057. An Intro to Creative Streaming on Twitch

Going along with my Sunday Twitch Story days, I'll occasionally mix in some advice for those who are interested in starting (or growing) a stream on Twitch in the Creative Community!

First, what is the Creative Community?

I've discussed this in my other Sunday posts, but I'll do a quick recap here (if you want to read them, search for "Twitch" in the little search box on this page).

Twitch Creative is a flourishing community of artists who have found a unique platform for sharing their creative process on the popular streaming website known as Twitch.tv
Twitch (which used to be Justin.tv) is primarily a website on which people broadcast themselves playing video games. Anyone can watch, and interact in a chat box with the streamer and other viewers. Streams are categorized by game, so you can quickly find what you're looking for.

Between late 2014 and early 2015, some broadcasters started streaming themselves making video game themed artwork (like painting characters or landscapes from a game). This attracted hundreds and then thousands of viewers, and more and more creative people started streaming artwork. Twitch realized this was a growing trend and wanted to support this community. In the fall of 2015, Twitch officially launched the Creative community, with the support of Adobe and in conjunction with Bob Ross's 73rd birthday in which his past episodes were aired 24/7 for an entire week.

Now, you can find artists (myself included) streaming everything from painting and drawing to sculpture and music! Viewers are able to interact directly with the artist through the chat box, to ask questions or just chit chat.

The Basics:

  • Channel/Stream: an individual page on Twitch that you can watch (either video games or Creative). At any given time there are thousands of people live-broadcasting through their individual channels.
  • Broadcaster/Streamer: The person who controls the channel. The artist. The gamer. The one you are watching.
  • Chat/Viewers: Each channel has a built-in chat system. If you have a username (signing up is free) on Twitch, you can chat in the stream. This is how a viewer interacts with the streamer.
  • Follows: Much like twitter and instagram, users can "follow" a stream by clicking a special button on the channel, and at any time open their "Following" page to view all the live broadcasters that they follow.
  • Host: Any user can "host" one channel at a time. When you host a channel, anyone that follows you will see the hosted channel on their Following page (under "live hosts).
  • Creative is organized by "Communities." A live stream can join one community, usually relevant to what they are streaming. If they are painting, most likely they will join the Painting community. If they switch to drawing, they'll change their community to Drawing. 
  • Partners/Subscribers: Some streamers are "Partnered" with Twitch - meaning Twitch provides them with a special "Subscribe" button which viewers can click and pay $4.99-5.99 per month in order to support the channel. Subscribers get special access to emotes, ad-free viewing, and more by supporting a channel. Note: the streamer receives 50% of this as income. Twitch keeps the rest.

 

So, you're interested in trying it out. Now what??

First thing you'll want to do is go watch other Creative broadcasters. Observe how they set up their stream, how they interact with viewers, and get a feel for the system.
You'll quickly learn that a successful stream is not based solely on the artwork that is created, or even just the streamer themselves. It's also the community.
The Creative community is now vast, with upwards of a thousand streamers (not all at once, but scattered across timezones), and even more viewers. Many of the viewership watch multiple artists every day. If you hop into a few different Creative streams, you're bound to run into the same people in chat. 

This is similar to the gaming streams, however it's more noticeable in the Creative community because it's smaller. Many of the streamers started out as viewers, and built up relationships with existing streamers before they started their own channel. 
This is a great way to build relationships and get your name out there before you start your stream.

Ok, so you've hung out and built relationships with lots of streamers and viewers, and you're ready to start your own stream. Where to begin??

Next, you will need to learn the software and technology involved in streaming.
Most streamers use software called OBS (Open Broadcaster Software) or XSplit. Each offers their own benefits and features, so it's up to you to decide which one you'll use based on what you need.
There are TONS of tutorials on Youtube with detailed explanations about how to use these programs.
I learned by watching these tutorials while I slowly set up my OBS (I chose OBS because it's free and powerful).

Here are some useful tutorials:
How To Use OBS To Stream To Twitch - Full Tutorial
How to set up OBS Studio
How To: Setup Donation/Follow/Subscribe Alerts in OBS

Once you get the basic software set up, you'll want to make (or hire someone to make you) some kind of overlay or graphics for your stream. It's not required, but it really helps give your stream a more professional appearance. It is also useful for displaying pertinent information (like current projects, stream goals, currently playing music, etc).

You can also use third-party add-ons like Streamlabs and Muxy to accept tips (people can send you money through PayPal or other forms). When someone sends you money, you can use these add-ons to have a little graphic/sound pop up on your stream to celebrate their gift!  

Lastly, you will probably want to setup a bot to help with monitoring your chat. This is a third-party program that you link your channel to and in doing so, it can help automatically police your chat based on your preferences. It can also help viewers get information in chat instantly like a link to your website and shop. Do some research to find which bot suits you. Most are free. Some are super simple and others are robust with tons of features. I use Ankhbot and love it. I started out with Nightbot because it was really easy to use as a beginner.

Now you're ready to broadcast!

Hitting the "start broadcast" button can be scary - I still get nervous once in a while. Will anyone show up? Will they like what I do? What if I mess up?

Most of your viewers will be people who are already familiar with you, who you've built relationships with. The more you stream, you'll realize that your regulars (those who continually watch you day-to-day), will watch regardless of what you're doing. Most of them are there for you and the micro community of your channel. Each streamer attracts different types of people. Some channels are great for lurking (watching but not chatting). Others are high-energy where the chat moves fast! Some are a nice combination of the two. 
Remember, it's YOUR domain. You can set the atmosphere and tone of your stream. You'll attract like-minded people. 

Tips for Success

  • Don't pretend to be something your not. Not only will this be exhausting to keep up with in the long run, you'll most likely end up miserable because you aren't going to attract the right kind of audience. The world is big enough for you to be YOU!
  • Hosting: It's really beneficial to your channel's growth if you host other streamers. Doing this as often as possible is better - so use Auto Host (find this in your settings under 'Channel & Videos'). Hosting is just a kind way to share your viewership. As I mentioned, there is a lot of cross-over within the Creative community. Hosting is mutually beneficial to all parties! Most people who you host will host you back.
  • Raiding: By the time you end your stream for the day, you'll have some viewers (maybe a lot!). Rather than just end and have everyone dissipate, use it as an opportunity to build support and awareness of your fellow streamers! Immediately after you end your stream, find another Live stream and host them. Send your viewers there with a "raid call" - a short phrase or sentence that unites your viewers - and make sure everyone pastes it in chat at the same time. This is like a barrage of activity and love - it notifies the streamer that you are there and bringing all your viewers to watch! It is a fun and sort of silly way to hype up your host.
  • Utilize social media! Twitter is the primary platform for Twitch users to share information, stay connected to each other, and spread awareness about the community. A common practice is to tweet out your channel link and a little preview image of what you'll be working on when you go Live. After the stream, tweeting out what you worked on along with other things like "we raided/hosted so-and-so" or "thanks for the support!" or whatever is relevant!
  • Consistency is the key to growth. If possible, make a streaming schedule that you stick to. When viewers can rely on your stream to be live, they are more likely to become regulars. I notice drastic differences in my viewer numbers and follows when I have a schedule vs. when I don't stick to a schedule.
  • Don't self-advertise in other people's streams, unless the streamer directly asks for your information. Sure, people are supportive of each other, but showing up in a chat and blasting all your portfolio/social media links is considered very rude. The same goes for saying "hey, I'm about to start my stream." or something similar, which is considered rude across Twitch.
  • Fill your "info" section on your stream with relevant information and links to your portfolio, social media, and shop. Make it as easy as possible for your viewers to find your artwork & shop online!
  • Use free statistic services like Loots.com to track your channel's stats. This is helpful in discovering what times of day your stream has the most viewers, which days of the week are most popular, and much more! It may help you determine your schedule and be helpful during your growth.
  • Don't stress about the numbers. It will take time for your channel to grow. When I first started, there were months of under 10 viewers. Success on Twitch is not instant (unless you come to Twitch with an established following elsewhere - like over 100K followers on Youtube or Instagram). Just let your channel grow organically and stick with it, if you enjoy it!

Most importantly, make sure you maintain a balance in your life. While streaming for the last two years, I have suffered from occasional burn out and even times where I thought I should quit streaming. I learned the hard way that taking time off is necessary to re-energize. Streaming creative work can be mentally exhausting (and sometimes emotionally). I now stream every-other day, which works perfectly for me. I'm able to be productive in my days off so I don't get behind and stressed during my streams.
Yes, consistency is important, but your mental and physical health is more so. If you are unhealthy or unhappy, it will show on your stream. Life is too short to let your stream rule your life!

I hope this helps those of you who are interested in streaming in the Creative section on Twitch. It's a massively supportive and positive community, full of incredible artists who open their studio to the world every day. Being part of it is so rewarding, and it's the reason I'm able to pursue my career as an artist!

If anyone has any questions, feedback, or tips/tricks or stories, please share them in the comments below!

050. Twitch Story: Face Painting!

Anyone familiar with Twitch.tv and the chat system within each stream is aware of channel currency.
It's a point system that the channel offers (each one has it's own rules and name for the currency).
Since I started my stream with a "Matrix" theme, my currency has always been Spoons.

For every 15 minutes someone spends in my chat, they collect 1 spoon. 

Viewers can save up their spoons and use them for rewards. Anything from song requests (each song requires 8 spoons), to the ultimate reward: I'll get a butt tattoo (for 1 million spoons).

The most common reward people choose (besides song requests) is the Face Painting! I'm not sure why, but my viewers will save up 4,000 spoons in order to activate Face Paint on stream.

So far I've done it 5 times. Each time, the viewer who is using their spoons gets to choose the design.
I've done: Geometric Fox, William Wallace, Samurai, Sugar Skull, and Neytiri.

It's one of the silly things that streaming allows me to do!

043. Twitch Story: RIP Laptop

Having a sense of humor is the only way to survive in this world if you're accident prone.

Today I'm sharing a blooper that happened during one of my streams. Something that, at the time, was the absolute worst possible thing that could happen.

It was horrible. 
In every way.

I literally cringe when I watch this video.

Since then, I've learned my lesson. 

  1. Don't use a pint glass for paint water. It's unstable when you're brushes are in it.
  2. Don't keep open glasses/jars of water near laptop/computer, even for ONE MINUTE.
  3. Elevate laptop at least 1" above desk surface.
  4. If you spill water directly on your laptop (on keyboard) IMMEDIATELY TURN IT OFF AND PUT IT UPSIDEDOWN IN A TUB OF RICE.

At the time, my regular streaming PC was in the shop for repairs, so this laptop was the only thing that I could use to stream.
After this accident happened, I did not have a computer, and I was offline for 2 weeks.
This is devastating when your livelihood depends on the internet!

So, be smarter than me.

022. Twitch Story: My Angel Investor

Sometimes, life throws you a curveball. Sometimes, life kicks you in the teeth. Sometimes life can just be a complete asshole.

And sometimes, once in a great while, life hands you rose.

Today I want to talk about something that happened to me early on during my twitch career (5 months after I started to stream). I had quit my job at the end of May 2015, and was streaming and making art full time. I had been going through some health problems. My car had just been stolen. So many things were happening in my life. My stream was very much my safe haven, and painting was my therapy. All I wanted (and still want) is to inspire others to create. To do what they love and live out their dreams.

One day in June, while streaming the creation of a personal painting project, a gentleman who goes by Bobo1511, began watching my stream and hanging out in chat.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, Bobo sends me $1,000.
Nope... can't be real. Shock and awe.
Then $1500.
Still in disbelief. How do I thank this amazing person? 
Then $1000. Complete breakdown. Trying to stay professional and focused just became impossible!

I had never experienced such spontaneous generosity from a stranger before. I was completely stunned by his random act of kindness. 

I even tried to send him something in return, and he insisted on paying it forward to send a painting to his friend who loved my work.

I'm not telling this story to just glorify anyone. I'm telling this story, because it shows there are amazingly kind and generous people in the world who expect nothing in return. 

I also want to make a point.
If you walk through life with a cynical outlook, cynicism will show itself. 
I'm not saying "if you think happy thoughts, only good things will happen to you."
But if you send out those positive vibes, they WILL come back to you in some way. If you live with a grateful heart, a desire to spread love, and a joy in inspiring others, your life will not only be richer, but you never know what positive energy will come back to you.

Surround yourself with like-minded people. Grow your network of love. Remain humble, and share what has been shared with you.

015. Weekly Twitch Story: More Then Just a Stream

In honor of last night’s celebration stream for my 2 year anniversary of streaming on Twitch, I decided I wanted to share a little about what it means to me. I try to express it verbally during my streams, but it’s difficult! I get really emotional.

I’ve touched on a lot of this during the last Twitch Story post, but I’ll try to sum it up here.

Streaming on Twitch has forced me outside of my comfort zone. As someone with severe social anxiety, I never imagined myself doing something like this! However there’s a huge difference between being in the same room with 100 people, and streaming with 100 viewers. During stream, the wall of technology between us provides a buffer, almost like a safety blanket. I’m in complete control, I can step away if needed, and that is hugely important for remaining calm.

Flashback to 2014. The thought of selling my artwork in a gallery or networking in person in order to grow my art business was nearly paralyzing. It was always my far off dream to make a living as an artist. Because of my anxiety, I was barely able to handle my photography business (which heavily relied on social interaction), but it was giving me some financial freedom, which gave me hope of someday having artistic freedom. Again… being a full time artist was a distant daydream.

When I started streaming on Twitch in January 2015, I started out in gaming, because that’s all there was. It was just a fun way to connect with other gamers. Once the Creative community was established, I never looked back. I loved the constantly inspiring, supportive, and diverse community that was growing. Creating artwork in front of people was very nerve-wracking at first. I was terrified of messing up. It took a very long time to realize that messing up is just a natural part of the learning process, and viewers enjoy seeing the truth in process. Every artist goes through it!

A specific example: I started out as an abstract painter, using a palette knife to create active works of color. When I started streaming my artwork, I wanted to paint fanart of video game characters and my favorite scenes from movies or games. I had never tried this before, so before each stream I would try to visualize how the painting should look, and I’d almost puke with nerves when beginning the painting.

After a few months of this, I began becoming more comfortable with my technique, and I learned to trust my vision. I realized, time and again, my mind’s eye was more powerful than I thought, and translating what was in my mind to the canvas was just a matter of practicing technique. Painting on a daily basis led to rapid growth, which meant I could share my vision more easily. I felt like I was fitting 10 years of study into a year (now 2 years).

As my skill progressed I began selling more artwork, and that in addition to the Twitch and Patreon support meant I gained the financial freedom to quit my day job and pursue art full-time.

WOW!

In retrospect I can see my progression as a person and an artist over the years. I owe so much of my growth to the self discovery that happened while I was pushing myself past outside of my comfort zone. Whether it was simply trying a new painting technique or singing in front of strangers for the first time, when you face your fears, you come out stronger!

Something magical happens when you open yourself up to others in a genuine way. Artwork is so personal, and the creative process sometimes feels sacred. To share that energy with others who feel the same way is such a wonderful experience.

This is a clip from yesterday’s celebration stream, where I attempted to convey some of these feelings:

Again, words are hard.

By sharing this story, it is my hope that my viewers or anyone reading this finds inspiration in my journey, and you learn to believe in yourself. It IS possible to live your dream!

008. Weekly Twitch Story: From 0 to 12.5K+ Followers

The views expressed here are entirely my own and do not reflect any views or beliefs of Twitch, Twitch staff, or any Twitch affiliates.

Front page of Twitch, October, 2015.

Front page of Twitch, October, 2015.

Good morning! I decided that Sundays will be my Twitch Story days. Something interesting, funny, weird, maybe a cool event or success or failure, anything that I think might be of interest relating to my Twitch journey.
(In case anyone missed this post, Twitch is a gaming website where people can live-stream themselves gaming, or creative content. People can log on and chat with the streamer, live!)

Today I thought I'd start off by discussing how I went from a brand new baby streamer to where I am today. Who would have thought a gaming site would have led to me living my dream as an artist? I absolutely love the community that my stream has become. My viewers are my real friends, and they probably know me better than most people in my every day life. Over the last two years I've gone from a complete noob, to a thriving and fun community of over 12,500 followers (though I'm sure many of my friends will say I'm still a tech noob...thanks guys...). There are so many factors that contribute, but if I had to sum it up, I think I owe my success to the following:

1. Daily interaction in dozens of streams for 3 months before I ever started streaming. Not only observing what makes a stream enjoyable and fun, but building relationships with lots of streamers/viewers. Being genuinely interested in the community and what is being created or played.  Being a viewer first allows you to understand what makes a stream successful. Later on, your friends will host and raid you, and you repay them with the same support. It's such a supportive community which is one of the reason I love Twitch Creative so much!

2. Being myself. It's obvious when a streamer is pretending to be someone they're not. Trying to be overly nice or funny or cool is a huge turnoff. It might get someone short-term success, but it won't last. Viewers can see through the bullshit. The Creative community is so incredibly diverse. Being yourself, showing your true personality and creating what you love will draw genuine and like-minded people, and you will get more enjoyment out of it in the long run. 

3. Chat interaction and giving back. One of my favorite things about streaming is the interaction. I do my best to respond to every single line of chat (which can be difficult when trying to stay focused on a painting). I feel it's really important to make sure everyone feels welcome. I also love doing giveaways and rewarding loyalty. Every streamer has a different approach, but for over a year I've been doing subscriber-activated giveaways: every 10 subs or resubs I do a quick giveaway in chat (subs have higher chance of winning but subscription isn't required). For the cost of a stamp, I can send the winner a custom watercolor postcard  (which I love making) and show my appreciation in some small way. When I do milestone streams (like 1 year anniversary or 10,000 followers), I do a couple larger giveaways. If I could afford it, I would do a lot more giveaways because I love it!

4. Stream because I love it, not for the money. Now, obviously there are streamers who make a lot of money streaming. Some gaming streamers make over $100,000 a year. It's a legitimate business. Things are a little different for us Creative streamers, though it certainly is possible to make enough to pay the bills, as I am doing (but that includes art sales and commissions). When I first started streaming, the Creative section wasn't even an official thing. There was no chance of getting Partnered on Twitch as a Creative streamer- you had to be a big gaming streamer to do that. So from the very beginning I was of the mindset that this was just for fun, and honestly I'm so thankful for that. I feel like I have a very healthy relationship with and appreciation for my stream. I was never in it for the money because I had a day job for the first 6 months, which meant no pressure, and that led to more joy, and deeper relationships with my viewers. 

5. Consistency in "schedule." By this I mean creating a stream schedule and sticking to it. Not canceling or changing a lot of streams (which is difficult and you make sacrifices). For a long time I was streaming 4-5 days a week, for 8ish hours per day. I rarely changed or canceled streams (only sometimes for outside events, or anxiety attacks). Keeping a consistent schedule meant viewers could rely on my stream/chat as a place to spend time and enjoy themselves. I experienced a drastic shift in my stream when I was getting divorced and planning a trip to Europe in January 2016. I was actually traveling in Scotland when I reached 10,000 followers, just barely over a year into streaming! It was a strange time for my stream, because I was going through so much personal transition. It was bound to effect my community. People were understanding and supportive, but they have their own lives and priorities. I took 2 months off to travel and heal. During that time I lost more than half my subscribers and lots of followers, and when I eventually returned to streaming, my viewership was around 1/2 of what it was before. But I was happy. I was healing. I was feeling like myself. As I continued to stream full time again in March 2016, my subscribers returned (and increased), my viewership increased and surpassed my previous levels, and I was growing as an artist. I hadn't changed the way I stream. I was just back to a consistent schedule.

Now I'll go into details about my early days of streaming.

After watching several Twitch streams for a few months, I started to wonder what it would be like. So in January 2015, I gave it a try. I watched tutorials on YouTube and googled how to use the free streaming software, OBS, used Photoshop to make some simple overlays for my stream. For my first stream, I played Call of Duty - Advanced Warfare campaign. First time ever playing any of the CoD series (having been a Halo fanatic). During my first stream I only had a couple viewers, ranging from 0-5 throughout the entire thing. A few of them trolled me, but luckily I was already familiar with modding so I got rid of them quickly and focused on playing. I was lucky enough to meet a really nice viewer who returned to watch almost every day, and helped me through the game when I needed help, as well as playing together when I switched to Multiplayer (and 2 years later, he still stops by my stream which is so cool! Hamtime1 you are the best!). Over the next few weeks I continued to stream when I got home from work, for at least a few hours a night. I was hooked. After a few weeks, I finally got a capture card, and was able to stream Halo (my favorite game) through my xbox1. I had so much fun talking to viewers while playing, and connecting with other streamers who were excellent players that I looked up to. However, as many women gamers know, it's only a matter of time before you are confronted with misogynistic comments, or disgusting sexist remarks. Why? Because it's the internet. There's no getting around it. Boys feel it is their right to make horrible comments towards women. 

There were enough games, enough nights where a couple assholes completely ruined it for me. I was really frustrated because I knew it would never stop. That is just the nature of being a woman in a gaming community saturated with boys barely out of puberty. Despite the many wonderful people I had met, I was fed up. Luckily, it was around this time that I was becoming aware of a couple Streamers who were not just gaming on stream, but painting. Yes, PAINTING!

I decided to try out a painting stream myself. I was terrified. This meant putting my art on display, which is NOT something I was used to. I was only ever painting as a hobby in my free time (rarely), and occasionally sold something to a friend. So having something so intimate on public display was scary. What if I messed up? What if people were bored? 

Screen capture - the first time I was raided by Bob Ross with over 2,000 viewers. Note my facial expression...

Screen capture - the first time I was raided by Bob Ross with over 2,000 viewers. Note my facial expression...

Despite these fears, within the first few painting streams I was stunned by the connections I was making with viewers and I absolutely loved it. Sharing the creative process was something new (even in college I worked on my own and only showed the final results to a class or teacher). Viewers were engaged, asking questions, saying they were inspired to draw or paint. I was terrified of failure, but at the same time confronted with an incredible opportunity. I loved the sense of community we were developing together, and sharing the messy creative process was becoming less scary. My gaming streams dwindled, and my viewership shifted (I lost a lot at first then gained more later). After a couple months, my viewership hovered around 15-30 live viewers (which at first scared me so much that I would sometimes turn my camera off). Then some big Streamers started to host and raid me, and I would sometimes have thousands of viewers at once. As I got used to it I realized there's nothing to fear. "Get rid of the trolls as you need to and just have fun" I told myself. 

Other Creative streamers were creating art as well and we were all connected on such an intimate level. As the community grew, Twitch saw the value in Creative streaming and supported us by partnering a select few Creative streamers, starting a Bob Ross rerun marathon (which brought in thousands of new viewers who had never heard of Creative before), and officially launching the Creative section on Twitch. I had received my partnership a month before the launch which was amazing timing. My stream grew rapidly around this time. I was streaming constantly. It was my safe, happy place! 

My stream success has ebbed and flowed over time. Things that happen in our personal lives effect our ability to stream and the quality of the stream. There's not a recipe for success. However, my stream is never more successful than when I am happy. Keeping a balance in life is key to maintaining long-term happiness and success, no matter what your job is! It took me a long time to be OK with taking days off, or even weeks, to travel or take care of myself. When I feel obligated to stream, and I "force" it, my viewers can always tell. It's no good. Even today I see my viewer, follower, and subscriber counts drop when I take time off. Yet I know that it is the only way I can remain a balanced and happy version of myself, which in the end, is what matters. I have to maintain faith that the community will be there when I return. Don't be afraid to live your life!
Featured on Twitch Weekly show, October 2016.

Featured on Twitch Weekly show, October 2016.

I would not be where I am today, living my dream of being a full-time artist, traveling the world, if it wasn't for Twitch Creative. Watching streams, and then eventually starting my own, has led to so much personal growth, artistic growth, and self awareness. Some of my best friends are people I met through Twitch. I know there are a lot of people who share a similar gratitude for this incredible community. 

Every streamer does it for their own reasons, and has a different journey. We all share similar experiences along the way, so if anyone wants to chat about it, let me know!

I would just like to reiterate how important it is to make sure you are happy and healthy. Your stream will thank you.

If anyone has any specific questions, please leave a comment or send me a message!

001. Year of the Blog

Styled Photoshoot, 2014

Styled Photoshoot, 2014

Today begins the new year. That special day when we rise from the ashes of the previous year, spread our wings, and soar to new heights, carried by our hopes and dreams.

Either that, or we sleep until 3pm, regretting the previous night’s decision of “just one more bottle…”

For me personally, today is the beginning of a new project. The Blog.

This blog is something I’ve been meaning to do for a while. Ever since I became a full-time artist, I thought there must be a way for me to share my journey, explain how I got here, so that maybe just one person might find the hope and inspiration they’ve been looking for.

What better way to start then to launch this project on day one of 2017!

The goal: One new blog post every day of 2017

Posts may contain details of my personal artistic journey, travel photography and experiences, project developments, etc!

To start out, I’d like to tell you how I got to this point - a full time artist living my dream every day.

The Story

(This is an abridged version, if you’d like to discuss something more in depth, please contact me or leave a comment below)

To fully explain things, I’ll give you a brief overview of where I was in 2010.

I was living in Colorado, graduating with my second bachelor’s degree (first was Fine Arts where I majored in drawing and ceramics), this time in Interior Design with an Emphasis in Sustainability, and starting my new job as Campus Planner at the very college I was graduating from. I was living with my boyfriend, who was also my best friend of 7+ years.

I was well on my way to living a successful adult life just like everyone expected.

Although I had never taken a class in it, I was a huge photography fanatic. I had a Canon t2i with one lens: 50mm f/1.4 (my pride and joy).

It was my greatest hobby and passion at the time, and I found myself taking hundreds of photos per week of every subject matter, just for fun. You could hardly meet up with me without a threat of your portrait being captured. I was taking photos of friends and family, and since I was getting pretty good, I decided to start shooting weddings to see if I could earn some money to buy better equipment. My first wedding I received $200 (for 8+ hours and over 2000 digital images to the client). I was advertising for free on craigslist, and using a free website maker (Wix) for my portfolio. I thought I was pretty professional. I was volunteering to photograph graduations, reunions, anything just to build my experience and portfolio. 

I had taught myself how to use my camera in full manual mode, as well as external flashes and reflectors for lighting. This was not easy, but through passion for learning, and desire to get better, I was able to enter any situation and come out with properly exposed, well composed images.

That first wedding, I took this photograph of the bride’s grandmother, who was in silent prayer just before the wedding ceremony began.

Bride's Grandmother, 2011

Bride's Grandmother, 2011

This photograph alone got me three more weddings that year. Thus started my 6 year journey as a wedding photographer-on-the-side.

Tying the knot.

Tying the knot.

Fast forward to 2012. I marry my best friend, in the sunshine of the Rocky Mountains. It was a fairytale, a dream come true for me at the time, because that’s what you’re supposed to want, right? Even though we never wanted kids, getting married was both romantic and logical. We had never been a gushy or romantic couple, but we were always best friends, attached at the hip and we knew we'd be together forever anyway. He was the only one I talked to about any of my deeper feelings, but even then, I held so much back - which is something I didn’t even realize until recently.

We had bought a house together in 2011 and were happy as can be, going about our lives, making the most of the beautiful state we lived in - skiing, hiking, biking in the Colorado sun.

We both had full time jobs, and all was well in the world.

Or so it seemed.

I was suffering from severe social anxiety, before I even knew what anxiety was. It had been part of me for as long as I can remember. I thought maybe my fear of people had something to do with being a child of divorce and an alcoholic mother/step father. So I ignored it. However the pressure of my design job, coupled with my budding photography business, was slowly killing me because both were built entirely around interacting directly with people. I was so enamored by the design and art process that I kept going. My husband was a total social butterfly, something I always admired about him, and honestly I wouldn’t be where I am today without his encouragement and support.

But how can you discuss something that you don’t know is there? I didn’t even know how to tell my own husband what I was feeling. I handled it the best way I knew how - by just carrying on, day by day, suffering in silence, drinking far too much wine, and distracting myself with the notion that “this is just life. If you want to do what you love, it’s hard. It kicks your ass.”

We were living paycheck to paycheck, but making the most out of life. Doing what we wanted, when we wanted. We were both optimists and realists and we knew hard work would allow us to do the things we loved. He always told me, “follow your dreams. No matter what, we will make it work.”

Mountain Elopement, 2014

Mountain Elopement, 2014

2014 - During my busiest year, I shot 22 weddings, plus endless amounts of elopements, families and events. I learned many lessons the hard way, and also had countless successes. But it didn’t take long to get burned out. As an introvert with social anxiety, I was buckling under the pressure, before I even knew the term for it.

I had my day job, and was making so much money as a wedding photographer, getting published in online and print publications, including the largest in the country, The Knot, where one of my gay weddings was featured (my favorite wedding that I shot). I had increased my photography fees to minimum $2,000 per wedding, and family sessions were at least $300. That kind of money was allowing me to make choices and do things I love like travel, but I started to realize it might be the wrong business for me. As much as I wanted to be a full-time artist (photographer), I had to be realistic. I was climbing up the ladder fast, but internally I was falling into the abyss. I transferred to a new job at an architecture firm, where the pressure kept building.

Then one day in late 2014, while watching the Sunday Morning show on CBS, I heard about a website called Twitch. My nerd ears perked up, and I ran to my computer to see what it was all about. How could this thing - this glorious website for the video-game-obsessed - exist without me ever hearing about it?? My whole life I had played video games, primarily the Halo series, and even traveled to tournaments over the years. It was one of my favorite pastimes, and something my husband and I spent a lot of time doing together. It was more than an obsession, it was a way of life.

So this website, Twitch, allows you to log on and watch someone playing your favorite video game. Thousands of streamers, playing LIVE right in front of you. What’s more, is that it allowed you to “chat” with the Streamer, in the moment, through a clever chat box next to the video player.

I was hooked.

This opened my eyes to a whole new world, a huge community full of like-minded people who shared many passions. Many of whom (not all) suffered the same social anxiety. It was on Twitch that I first heard the term “anxiety” being discussed, and how Streamers suffer from it too. They found solace in their online communities, and through the deep relationships that form between community members there.

It wasn’t too long before I was dipping my toes in the Streamer waters, playing games, and gaining a small but loyal following. My viewers and I would have hours of fun chatting, while I kicked butt, or got my butt kicked by other players, all in front of a live “audience.” It became my daily oasis.

As you can guess, having a hobby like that consumes a lot of free time. My husband was all for it, and sometimes he even played with me during streams. But we were spending less and less time together, as my relationships with community members grew, and I was meeting so many individuals who were in the same boat as me. When I look back at this, I regret how often I ignored my husband, but more so how I didn’t realize just how quickly we were growing apart. (This is very difficult to write) I latched onto this new world with every fiber of my being. It awoke something inside me: hope.

At this time, I was taking steps to reduce my photography schedule for 2015, because I was purely overwhelmed with my social anxiety. At my design job, I was making it day by day, but there were many days when I got high or called in sick because I couldn’t bring myself to be around anyone.

I had been drinking my nights away, but the more I streamed on Twitch, the less I drank, and the more I realized there is so much more out there to discover. Soon after I joined Twitch, I found another gaming streamer who was painting - yes, PAINTING - live on her channel! I was blown away, sitting there staring at my screen, watching this incredible artist create a beautiful oil painting, talking to her viewers about video games, art, life in general.

This was revolutionary for me.

Halo "Elite" Character. Acrylic on canvas, 2015.

Halo "Elite" Character. Acrylic on canvas, 2015.

As an artist, I had always been dabbling in various mediums, and one of those was acrylic painting. I decided to give it a try, and to do my first Creative stream. This meant I had two cameras, one for people to see my face while talking to them, and one for people to watch me paint. In the early days of Creative streaming, I was painting a lot of video game characters, because that was why we were all on Twitch! Or so I thought. What I realize now is that it’s not about what the Streamer is doing. It’s about the connection between the Streamer and viewers, between the people in chat, and the sense of a close-knit community, unlike I’ve ever experienced in my every-day-life.

In April of 2015, I was making enough money through my photography business, my Twitch channel (through donations from viewers), art sales, and art commissions to consider quitting my day job. I had already decided to stop photographing weddings and families (pretty much anything involving people) by the end of 2015, and I had saved enough to last me more than 6 months in the worst case scenario (not making ANY money).

I was growing increasingly passionate about painting. Painting was freedom. Painting helped me get all my intense inner visions out into the world, to express myself in a way I never knew possible. The more I painted, the more I increased my skill, the easier it was to use my artistic voice to express myself. It was addicting. I found total solace in the feeling of creation, and it superseded my anxiety. (Fun fact: I’ve created over 300 paintings since I started Streaming two years ago).

At times, being live in front of the Twitch “audience” was overwhelming, and created a different type of anxiety, but I could still always remind myself that these are like-minded people who find joy in watching the creative process, who share a passion for video games and art, and who might be just as anxious as I am.

So, with the full support and encouragement of my husband, to the confusion and fear of some of my family, I made the choice to quit my day job in May 2015.

It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, because it meant losing the security of a paycheck (I did not rely on my husband), and any success or failure after that point was directly related to my own dedication. As a freelance artist, you rely on your skills to draw interest in your work. I had been successfully running my photography business for almost 6 years, but could I achieve this success doing what I loved, on my own?

Creating artwork is not enough. You need a way to get that art out into the world, and a platform for sales. When you first begin your freelance artistic career, visibility is everything. Since I already had been streaming for several months, I had a strong viewership/community. Streaming helped my art be seen by hundreds of people every week, and since I was streaming around 40 hours per week, painting the entire time, I was making a LOT of art. This, in time, led to lots of sales. 

The people that watched my streams happened to like my art. Enough to buy some of it. Every time my Etsy app beeped at me, I almost screamed with excitement! People actually buying my work!?

I also began posting on Instagram every day, with #hashtags and everything. I started to use Twitter a LOT, mainly to share my Stream schedule, and the artwork that I completed during those streams. If you're like me and find the thought of Facebook nauseating, great news: YOU DON'T NEED IT. Would my success be higher if I used FB? Maybe. But my personal happiness would take a blow. All of these outlets led to more and more exposure, and through word of mouth I was getting more sales and commission requests.

Without a constant desire to learn and experiment and create, I would not have progressed at the rate I have, nor would I be as successful. I’m not tooting my own horn either. I know I have SO much to learn and so much room to grow as an artist.

When I streamed, I felt like (and still do feel like) I was with my best friends. There’s something so wonderful about sharing artistic energy - even with strangers. People can ask questions about the process, or simply just chat about their day. It is an incredible time to be an artist. We open our studio up to the world, and in turn gain deep friendships.

****Let me just reiterate: it is so incredibly important to have a financial “cushion” before you make the leap into self-employed artist. Unless you live with your parents for free, are independently wealthy, or have a spouse who can pay for everything, you need to be realistic and set yourself up for success. A cushion will allow you to focus on getting your business going, without the pressure of HAVING to make money. That is so important for your happiness as an artist. I did this on my own, without relying on anyone, including my husband. He would not have allowed us to be homeless, but I was too darn stubborn and proud to let my business cause us hardship.****

By September 2015, Twitch decided to “partner” with me, meaning I had a subscriber button on my Stream page that people could press and pay me money in exchange for the exclusive use of special emotes (emoji) in my chat, ad-free viewing, as well as other perks. This meant my streaming - which had technically become my “day job” - had a direct link to an undetermined amount of income (based on subscribers). In addition, my sales were high, my custom commission requests were high, and I was still financially stable thanks to my remaining photography jobs.

(Front page of Twitch, 2015)

(Front page of Twitch, 2015)

In October 2015, Twitch launched the official Creative section - meaning there was a dedicated category on the website for streamers like me to broadcast! This gave so much validity to what we (there were hundreds of us by then) were doing. Everything from painters to woodworkers, glassblowers, musicians, professional concept artists, and more! Even the multimillion(billion?) dollar creative company, Adobe, had a presence on Twitch Creative (and I’m honored to be a part of it now). It was an incredibly diverse and supportive artistic community that was growing by the day.

By living and breathing my art and being on Twitch, I was discovering so much about myself at such a fast pace. It was around that time I came out to my family as bisexual (luckily, they accepted me fully). I was questioning my propensity for polyamory. I was meeting so many incredible individuals. Finding love and sorrow along the way. Gaining friends and losing friends. The tides of internet relationships ebb and flow much like the ocean. People join Twitch for many reasons, and use it for however long it is helpful and useful in their lives. As a Creative Streamer, I put myself out there - both physically on the screen, and emotionally - and this draws in some people, and pushes others away. I was discovering patterns in how people use Twitch, and I was forced to accept it. People get close, and then they disappear. They have their own lives. I wasn’t going anywhere. I was and still am, enthralled with Creative Streaming. I’ve realized how powerful a tool something like Twitch can be in healing and self discovery.

By putting yourself out there fully, you start to learn about yourself. Whether it’s self-discovery, or others holding up a mirror to your flaws. You start to see what is out there beyond your door.
Painting at Stonehaven, Scotland. February 2016.

Painting at Stonehaven, Scotland. February 2016.

My wanderlust was bubbling. I booked a Europe trip for January 2016 to Scotland, from where I planned on backpacking to Germany, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. I had no return ticket, just a dream of traveling and to meet with some people I knew through Twitch. Even though I knew it would hurt the growth of my Stream to be offline for a while, I had to do it for myself.

The big twist? At that time, I was getting a divorce.

Was I running? A casualty of Twitch-obsessed introvert finding herself?

I don’t know. What I do know is that within the last two years, I had discovered an entire new person inside myself. My ex-husband only ever wanted me to be happy, and so he let me go. There's a lot more to it, but I'll leave it there. We are still great friends and I will always have a special love for him.

I am learning that my anxiety cannot be controlled, but my surroundings can. I find ways to place myself in safe settings, so I can thrive. I am learning that not everyone I meet can be trusted, nor will they stay close. I am learning to believe in myself - that through hard work I can maintain financial stability that allows me to live my dream of being a full time artist. I am learning that one of my greatest passions is to inspire others, and I want to as often as possible.

Right now, streaming on Twitch Creative is the perfect way to do that. It is a hugely successful, thriving artistic community, one in which people like me, introverted, socially anxious but passionate can do what they love for a living.

When I returned from my two months in Europe, I moved into my own apartment (my friend’s basement), and I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders. I was now completely financially independent, and heartbroken. I’ve always kept my personal (love) life separate from Twitch, so only my closest friends knew of my turmoil. Even though it was an amicable divorce, it is still very hard to go from living with your best friend for 12 years to being on your own. However, there was light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.

My tunnel, which I believed was to die alone, albeit as a happy artist, would soon transform into an open road. One which would take me across the globe again.

While I had been traveling Europe, I met my current boyfriend, on a train the day I left Scotland. It was such a random and seemingly innocent moment, but since I had given him my business card, we exchanged info and it eventually blossomed into something more. Did you know it’s possible to be heartbroken, and in love at the same time? So much has transpired since we met almost a year ago. At first I was stubbornly against being “with” anyone. I wanted to explore my sexuality and be totally independent. Sadly we cannot fight our hearts and come out alive. Eventually I gave in (though I still maintain that I am a STRONG INDEPENDENT WOMAN and he agrees). We live together in a magical little town in the highlands of Scotland, and have an amazingly easy, uncontrollably magnetic love for each other. I wish I could tell every little girl to wait until you’re 30 to think about marriage. Before then, you are figuring out who you are. The scary thing about love is you never know when or where it will appear. It can be the hardest thing to accept, but when you find a perfect match, you do anything in your power to make it work. That includes packing everything you own into a storage unit and moving across the ocean.

My wolfy <3

My wolfy <3

Through all of this self discovery, I’ve learned that I can be financially independent, travel, do what I love for a living, and be truly happy on my own (if I want to be).

So here we are, 2017… I can’t imagine the things you have in store. I only hope I have the clarity to see that which cannot be seen.

Please comment with any questions. For the next few blog post, I’ll share some of my travel photography and stories behind them!