Starting an Art Business Prologue Title image

Starting an Art Business: The Prequel

 

This year is off to a good start…because I’m starting an art business!

I’m careful to say “starting” and not “started” because I’ve yet to open a store or create a product. But even though I’m still in the foundation-building stage, I’ve started to make moves.

One of the first changes you’ve probably noticed is that you’re on a new website. MonicaHeilmanArt.com will be the new home for this blog and my art portfolio. My former blog site, MonicaHeilman.com, is now dedicated to my freelance writing business and digital marketing (my writing niche).

I wanted my first original post here on MHA to be about these changes. But when I stopped to think about how I could make this post valuable for you, dear reader, I thought why not do a series on starting and running an art business?

 

But If You’re New to This, Why Are You Writing about Starting an Art Business?

Short answer: Because if I waited until I felt like an expert, I’d never write anything.

Obviously, as a new business owner, I can’t tell you about the 10 Best Ways for Artists to Market Their Work or How I Made $6,660 in One Month! but I can share my successes and struggles as I go.

There’s something fun about going along for the ride and following another person’s journey. And right now there are a lot of minuscule things that are confusing and difficult to figure out. Later on, I’m sure I’ll forget all about those little struggles, but maybe someone else coming after me will have the same questions. And they’ll be able to come here, see my messy thought process and relate. Then hopefully find some answers.

So once a month I’ll give you an update on how this art business thing is going, the roadblocks I’ve faced, and my progress. In short, this is the FAQ that no one asked for. Because when I’m a rich and successful art entrepreneur (said no artist ever), I won’t remember the details that stressed me out in the beginning. You’re welcome in advance.

My hope is that someday this series will be able to serve as a blueprint for one way someone might go about starting an art business.

 

Origin Story: Motivation for Starting an Art Business

Since this post is a sort of art business origin story, I’ll go into my motivation. This will probably be the fluffiest post in the series, but I’ll go into the nitty-gritty details in later posts.

So motivation. I’ve loved creating art my entire life. But what pushed me to finally start an art business?

I’ve already written a little bit about this topic in my New Year’s post. Amid my spin on New Year resolutions, I also wrote about the negativity that discouraged me from doing anything with my art.

But along with those negative messages, I’ve received positive comments. These have built up for years without me even realizing. From overt, amazed reactions to my art from friends to remarks from my dad that are so subtle I almost don’t register them for what they are–encouragement. But the comments I remember the most are the ones that just assume I’m already successful:

“Where’s your Etsy store?”

“What are your rates?”

I’d humbly reply, Oh I don’t have a store. Actually, I don’t really sell my work. But those comments always left me thinking.

What finally pushed me over the entrepreneurial line wasn’t a big motivational moment or a massive show of support from family and friends. It was enamel pins. That’s right, enamel pins. Way to shatter the emotional lead-up. I’m talking business today.

 

Pins, Pins, Pins!

Starting an Art Business. Group of 5 enamel pins displayed on a canvas tote bag. Top row has two Steven Universe pins (Peridot and Garnet), while the second has a heart with crystals coming out of it, No Face from Spirited Away, and an Eevee (Pokemon).
Pins from Pinyatta, Just Peachy, Alagaesha, and Jennifairy

I’ve fallen fast and hard for the enamel pins trend. And I blame Reboops aka my childhood friend Rebecca. My first two pins were gifts from her. She hit me with my favorite fandom, Steven Universe. I retaliated by stalking online pin shops for Black Friday deals and getting her back with Sailor Moon and Overwatch.

But I didn’t stop there. I ended up buying pins as Christmas gifts for my sisters, Alyssa and Mandy, and myself. (You can’t blame me–it was Black Friday and free shipping was involved!)

Starting an Art Business a set of 2 food pins from KimChi and Just Peachy on a wide, green and pink backing card. One pin is a chip dipped into guacamole that reads "You're so extra" and the other is a donut with the words "come for me" below it. Donut come for me.

Then one day, Reboops asked my opinion on whether she should try making pins. She’s an awesome artist who already has an Etsy store and does tons of artistic things. She was my secret artistic rival as a kid.

Obviously I said YES.

100%.

GO FOR IT.

Then I said making pins sounded fun and it was her turn to say YES-100%-GO-FOR-IT. And both our minds started churning. That’s how I imagine it anyway.

In reality, she got started right away and I got stressed out. But before we get into my stress, I have to go on a tangent about Reboops making awesome progress already! I see you, rival! If you like Sailor Moon or general cuteness, you definitely need to check out her Kickstarter.

It’s already guaranteed to be funded, but I want her to at least get to Sailor Mars. You can go ahead and support her now because I’ll catch up later.

 

So I started seriously considering an art business online because I want to make pins. But now I’m planning art prints, keychains, and well, still looking into what I’d like to offer.

Stresses and Successes

Each month I’m going to include a list of stresses (apparently you can use the word this way) and successes. I can already see how some of my stresses were silly and unnecessary but I genuinely struggled with them for a while.

And my successes may not always be big wins, but they’ll be a list of accomplishments and steps I’ve taken in the past month. So for this half-month:

Stresses:

  • Coming up with a business name
  • Wondering what username to choose for my new Instagram
  • What kind of art to post on Instagram
  • Not having a consistent art style
  • Choosing a name with domain availability
  • Separating my art blog from my writer website
  • Creating a storefront
  • Etsy or Storenvy?

 

Successes

  • Created a new, simple domain name (monicaheilmanart)
  • Moved my art blog to the new site
  • Set up SSL (https) on my new site
  • Did a lot of blog transition grunt work (replacing broken links, setting up redirects)
  • Started an art Instagram
  • Began posting consistently and building an audience
  • Created an art Twitter and Facebook
  • Drew a few preliminary pin designs

I won’t go into all of these points, but here are the main ones and how I’m dealing with them:

Business Name

I was surprisingly stressed about creating a business name. Partially because if I didn’t have a business name, I couldn’t start any of the other things on my list! I also placed a lot of weight on Instagram and my Instagram name, because my thought process went like this:

-> Want to make pins

-> Need an art business to make pins

-> Need a strong online presence as an artist to have a successful art business

-> Instagram is awesome for online presence and artists

-> Need the perfect Instagram account

-> Perfect Instagram account requires a cute, preferably witty name that people will remember

As a result, I have a couple notebook pages crammed with business name ideas and word association lists. I went to my sisters and forced them to come up ideas with me. I then made a short list and checked to see which of those names were available as a .com domain.

Finally, I ended up going with “monicaheilmanart” for my domain and using “monicartsy” as my social media handle. Monicartsy was the name of my original Instagram and I definitely spent no more than two minutes on it.

And you know what? I feel just fine about these names. Since I don’t have one specific type of art I’d like to sell, these names give me to freedom to go in multiple directions or even make significant changes in the future without feeling like I’m not staying true to a name.

Buying a Domain

To be honest, buying a domain was probably completely unnecessary for an art business. Several platforms like Etsy, Storenvy, and Big Cartel let you host a beautiful storefront right on their site. But I already had one website that I wanted to split into two.

MonicaHeilman.com started off as my art portfolio back in college. I started an art blog on the site too, but then abandoned it. When I began freelance writing, I added my writer information and clips to that site and started blogging again to keep the site active. But it was making less and less sense to host an art blog on my freelance writer website (although I did write about art for one client). I’ve wanted to separate my art content from my writing business for a while, and starting an art business was the perfect opportunity to do that.

I know I’ll continue blogging about art and it was no problem to add another domain to my existing web hosting plan. I’m already comfortable running a website and owning a domain is kind of fun. So for me, an art website makes sense, even though I plan to use other platforms to sell my work initially.

Etsy or Storenvy?

Both! I agonized over this for a bit until I read an article that said there was no reason you can’t do both. And so I will.

Etsy is so well-known that it’s the easiest way for people to find your shop. They charge listing fees and take a percentage, but name recognition seems worth it.

I discovered Storenvy though other enamel pin shops and really liked the layout. Their storefronts look like an independent storefront, not just a user’s profile. Storenvy also has a marketplace similar to Etsy’s where you can discover other creators and buy their products. Another big plus is that Storenvy doesn’t charge any listing fees, so I’ll be able to leave up as many products as I want indefinitely. That sounds pretty good.

I’m sure that later, I’ll have much more to say about each platform.

Art Style Inconsistency

I’m still unsure about this one. Finding your “own style” is a big concern for many artists. I’ve through several stages with “style”:

  • Searching for my style
  • Believing that nothing was original so trying to create your “own style” was pointless
  • Creating whatever I wanted not caring about consistency
  • Realizing that consistency is vital to marketing yourself
  • Accepting that a style doesn’t have to limit your work

Since I stopped searching for a style to call my own in high school, maybe I’ve stagnated on this front. But your art style seems to have a way of creeping up on you. On my new Instagram, my only criteria for the art I’ve been posting is that a.) it’s interesting and b.) it’s good. Curating for quality has turned out more consistent than I expected. I lean toward detailed work focused on lines rather than shapes. Or maybe it’s just all the plant drawings. Those create consistency too.

Starting an Art Business Zebra Plant Scratchboard with an Xacto knife and scratch on the right. Background is reddish-brown wood.

Conclusion

So at this point, I’ve gone through the process of setting up a website and social media accounts. I’m posting and creating art more consistently, while also following existing online art businesses I admire.

If you’ve stuck with me this far, kudos! This post was a long one and I might keep the others in this series shorter and more focused.

Are there any topics you’d like to hear more of or questions you have so far? Let me know in the comments!

 

 

Instead of Resolutions, I Have a New Year’s Theme

The New Year is almost here and the time for resolution-making is already underway. Confession: for several years in a row I didn’t remember to make resolutions until after New Year’s. Starting off by procrastinating like a pro. But this year, enough of the bloggers I follow are posting about resolutions so I can’t feign ignorance or say I just forgot.

One blogger/entrepreneur I follow is Michelle Ward, the When I Grow Up Coach. She’s fabulous. And apparently, for the last several years she’s chosen a word of the year. For example, last year was “Be” and this year’s “Compassion.” She then structures her resolutions and orients goals around that one word.

I don’t have a single word for the next year – although this sounds fun and maybe I will end up choosing one – but I do have an overarching idea I’d like to use to guide me through 2018.

In 2018, I am going to claim my dreams.

Hey, it might sound cheesy, but it’s the best wording I got right now.

If you’re anything like me, you have a lot of things you’d like to do or hope will happen in the future. But recently, I came to a moment of clarity about waiting. Waiting sucks. I wouldn’t voluntarily wait for anything if I didn’t have to. Waiting for a video to load, waiting at a traffic light, waiting at the DMV — no one wants to do any of that.

So why should my dreams – the things I want to do with my life – have to wait? Like every guru ever says, there’s never a perfect time to start [fill in dream here].

And in my mild epiphany, two examples of pointless waiting immediately came to mind.

New Years Theme Title Image with sunrise in background and text that reads "Instead of Resolutions, I Have a New Year's Theme"

Waiting for Permission

The last few months I’ve been applying to Sociology Ph.D. programs. In the process, I repeatedly found myself saying and writing things like “I hope to incorporate my interest in art” or “It’d be wonderful if I could apply my Fulbright experience and study topics related to Korea.” At first, these statements might sound fine. Nice even. Oh, how good for you, wanting to combine other interests into your degree.

But it’s been months and I’m still just “hoping.” I started to sound like a broken record to myself. Is there a moment when I’ll magically gain the ability to pursue all my interests? Is there a god of Ph.D. research hovering over me, deciding whether they’ll grant me permission to study what I want?

Waiting on the “Impossible”

I’ve been waiting on my art dreams for even longer.

You can’t make a living off of art.

You’ll be a starving artist.

Art is just a hobby.

I never tried to do anything big with art because from the beginning (read: my whole life), I thought it was impossible. But just as a good artist friend pointed out to me, there are more ways for artists to support themselves than ever. The internet is a unicorn. Artists can now gain exposure from a global audience, sell their work, and even receive regular funding from sites like Patreon. It’s pretty incredible.

New Years Theme Sunrise over the ocean in 2016

Time to Start Moving

Sitting around and hoping isn’t actually getting me anywhere. Either I commit and take the steps to get there, or I just keep hoping.

Like my desire to pursue multiple interests in a Sociology Ph.D., no one is going to tell me when and how I can start more seriously pursuing art.

So in 2018, I’m going to claim my dreams. Here’s how I’ll start.

Hit Some Textbooks

With sociology, all I can do is wait to hear from schools–NOT! I may not have secured a place in any program yet, but I want to study Korea, so I’ll be hitting the Korean textbooks again this year. My goal is an hour of Korean language study or practice a day.

I had a language-learning fire lit under me while reading an interview with sociologist Fatma Müge Göçek. She wants to study Kurds in Turkey, so she’s learning Kurdish. Let me repeat that. She’s learning an entirely new language to be able to study what she wants. Mind blown.

Well, wait, I thought, maybe Kurdish is similar to Turkish, Dr. Göçek’s native language. A quick Google search confirmed that nope, they’re from different language families. Mind blown again.

Build Business #2

As for art, there are so many possibilities, it’s overwhelming. But at some point, I thought, how am I running a business as a freelance digital marketing writer, but not an art business? So in 2018.you can expect to hear some news on an art shop. Keep your eyes on Etsy or Storenvy.

 

 

Productivity Hacks: Eat Treats. All the Treats.

The holiday season is upon us! I don’t know what it’s like at your house, but at my house, this means a sudden increase in treats. Home baked goods, store-bought pastries, delicious gifts from family friends, and of course, that giant tub of somehow-holiday-related popcorn.

productivity hack treats popcorn bucket viewed from above with three types of popcorn separated by a three-way cardboard divider

My family went all healthy on me in the two years I was out of the country, so having all these treats around is a real (but pleasant) shock. Fortunately, if you’re loaded with treats too, you can use this to your advantage. Turn those treats into productivity! And if you’re lacking treats, you now have an excuse to go out and buy some.

Can Treats Really Increase Productivity?

Why would you even question the power of treats? Treats have a long history of boosting productivity. What else would we mean when we talk about using the carrot and the stick?

In short, this tip is a combination of two common productivity tips: eat breakfast and take breaks.

Breakfast

We know we’re supposed to eat a good breakfast. It gives you energy, keeps your stomach from growling too loudly, and has nutrition or something. But not everyone has time for a hearty breakfast. And if you’re like me, you can’t stomach much food in morning anyway.

Breaks

Taking breaks is good too. Science has proven that we need breaks to maintain focus and productivity. But in a culture where hard work is so highly valued, it’s easy to feel guilty about taking breaks. So we don’t. The problem is, we need breaks to keep our brains from going to mush.

We can agree that eating breakfast and taking breaks are healthy. We can also see why people skip breakfast or let their work drag on until they aren’t even working efficiently.

So what if you combined breakfast and breaks?

As an unsuccessful user of the  Pomodoro method, I think breaks are nice, but not particularly motivational. What if I take a break and it ends up stretching on for hours? (This is purely hypothetical, of course.) Getting to eat a pastry though? That – and my rumbling stomach – will get me to work faster to get to a stopping point. Then after I’ve had my break + pastry time, my mind is refreshed and my body has more energy.

Food and downtime – and not just during lunch – is a necessary part of any good work day. And if you don’t believe me, here’s a story.

A Story about How Food Helps You Work

After teaching in South Korea for one year, I moved to a new city and new school. At my old school, in my old teacher’s office, we always had snacks. You could count some form of communal food always being available.

Maybe one of the four teachers I shared an office with would go on a trip and bring back a specialty bread from another region. It might be someone’s birthday, so we’d have a cake. A parent might have brought a gift of fruit or pastries to a parent-teacher conference. Someone bought rice cake for the entire school because of a wedding, or a promotion, or someone’s child turning a year old. There were many excuses to eat rice cake.

But guess what? When I moved to my new school, I found out the office food situation was even better. That’s because nearly every teacher in this larger, 8-person office was a middle-aged woman. So they did just bring any old snacks.

Instead, we had fresh fruit almost every day. We still had snacks and rice cake for special occasions, just as I did at my former school, but the variety of foods available in our office was simply lovely. Having good food around also encouraged people to bring more good food.

At one point, I had a tub of oatmeal for the times when I wanted a mild breakfast. Another teacher had a stash of cup ramen. We both shared at some point because although oatmeal is pretty boring compared to ramen, most of my Korean coworkers had never tried it before. So I suppose I contributed to the healthy, novelty-food image of our office.

With all this food around, I never powered through my work on an empty stomach. All I had to do was walk across the room and help myself.

productivity hack treats image of wood table that has a tray of fruit including three peaches, two green apples, and a banana. Behind the tray is a place of sliced pastry bread. In the front to the left is a coffee mug with an owl design.

Plan to Treat Yourself

Food keeps us happy and, you know, helps us survive. But you shouldn’t be aiming to just survive each work day. Take care of yourself and listen when your body’s hungry or mentally drained.

So to increase your productivity, take breaks. Here’s what I recommend:

Take a mid-morning break to chow down on a treat. Or mid-afternoon. Whatever works with your schedule and stomach. I tend to get ravenous between 10 to 11 am, no matter how much breakfast I’ve had. That’s why I recommend a food treat, instead of a more abstract one, like social media time or mindless Internet browsing.

If my house is devoid of holiday treats or I’m rushing to meet a deadline, I’ll treat myself in a smaller way – better quality coffee, a latte, whipped cream on a beverage – something I can consume while working.

It doesn’t matter if you don’t feel that you “deserve” a break or you haven’t been productive enough yet. Recharge, regroup, and come back to the table when you’re ready and able to put in the hard work.

Productivity Hacks: Do Your Laundry

Lately, I’ve had productivity methods on my mind. Well, let’s face it, they’re always somewhere on the brain, whether I’ve had a slow day and I’m figuring out how to avoid another one, or I was wonderfully productive and hoping for a repeat performance the next day.

Only recently have I figured out that an ordinary household task can boost my productivity: laundry.

Well, this is useless, you might be thinking. I work at an office and I can’t do laundry there. Not true! I have something for you too, even if your employer hasn’t invested in washing machines. So bear with me while I tell you a story.

A Laundry Story

productivity hacks laundry clothesline

My laundry days used to be super unproductive. I’d have to keep interrupting my work to move dirty clothes around, and then I’d have to fold them. Ugh. So I’d try to delegate laundry to the weekends.

But one day – a weekday – I’d forgotten to do laundry over the weekend. I also had a significant amount of writing to do that day. So I set a tight schedule. I packed my clothes into the washer and set a timer on my phone. As soon as that timer rang, I’d rush down to the laundry room and get those clothes in the drier.

Since I had a lot on my plate, naturally, I’d do work while my clothes were washing. This gave me two 30- to 40-minute chunks of intensely productive time. And thus, the laundry Pomodoro method was born.

The Pomodoro Technique

productivity hack laundry tomato pomodoro technique credit Devanath

If you already know what the Pomodoro technique is, you probably have me pegged. This post is about combining Pomodoro with household chores. You got me. But it’s been effective for me ever since I started laundry Pomodoro.

The Pomodoro Technique, if you don’t know, is a way to structure your time and stay productive. It was invented by Francesco Cirillo, who used a Pomodoro or tomato-shaped timer, hence its namesake. The method is this: set a timer for 25 minutes and work during that time. Then give yourself a 5-minute break. Rinse and repeat for as long as needed. But since we human beings are only able to focus for so long, take a longer, 15-minute break after you’ve completed three or four pomodoros.

You can vary the time of your breaks and number of pomodoros, but the basic premise is:

  1. Work
  2. Short break
  3. Work
  4. Short break
  5. Work
  6. Long break

This method has been so well-received that there’s a Cirillo company with Pomodoro courses, Pomodoro certifications you can earn, and a Pomodoro book.

So Why Laundry?

So if this method is so effective, why did I bother adding laundry to the equation? Is this my attempt at a unique spin? Some cheap gimmick I picked up in the process of writing for marketing agencies?

Fortunately no. I bring in laundry because the Pomodoro technique doesn’t work for me.

I mean, I’m sure if I used it consistently, it would be helpful. But it’s getting there that’s the problem. I just can’t motivate myself to use pomodoros. It’s annoying to always set a timer. I always go over or under the times I set. Sometimes I’d rather just charge ahead for a couple hours without stopping for a break.

That’s where laundry comes in. Laundry is set in stone.

What I mean is, there’s no going under the time limit for laundry. If I do, I’m just wasting time while the washing machine continues to run. And if I go over the set time, my clothes will stay soggy in the washer or get wrinkled in the dryer.

The result is an enforced Pomodoro that I have no choice but to obey. But since laundry is only once a week, I don’t feel constrained or annoyed by the time limits. Instead, it’s fun to see how much I can accomplish in two Pomodoros of laundry.

Interested in Digital Painting? Here’s How to Get Started

Those of you who know me might be thinking, “Oh Monica does digital art?” But you’d be right to feel surprise or doubt. Because I don’t. Not since I was on Neopets and other virtual pet sites anyway, when I would put myself through the agony of trying to draw smooth lines with a mouse.

But I’m changing all that starting this week! Because I’ve had a tablet sitting around since August that I still haven’t learned to use. This birthday gift would have been the gift of my younger self’s dreams, so recently I’ve been trying to live that dream.

I started out confidently – a tablet will instantly make digital art so much easier, right? – but immediately fell short of my expectations. My drawings looked worse than some of my old computer mouse drawings. Take a look.

The age of Neopets (bonus points to anyone who can identify the other pet site):

Digital Painting yellow stuffed dragon painting on canvas while a stuffed cat watches

Digital Painting white mythical creature with a long tongue, long tail and four red eyes perched on a gray rock

I got pretty good at working around the limitations I had with my mouse. I also found some way to smooth out my shaky lines with some software (see white creature painting above), but now have no idea how I did that. In comparison, here’s my attempt from a few days ago:

Digital Painting roughly drawn smiling black cartoon cat with words "Graah! Why is this so hard?" scribbled on the left side

Amusing, but not so good. The only digital art I’ve done recently is the phone paintings I started making in Korea while waiting at bus stops or having reflective moments at the beach. This involved smooshing my finger around on my phone screen.

Digital painting phone painting of the beach with ships in the distance

Clearly, tablets and actual Photoshop have a bit more of a learning curve. That’s why, as a nearly complete beginner to digital painting, I’m writing a post on how to learn digital painting. Expert illustrators and artists who actually create digital art on a regular basis could easily give you a more comprehensive list of resources. But I’m in that same awkward beginner stage you might be, struggling to remember Photoshop shortcuts and figure out why I can’t draw like I do on paper.

Here’s a list of the resources I’m currently using – and really liking so far! Most of these are geared toward learning to use digital software, not art skills, since that’s what I need. But you can check out my post on figure drawing resources or beginner art tutorials (skip to #6 for drawing) if you need the foundation in art techniques too.

 

Digital Painting Tutorials

This is a list of four specific resources, as well as a few general recommendations, for a beginner learning digital painting. Most are basic tutorials, but a few scale up in difficulty so more advanced artists might find a few gems here too.

 

Ctrl+Paint

Ctrl+Paint is my favorite with absolutely no competition at this point. The website is an extensive video library of tutorials starting from the very beginning and going to- well I haven’t gotten anywhere near that yet. The creator, Matt Kohr, has crafted a clear curriculum that thoroughly takes you through all the essentials you need for digital painting.

The site itself looks appealing with a very clean layout and intuitive navigation. A nice-looking site just makes you want to stay a while, doesn’t it? There are no ads on Ctrl+Paint because Matt makes his revenue from selling videos of more advanced techniques or in-depth tutorials. Since I haven’t been using the Ctrl+Paint that long, I can’t say how long it’ll take to get through the free videos…but there are a LOT. And on top of that, Matt still posts new videos. As of this post, the last free video was posted on August 21, but before that there’s at least one new video each month.

Even though I gathered a handful of beginner resources for this post, Ctrl+Paint is the one I anticipate using the most. The videos are brief, which is perfect for my plan to spend 30 minutes a day on digital painting (I’m attempting Nanowrimo and applying for grad school, okay? But carving out 30 minutes each day sounds doable). By the end of each video, you have an “assignment” to practice, whether that’s a file he’s given you to mess around with or a tool to become comfortable using. The nice things about these assignments that they don’t feel like work so far. You just play until you get the hang of it.

 

Lummage’s Comic Book Coloring 101

If you’re looking to master digital coloring, Lummage’s series might be for you. I liked the first video, and I think I’ll continue with this course after I’ve seen what Ctrl+Paint has to offer on coloring. As a side, “coloring” reminds me of elementary school and coloring books, so if that bothers you too, think of it as just the color part of digital painting.

Like Ctrl+Paint, Lummage’s video series is for beginners. While this series is titled “Comic Book Coloring,”  the techniques taught apply to any type of digital painting. And if you’re a beginner like me, any foundational tutorials are useful anyway.

Lummage videos are a bit longer, depending on the complexity of the topic covered. They range from 8 to 25 minutes, so you’ll need to carve out more time for later lessons. The end of each video has assignments too, beginning with the very basic, practical skills needed to become comfortable working digitally. I excel at pushing my way through all the requirements of a course, but after watching the first video in this series, I have to say, these assignments sound like a lot of work. Of course learning a new skill, even an artistic one like digital painting, is work, but Lummage provides no fluff to disguise it. He provides everything you need, but it’s up to you to put in the practice. I’m  appreciative of his approach, while simultaneously groaning on the inside at how much work this course looks.

 

CG Cookie Concept

CG Cookie Concept is another general resource for digital artists. They have a much greater range of videos than either Ctrl+Paint or Lummage. You can also find videos not only on digital techniques but art skills.

What I like about Cookie Concept is how there’s nothing too basic for them to cover. Their video explaining how to scan an image so you can use it in Photoshop begins with a clip of someone placing the paper into a scanner and pushing a button to scan it.

While I didn’t need any help with that part, I can see this being useful in later videos. They don’t assume you know where a tool is. Instead they open up the menu that has that tool so you can see it. These moments are pretty brief – CG Cookie is never going to bore you with extensive explanations. It’s not like having that one person in class. The one who’s constantly asking questions. And forcing the rest of the class to listen to the same explanation over and over again. Instead, they just take a brief second to show you everything you need to know. I’m pretty sure that as I get further into their lessons and there’s more and more to remember, I’ll appreciate the brief reminders that keep me from pausing a video and Googling a tool I can’t remember how to find.

 

Tyler Edlin’s Brush Sauce Theatre

The last specific resource I’ll spotlight at this point is Tyler Edlin’s YouTube channel, and specifically the Brush Sauce Theater playlist. Tyler Edlin is a concept artist and freelance illustrator. His tutorials are pretty different from the rest of the resources on my list and definitely far more advanced.

The Brush Sauce Theatre videos cover a variety of topics that mix digital skills and art techniques. Some videos discuss how to approach value or choose your painting composition; others address specifics like creating texture in a digital painting. I wouldn’t go to Tyler’s videos for the basics, but I include his work as something to aspire to and to keep me in the mindset of producing art.

As I’m learning a new skill, I like to look ahead and see what’s possible with the medium. There are countless digital artists I could follow for this, but Tyler Edlin provides a bit of high-level art instruction. His videos keep me thinking about art technique and not just basic skills. For example, drawing the correct proportions on the human figure or using different brush tools are basic skills. In contrast, composing a balanced painting is a high level, or “high order” concern. If we compared this to writing an essay, it would be the difference between using proper grammar and having a clear thesis.

Tyler does a good job of integrating art and digital skills, so when I’m watching his videos, I’m not only thinking about the digital aspect of his work but the art techniques he applies to get there. I suppose it also reminds me that I’m not starting completely from scratch with digital painting – everything I’ve learned about art still applies. I anticipate picking and choosing from his tutorials after I’ve established more of a foundation with other resources.

 

General Resources for Digital Painting

That’s the end of the specific artists I’m following to learn digital painting, but there are a few general resources worth mentioning.

YouTube

Everyone recommends YouTube. It’s just easier to learn a visual craft from a visual source. Even though I’m all about blog posts, it’s so helpful to watch an artist construct an image and explanation what they’re doing at the same time.

Pinterest

Surprisingly Pinterest also has a wealth of information on digital art. Search for the digital art tutorial of your choice, and Pinterest will probably lead you to it. The benefit of using Pinterest over a general Google search is that you’ll end up with tons of infographics that clearly layout techniques step by step. All of the other resources on this list have been video-based, but if you’d prefer to learn from images, Pinterest is perfect.

Tumblr is similar, but I’d go to Pinterest first since it’s easier to scan through your options and choose the tutorial you like best.

 

Tools: Photoshop Substitutes

Finally, I’ll include a brief note on tools. I bought Photoshop CS5 as a college student and it’s worked fine for me ever since. But if you’re not willing to make the investment, there are still ways to try digital painting. Gimp and Krita are free, open-source Photoshop alternatives. Most tutorials online use Photoshop, so just expect a learning curve with the controls. Or seek out some Gimp- or Krita-specific tutorials. After all, you can learn anything on the Internet.

 

This is just a snippet of the many, many tutorials and resources online. YouTube alone has thousands of illustrators who share their methods. Do you have a favorite YouTuber or platform to learn digital painting? Let me know! (Because as a beginner, seriously, I want to know.)

So What’s It Like at a Maker Faire? (with Illustrations)

Last week I made plans to visit the Mini Maker Faire held over the weekend by Barnes & Noble. Their website listed this event as the 3rd annual Mini Maker Faire, but the Maker Movement has been around since 2013.

So, what’s it like at a Maker Faire? After last weekend, I can confidently say, I still have no idea. The event was severely underwhelming and not representative of anything I’d call a maker faire.

There are only so many ways to say you’re disappointed, so I thought I’d tell you the story with illustrations.

 

I went to the Barnes & Noble Mini Maker Faire on Saturday with my sister. We wondered where they’d hold the event, but when we arrived, there were several people going into the store at once. It seemed we were in the right place.

Maker Faire BN entrance with lots of people going in

Upon entering the store, a large cardboard cutout loomed in front of the Nook and ebooks desk. The Maker robot had signs attached to it that listed the Mini Maker Faire hours and a disclaimer that we might be filmed.

Maker Faire sign large paper cutout of a red robot

Ready for flashy displays of creativity (and hopefully a chance to participate too), we walked further into the store and saw….nothing. There was nothing different about the store layout.

Maker Faire back of author's head looking out over ordinary bookshelves at Barnes and Noble

Confused, we decided to take a loop around the store. There was one table in the center of the store, right in front of the kids’ section. Inside the kids’ section there was another table with what looked like coloring pages.

Maker Faire BN 2 tables a blue one in front staffed by a man and one in the back staffed by a person wearing red cardigan

Later, after completing a full loop (we were browsing at the same time), we also noticed a table by the entrance staffed by the Pikes Peak Library District. They had some sort of puzzle at their station. To be fair, we didn’t stop at any the tables. And later we saw one kid messing around with a tablet-controlled robot. But compared to what we’d imagined a Maker Faire to be, this experience was just sad.

Maker Faire robot black with blue circles on its head rolling on a wooden floor

Sad, lonely robot.

I’ll have to try and attend a real Maker Faire someday.

Maker Faire disappointed pose

Have You Heard of the Maker Movement?

Inktober may be over, but the events focused on art and creativity continue. This upcoming weekend Barnes & Noble stores across the US will host simultaneously host their own “Mini Maker Faire.” When I saw the event, I had no idea what a Maker Faire was, but I’d been hearing the word “Maker” thrown around more and more frequently.

My local library opened a newly dubbed “Maker space,” a renovated section with glass doors that I would walk by slowly to get a better glimpse of what was inside.

There were “Maker Faire” events on Facebook and now at Barnes & Noble. It turns out I’m late to this phenomenon, dubbed the “Maker Movement.” This year will be Barnes & Noble’s third annual Maker Faire, and my first Google search revealed articles about the Maker Movement going back to 2013.

But if I’d never heard of this thing until recently, I figure there are others like me who don’t live in hip, always up-to-date places.

What is the Maker Movement?

The Maker Movement has been called anything from a DIY revolution to a revival of Home-EC to America’s salvation. That one certainly caught my eye. Was this just click bait or is there something about the Maker Movement I’m missing?

“Maker” is a creative movement. And a maker is defined simply as anyone who makes things. This definition includes everyone, which appears to be the point. Anyone can be a Maker. Anyone can join the movement.

Although I’m discussing the Maker in the context of visual arts, it’s far more expansive than what we might traditionally define as “creative” pursuits. The Maker Movement includes the arts, sure, but it also brings attention to projects within science, technology, and computer science. A glance through the Maker website reveals guides on 3D printing projects, drone recommendations, and articles on how to build your own furniture.

Maker Faires take place around the world. In the same weekend that Barnes & Noble will hold their event, there will be full-blown Maker Faires taking place in Germany, Argentina, and Thailand. It’s kind of a big deal.

The Maker Movement, along with Maker Faires and Maker spaces are about getting people to create and learn to become more self-sustaining. It encourages people to play, tinker, and actually use their hands to create something. It sounds like a nice movement, but for the most part, I’m still left confused.

What Can You Expect from a Maker Faire?

I’ve read articles, watched videos, and listened to people describe their experiences at Maker Faires. I could create a passable image for you by mashing the information from these articles, videos, and accounts together. But with a Maker Faire coming to town – even a mini one held in a retail chain – the best course of action seems to go attend one myself.

From what I’ve gleaned, the idea of a Maker Movement seems admirable. I’m all for encouraging people to be creative and make things. But I wonder how sustainable the idea is. The attempt to encompass every kind of “making” and include everyone also has me doubtful. While everyone can be a “maker,” the things made in Maker spaces seem skewed toward technology and robotics, which doesn’t sound particularly interesting to me. So off I go, a little skeptical, but sufficiently curious.

The Barnes & Noble Mini Maker Faire will be held the weekend of November 11-12th. Check out this list to see if any stores near you are participating.

 

Maker Faire at BN Maker Movement

11 Things to Do When You Need to Sustain Creativity for a Long Time

This year I’m participating in both Inktober and NaNoWriMo. Those in the know will understand the horror I’m inflicting upon myself. But if that sounded like gibberish to you, it boils down to two back-to-back months of intense creativity.

Inktober is a daily art challenge for the month of October. By the end, you’ll have produced 31 ink drawings. This year is my first time trying Inktober, so I’m being lenient with myself. I aim to have at least 20 drawings by the time Halloween rolls around.

Then November is NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month and is exactly what it sounds like. The goal is to produce 50,000 words. I’ve accomplished this goal and “won” NaNoWriMo the past two years, but have yet to produce a completed novel.

Sustain Creativity

I love short, intense creative challenges like this, but two consecutive months can no longer be considered a “short” challenge. Typically you’d have time to prepare yourself, do a little planning, and charge forward. NaNoWriMo is 8 days away and I still have no novel plans.

So I decided to step back, gather some resources, and figure out how I’m going to make it through the end of November. And while you may not be setting yourself up to jump through ridiculous creative hoops, maybe you’re struggling with this question too:

How Do You Sustain Creativity for an Extended Period of Time?

I’ve compiled a list of 11 tips staying consistently creative, whether you’re doing an Inktober- Nanowrimo marathon, need constant creativity for your job, or just want to get your creative juices flowing again.

1. Take Breaks.

When I get busy, it’s easy for me to completely fill up my day. I’ll keep working and multi-tasking on something because “I’m busy,” and I need to be working. All too often I fall under the false impression that being busy means being productive. And it’s plenty easy to stay busy.

I’m taking breaks, I tell myself, as I eat lunch and read books at the same time, or stare at my phone when I get up to refill my coffee. But these days take their toll on me. I know because after one of these needlessly busy days, I’ll finally lay down to sleep and my mind will be buzzing.

While I may have taken breaks from my freelance writing or studying (that darned GRE), I never gave myself a mental break. All the mental processing I didn’t get to do during the day hits me full force right as my head hits the pillow, and then I can’t fall asleep either.

Hopefully, you don’t do this to yourself. Because going non-stop all day is the best way to kill your creativity.

2. “Get Up and Move!

Get some exercise. Work out. Take a walk. Try kickboxing (I’ve been wanting to). This may not sound like practical advice for someone facing a time crunch, but it’ll do wonders for your life. As someone who finally got back into a workout routine a few months ago, I’m still surprised at the benefits.

I’m a morning gym person – not one of those 5 am people, just a modest 8 or 9 am – and here’s what happens after a workout:

  • I’m super-energized.
  • I’m also super-hungry, which leads to eating, which results in more energy.
  • I’m super-chatty – notice how every just seems “super”?
  • I’m better prepared to sit at a desk for extended periods of time.
  • I’ve already crossed one thing off my list and feel super-productive – already!

And, you know, there’s research that suggests being active boosts your creativity too. Apparently, the results are a bit more nuanced, and consistently active people (like athletes) benefit from exercise more than non-active who suddenly try exercising to boost their creativity. So the moral of the story is, start exercising now.

3. Defend Your Creative Time with Your Life.

Seriously. To accomplish anything you need time, particularly focused, distraction-free time. Treat creativity with respect and give it the time it deserves. Don’t give in to friends asking you to hang out during your writing time – just convince them to do NaNoWriMo with you!

In The War of Art, Steven Pressfield stresses the importance of approaching art as a professional. A pro, he asserts, shows up every day, no matter what, all day. “By performing the mundane physical act of sitting down and starting to work, [you] set in motion a mysterious but infallible sequence of events that [will] produce inspiration.” Sounds good to me.

4. Get Rid of or Get Away from Distractions

I work from home. But most days, home is pretty distracting. Even when I try to close my door, my dogs feel the incessant need to go in and out of my room nonstop. Cinnamon feels particularly entitled to entry. It’s really just better to leave the door open. So when I really need to focus, I get out of the house.

If it’s artwork I’m trying to do, packing up all my supplies to go to a cafe would be annoying. Having people stare at me also messes me up. So for Inktober, I’ve gravitated toward morning or night hours. Early in the morning – before I work out or on days when I skip the gym – the house is quiet and anyone who’s awake is still groggy. At night my dogs are in bed or passed out elsewhere, and everyone else is winding down.

But living creatures aren’t my only distractions. My phone is a notorious offender. So sometimes I throw it across the room (onto my bed) to rid myself of its temptations. The satisfaction of literally throwing away your distractions is also worth it.

5. Notice the Details.

Don’t be distracted, but do notice the details. Easy, right? Well, this tip is for inspiration time, not work time. Eventually, your well of creativity will start to run dry. Rather than trying to produce something out of thin air. Go for a walk and pay attention to your surroundings (that way you’re doing tip #2 at the same time).

Notice what’s around you. Is there artwork? A ridiculous conversation going on behind you? Strange smells? Try to engage all five senses, but use “taste” at your own discretion.

6. Take Notes.

Or sketches, memos, audio files, or whatever medium works best for you. While you’re noticing all these details, you’ll want to be ready if inspiration strikes. And just tucking the idea away in your mind in the hopes that you’ll remember it later is only effective 50% of the time, if that. Take it safe. Dig up the built-in notes app on your phone. Keep a little notebook at your bedside. Just don’t let the ideas get away.

7. Find Your “Inspiration System.”

I’m stealing the idea of an “Inspiration System” from Asian Efficiency because it really resonates with me. The gist of it is this: you know what inspires you, so intentionally put yourself into inspiring situations.

What works for you? It might be getting away to explore a new city or going on a long hike. Or you might find inspiration in something as simple as music from a particular artist. I tend to go through intense phases where I listen almost exclusively to one artist, over and over again, and then lose interest and move on. My latest was, surprisingly, Demi Lovato. Don’t ask me why.

8. Quantity Over Quality (Or Create, Create, Create!)

As a perfectionist, I know the feeling of getting stuck trying to produce that one amazing thing. But especially in creative challenges like Inktober and NaNoWriMo, the point is to produce. To get into a daily creative practice. No one’s submitting their NaNoWriMo draft to an editor as is – at least, I hope not. Creativity requires practice, editing, and repetition.

Most famous artists were surprisingly prolific. Van Gogh created an estimated 900 works of art in his lifetime. Monet boasts 2,500, and Picasso is at a shocking 50,000. Can you name all 50,000 Picasso works? Have you ever taken art history class where the professor gave you a full list of every work Picasso ever made? Of course not. Because some of them flopped, and that’s okay.

9. Develop a Routine.

Did you catch that mention of a “daily creative practice” earlier? That’s important. It takes one to two months to develop a habit, depending on the complexity of the task. But following the same routine helps. Just like working out first thing in the morning helps you remain consistent, choosing a consistent time or place for your creativity will help you keep going.

10. Seek Out New Experiences

Here’s another tip that seems to contradict the previous one. Stick to a routine to get work done, but try new things for inspiration. Listen to new music, try a new food, or read a book that you normally wouldn’t. Even with an “inspiration system,” new experiences give you a new perspective, surprise your senses, or force you to remember what it’s like to be a beginner again.

You know how some authors seem to churn out novel-after-novel using the same formula? I wonder if they truly enjoy producing these novels or if they simply don’t make any effort to try new things anymore and this is the result.

11. Find Your Community.

No matter what kind of creative work you do, there’s a community out there for it. Anything from tree shaping to element collecting (as in elements from the periodic table). If you’re stuck, just Google it. One of the parts of NaNoWriMo that I love best is the enormous global community. You can find local Wrimos (the slang for people attempting NaNoWriMo), communicate in moderated chat rooms and forums, and even attend write-ins in your area. While we weren’t the largest group, I loved going to write-ins when I lived in Busan, South Korea.

Is this list helpful to you? Do you have any other strategies to sustain creativity? Let me know in the comments!

 

Best of the Week

Every week of October I’m highlighting one of my Inktober drawings. This week I did a lot of Sumi-e or Japanese Ink Painting. My favorite of the bunch was the bamboo. You can see more on my art Instagram @monicartsy.

 

Inktober Day 18: Sumi-e bamboo . . . #inktober #inktober2017 #sumie #sumieinkpainting #japaneseinkpainting #bamboo

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Two Weeks into Inktober: Tools of the Trade

It’s already over two weeks into Inktober – that’s halfway through! The realization that I’ve reached the midpoint inspires both relief and a slight panic. As in, yesss! I’ve made it this far! and wait, have I actually done 16 drawings already? There’s only 14 left, and I’ve been lazy for the last few days!

But being 16 days in, I have a rhythm (most of the time) and have my favorite tools within easy reach. Here’s a list of my favorite Inktober tools so far:

Inktober Tools

FYI, this post contains affiliate links, so if you decide to try the same materials, I get a small commission at no extra charge to you. For more information go the bottom of my About page.

 

Faber-Castell Pitt Pens

Faber-Castell pens have been my favorite since high school. Honestly, I now realize that I haven’t tested a wide variety of pens, because I’ve mostly stuck with these. However, my sister has tried more pens than I have and these are still her favorite, so there’s that.

I usually opt for a set with four sizes: Small, Fine, Medium, and Brush. I’m a super detail-focused artist so I use the small and fine pens the most, but I have to take a second to brag about the brush pen. Brush pens are exactly what they sound like – a pen with flexible brush-like tip. They’re flexible and really satisfying to use.

My set of pitt pens is pretty old and all in various stages of drying out or running out of ink. I no longer have a Fine-sized pen. But I make do, for now.

Dip Pen and Ink

I use a very basic dip pen handle with a couple different nib sizes that aren’t worth linking to. I might have purchased them back in college when my professor said that they were more legitimate than the Faber-Castell pens. I’m still not very competent with a dip pen – using one still feels a little awkward – so I have no plans to go out and find a better quality pen anytime soon.

Inks

When I use a dip pen, I go to the only two inks that I have. I did look into them when I first bought them and found that they were decent student-grade inks. They are Higgins Black Magic and a Higgins white ink.

Odd Assortment of Miscellaneous Pens

Finally, I have a smattering of random pens that I occasionally use, mostly ones I picked up in Korea. These are also running dry, so by the end of Inktober I should probably get new pens or commit to my dip pen.

Sumi-e

Thanks to the class I took at the Bemis School of Art, I now have the materials for Sumi-e ink painting. On one hand, sumi-e is more like painting than drawing. On the other hand, Sumi-e is definitely ink, so expect to see a few Sumi-e pieces before Inktober is up.

Sharpie

I didn’t plan on using Sharpies…but one day I was craving a bold line and my dried out brush pens were doing the trick. Enter Sharpie permanent markers.

 

Best of the Week

Each week I’m highlighting my favorite Inktober drawing. This week is me running into a couch. (The ants in my dog’s beard was a close second though.) I was chasing my dog without watching where I was going. It seemed like a nice, ridiculous moment to illustrate. I had a bruise under my eye the next day.

 

Inktober Day 11: I ran into a couch today. #inktober #inktober2017

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One Week into Inktober: I Have a System!

It’s been one full week of Inktober so far. And while I’m loving it, keeping up is a struggle. As I mentioned in my last post, this is my first time doing Inktober. But the idea of dedicating one intense month to creative pursuits isn’t new to me.

For the last two years, I participated NaNoWriMo (or National Novel Writing Month, for those of you not in-the-know). Producing 31 ink drawings might seem more manageable than writing 50,000 words of a novel, but it all depends. In the end, both creative challenges seem to be about making time to pursue the art you love – which is far more difficult than the creating itself.

Inktober System One Week Title Image

My Approach

I do each drawing – usually late at night – and post them to my Instagram account. I’m a bit more verbose than I usually am on Instagram, because there’s almost always plenty to say about your artwork.

On Subject Matter & Prompts

I decided before October started that I didn’t want to follow the prompts. I mean, they’re cool, but there are plenty of topics I want to draw, and I didn’t want to be limited by a prompt. What if one day’s prompt just sounded really boring? I wasn’t going to lock myself into anything.

But now, seeing the Inktober drawings that the community is posting, I realize how fun it is to see other people’s interpretations of the same prompt. I’d like to try following the official prompts one year.

This year I do have a loose theme, which can and has already been interrupted by tragedy and holidays.

Sometimes I wish I’d chosen a theme that was more focused or more exciting, but the one I chose is “Home.” Hence the succulent and dog drawings you’ve seen recently. You can look forward to Colorado Springs scenery and other homey scenes. I have a long complicated rationale for choosing this theme but I won’t go into it today.

 

Self-Imposed “Rules”

As I’ve gone through this week of Inktober, I’ve had to think about how I want my system to work. So I’ve set guidelines for myself. For some artists, this probably seems strange and unnecessary, but sticking to system works for me and helps me take Inktober seriously.

 

1. No posting judgment.

I’ve found myself almost constantly wanting to criticize and explain what I view as shortcomings in my work. It pops up naturally, even something as simple as “oh this one isn’t that good.” The negative comments and excuses keep up a steady stream in my mind:

“I was too tired today.”

“I messed up on that spot.”

“The ink started to run out.”

“The material didn’t react how I expected, so it looks a little weird.”

And so forth.

Luckily I caught myself in this negative spiral, so rule number one is no posting anything critical about my work – nobody really wants to hear it anyway. But I’d be perfectly happy to hear others’ honest opinions and critiques.

 

2. If I made it, I post it.

This rule deals with insecurity too. It’d be easy to only post the artwork that’s “good enough” and of course, that makes sense. It’s what every artist does, isn’t it? But for Inktober, and just for Inktober, I’m ignoring my filter. I won’t skip a day because I don’t think my drawing for that day is good enough. A day with no Inktober post will just mean I didn’t make the time to draw that day.

 

3. Skipping days is okay.

Skipping is difficult for the perfectionist in me. I committed to this challenge, so I need to go ALL THE WAY! RIGHT? Well, maybe if I wasn’t planning on doing NaNoWriMo next month. A month of daily ink drawings followed directly by a month of roughly 1667 words a day sounds more painful than fun.

I have a confession to make. The drawing I posted for Day 4 may be dated 10-4-17, but I actually made it October 5th. I didn’t draw anything on October 4th, and to make up for it, I did two drawings on October 5th. You’re probably thinking, okay who cares? But this forced me to consider what I’d do when I missed more days. Did I always need to make up for them? Should I only post according to the number of drawings I made? Or post according to the true dates?

I decided I’d let myself skip days. But doing a quick, rough drawing is preferable to skipping a day altogether. I won’t get stuck in a mindset of having to make up for missed days like this is some sort of homework assignment. But if I find myself wanting to do multiple drawings in a day, I won’t stop myself.

 

Best of the Week

While I’m producing so much art, I might as well show it off. For each week of October, I’ll highlight a best-of-the-week piece. This week is Day 2’s zebra plant!

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