072. Hello Denver!

I missed my Friday deadline, but I have a good excuse!

I flew back to Denver on Sunday, and have been spending my days unboxing my storage, visiting friends I haven't seen in over 6 months, and preparing to start a new stream schedule for my summer in Denver.

I've also been compiling the required documentation to apply for my fiance visa to return to the UK. 

It's all pretty overwhelming, but at the same time, I remain positive, and just know that in the long run this will be for the best.

So all in all, it's been a hectic week, but I still try to find a little time each day to paint.
It's the only thing that keeps me grounded.

Here are a few plein air sketchings from this week.

068. Sketchbook Tour #1!

Howdy all! I am so excited to share this video, which is a sketchbook tour of my recently completed sketchbook! I started this Moleskin Watercolor Sketchbook in June, 2016.

I was JUST starting on my watercolor journey, so the first several pages of this sketchbook show my early learning process. I was not only painting in this sketchbook, I also did lots of work in my studio on nice watercolor paper. But I did take this out with me on my hiking and camping trips! So there are many special places captured in this sketchbook.

Many of you have been with me since I started my watercolor journey, and have seen me post photos of a lot of these on my Instagram. I post tons of sketches and such on there, so if you like that sort of thing, make sure you're following! 

063. Documenting Artwork

Documenting your work is so important, whether you are a hobbyist or a full time artist. You use images for your portfolio, shop, and social media. Having consistently good images will put you and your work in a better light (pun)!

For those of us who are trying to build our business and make a living through our artwork, it's essential that we make it look as professional as possible! 

20170309_115853_HDR.jpg

First, decide between using a camera to capture your work or a scanner.

For me, that was an easy choice. I come from a photography background, so I already had the knowledge and camera required for good photos. But even more importantly, I often paint very large - sometimes up to 4 feet paintings, and those cannot be scanned!
If you want to scan your artwork, but you don't own a large scanner, you'll need to find a local print shop who can scan large artwork, and they have limits (and it can be pricey).

So this information is for anyone interested in photographing your artwork. This is MY process, and it may differ from other artists, but I hope it helps! Everything in my portfolio was a photo taken with my DSLR and cropped/adjusted in Photoshop after.

Anytime I say "canvas" I am referring to your artwork, whether it's a painting, drawing, or sculpture!

 

Lighting

There are lots of factors to consider when documenting artwork, but lighting is the main challenge. Regardless of your equipment, if you don't understand what good lighting is, your photos will suffer. 

USE NATURAL LIGHT WHENEVER POSSIBLE (But not direct sun)

Each type of light (natural, incandescent, LED, fluorescent, etc) has a different color or "temperature" (warm vs. cool)
Natural light falls in the middle, giving you a very neutral color and most accurately representing your artwork's colors.

Most of us have incandescent or warm LED bulbs in our home, which will cast a warm glow. If you absolutely cannot take photos using natural light, using the artificial light available to you is OK because color can be fixed in post production (to an extent). However what is not OK is low light, or using flashes that create a glare on the artwork. Sometimes, the glare isn't just a white reflection, but a color shift within your shadows. This can be hard to notice until you get into post production, and it's really annoying to fix!

To avoid reflections and glare on your canvas, you need to use indirect lighting. This means making sure there are no direct sources of light hitting your canvas. You can do this by angling your canvas in a certain position with your room. Fill the room with as much light as possible. Don't point light directly at your canvas. Begin angling the canvas and really look at the shadows. If you notice they are "lighter" than they should be or have a slightly different color, this means there's a glare and it WILL show up in your photos.

Keep angling until you find a position that works! Remember to avoid casting a shadow on the work from your body, camera or tripod (I rarely use a tripod).

 

The angle of the photo matters!

Don't take the photo from a harsh angle (from the side). Position the camera DIRECTLY ABOVE the canvas, keeping in mind that you will need to crop the image. Cropping requires straight lines. 

The following examples were taken with my phone (LG G4):

Final image after adjustments.

The last image shows what it looks like after being cropped and the contrast slightly increased.
This painting was not complete at the time, but I wanted to use it as an example because it had a variety of colors, contrast, and texture. These things were captured well with my phone and the final image is perfect for twitter or instagram, or even an online portfolio!

 

DSLR Camera Settings

I always shoot in RAW format (not jpeg) whenever possible.
Most cameras, even point-and-shoots and some phones, have the option to change what file type your images are. RAW format allows you to adjust native settings of the image like exposure, white balance (color), and much more in post production, and it gives you a higher quality image.

Canon: In your camera menu, scroll to the "Image Quality" function and choose RAW.
Nikon: In your camera menu, scroll to "Image Quality" function and choose NEF (RAW).

Keep in mind this will increase your file size, sometimes up to 30mb per image. However it provides the purest, largest, highest quality image, which will allow you to make large poster size prints of your images later if you want!
If you don't have the option for RAW, use the highest jpeg setting available.

Use a high ISO in order to allow as much light into the sensor as possible. If your shadows are "grainy" that means you need more light in the room and a lower ISO (increasing the ISO too much will cause grain).

MAKE SURE THE PHOTO IS IN FOCUS! Stay as still as possible, and take the image directly from above so that every part of the canvas is in focus.

 

Using a Phone

I have the LG G4 phone, and I chose it specifically for the camera. It allows manual settings as well as RAW format! It takes incredibly crisp images and does a great job handling low light.

You can take perfectly decent photos for your portfolio and social media with your camera phone.
(See above examples)

The area that it lacks is usually resolution/file size. If you plan on selling high quality prints of your work down the line, you'll need very high resolution, large files which phones don't always provide. Just keep that in mind.

 

Post Production

After you take the photo, you will need to make adjustments and crop the image to match the borders of your artwork.

I use Photoshop CS6, but you can find other photo editing software out there. Just make sure it allows you to edit RAW images if you use that setting.

When you open a RAW file, it will first open in Adobe Bridge. This allows you to adjust the native settings of the image like exposure and color. If you have a jpeg, open it directly in Photoshop or whatever software you have. You can still adjust these settings in a jpeg to an extent.

The main things I do are:

  1. Crop
  2. Adjust saturation or colors
  3. Adjust contrast (using levels or curves)

 

Social Media

Like I mentioned before, a lot of times using a phone to capture images of your work for social media is perfectly fine, just try to keep lighting, angle, and quality in mind! The more you post consistently good quality images, the more your work will attract others. Posting poorly lit, horribly yellow, or grainy photos of your work just makes the art and your brand look BAD! Give yourself the best chance possible by taking a little extra time and pay attention to the details.

Progress Pics are an excellent way to show off the unique aspects of a medium, whether it's painting or drawing, or whatever! People love progress pics!

Instagram currently offers the choice to upload multiple images to one post, so you can show individual progress photos or closeups of your piece.
Note: For the multiple photo feature, the app auto-crops them to a square, so make sure you take the image from far enough away/the correct angle to fit within a square.

Twitter allows you to upload 4 images at a time, which is also an excellent way to show details or progress shots.

You can also have fun and get creative with your compositions. 

Multiples or closeups don't have to be boring!

If you have any specific questions, please message me or leave a comment below! I'd love to help you reach a level of quality you are proud of!

059. Artistic Progression

You know that feeling when you're starting to learn a new skill, and even though you understand the premise of how to execute the skill, your body just can't quite do it?

For instance, shooting a bow. You understand you must raise the bow, aim the arrow, pull back on the string, and release. You hope it hits the target in the desired spot. However, you quickly realize there are so many tiny nuances to achieving your goal. Angle, strength, even wind can factor in to the outcome. It cannot be perfected without hundreds - if not thousands - hours of practice.

The same goes for art. 

Learning how to manipulate paint on a canvas, or how to sweep graphite over the paper to a desired outcome is a skill. 

It's not an innate talent you are born with. With enough hours and dedication, you can learn how to paint something like this:

"The Fellowship of the Ring - Descent from Caradhras" by Donato Giancola (oil on linen)

It may be a long and sometimes tedious and frustrating process. However that doesn't mean it's not an enjoyable process! It's going to be filled with tiny failures and successes. 
Remember: mistakes are your FRIEND!
We learn from our mistakes.

I frequently hear new artists say "it feels like I'm not getting any better."

If you are practicing, especially daily, you ARE getting better. Your progression may not be noticeable (to you) because you have an idea of what skill level you want to reach, and that is clouding your judgement.

If you truly want to make progress, you need to take an active role in your progression! This means that every single time you draw/paint something, you give it a proper look and do a quick "lessons learned" session. What is good about it? What is not good? Where do you feel like you struggle the most?
The more you do this, the more you'll be present during the creation, and be able to see your true mistakes, learn from them, and eventually get over them.

It doesn't happen immediately, but it will happen.

No matter what, don't compare yourself to other artists. That will only lead to that pitiful "I will never be able to do that" feeling. I'm just as guilty of this - but once I'm aware that I am doing it, I snap out of it and continue on my own journey.

Do you have any tips/advice for new artists? If so feel free to leave them in the comments!

053. Artist Advice: Shipping Artwork

If you plan on selling physical artwork, you'll need to familiarize yourself with some supplies. I'll talk about the different types of packaging needed for different types of art!

Small Flat Artwork

  • Rigid Envelopes
    I stay stocked up on size A2 (13.25 x 9.25" because my most popular painting size is 9"x12"
    They fit perfectly in these envelopes!
  • I buy mine in bulk on Amazon so they cost less than $1.20 each (free delivery)

Thick Artwork (framed work & canvas)

  • There are many ways you can package your thicker work, but over time I discovered the most cost-effective way is to build my own boxes. 
  • I start off with large "mirror boxes" and cut them down to the size I need. 
  • If you buy them in bulk, they should cost $5 or less each. And depending on the size of item you're shipping, you may be able to make two shipments out of one large box.
  • The mirror boxes I use are telescopic double-walled cardboard, so they are extremely rigid and protect anything inside.
  • I also buy bulk bubble wrap and packing paper for extra padding.
  • Here's a video showing my process for boxing larger items:

This video is from last year, and I've started using thicker boxes & added more padding (bubble wrap) to this process, but you get the idea!

The largest painting I've ever shipped was 2ft x 4ft, and I shipped it from Colorado to UK using this method. It cost $150 for 3 day Priority Express, Tracked, Insured mail. 

Cost of Shipping - Domestic within US

  • Depending on the size of your art, you can save money by shipping Priority. If you ship flat artwork smaller than 12" on it's longest edge, you can use Priority envelopes and ship within the US for about $6.50 - Tracked & Insured
    This is a great option if you want that guaranteed service.
  • For large artwork in thicker packages/boxes, expect to pay minimum $50 per shipment. This will include insurance, tracking, and guaranteed delivery (which your clients will expect). For canvas, my average cost within the US was $60.

Cost of Shipping - International

  • If you're shipping from within the US, to another country, the prices rise drastically.
  • For Priority and generic 12" envelopes, to most countries, you'll pay about $30 (Insured up to $50, but only tracked to the US border)
  • For larger packages/boxes you have a couple options. I ALWAYS ship Priority Express international because the risk of the item getting delayed or damaged is higher.
    This costs about $80-150 to most countries (depending on size/weight of box). 
    This should be paid by the client.
  • If you're shipping from EU to a foreign country, the price is slightly better, especially for smaller flat artwork in rigid envelopes (anywhere from $10-30).
    For larger packages/boxes within the EU expect to pay $50-100 (depending on size/weight of box)

Customs Forms

  • If you're shipping from the US to another country, you'll need to fill out a customs form for anything larger than a regular letter envelope. Such a pain! 
  • The USPS Recently changed their customs forms so that all size packages use the same one (easier!). Grab a handful next time you're at the post office and fill them out ahead of time.
  • If you're shipping International Express, you need to get the customs form with the Express Mail EMS logo on it! Ask the clerk for these
  • Fill out the information as requested on the form, sign & date it. 
  • If you're shipping from within the EU to an EU country, most times you won't need a customs form, unless it's a larger package, going outside the EU. Yay!

Personal Advice

I've shipped over 150 packages, most of them international.
I've only had ONE incident where a canvas was damaged during shipment (from Colorado to Denmark). There was a giant hole in the box and corner of the frame was broken, the canvas was slightly torn. My client was super OK with it, because he ended up framing it under glass, which flattened the canvas and you couldn't see the tear. I still refunded the shipping.

Besides that one incident, I've never had anything get damaged during shipping. 
I still buy insurance for all my packages, just in case. It's all worked into the cost of shipping that the client pays. 
It's a necessary precaution, in my opinion!

If you have any advice or stories of your own, please share them in the comments below!

051. Advice for Artists: Work Flow

One of the hardest things about being a freelance artist is time management.
When you can set your own schedule, it's easy to procrastinate on some things and feel overwhelmed when a deadline approaches.

It's also easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of "background" work that goes into running your own business.

It's not just painting.

It's not just streaming.

It's conceptualizing interesting paintings, sketching, prepping canvas, keeping supply levels up, networking, social media, taking photos of work (or scanning), updating website and portfolios, answering emails, discussing projects with clients, packing and shipping sold artwork...
And that doesn't even include the time I'm streaming, all the admin that goes into streaming full time, collaborations, working on this Blog and keeping up with my Patreon!

So how the heck do you stay organized and on time in the midst of a to-do list the size of your arm?

Part of the fire that drives me comes from the fact that I've ALWAYS wanted to do this with my life. Now that I have this opportunity, I will do anything in my power to keep it going. 
That said, I still get burned out.
Having a balance of work & play is really important. For me, it's having at least one day a week where the majority of the day is spent out of my studio doing something fun - mainly hiking and painting outside.
Without that room to breathe, the work load can suffocate me and my creative fire goes out. When I'm overwhelmed, I'm in a terrible mindset for creative work. I learned the hard way that I NEED to have "time off." It's just part of my business.

Secondly, having a consistent work flow is paramount. Without it, chaos reigns. When chaos reigns, productivity, and therefore income, suffers.

My work flow looks something like this:

Commissions

  1. Receive commission request.
  2. Respond with pricing and ideas.
  3. Agree on pricing and idea, send invoice for 1/2 the total amount.
  4. Once payment is received, start painting.
  5. Once painting is complete, send preview photos to client. 
  6. Upon approval, send invoice for remaining amount due, plus shipping
  7. Take high-resolution image of painting for archive.
  8. Upon final payment, package and ship painting.
  9. Send tracking info to client.
  10. Close/archive email.

Sales (Paintings/drawings that I make for fun/personal projects)

  1. Paint.
  2. Take high resolution images of final piece.
  3. Upload to Etsy and publish the listing.
  4. "Advertise" on social media (not spamming, just once, and repeat a month later if it hasn't sold)
  5. If someone purchases it, package and ship immediately.

Patreon (two main events each month - the Paintalong, and shipping rewards)

  1. Choose a date for the next Paintalong.
  2. Advertise on social media once a week leading up to it.
  3. Do Paintalong live on stream.
  4. Collect photos of everyone's work (like herding cats).
  5. Make final collage of everyone's work.
  6. Edit and upload video for my Patreons
  7. Once a month - paint, package, and ship Patreon rewards (this usually takes 3 full days)

Streaming M/W/F/Su
Admin Days T/Th (get LOTS of work done!)

Since I stream full-time, most of my work is created during a stream. So part of my workflow is streaming itself. I make sure I am productive during a stream. I would love to just hang out and chat more with my viewers, but that would mean I wouldn't ever complete my work!

After each stream, I take a photo of what I've completed and share it on social media. 
Then the next morning when the sun is out and my studio is full of light, I take a high resolution photo of the finished work for my archives. I always use natural, ambient light when documenting my work.

I hope some of this helps! Your own work flow might be different, but the most important thing is consistency! 
If you have any tips or advice, feel free to share it in a comment below!

038. On Originality

They say there are no original ideas left.

Everything thought of and created is an evolution of something that was already thought of or created.

So as artists, how are we meant to make an impression in an already impressed world?

Our art is only limited to what we can imagine. Our technique and skill will catch up with practice, so focusing on building our internal library and expanding our minds becomes critical.

Never stop looking.

Look at other art. 
Look at buildings.
Look at clouds.
Look at animals and people and cars and inventions and sex and fire and everything you can.

As someone interested in not only landscape/environment art, but fantasy concepts, I am constantly seeking more visual stimuli. Movies, anime, books, art. Everything I can get my "hands" on.

Abstract experiments. Acrylic on canvas.

I have a story inside me. I doubt it's original. But the way I tell it will be. 
We each have a unique voice. Our words and art pass through our internal filters which are products of our experiences.

So go experience.

 

With many thousands of years of human lives lived, and now over 7 billion people on the planet, it may seem daunting to be original.

And maybe you'll never be completely original. 

And maybe that's OK.

Instead of obsessing over that, focus on what inspires you to create. Have experiences.
Live.
Create. Never stop creating. Share your unique voice, in whatever way feels right to you.
Find your bliss, and create things that are truly meaningful to you.

Along the way, you may just do something original.

036. How Do You Price Your Artwork?

Today I'm going to dive into my method and thoughts on pricing artwork. I'm going to be brutally honest in this post. Please remember these are MY views based on my own experiences (7 years as a professional photographer, 2 years as a painter).

There isn't a magic formula that will work for everyone. But I'll explain what I went through to get to where I am now.

Fact: People want everything for nothing.

That's just the way it is. It's built into humans, probably going back to some survival mechanism. Now in a time of abundance, it still holds true. Can you blame us? It's awesome to get everything for nothing.

How many artists out there have had potential buyers ask why something was priced "so high," or request a discount or question your method of pricing a custom commission?

When it comes to your art, you can try to educate buyers, explaining that they aren't just paying for raw materials or time, but also your unique artistic vision.
Some might get it. Most of them will move on.

And that's OK, because the world is a big place. There are lots of other people. The last thing you want to do is undervalue yourself. That is a crash course for 1. being broke, 2. believing you are worth less.

Once in a while you run into people who truly understand the value of what you're doing, and are willing to pay what it's worth without question. When you do, you realize your true value as well. It's like their passion and understanding and desire to own a piece of your art is the equivalent of them holding up a mirror, and you see what they see. 

First, a little background (brief dive into my photography career, where I started). As I said, I learned the hard way.

Getting my clients to trust me and be comfortable in front of my camera was not always easy. As a photographer I was interested in capturing the genuine moments. I made sure that I was completely genuine around them, which helped. When they saw me geeking out about beautiful light, or fun angles, they'd loosen up and be natural. Eventually I built a portfolio of images that showed clients in their best, most natural light, and that drew more clients who wanted this experience. Their experience is worth just as much, if not more than the images. 

Photography is an INCREDIBLY competitive field. When I started out shooting weddings, it was right around the time that every photographer was starting to offer "unlimited hours" packages. This meant, the photographer would show up whatever time the client wanted on the wedding day, and leave whenever they wanted (usually after the send-off at the end of the night). Sometimes more than 15 hours (like showing up at 7am for "getting ready shots" and leaving at 2am after the party). This was accompanied by a fixed fee for the entire day.

As a new photographer trying to break into the industry, I went along with the trend and offered this option. I wanted to shoot at least one wedding to have something in my portfolio, so I advertised on Craigslist, Unlimited hours and photos for $200 (with the obvious caveat that it was my first wedding).

Guess how long it took to book a client?

1 day.

Yep, I was an idiot. I completely undervalued myself, because I honestly didn't know any better.
It was a wake up call the size of Mt. Everest. I shot for 9 hours, took over 2000 photos which took me 4 days to edit, plus the months and months of correspondence leading up to the wedding to go over itinerary and ideas. Other photographers offering a package like this charged minimum $1500.

I honestly didn't start charging what I was "worth" for another two years. I was hungry for experience and wanted to guarantee a busy shoot schedule so I could learn and grow. Plus I had a full time job so I wasn't desperate for money. Photography was my mistress on the side.

I experience countless clients who wanted as much possible from me for as little money as possible. Eventually, I had to put my foot down and stick to my guns when it came to pricing. 

Sure, I lost out on a LOT of business when I started charging more, but the business I gained was made of much better clients who truly appreciated my artistic vision. Less jobs didn't mean less money. It was less jobs, at a higher price, with healthier relationships and deeper bonds. This benefits everyone involved.

One of my weddings that was published in The Knot magazine and several other publications. This couple didn't question my pricing. They saw the value in what I provided, and as a result we both came out with an amazing experience and beautiful images.

You have to remember, there is ALWAYS going to be someone out there who undercuts you, no matter what business you're in, and especially in a creative field.
There is always someone more desperate, more cunning, more skilled, more naive, or any other number of things that lead them to charging less for the same product.

If you don't believe in your own value, how can you expect anyone else to? If you charge less, they will pay less.

If you charge more, they might pay more. And here's where it get's tricky.

Brutally honest moment #1: You have to take an honest look at your work and understand where it fits among your industry peers.

Sure, I wanted to charge $2000 right away for a wedding just like other photographers I looked up to, but until I had a few years of experience, my work was not worth $2000. That's a hard pill to swallow for some.

Painting

One of the first paintings I ever sold. To my aunt. 

When I started selling paintings, I still had my full-time job, so again, I wasn't desperate for money.

Brutally honest moment #2: If you are desperate for money, art is the wrong field.

Some artists make a TON of money. Those few, the 1% (or much less), are idols to a lot of us. They are living the dream!
And of course, we can all aspire for that level of success.

But most of us will make a humble living, perhaps barely break even, while pursuing the dream.
If that scares you, that's OK. It scares the crap out of me.

But if you read that, and still feel like you HAVE to create no matter what, that making money is secondary, then you may just find the type of success that truly matters.
True fulfillment.

And THAT is priceless.

While selling paintings involves a lot less client interaction than photography, I've realize that there's a ton of crossover between the two disciplines.
Also, my experience as a painter is unique to much of the established (traditional) art world, because it began online, while streaming on Twitch.tv

By painting while streaming on Twitch, my clientele was watching me create the work, yet surprisingly it didn't lead to them putting less value on it (like, I was afraid people would think, "oh that doesn't look that hard, why does it cost so much?"). In fact it was the opposite. Viewers saw me creating something from start to finish, and so they were part of the experience. Much like photography, that experience becomes part of us, and they want to take away a tangible item that expresses it = a piece of art.

A painting is more than it's materials. It's a piece of the artist. Something that was at one point trapped in imagination, came to life, and can now hang on a wall. How magical is that!?
All of the artwork I've purchased has come from a NEED to own it. It reached into me, grabbed my emotions, and shook me until I gave in. 

Pricing drawings and paintings seemed really arbitrary to me when I started out. I didn't go to school for business and I didn't talk to that many artists before selling my own work. At first, I under-priced everything. Again, since I had a full time job, I wasn't desperate for money. Painting and streaming was my new mistress on the side.

I started out by barely charging more than what the materials cost. However, after a while, I began to realize I wanted this to be a career, and I had to take it more seriously.

To my surprise, when I started increasing prices to reflect what I thought they were worth, my sales didn't drop. I was actually stunned the first time I sold anything for over $100.

I came up with a "formula" for pricing, that I still use to this day (except for special circumstances).
$Cost of materials + $Time ($50/hour) + $Shipping & handling
The cost per hour (time) is the variable. It includes prep, painting, and finishing.
You also may need to add sales tax. Consult your local laws.

I paint very fast. Like a fully rendered painting takes me a couple hours (or less). So charging a higher rate per hour is necessary to make it worth my time. 

But the number $50 per hour seems sort of arbitrary right? Not really. 
Look into any creative field at what the professionals charge (architects, graphic designers, etc) and $50 starts to look cheap.

DO NOT CHARGE LESS THAN MINIMUM WAGE! As an artist, what you offer is worth far more than a latte. Ok that doesn't exactly translate well, but what I'm saying is, the skill and vision it takes to create a beautiful painting is more valuable than the skill it takes to make a latte at a local coffee shop where you get paid minimum wage (I served coffee before so I can say this without hesitation).

Another strategy that I've seen artists use is charging per square foot of a painting. Just break it down! I personally don't use this formula because size doesn't effect the difficulty of the contents and therefore how long it takes me to paint. 

As your work develops, so should your storefront. 

Think about it. Compare the two paintings below and tell me which level of quality you'd pay more for (regardless of size).

If you continue to offer your older art on your storefront (like Etsy) at the same prices, it better stack up in terms of quality to your new stuff. Otherwise you're sending mixed signals to your clients.

This requires a constant purge and being REALLY honest with yourself (ouch). 

Can you confidently say that every piece of art on your Etsy shop (or whatever you use) is up to your current standards? Is everything you're offering representing your vision?
I found that by painting so often, the pure volume of my work was leading to fast improvement, and I was running into the scenario that what I posted on Etsy a month ago fell far below the quality of what I posted today. Now, that's all fine and dandy if I lowered prices on the older stuff, OR if that older stuff is still really good. But that was rarely the case.

Brutally honest moment #3: Stop letting sentimental attachment cloud your vision of what something is worth.

I can't tell you how many times I painted something, had a proud little "breakthrough" (like finally painted a good cloud), so I listed it for top dollar. 9 times out of 10 it didn't sell until I lowered the price to what it was ACTUALLY worth. Be realistic. Sure, maybe it's the best you can do, but don't forget to compare to industry peers. Yea, ouch. 

Brutally honest moment #4: If you truly LOVE something, don't sell it.

There was a point that whenever I created a new "favorite" piece, I would tack on an extra $100-200 because the thought of selling it hurt my heart. I've sold several pieces that I wish I still owned, because of how meaningful they were to me. I regret selling them. I regret feeling like I NEEDED to sell them.
So if it meant so much to me, why did I even allow the chance for it to be "taken" away by listing it at an absurd price on my storefront?

I was driven by the unfounded idea that, if it sold for the higher price, I would be able to pay rent, and all is well. 

For fucks sake. There are other ways to pay the rent. Feeling the desperate need to sell everything you make is just going to lead to misery. I am learning slowly that there are some pieces that an artist creates that are meant to stay close. When you create one of those, you feel it in your heart of hearts. Trust your instinct and keep it. 

Sell prints of it instead. Sell postcards and bags and tshirts. But keep the original. Your future self will thank you!

Final brutal advice: If your work isn't selling, hit the "books."

By this I mean, get off your high horse, and back into the studio. I do this myself constantly. The ego is a powerful thing. Sadly it comes built-in for humans. 

Study.
Work.
Advertise differently. (this is going to be a whole other blog post)
Study more.
Improve.

They don't call it a hustle for nothing.

Just because you made something doesn't mean it's going to sell. I used to list every single thing I made on my Etsy shop, even studies. A lot of times it was because while I was painting it, people who were watching on my Twitch channel were raving about how much they loved it. Or I posted it on Instagram and people asked "where can I buy this?"
But once I listed it, it didn't sell.

One of the first Seascape paintings I made (7 months ago), people begged for me to add it to Etsy. It never sold.

Most recently sold piece.

So, either everyone was lying, or it wasn't worth what I was selling it for. So I had to be honest with myself.
It was a study, Sure it was cool to look at and kind of fun and expressive. But was it worth selling and shipping? Probably not. But in creating it, my skill improved, and you better believe the next time I paint a fully rendered landscape that involves elements from that study, it will be good. And THAT painting will sell.

Ok so, I hope at least some of this was helpful. It's all just been me rambling about my own experiences. We mainly just have to be honest with ourselves. Work hard. Enjoy what we do. I'm sure in another year I'll have a new outlook. I'm learning as I go!

What are your methods? Do you have a success or horror story to share or a solid formula that works for you? I'd really love to hear them. Please feel free to send me a message or post in the comments below!

024. Honest Writing

Today I'm taking a breather from offering any heavy content and I'm just going to write about something meaningful to me.

California, 2016

I wish that more artists would write honestly about their artistic journeys. There often seems to be a sense of guarding information in a lot of art communities. I understand the competitiveness in some scenarios. However I think that sharing information, being transparent about the struggles, and talking openly about a career doesn’t make it any less successful.

There is so much posturing in the art world (behave in a way that is intended to impress or mislead).

Perhaps in part, it comes from a desire to validate artistry as a career in a very commercial driven world. I get that. But there is so much we can learn from each other, so much value and growth to be found when we share our journeys. The REAL journeys.

As far back as I can remember, I've tried to live as modestly and honestly as possible. I think a lot of people can say the same, because it is generally a good way to live.

I've always been highly self-aware, and in being so, I scrutinize every minor thought and emotion that passes through me. If it doesn't carry me down a path of remaining humble, I reject it. In retrospect I can see how this has shaped my life and relationships. I tend to be very submissive, striving to help others find happiness. As an introvert, I've always preferred observation rather than interaction. This lifestyle is very conducive to introspection and reflection.

Even as I write this, I feel a sense of pretentiousness for talking about myself. It’s not a good feeling. But I have a purpose. I started this blog to force myself to write, and better express myself. Even if one person reading this blog feels inspired, I’ll feel successful.

Throughout my life, I’ve always sought out successful, inspiring, humble people who I could learn from. In 2008 I was lucky enough to meet a woman who has, over the years, become my life “mentor.” We met when I took her class in college (she was my teacher). After graduating, she became my boss. Over the years we developed a close bond and I can always turn to her for guidance. We live VERY different lives, but at our cores we are very similar. We are like family.

(She is actually the person who first sparked my interest in visiting Scotland! Her and her husband have visited Scotland annually for over 20 years, and she would often share images and stories of her travels with me. Now, I call it home.)

I also do what a lot of people do, and “follow” dozens of talented artists online, watching their work progress over the years, watching how they interact with others, watching and learning silently.

Cobblestones, Stirling, Scotland 2015

Cobblestones, Stirling, Scotland 2015

The internet has opened up a world of possibilities to artists and we have the ability to connect in new ways. You don’t have to know your mentor in real life. They don’t even have to know you exist. But finding someone who you look up to, who has life experience, who shares your principles, and whose vision you can get behind - that is priceless.

We can drift through life, going it alone, learning from our mistakes, and I still do that to an extent. However, it’s reassuring to know I can talk to my mentor about big life decisions and I won’t be judged or led astray. Often times she merely holds up a mirror with her words and I’m forced to realize I already know the right decision.

I know I’m a very emotional being, and my emotions often influence my decisions. I have a heightened sense of my instincts, and I always follow them. Sometimes it’s great, and sometimes it leads me down a very difficult path, on which I face many trials and character tests. Those the are times I grow the most.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I crave transparency, honesty and truth about the journey we call life. 

If you’re interested in reading honest truth from artists, here are some amazing resources I’ve found over the years:

If you have any resources you find especially inspiring, about the true artistic journey, please share in the comments below or message me! I would LOVE to see them!!

023. An Artist's Sacred Space

As an artist, when you are engaged in the act of creation, there’s something magical happening. You are accessing a part of your mind that is uniquely yours. No one else in existence is in that mind space except you. It is a sacred space. One that should be nourished and encouraged.

I’m not trying to be dramatic, but I find it hard to describe it in any other way.

Ink drawing, 2016.

Our imaginations are something that set us apart from other species. We have the ability to conjure fantasy, to build worlds in our minds, to completely and vividly live out different scenarios and possibilities before ever making it known in the tangible world.

The complexity of the human mind still confounds scientists. Countless studies show the incredible highway of neurons active in any given moment. Take sight for example. As you read this, your eyes are receiving light along the visible wavelength that has been reflected off of the screen in front of you, and within an instant, your mind has translated it into words that have meaning. Something so “simple” yet so incredibly profound.

Artists take something completely unreal - an idea floating in the ether of their mind - and bring it to life for others to see/touch/hear/taste.

How do we balance the need to share our artistic voice with our need to experience that sacred space?

Over the years, I’ve witnessed and lived through the rise of digital media and social networks, just old enough to be fully aware of their beginnings and how it has changed daily life.

At times I’ve completely embraced it, almost been lost in it. “Needing” it.

At other times I’ve completely rejected it.

I still remember the day I deleted my Facebook account (2011). I was walking into a restaurant with a friend and as we were getting a table, I suddenly realized my eyes were glued to my phone as I was “checking in” to let Facebook know where I was. That moment of realization stunned me to my core. Why on gaia’s green earth does it matter that I’m about to eat at this restaurant, and to SHARE that online in an invisible social network…?? I scrolled through my Facebook feed and saw post after post of pointless shit (sorry but I don’t care what someone is having for breakfast or that their dog got a new toy, or that my friend’s aunt’s friend just saw a hilarious video on youtube).

That day I went home and deleted my account. To be honest there was a week’s worth of withdrawal, and then very suddenly, I was free.

That was a wakeup call for me. It started me on a new personal journey.

Rather than share everything about my life as it was happening, I began to live my life for me. I lived more deeply through each experience. I did things just for the sake of doing them. Before, if I had gone on an amazing mountain hike and taken photos, that same day I would have posted all of them online and been busy responding to comments and likes, whereas after I deleted my account, I was fully immersed in the hike, discussing it with whoever I was with, internalizing how amazing it was, and planning my next trip. I learned more about myself in that year than ever before. There was absolutely no desire to jump online and share what I did. I was having incredible adventures, and the only people who knew were people in my daily life.

Occasionally I would wonder, does this type of existence mean less because I’m not sharing it? And almost immediately I would realize, no. Our existence is real regardless of who knows about it. I still climbed that mountain. I still spent a week on that beach reading and playing in the waves. I still ate breakfast. So rather than focus on making sure lots of people know about all my wonderful or boring experiences, I simply lived.

This epiphany was extremely important with my artistic journey.

At the time my photography career was slowly starting to grow, and I was also beginning to paint and draw a lot more.

After work each day, if I didn’t have a photography gig, I was painting or drawing. I would enjoy hours of quiet, internal reflection, brought forth through abstract paintings. I wasn’t doing it for any reason except I loved it. I had this internal desire to move color across a canvas to create vivid and active compositions.

Those early months of exploration were my own. I wasn’t concerned with sharing any of it because there was no reason to. I learned SO much about myself and my reasons for creating. During the act of creation, there was a feeling of pure joy and relief in expressing my inner voice in this way. More and more canvases were lining my walls, and my husband at the time started to encourage me to share them. It was also the time I joined Twitch (not yet streaming). So in 2014 I created my Instagram account.

Nowadays, I share almost everything I create on instagram, even my sketches. I have to stop and ask myself, why?

Why do we feel this incessant need to share everything we create? As an artist in an ever increasing digital world, there’s almost a feeling that we will get left behind if we don’t keep active on social media and various artistic communities. It feels good to share something and get a positive response. However it feels empty in comparison to the joy of being completely immersed in our sacred space without the intention of sharing or outside reactions.

When I was in art school, social media wasn’t a thing yet. Facebook had just been invented but it was in it’s infancy. So this SHARE SHARE SHARE culture was not part of our lives. It worries me now that I’m sometimes apprehensive to create anything on my own without a thought of recording it in some way to share on instagram (or another platform).

For artists I believe it is partly a biproduct of our desire to spread our voice, share our vision, as well as build our business. There’s a direct correlation to how much money I make to how much I share with the world.

Perhaps we need to force ourselves to stop and think about that sacred space. Those moments of solitude creation, with no intention of sharing it, simply creating to create. The sacred space that we can easily forget about when we are busy sharing or planning to share. The great masters worked all day every day on their studies and their (now) famous commissions. Most of which were not “shared” until much later, after their deaths, as technology began to spread throughout the world. They lived their lives, immersed in their studios, their families and friends, their communities. Were they better off for it?

These days I find myself less aware of my sacred space, and more concerned with how what I’m doing will be shared. As a full time streamer, I’ve been completely engulfed in this SHARE mindset again. I spend the equivalent of 40 hours per week streaming my artwork as well as digitizing my work to share on social media, my website, and my Etsy store. This is the reason I’m able to make a living, but at what cost?

So my new goal...my vow to my artistic self is to create more without the concern of sharing.

(even now I’m giggling as I realize the irony of sharing this with you).

To spend at least an hour or two a day creating something purely for myself. To be once again immersed within my visions and practicing my ability to render them.

The desire to share and be part of a community is human nature, but I’ve experienced how easily it is to let it take over completely. It is my sincere hope that I’m able to maintain a balance between being in my sacred space and my desire to share. I always feel much more satisfied with the former.
Do you have experiences or insights relating to this? I’d love to hear them! Comment below or email me!

021. Paintalongs

I've been meaning to talk about my Paintalongs for a while now.
A paintalong is a live art tutorial (online) wherein I walk through a painting from start to finish, thoroughly discussing strategy and technique so that viewers can paint along with me!

I started doing monthly Paintalongs in July 2016. They quickly became a huge success and one of my favorite things to do on stream! 
One of the best parts is that participants are sometimes brand new to watercolor, and they have told me it gave them the confidence to keep going and practice on their own. I'm so honored to be part of someone's artistic journey, whether it's inspiration, instruction, or general guidance. 

After each paintalong I ask the participants to send me their final pieces and I make a collage of everyone's work.

Not only have I received amazing responses from participants, but I've also learned a TON by doing these paintalongs. I discovered that since I am not trained as a teacher, in order to explain things I'm forced to break down the process from a beginner point of view, which helps me to understand in more thoroughly. I learn so much while I'm explaining things. An unexpected bonus!

I also found that by planning for these paintalongs, I have learned a ton about marketing, what people are interesting in, what gets people hyped, and that it's possible to bridge the gap between having fun and being candid, and providing a structured "class" environment! There's no need to have a boring stuffy tutorial in order to product fantastic results. Let's hang out, paint together, and make something beautiful!

This all started as a Patreon milestone (if I reach a monthly pledge goal, I do monthly paintalongs). So far we have met the goal every month, so I continue to do them! To reward my Patreon support, I upload the Paintalong videos exclusively for my Patreon supporters (the videos are not available anywhere else). I always try to think of ways to return the love to those who support me!

The next paintalong is tomorrow!! If you want join in the painting, or just watch and see what it's all about, join me on my Twitch.tv/zladyluthien channel at 11am PST / 7pm GMT!

018. Providing Prints and Products of Your Artwork

Today I'm going to offer some of my own experiences of selling prints and products of my artwork. I'll lay out the facts and let you compare your own experiences. Please leave a comment below if you have any advice or experiences you'd like to share! This is a task many artists face!

Over the last two years, I have spent a lot of time and money trying to work out a good strategy for selling prints and products with my artwork on them. Note: I sell 100% of my work online (not in person at tradeshows or anything).

I'm talking about anything from tshirts to mugs and calendars. All the STUFF that people use daily, but with my artwork on it! I'm also talking about high quality art Prints, providing clients an option for owning my art without the full investment of buying an original piece.

August.jpg

When I first started out, I did the easiest thing possible: I started a Redbubble account and uploaded all of my artwork. It's a website people can browse through to buy mugs, tshirts, bags, prints, stickers, etc. with any type of artwork from thousands of artists. Pretty cool huh?

I made a decent profit in 2016 on Redbubble (just over $1,000). While it was easy, and affordable to my clients, I quickly learned that the quality of prints in particular was lacking, and that was not OK with me. I also discovered there is little oversight on the website, and people have been caught stealing artwork and uploading it as their own. Yikes! Ok so, done with Redbubble. (Side note: I never deleted that account, and I still sell about 1 product per month through it without any sort of publicity on my end).

I was also getting increased demand for custom SIGNED prints from my clients, which I could not offer by selling through Redbubble.
So I saved up and bought my own printer. Not just any printer, a super duper fancy Canon PIXMA iP8720 Wireless Photo Printer. This thing made beautiful, high quality prints that I was PROUD to sell. Plus I could customize the sizes, charge whatever I wanted, and sign each one.

Preparing a shipment.

Preparing a shipment.

However, despite the amazing quality and bespoke experience my clients were getting, this added a HUGE workload. 
1. Paint something
2. Take a high quality photo
3. Edit/crop image on computer
4. Upload to website shop (hosted through my own website on squarespace)
5. Edit title, descriptions, inventory, etc
6. Advertise
7. Sell print
8. Print the print to custom size
9. Cut out the print to the custom size (I didn't sell them based on paper size, so I had to crop nearly every print myself with an exacto knife)
10. Sign and Package print
11. Go to post office and mail it
12. Enter sale into accounting software, keep track of receipts
13. Keep ink and paper restocked

In comparison I "only" made a few hundred dollars in 2016 through printing and making my own prints. On the plus side, I began offering prints to my Patreons as rewards, and it was very successful (I still do this for now). I'm not one to continuously push my artwork onto people, so I mainly only sold things to very loyal followers who had enough money to spare (let's face it, a lot of our followers love our work but they have rent and groceries to buy. Buying artwork is a luxury). I don't go to conventions or trade shows to sell work, so my options are social media and getting the word out during my live streams.

Just because people beg you to offer prints and products, means NOTHING for sales once you actually do start offering them. You still need to put in the time for advertising and spreading the word (unless you are an extremely well known artist). 

In October 2016, I moved to Scotland. In preparation for the move, I realized I would no longer be able to sell my own prints (unless I buy a printer in Scotland).
I then preprinted about 200 prints with my remaining paper and ink, in order to have 7 months of inventory for my Patreon rewards.
But for selling artwork to other clients, my solution was to once again outsource my prints.

Example of handmade watercolor postcards that I send to my Patreons of $10 tier or higher.

Example of handmade watercolor postcards that I send to my Patreons of $10 tier or higher.

I then checked out Society6, which seemed like a much more professional site than Redbubble and had some really high quality products (I've personally ordered products through it and it's great). So for the last 4 months, this is the site I've been using.
Unlike Redbubble, there seems to be a lack of advertising for Society6, because I have not made a single sale since joining in October 2016! Ok so, that might be partially my fault, but in direct comparison between Redbubble and Society6, that is a drastic difference. Is it the navigation of Society6? Is it lack of advertising? 
I never pushed or advertised my Redbubble site much, yet I still made $1k there. Interesting...

So here I am in Scotland, not selling any prints or products - thinking about my future.
This year I introduced a loyalty program for my Patreons, which means if someone pledges at the $10 tier or higher for an entire year, they receive a signed desk calendar with my artwork (see below). I used Vistaprint to make these products, and I am EXTREMELY happy with the quality. The whole experience has been wonderful.

Some products I ordered from Vistaprint

I'm considering pre-ordering lots of different products from them, then selling through my website or Etsy at a mark-up because they will be limited edition and I can sign them personally. Again... an added workload, but I love the personal touch.

I'm still figuring out what I prefer - to outsource or to print my own. I'd love to print and sign every print that goes out, but with the increased work load, and my living situation in flux, and the increased cost of materials, printing my own is unfeasible right now.

Are you an artist with experience in this realm? I'd love to hear your input!