by specialising in a particular scene / sub-niche. Some of my peers have done very well in skateboarding, church / christian groups, urban hip-hop / grime music, fantasy / romance publishing sub-genres, and many other specialised fields.
The e-publishing boom created a huge new market for digital artists, and I got in fairly early – transitioning from music (which really didn’t pay that well), to producing book cover art. Whilst producing flyers, posters, and cover art in music, I also produced personal horror / macabre artwork on a regular basis, and shared to the (then) popular art platform DeviantArt (Brass Tacks: SHARE WORK OFTEN!!) . It was this work that provided my ‘in’, to the publishing world.
My horror art was discovered by an up and coming author on DeviantArt, who asked if he could use one of my artworks to illustrate one of his free fan-fiction stories, online. As a fan of the subject matter (Lovecraftian tales), and pleased with the fact that he asked permission – I told him to go right ahead and use the artwork, with a small credit linking back to me.
Some time passed, and the author reconnected with me, this time with a paid commission to illustrate a character for a new story. We worked through the job, and all parties were happy. Again, the client returned once more – he was now signed to one of the leading horror publishers on the planet!! He had a full book cover commission for me to undertake. The gig went well, and acted as my introduction to the horror publisher, who was keen for me to tackle more covers for the authors on their roster. That was it, I was in.
Now imagine if I had been prissy, when the author had first contacted me, and asked for a nominal fee for useage of the artwork? It could have jeopardised the opportunity of a lifetime. As we said before, this is a people-game. Humility and small acts of kindness will increase opportunities exponentially. Now this doesn’t mean give everything away for free – it means leverage your personal work when you’re starting out. If you you can use your work to build genuine connections, then go ahead and do it!! More often than not, it leads to paid opportunities that can get you started.
With a firm footing in the horror genre, I drew a line in the sand. I was ‘The Horror Guy’, and everyone was gonna know about it. This is my sub-niche, and I know it implicitly. I read the books, I watch the films, and even wear the dorky horror t-shirts. Hell… I even look a bit scary!!
To push the notion even further, with all online art submissions I sign off with the following: ‘(YEAR), Dean Samed – the Horror Specialist.’
I still take commissions outside of the genre, but anyone that follows my work KNOWS that’s my particular area of expertise, there’s never any doubt about it.
Think about your own specialisms and areas of interest. Consider the communities you already belong to, and how you can help solve problems with your creative services. We are inherently attracted to those similar to us, so that rapport can help build relationships — enabling you to grow your practice at a much faster rate.
A large portion of this article has been anecdotal and everyone’s journey / story is different, that’s a given… It’s still worth noting however, the power of specialisation and the growth it can afford your professional practice.
As a proven specialist, you have greater authority within a given niche / alongside the trust of your peers, and higher brand recognition — attributes not so easily gained within wider markets.
It’s a matter of positioning, a powerful factor that can make or break a fledgling career.
In the third installment of Earn With Your Art, we’ll be examining how you can improve the quality of your product, and increase your rates. Absolutely essential, if you plan to take your practice ‘full-time’:
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