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.
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:
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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