Earn With Your Art Part 3 — Strengthening Product / Increasing Rates

Strength of your Product

The most valuable asset you can have, is a first rate product. Whilst this isn’t the most groundbreaking, or glamorous advice – the proof is in the pudding. If your work is jaw-droppingly sublime, or stamped with a fiercely unique narrative voice, stuff is going to happen for you. If your product is a regurgitated ‘me too’ variant of what’s already out there, you will be a commodity and will have to compete on price alongside the bargain-bucket crowd. Not a pleasant place to be.

Your personal branding can help separate you from the herd to a certain extent (we’ll discuss more on that, later…) , but it’s your product that is the core offering, the backbone of your market value. You should be striving to step up your game from the outset, to find your personal aesthetic / narrative voice, and deliver it in such a way that is truly REMARKABLE.

In the cover-art community where I spend the bulk my time, I notice that the up and comers post a lot of covers that look like they’ve spent an hour or two, putting them together. Whilst in the ‘Brass Tacks’ sense of posting frequently, this is good – it’s really not enough to break through to the next level. To professional eyes, a ‘lazy’ cover looks like a lazy cover, no matter how many of your immediate peers fawn over it, and say it’s ‘amazing’ in the comments section. Believe me, the clients worth knowing can tell the difference.

The first thing you can do, to instantly strengthen your product, is to SPEND MORE TIME on the work. Do not be in a rush to indiscriminately churn out slap-dash artwork. If you’re in a position where you’re getting little dribbles of work from here and there – invest A LOT more time into showcase pieces that really highlight the apex of what you’re capable of. You could consider these pieces ‘loss-leaders’. As work volume increases you can fine-tune the process, to make the time expenditure more cost effective. To get the proverbial foot in the door however, your art has to be more desirable, or sufficiently unique / different.

There are exceptions to this rule, and I know many prolific artists operating within the ‘budget-range’, producing an obscene volume of commission work (and probably earning pretty well, too.) This can be ok whilst you’re starting out, but I know that this model really isn’t sustainable for too long – it can actually send you mad!! Burnout is no joke, and neither is the longterm physical damage that can be caused by excessive stress, and computer useage.

Strive to become a Premium Artist, where you can invest a comfortable amount of time into each gig; have the leverage to produce only your best work; and be paid accordingly.

Increasing your Rates

There’s a timeless business adage, that goes something like this:

‘The cheaper the client, the bigger the problems…’

This is a universal truth, that cannot be denied. Cheap clients, or the bargain-bucket crowd as I like to call them (slightly derogatory, sorry cheapies), tend to be ‘amateur-level’ themselves in their respective fields. With this, often comes a set of production problems throughout the creative process. The client may not be aware of the limitations of your art-form, and make grand requests on par with Hollywood level production-values (and all for $50!!). It may be the case that they don’t fully understand how to articulate what they require, or have insufficient knowledge of file formats, templates, or output modes. The additional to-and-fro required to rectify these issues can be tremendously labour-intensive, and as we learned in Brass-Tacks – TIME is the most valuable commodity that exists.

This is unfortunate to say, but in some instances the client may be a prima donna, caught up in their own ego – and view you as a tool / subordinate, not a creative partner. Believe it or not, this issue is actually more prevalent with cheap / amateur clients, as opposed to seasoned professionals. These clients are the most challenging that you’ll meet throughout your career, and your skills in diplomacy will be pushed to the absolute limit. These are the cases where you will lose the most time and revenue, and feel the most anguish.

Now the preceding passages may have painted bargain-bucket clients in a bad light, however it’s not my goal to demean those working with limited budgets. Many are perfectly competent, and an absolute pleasure to work with. Producing art is an incredibly cerebral pursuit, when you add a third party to the equation, it can become very taxing emotionally.

I believe it’s essential for newcomers to become ‘battle-hardened’, by working with some truly challenging clients, early in their career. Through the fire of practice, you become sharper at articulating your ideas, identifying issues early, and optimising the entire consultation / review process. However, it’s advisable not to remain in this ‘high-stress’ zone for too long. Increase the quality of your product and your professionalism, to remove yourself from the -$200 price range as fast as possible. Employing this strategy will be infinitely better for your longterm enjoyment of the craft, and mental health.

Closing Comments:

The aim of the game, is to ensure that your service isn’t a ‘commodity’. What you offer is truly unique, and you can charge a premium rate for your one-of-a-kind narrative voice. Spending more time on your product can help you achieve this.

By working with more professional clients, you will save lots of unnecessary heartache and stress, allowing you to invest your (precious) mental energy into producing the best work possible.

In the fourth installment of Earn With Your Art we’ll be examining how you can transform your creative pursuit into a full-time career, with a focus on professionalism, and the age old question ‘how much to charge?’ The new article lands next week, watch this space!!

Enjoyed the article? Show us some love in the comments 🙂

Dean Samed is a horror cover-artist who has worked for the biggest names in the genre. He now produces cinematic stock photography for NeoStock.com

Earn With Your Art Part 2 — Finding a Niche

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…

The Sub-Niche

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.

Closing Comments:

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’:

Earn With Your Art Part 3 — Strengthening Product / Increasing Rates

Enjoyed the article? Show us some love in the comments 🙂

Dean Samed is a horror cover-artist who has worked for the biggest names in the genre. He now produces cinematic stock photography for NeoStock.com

Earn With Your Art – An Insiders Guide Part 1

The act of creation is a beautiful thing.

I’ve been a commercial artist for nearly 20 years now, and have reached a stage where I don’t rely on a (slave) job to get by. It’s a professional pay bracket that allows me to live in relative comfort, right here on the shores of sunny England. I spend my productive hours doing the things I love, building stories with awesome / creative people. I get up when I want, take days off at my leisure, and have the freedom to choose who I deal with, and when.

Whilst this sounds like paradise, it didn’t come without sacrifice or strife. To reach this stage took a considerable amount of practice, determination, and pig-headedness!! There’s great truth to the old adage that it takes 10,000 hours to reach ‘mastery’. Well it took that long and then some, but I got there in the end.

Alas, I sincerely believe I could have achieved my goals a LOT sooner if I had treated my pursuit with greater professionalism from the outset. There’s a great saying championed by the Network Marketing guys that captures this sentiment perfectly:

Treat your pursuit like a business and it will pay you like one… treat your pursuit like a hobby and it will pay you like one.”

It’s with this ethos, that I managed to quadruple my creative income within 3 short years – and I believe you can too.

I’m by no means a ‘Superstar’, and I don’t profess to being a guru of any description. However, I’m confident that you’ll find at least one or two nuggets of gold within this article series. Some information may be revelatory, some could even strike you as pure nonsense. The fact of the matter is, my approach has been dog-eared, and borderline ‘cowboy’ throughout most of my life. My trajectory was far from perfect. I believe, with enough grit – anyone can achieve their creative goals.

”So, what’s on the agenda Skip?”

This article series outlines the strategies I employed to reach self-sufficiency with Digital Art. Whilst the majority of the information is anecdotal, there’s also extensive insight from the (obscene amount) Personal Development / Business / Marketing books I’ve read over the years. Everything mentioned here has been field-tested, proven useful, and applied to my own practice.

Topics covered include Business, Customer Retention / Loyalty, Marketing, Branding, ‘Fast Money’, Posting Content, and a selection of Productivity Tips – to help you get the most out of your working day. There’s 10,000 ways to skin the proverbial cat, so the topics here have been narrowed down to those that pack the most punch.

The Social Media / Marketing content of this report is heavily weighted toward Facebook, particularly the amazing leverage of Personal Profiles and Groups, as opposed to long-form content (Blogging), or Microblogging platforms (Twitter). Commercial Art is a seriously interpersonal pursuit, TOTALLY a people-game. Rapport and communication are the two most important assets in your marketing arsenal. The platforms that allow your audience to see who you really are, usually come out tops.

To jazz things up a bit, I’m even going to throw in a few anecdotes from my youth. I’m hoping these stories will illustrate that no path is perfect, and the struggle is half the fun. Creative independence is the goal, but the real glory lies in the journey.

On a final note, everybody’s situation is different – I totally get that. As a single man with no dependents, I’m afforded certain freedoms that someone with a handful of kids, AND a gruelling day-job may not have. The content here is crafted with these factors in mind. Whatever your domestic situation, take what you can, and keep on trucking.

And now to quote the great King Théoden: So it begins!!


1999 – Newington Council Estate, England (THE GHETTO)

The stained computer lurched and whirred to keep up with the unreasonable demands. The CPU fan, coated in dust and nicotine, made a noise like a dentist’s drill as it struggled to maintain the system temperature. The desktop had been beaten like a rented mule, and on this sweaty summer night, both hardware and software ran at maximum capacity.

The awkward position I was sitting in wasn’t great for posture. I fidgeted in the crappy chair, in an attempt to try and ease the painful ache in my back and neck. I didn’t even care about payment anymore, whatever paltry amount that could be. I was tired, and my patience was wearing thin.

The two jokers sitting either side of me, were Mike and Wade, South-East promoters who had an event franchise that was going from strength to strength. We were gathered in my small bedroom to produce an event flyer in realtime, without internet resources or any serious sense of direction. They were making big names for themselves in the underground dance scene, and as an impressionable 15 year old kid I was eager to be part of it. However… working with these dudes was ALWAYS a royal pain in the ass.

The weed really wasn’t helping, either.

The duo barked out random demands, and I scurried onward with the task like a stoned Bob Cratchit.

“Stretch out the title so it’s bigger.”

“As far as it will go, but don’t forget the bleed!!”

“NO zombies today, we know you’re itching to sneak them in there.”

“We’ll have none of that nonsense on our flyers, Zombie-Boy,” Wade said, gesturing to the row of Hellraiser figurines on the shelf above the computer.

“Did you say we could put a lens flare in there?”

“Yes get that in there….”

“…Turd polishing Dean, turd polishing.”

That last quip never failed to get a smile out of me. Mike and Wade were obnoxious, demanding, and paid me peanuts for gruelling work – but they were ALWAYS funny. Their wit and likeability had a way of diffusing my frustration.

Things often went wrong, largely due to my very limited skill-set, and the subpar equipment in use. Back then, I had no internet connection for photographic resources, dodgy fonts with (MANY) essential symbols missing, and a computer that was prone to critical system crashes at the most inopportune moments. Hell, I didn’t even have a CD Burner, so the guys could take the files with them. We had to use crappy Zip Disks, an archaic post-floppy storage format that never really caught on.

With the end in sight, I pushed the tempo to get this beast finished. Even the comedic heckling from either side of me was starting to wear thin. There was a ‘£’ symbol missing from the font we were using, so I haphazardly tried to wedge a symbol from another font-set in there, without it looking too goofy. It DID look stupid, but I was willing to overlook it – I wanted them out, and I wanted to get away from this infernal machine.

As the final stretch drew near, the software crashed.

“Oh dear… When did you last save?” Wade said…


To many of you, the information in this section may be obvious, but these are powerful points, well worth reiterating.

Brass Tacks

Anyone that would like to be in the business of selling artwork, or creative services NEEDS to post work online frequently. Content is still king, there’s really no way of getting around it – the more prolific / consistent you are, the more opportunities arise. All of my successful colleagues are consistent with their output, I can’t stress the importance of this enough. This doesn’t mean churning out any old rubbish to keep the numbers up, it means putting out the best you are capable of, as often as possible. There is power in repetition.

You should have an easy to navigate online gallery, that can be shown to interested parties, instantly.

At a minimum, a Facebook Page is better than nothing. Beyond that, a gallery on an art platform (Behance, DeviantArt, ArtStation etc.) will suffice – but ideally you should have a website on a hosted domain.

A visible subdomain such as .wix.com or .wordpress.com proves to me (and your clients) that you don’t have the volition to organise a sufficient website – which doesn’t start things on the right foot. Are you a professional, or a hobbyist? You want to play the game, you need to speculate to accumulate. Just buy the damn domain for your official site!!

For art websites, I believe simplicity wins. Let the art do the talking. Convoluted magazine layouts, or sites with complex navigation increases friction. Why is the client there? They want to see if they like your work, and to send an enquiry. For that reason, ensure there’s a contact form on the site that’s easy to find. Build with those points in mind, and you’re onto a winner.

Adobe CC has a very decent site-builder / hosting package that is included free for all software subscribers (you do need to obtain your own domain though, cheap as chips). The site-builder is extremely user friendly, and you can have a professional site put together in no time at all.

If you decide against that, WordPress is probably the next best option, affording greater levels of customisation for your site. If that works for you, then go right ahead. The templates available these days, are positively sublime.

Another point to have in mind right from the outset, is the value of TIME.

Time is the most valuable commodity there is. Clients may be paying you for a product / net result, but what they’re really paying you for is your TIME. This seems like such a devastatingly simple notion, but it’s at absolute core of what we do. Your time has value. When you’re working on a commission, you’re not spending time with your kids, socialising with buddies, or playing your MMORPG.

As soon as you understand that time is the equity that we’re dealing with, you truly begin to understand your value. You can start to charge a rate that is fair to you, as well as your client. You may be starting out, lacking essential skills, and feel you don’t ‘deserve’ to be charging a professional rate. That’s ok, we’ve all been there. What you can do during your turbulent early days, is track how long an average gig is taking you to complete, and figure out how much (roughly) you have made per hour. If the figure is below your national minimum wage, adjustments need to be made. Right from the beginning, you should be aiming infinitely higher than ‘average’.

I often speak to hobbyist artists, who want to know how to break into commercial art / make an income from their passion. Usually, I ask some probing questions to gauge where they’re at, so I can advise accordingly. Some are already on the righteous path, and I can really help out – but many others don’t have the ‘Brass Tacks’ covered, the ABSOLUTE essentials you need to get started (work to view online, a fairly consistent posting frequency). The most heinous excuse I hear for why things aren’t already moving, is that they’re unable to dedicate any time to this pursuit, because they have a day job

Here’s the rub. None of us ever had it easy. 99.99% of the successful creative professionals I know had to fight, battle, and scrape to achieve creative self-sufficiency. We all had the shitty day-job. Many people pursuing these goals are also tackling a gruelling university schedule… or juggling three kids (managing a household) AND a part-time job. Psychos / heroes, whatever you want to call them, they make time to get things moving.

It’s a universal truth applicable to all pursuits: you get back what you put in.

Post your best work often, and make it easy for your prospective clients to locate, and send an enquiry. Understand the value of your time, and develop your sense of creative worth.

In the second installment of Earn With Your Art, we’ll be looking into the ‘Sub Niche’ and the benefits of narrowing your creative focus / client base:

Earn With Your Art Part 2 — Finding a Niche

Enjoyed the article? Show us some love in the comments 🙂

Dean Samed is a horror cover-artist who has worked for the biggest names in the genre. He now produces cinematic stock photography for NeoStock.com