Establishing you as your own artist….
The other day I was asked by a young creator on what they should exhibit at their first comic con. Should they focus on Pop Culture Icons and Lic properties (of designs they do not own or have not paid the fees for) or should they try and establish themselves as their own artist?
To me pop culture icons and lic properties items (prints, toys, etc…) are nothing more that a fast easy buck from an established audience of that property. It is an audience focused on the next big thing and not the creator.
To those that have gone through in obtaining the lic rights and fees to sell pop culture icons, i tip my hat off to you. You are doing it right. You understand the importance of honoring those that hold the rights. To those that just do it and don’t care about lic rights and fees i would hope you reevaluate that and set your self up right to sell lic material. In the end it will be better for you. Especially as some of these companies are beginning to crack down on un-licensed merchandise. So get your license and you will do fine.
For me I found it more important to establish myself as an artist rather than a pop culture creator. I want people to remember my work and who created it. That is really important to me. Yet that road is a lot harder. As a creator you find yourself as a tiny island in a huge sea of current glorious pop-culture. It’s a daunting task at times to create your own tribe. Yet in the end it is worth it and far more rewarding.
When I started 15 years ago, I was a very lost fantasy artist. I did not have direction, connections, or a skill level that was marketable at the time. What I did have was drive and that I was willing to learn and listen when advice and council was given to me. I still have drive, I am still learning and listening and I now have direction. The skill level is always growing and the connections… well they are building. Yet, I decided at the beginning, while I was looking for my direction, that I wanted to create my own works, do my own thing and tell my own stories. It has been the best and one of the hardest decisions I have ever made.
What I learned as I went to shows was that people remembered my art and that they remembered me. While fan art and pop cultured pieces got put away, my pieces still remained on their walls. It was shared with friends. Conversations at shows were no longer who are you, but so what’s the next adventure you are working on. Which to me is pretty awesome. I love the relationships I have built up over the years with fans. Who love pop culture, like me, but are also looking for artists that are willing to do their own thing and make the experience enjoyable.
The next thing is learn to be marketable. Doing your own thing is fine, but you should learn the audience you are going for. Even zombie babies can be mass marketed if done right. There are boundaries though and some creators as they begin to establish their style end up pigeon holing themselves, because they refuse to see the bigger picture. Bloody, mutant, scary clowns have a limited audience, it’s hard to make that audience grow due to how specialized the work is.
I found that audience for Bean is limited. I understand that and I am very cool with that. Bean is a B/W fantasy comic. It has an old school feel to it. Because it’s not in color the audience, which is strong, is still very very concentrated. My color work and prints, which have nothing to do with Bean but just the randomness of what is in my head created a much bigger audience that is growing rather quickly. It’s like planting seeds and if you nurture the plants it grows and grows strong. I realized how important it is not to limit yourself to one group, yet I keep the same standards I set for all my works.
When establishing yourself with your works and ideas, time management becomes essential. If I spent all my time on pop culture icons, I would never get my own work out. My ideas would always be on the back burner because I would be in the trap of trying to figure out what’s the hottest pop culture items out there and how I could earn a fast buck or two. Now being contracted for a job is something else. Your being paid for it by the company that owns the right so that is ok. I am more than willing to draw for big name companies and work on their properties. Yet my down time is devoted to establishing my own name and my own stories.
Don’t be afraid to start small, but always have something new on a regular basis. One of the biggest traps for new creators is they produce a book and then thats it. Nothing new comes out. Each year goes by and they still have the same book on the table, by itself. Your fans will notice this and once they realize you are not producing anything else, they look for something else. Always try to have something new out. It is super important. Sketch book, prints, or most importantly if you are producing books have NEW books. The key to being successful as an artist is to always be creating, always adding to your works. Give people a reason to return and visit your worlds. With all the crowdfunding going on there is no reason, if you are willing to put the effort in to making it look good, to have a new book each year.
The drive. Yup you got to have the drive. You need to remember this is not a hobby, it is an actual job. Make it your business and learn it. What are you willing, of your luxuries and social life, to give up? The poorest excuse is I don’t have time. You need to create time. I don’t have time means
it is not important, especially when you are willing to talk about all the movies and tv shows you watch. Make the time. Pull the sketchbook out and start doodling.
As for creating something new all the time, remember you will hit lows. These are temporary. Creativity is a powerful mental force not understood. It is an adrenaline rush that has a low after it. Learn to recognize and prepare for it. Durning my lows I switch gears and work on other projects to keep me going. I also keep a quote from an old creator who said, “It’s when i am tired and don’t want to draw, that I need to push myself to keep going” (he was a daily strip cartoonist). I believe that-Drawing for me is important. Don’t get me wrong I love doing gigs and commissions. I love drawing fan art (though i would never make prints of my fan art). I love drawing pop-culture icons as well… but in the end it is more important for me to establish my style and my stories. It’s a building process that is growing at an incredible rate and it’s based of my works and not someone else.
Your original work competing against your pop culture work. Not many people think of this. I have friends who do both fan based pop culture and original works. They say that their original works and ideas don’t sell that well at shows but their pop culture works sell out. It’s because they are competing against themselves. They have built an audience that, even though some of them enjoy their original works, it is just just an audience that mainly enjoys somebody else’s proprieties that you just happened to draw. That’s what they expect and when you do that it is really easy to stop believing in your own ideas because you have to rely on someone else to make a buck at a show. Then when you want to focus solely on your own work you can’t because you are not drawing what the masses have expected you to draw.
I cant tell you what to do or what direction you should take. Only you can do that. Yet you need to decide what you want to be in the end. It might take some soul searching and such, but it comes down to you. For me, even though the road has been long and hard, it has been worth it. I am my own artist now. I have sooo much fun playing in my imagination and I know many others that have gone down the same road as I. They say the same thing…. they draw their own stories and their own ideas and they feel free doing it. The road is universally tough for all of them, but they are making it and they are examples to others trying to do the same thing, proving that it is possible to be an indy and be your own artist.
So go produce a book, than produce another, and do your own prints and build a strong following… just be aware the road is a rougher, a little longer, but far more rewarding.