Ask Mr. Artist Guy: Why Have A Blog?

Designer/illustrator Clay Cantrell writes:

“How important do you feel a blog is as a part of an overall business model for a freelance visual artist? Does it make good business sense, or do you think that only other artists read them, as opposed to potential or current clients?”

This is an excellent question, one I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. My blog has been something of an experiment, and frankly I’m still undecided as to whether or not a blog is a worthwhile way to promote myself and my work.

I started getting serious about my blog in July ’07, posting five times a week and making efforts to publicize my blog on other websites. My readership has steadily grown; I currently average about 700-800 page views every weekday, and I’m very flattered that so many people are interested in what I have to say. I suspect most of my readers are other artists who will never hire me, but I know for a fact that at least a few are art directors or past clients who have a serious interest in me and my work.

Nevertheless, from a purely financial standpoint my blog so far has been a bit of a disappointment. Maybe I’m doing something wrong. But then again, I’ve only been working at it seriously for about eight months. Everything I’ve read about blogging describes it as a very slow and gradual build towards success. Blogging is not for the get-rich-quick crowd. So I’m planning to hang in there a while longer and see what happens.

I’ve read about freelancers who started a blog and before they knew it job offers from readers were pouring in (this is more common among freelance writers than artists, which makes sense). While I’d love to say that I’m one of them, that has not been my experience. I can count on two fingers the number of job offers I’ve received in the last six months as a direct result of my blog. One fell through, the other was actually a writing gig for which I made decent money. Continue reading

Deadline Crunch…And A Joke

Between meeting deadlines and getting my taxes ready for my accountant (ugh!) I’m pretty busy at the moment. Too busy to write a full post. However, there’s some great art blogs linked over to the left. I highly recommend giving them a looksee.

Also, I thought I’d pass on a joke someone sent me the other day that really made me chuckle:

Larry LaPrise, the man who wrote “The Hokie Pokey” died peacefully at
the age of 93.

The most traumatic part for his family was getting him into the coffin.

They put his left leg in. And then the trouble started.

See ya tomorrow.

Keeping A Morgue Or “Swipe File”

As a freelance illustrator I often use reference photos for my work. Not to copy or trace but to study in order to help me understand the subject matter as I draw. My friend and fellow illustrator Tom Richmond recently wrote a good post on the proper role of reference photos when creating a piece of art. He compares it to a writer using a thesaurus, and warns against relying too heavily on reference imagery so that it becomes a crutch.

When I was in art school the internet was brand new and there was no such thing as Google, much less Google Image Search. Back then we were taught to scrounge old magazines from friends, relatives, and recycling centers so that we could pour through them and rip out photos of anything and everything we thought we might be asked to draw someday. We were taught to organize them into what was called a “swipe file” or a “morgue”. Over a period of several years I eventually filled two-and-a-half filing cabinets with photos.

Google has made much of my “morgue” irrelevant, but not all of it. Continue reading

PayPal For Freelancers: Pro’s and Con’s

When I bill out a project, my experience has been that most clients prefer to pay me the old-fashioned way by mailing in a check. However, as the internet continues to make things more convenient some companies are beginning to embrace online options as a way to pay for outside services like freelancing. And more and more freelancers are beginning to offer their clients the option, via PayPal or through their bank.

There will probably come a day in the not-too-distant future when paper checks are a thing of the past. Paypal could be the wave of the future. But before you jump on the Paypal bandwagon, weigh these pro’s and con’s:

Pro #1: Speed and Convenience. You can get paid in days rather than weeks or months, and it saves you having to drive to the bank and wait in line to deposit a check. If you work with clients overseas, getting a fast payment that is automatically converted into US dollars sure beats waiting for a check to be mailed half-way around the world.

Pro #2: Clients Like Convenience. Even though most clients will still prefer to pay with a paper check, the fact that you offer them a convenient online option shows that you are committed to making their life easier. Your clients will be grateful and will appreciate that you value customer service.

Pro #3: You May Appear More Professional. Ultimately your professionalism is determined by the quality of your work and how you treat your clients. But little extra touches like Paypal can help you appear more organized and tech-saavy, which may add to your professional cache.

However, there are drawbacks every freelancer should consider.

Con #1: Loss of Income. Paypal takes a small percentage of any payment for themselves (usually 2-3%), which for a large project can add up to tens or even hundreds of dollars lost. Personally I do use Paypal for small payments (i.e. accepting tips from blog readers or selling copies of my downloadable sketchbook), but I try to avoid it for client projects for this reason. However, you may feel differently.

Con #2: Easy Come, Easy Go. Paypal has one set of rules for the sale of tangible items (i.e. books, CD’s, etc.) and another set of rules for “intangibles” (i.e. freelance services). If for any reason a client is unhappy with your services (regardless of whether the cleint’s expectations were reasonable or not), Paypal makes it very easy for the client to get his/her money back, no questions asked. This story from FreelanceSwitch.com (a great blog for freelancers, by the way) should serve as a warning to any freelancer thinking of using Paypal to collect client payments.

I’m sure the day will come when we will all get paid online. But for now, be sure you are aware of the benefits and drawbacks before you offer Paypal as an option for your clients.

EDIT: FreelanceSwitch.com lists some alternatives to Paypal.

DrawerGeeks: The Monster Under My Bed

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For a few years now I’ve had the privilege of being a member of DrawerGeeks, a fun website for artists. Each week a different character or topic is assigned and we each take a shot at illustrating it any way we’d like.

This week’s topic was “The Monster Under My Bed”. Ninety percent of the time I’m too busy to take part, but this week I had a few free hours to whip something up. I thought I was being clever by drawing a giant monster trying to hide under a tiny bed, but several of the other artists came up with almost the exact same concept. Oh well.

DrawerGeeks is a closed community meaning only current members can submit artwork. However, in the very near future the DrawerGeeks moderators will be letting in a few new artists. When I know more I’ll post info on how to apply.

Tutorial: Inking In Illustrator

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(Sketch by Corbett Vanoni. All rights reserved.)

I’ve been getting a lot of questions about inking via Ask Mr. Artist Guy and through posted comments. I’m slowly working on a post or series of posts about inking principles. As for the mechanics of digital inking, back in 2006 artist Corbett Vanoni posted a terrific tutorial about how to ink in Illustrator. Highly recommended.

Kikkoman Character Design

Recently I was hired by the good folks at Ketchum Communications to create a character for Kikkoman soy sauce. They were printing a brochure and wanted to include a fun cartoon mascot. They asked me to take a bottle of Kikkoman and add a face, an apron, and a chef’s hat.

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It was the standard “take our product and add a face” method of character design. It’s a common approach to creating a mascot (i.e. the M&M’s guys, the Chips Ahoy cookie, the Kmart Blue Light guy, etc.) Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

At first glance this kind of assignment doesn’t give a character designer much to work with. The juicier jobs involve designing a character related to the product (i.e. Keebler Elves, Energizer Bunny, Serta Mattress Sheep, etc.), not the product itself. There is a lot more freedom to experiment visually. When the character is the product you are much more limited. An M&M has to look like an M&M, a light bulb has to look like a light bulb. If a character designer isn’t careful, such product-with-a-face characters risk appearing dull and unoriginal. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be that way. Continue reading