Tag Archives: art

Travels and journeys

27 Jan


If you don’t travel a lot, there are things you just won’t think to pack, or you’ll try to cram your bags full of lots of things you don’t need. But while you can make some educated guesses (an umbrella is a good thing to pack for Seattle and it’s much easier to get to Hawaii by air than it is by train) there’s no conclusively right way to do it, because every trip is different from place to place and person to person.

Finding your style as a storyteller or artist/designer is exactly the same. Among the things that affect your trip:

  • Where and when you’re staying: You can go to the exact same place twice and have two very different experiences from the weather, whether it’s night or day, if other events are happening at the same time. While you can guess that Florida might be warm and sunny, hurricane season can change all that. Do your research about what’s going on NOW and you’ll run into fewer surprises at your destination.
  • Your method of travel: Maybe because of the medium you’re using to travel, you have limitations. You can’t bring animation to a book just like you can’t bring a jug of Kool-Aid through the TSA checkpoints. Instead of cramming what you want to do into a bag that won’t fit it, choose the medium that best fits your content. If you find yourself writing very wordy comic pages, you might want to make a novel instead. If you design better freehand, find a tablet setup that compliments what you do.
  • What you can carry: Some of us have amazing muscles and carry very heavy loads all the time. Most of us need those little luggage wheelies. But lifting heavy loads on a regular basis increases your strength. Do lots of projects, even if they’re small, on a regular basis. It’ll increase your capacity for projects in the future and give you an idea of how to estimate your workload for other people.
  • How much you’ve traveled in the past: It’s the act of packing over and over again and seeing what happens on the trip that makes you remember the things that came in handy, and weed out the things that are just a waste of space. Experience will not only help you do more, but become more efficient at knowing what tools and techniques fit where.

Tell me about your journey!

What have you learned on your travels as an artist/writer/designer? Where do you go, and what do you pack?


Making your dream job a reality, pragmatically

3 Sep

I worked as an in-house graphic designer at various places from September 2004 until March 2012, when I quit my job and went entirely full-time freelance. It’s been a great opportunity to work on my dream jobs: making my comic Sombulus and making board games with my husband Mark. But I’ve come to realize a few things about making your dream jobs your full-time jobs, and how to go about it in a (relatively) stress-free way.

The Day Job is not evil.

Making money off your dream project is not going to happen overnight, and that doesn’t mean you’re a failure or you should stop trying. What it means is you absolutely need some other way of supporting yourself while you improve your craft and grow your audience to that point, or you will be so worried about being able to pay the rent that your creativity will suffer (been there, not fun).

Plumber at work, by Yves B.

Plumber at work, by Yves B.

The good thing is that jobs and fun stuff are not a binary choice: you don’t have to give up on making money on what you love if you get a job doing something completely different. There’s always a way to make it work.

Stability makes growth possible

Once you’re supporting yourself, you have the mental room you need to experiment. Let’s take the example of comics. Try to figure out how to make a quality comic book that you can crowdfund and/or sell at local conventions. If this is your first time making a comic, practice with small stories and other pieces, put them out for people to read, and get good feedback on what your strengths and weaknesses are as a storyteller and an artist. Use that feedback to find education and new tools to improve your work.

Having a day job allowed my artistic skills to grow into something more marketable

Having a day job allowed my artistic skills to grow into something more marketable

The more freedom you have to afford the tools and take the time to improve your craft, two things will happen: the more your audience will grow, and the more your skills will grow.

Bringing money into the equation

Once you have something that people are consistently responding positively to, make your way to a convention or start a Indiegogo/Kickstarter for it. Start your goals small: if you're at a convention, try to make enough money to break even with the cost of the table first. If you're a musician, try to score a regular gig somewhere. Set one small goal at a time, and you'll find yourself moving forward.

Kris Sheppard: graphic designer by day, tableside magician by night!

Kris Sheppard: graphic designer by day, tableside magician by night! Check him out at krissheppardmagic.com

Many paths to financial stability

Sombulus has been online since 2010 and Whirling Derby launched a year ago. Both Sombulus volume 1 and our first published game should be coming out next spring, which is exciting and will finally start the ball rolling on those streams of income. But am I ever going to live off of any one of those? Probably not.

And that’s okay! Many of us have been raised to believe that we’ll grow up to only have one occupation, and performing that one task will solve all our financial problems. But in a lot of situations, it's a combination and rotation of many completely different things that pays the bills. Keep making and trying new things to bring in money and see what works for your audience!

Have you been pursuing your goal? What are you working toward, and how is it going? Let me know in the comments!

Read my webcomic:

How to be an artist on Tumblr.

20 Mar

So I got a question from an up-and-coming artist about how to market herself on Tumblr about a week ago, and some of you have gotten harried emails from me scrambling for answers and advice.

I found it ironic that anyone would ask me about Tumblr. I’ve been around from the days of IRC, and nothing has confused me more than Tumblr. As a medium, I don’t even think MySpace has gotten so much flak. John Allison believes it’s for looky-loo commenters that’ll never put money in his pocket. Kris Straub perpetuates the belief that its users nuke attribution with finger-wiggling glee (note this was in 2011, though).

From chainsawsuit.com by Kris Straub

“A Tribute to Attribution” by Kris Straub, 2011

I respect their views and their choice of where they do/don’t want to see their art, but the comments are condescending to a point that blocks out understanding of an audience.  If there’s anything graphic design has taught me, it’s that understanding audiences is always worth it. I’ve been using Tumblr for a while, and I believe:

  • Tumblr is neither good nor evil. It’s just a medium. And it’s big enough that there are just as many good communities as crummy ones who congregate on it.
  • …that said, you may have to redefine “community” a little to get anything out of it. For those of us who are used to forum-thread strings where you can react not only to the person who posted something, but to the other people commenting on it, it is downright frustrating. But once you accept that that’s not what it’s built for, it gets easier.
  • Buckets are the primary form of communication. I call Twitter and Tumblr “streams”. You’ll never step in the same water twice, and most stuff just floats right past you in moments. However, unlike Twitter, Tumblr has a bunch of kids at the end of the stream with buckets scooping out the water they like and redumping it in their tributaries so they can swim in it again with all their friends. This attracts people who are interested in swimming and bringing more buckets of that kind of water to each tributary.
  • For some people, Tumblr is the internet. There are some people for whom Tumblr is the first and best way of meeting strangers on the internet that they’ve ever used, and meeting strangers (let’s call this networking if it makes you feel less creeped out) is the first thing you’ve got to do if you want to have a healthy, balanced internet life. You might call that sad if you’re old like me, but really, we had more than our share of laughable internet tools, so I don’t think we can point fingers.

What makes a Tumblr Artist Successful?

Ava’s Demon, by Michelle Czajkowski

Given this, there is definitely a value to building a Tumblr audience with your art, and many artists have found ways to do so.  Ava’s Demon is tearing up everything in the Comic Mix March Madness competition. My friend Xella also pointed me toward Cloud Factory, a comic with 2,000 followers which hasn’t actually started yet. So something’s definitely happening there.  Tumblr is never going to be where you sell t-shirts or get ad revenue, but it might just be what funds your Kickstarter in 24 hours or less or fills your commission slots.

So how do you become a Tumblr household name? If I had to come up with a gauge of artistic Tumblr success, it would be:

  • Have visual impact that’s distinct beyond your signature at the bottom. If you saw 3 pictures from Michelle Czajkowski or Marlo Meekins on your dashboard over a span of three weeks, you’d be able to tell another one from a mile away. This is your identity on Tumblr as an artist, not your URL on the bottom or your signature in the corner.
  • Don’t be fooled by one-hit wonder posts. The numbers can be exciting when you become “Tumblr famous” and get a lot of reblogs, but think of it in terms of billboards. When you’re in your car passing a billboard, you don’t stop your car and interact with that company.  And after it’s been torn down, no one’s going to pass by your billboard again.  But they work on the principle that there’s 10 of them in a 5 mile radius.  So you’ve got to build another one. And another. And another. Think of The Hawkeye Initiative and Bitchface: The Masterworks. Like a good ad campaign, the message is similar post to post.  You know who it’s from.  And they’ve got the humor value that makes your friends want to rebucket it from the stream.
  • Create a fandom that feeds itself, even when you don’t. This is the golden fleece that everyone’d like to know how to obtain (and even the people who have it aren’t sure where it came from half the time), but if you can be awesome enough that people want to reinterpret your characters in their setting, you will get your audience just on buzz alone.

Bitchface: The Masterworks, which gives nods to the (obviously) sass-talking dames of classical art.

What do you think?

While it’s easy to make Tumblr a villain, the truth about Tumblr is that it’s working out for some artists, and we can only benefit from figuring out why.  I’d love to hear more about your experiences with promoting your own art with Tumblr, or other artists you follow!

(And of course, you can follow me on Tumblr if you like!)