I did it. I started an Etsy! Last month I said I was starting an art business and now I have the physical proof. Done.
Well, not even close. But rather than look ahead, this post is a moment to pause and look back. To take stock of my progress and then keep on going. To be honest, it’s a little annoying. In my last post, I was high on motivation and the thrill of starting something new. Now I’m in the trenches. I’m not interested in stepping out and reflecting on my progress because I have so much more to do – why don’t you just let me work? But I set up this schedule for myself, so here I am, writing this post even though it’s already a day late.
The big accomplishment of the past month was launching my Etsy shop last week (which you can find under “Monicartsy”, just like any of my social media accounts). But even before that, I was doing a lot of work, even if I didn’t have anything to show for it yet.
Stresses and Successes
Each month I’m writing out my “stresses and successes” as a quick way to identify what was really stressing me out at the time and document my wins. Here are this month’s stresses and successes:
Figuring out what to sell (other than pins)
Not knowing where to start with art prints
Choosing the “best” way to print art
Not knowing how to ship art prints
Digital art, in general.
Struggling with line art in Photoshop
Worrying I wouldn’t be able to provide the right file type to manufacturers
Whether I needed to learn vector art
Whether I needed to learn Illustrator
Being a perfectionist about my pin designs
Writing this post!
Continued to make and post art consistently
Started an Etsy!
Cleaned up 2 art pieces digitally to get them print-ready
Listed digital prints for sale
Received sample prints from two companies
Started a business log/journal
Finished my first pin-ready design in Photoshop
Figured out Pantone colors
Inspired to sketch out tons of pin ideas
Created a short list of possible manufacturers
Compared manufacturer services and quotes
Choose a manufacturer!
Negotiated effectively for add-ons
Received and approved my pin mockup for production!
Digital Art, My Nemesis
Digital art was probably my biggest struggle this past month. So traditional artists, sympathy? Digital artists, keep on doing your thing. (But I guess maybe it’s the digital artists who can really understand what that beginner struggle was like.)
Digital art is hard! You might remember that not too long ago I was at scribble level. I’m still learning and nowhere near proficient – maybe just good at hiding my flaws. But a pin design is a pin design. No way to dress it up. It is what it is. If a line is squiggly, it’s squiggly for everyone to see.
Now it feels weird, but I had a serious I’m-not-sure-I-can-do-this moment with line art. I couldn’t get my lines smooth, any scanned artwork looked super messy when I opened it up in Photoshop, and none of the “Tips for Smooth Lineart” articles were helping. I had no idea how I was supposed to finish a clean pin design, let alone convert it to a vector file in Illustrator. Everything was overwhelming. I was probably pretty tired too.
I messaged a pin maker friend to let out my angst. But she kind of ruined my moment.
Oh, my lines aren’t completely smooth or straight either lol, her message read.
My manufacturer actually accepted a jpeg file – they didn’t even ask for .psd!
Just like that, my worries were invalid. I finished that stupid pin design and even though I wasn’t sure I’d use it, I finished. I finished my first pin design.
Now I’ve made a handful of pin designs and it’s no big deal. Lol.
This post was a little shorter than usual, but that’s because I just wrote a massive 2000+ second post for this month. So if you have any questions about the Stresses and Successes here, hold on. Chances are they’ll be answered in tomorrow’s post. Keep an eye out for it!
From February 3rd to April 29th, the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center is showing two video installations by Chiho Aoshima: City Glow and Takaamanohara. A Japanese pop artist with ties to traditional media and themes, Chiho Aoshima’s work is unique and strange. As one of my art idols in high school, Chiho occupies a special place in my heart.
Aoshima’s work is considered Japanese Neo-Pop. On the modern side, she draws inspiration from pop art in the vein of Takashi Murakami and anime films. You can certainly sense similarities to Hayao Miyazaki’s iconic films, but make no mistake, her work is very distinct. But naturally, Chiho Aoshima also draws from historical and cultural roots. She names ukiyo-e or 17th-century Japanese woodcut prints as a significant influence. Think that universally recognizable “Great Wave” piece by Hokusai.
Aoshima also draws heavily on Japanese Shinto mythology, with her work Takaamanohara translating to a Shinto word for “heaven” or if you want more detail, ” the plain of high heaven.”
Surprising Facts about Chiho Aoshima
Although I loved Chiho Aoshima’s art in high school, my research at the time wasn’t exactly extensive. There’s a lot I didn’t know about the artist and some of these facts might surprise you too.
Chiho Aoshima is not a formally trained artist. She earned her degree in economics, then did a 180 and taught herself to use Adobe Illustrator.
She was hand-chosen to be part of Takashi Murakami’s art collective, Kaikai Kiki (an easy name to remember for any Drag Race fan). Murakami is a well-known Japanese pop artist who established a “superflat” style of pop art.
Aoshima’s work is darker than I remembered. I’ll get to this later, but both City Glow and Takaamanohara have dark undertones, one more overt than the other. It caught me off guard.
I might have gone into the exhibit backward, but I began with City Glow, Aoshima’s older work. It was pouring rain and thundering when I entered.
The dim room carried a long projection across the wall. Sit on one of the benches or beanbags (which I love by the way) you can’t even get the entire piece in your line of vision. Stand against the back wall and there’s still too much to take in at once. This a common theme in Chiho Aoshima’s animations.
City Glow takes up close, right in front of, or even within the scenery. Leaves, flowers, and small creatures loom before you, establishing a sense of scale. You are but a tiny part of this scenery, craning your neck upward to even see the tips of blades of grass. The opening scene places you beside two enigmatic figures. You learn later that they are anthropomorphic buildings, blank-faced creatures that move much like trees in the wind.
The next piece, Takaamanohara, has similarities to City Glow, but get ready for your eyes to be even more overwhelmed.
After watching full seven minutes of City Glow, I didn’t know what was going on. I wanted to watch it again, but there wasn’t much time before the museum would be closing, and I needed to leave time for Takaamanohara. In the next room, I found longer, more expansive video projection. The size of the two could have been the same, but Takaamanohara spanned a wide landscape. Instead of being surrounded by creatures that tower over you, the viewer takes on the role of distant onlooker.
We are spectators who see natural disasters from their insignificant start to the destructive finish. But like City Glow, different elements compete for your attention. It’s Where’s Waldo? meets I Spy, but with movement and no indication of what you’re looking for. There’s a sense that you’ll never be able to take it all in, never be able to notice every detail, even when those details should be obvious, like a giant, monster-like woman scaling a building.
But you’re not alone in your spectator role. The sentient buildings sway and move and turn like slow giants to watch events as they unfold. The experience is bizarre and surreal.
After Takaamanohara, I went back for a second viewing of City Glow. It’s more immediate, the messages a little more obvious, but there are parallels. Despite the cute faces and hyper-saturated colors, there’s a definite tension and you can’t quite shake once you’ve felt it. Even after all is well again, with rainbows and fairies and sparkles, you know that if you stay long enough, the fires and monsters will return.
I don’t quite know how I feel about City Glow and Takaamanohara. But I have a nagging urge to go see them again.
This month there’s an exhibit at the Fine Arts Center (FAC) that I’m excited to see. Don’t worry, you’ll see a blog post on it as soon as I visit. But that exhibit had me looking through old FAC archives for ideas and I came across the work of Jennifer Steinkamp.
Judy Crook in Colorado Springs
I last saw Steinkamp’s work in October. Her work was displayed in a dim room, the kind that you hesitate before entering in an art museum. Approaching the dark entryway, you see flashes of light here and there that your mind processes as video. Still, you peer inside before entering, and then move into the room slowly. There’s something about Steinkamp’s work that makes you want to move slowly.
This piece, titled Judy Crook, is a three-screen projection. There’s a massive digital tree displayed on each wall, to your right, front, and left. But I’d be remiss not to mention that my attention next goes straight to the beanbags. There are beanbags on the floor. People stand in various states of stillness around the room; only two teens speaking in hushed chatters, faces lit by the glow of their phone screens, are using the beanbags. But I know what I want.
Confidently and comfortably, I sink into a bean bag in front of the teens – no distractions – and settle in for the ride. Like many installation projections, your attention is torn. You watch one image move but out of the corner of your eye there’s another that seems to be doing something interesting too. Most viewers in the room seem to have come to a rhythm, or at least I have. Watch one tree for a while, switch to the next, then dart back to the first when a sudden change in color hits the screen. It feels indulgent, switching views as I please, but art is made for the viewer.
The trees are obviously digitally animated. That is to say, they look fake. A little bit cheesy even, like early animation but not that bad. I call a bluff on all the reviewers who describe these threes as elegant. There’s something strange about them. I think of the deleted scenes of an animated movie, the ones that they never ended up refining for the final movie. These trees are raw.
But their movements are mesmerizing. These trees are so obviously fake, are just over the line, but they move like real trees. Or at least in a way that we could see trees as moving. They’re like an artificial time-lapsed video: the branches twist in what you imagine to be wind, leaves bud, grow, change into brilliant colors and fall, landing in a heap on the floor.
It was a good time.
I didn’t take any photos of the work to share, but I can do you one better. Visit Jennifer Steinkamp’s website above or here, click on one of the tree images, and enjoy videos of Judy Crook. And then imagine being in a room surrounded by three of those trees projected at 8 to 20 feet tall.
Marie Curie in Busan
It wasn’t until I went back to look at Steinkamp’s work on the FAC website that I suddenly found her name familiar. It turns out I’d seen one of her pieces while living in Busan, South Korea! Unlike the Judy Crook trees, which I found to be an interesting and peaceful experience, I LOVED the Steinkamp piece I saw in Korea. It was called Marie Curie.
I frequently the Busan Museum of Art (BMA) while in Korea, for the art of course, and also because shockingly, admission was free. That didn’t seem to be a big appeal for the general population though, because most of the time the BMA was pretty empty. The day I saw Jennifer Steinkamp’s work was no exception.
At the end of one long gallery was an enclosed section with that same dark entryway. No one else was around, so I didn’t know what to expect when I rounded the corner. What greeted me was a room covered with projections of branches. Think Judy Crook but a close-up of only the branches. The images looked still for a moment, but then I realized they were constantly moving, slow then fast then slow again, leaves and flowers swaying in a common rhythm. These walls were covered from top to bottom. Each wall was a bit different – fewer flowers here, differently shaped leaves there – but the room was a unified whole.
You enter the room and become tiny. Massive branches dance across the walls, swaying, sprouting flowers, and waving leaves. They are fake, sure, but it doesn’t really matter. Their movement is infectious. You can’t help but feel swayed too.
I walked around the room slowly, then quickly, and then may have done a few twirls. The leaves and flowers were playful; something about being among them feels like running across an open field with wild cosmos and sunflowers and pretty weeds that have grown too tall.
Visit Steinkamp’s site to view Madame Curie stills and video clips for yourself, but I’ll warn you, they capture very little of the full experience.
In building the foundation for an art business, I’ve been doing a lot more art. Naturally. What might not be natural is how much of that art has been of succulents. But the identity of plant addict is one I’m coming to terms with.
I saw an article a while back about how millennials are filling the child-shaped holes in their hearts with houseplants. Sure, I can go along with that.
Some of the most recent artwork I’ve done have been pages of succulents. Although I intended to use these pages as a way to draw a wide array of succulents, I filled a whole page with succulents I own or have owned…and didn’t even cover them all. This addiction might be worse than I thought.
But since each of these succulents has a story, I’ll share those baby pictures with you now, in one easily accessible blog post. Stick around (or scroll down) to the end to see a sneak peek at the second succulent page I haven’t yet posted anywhere.
Mini Succulent Pots
Here’s the full page. 16 plants. 9 still alive and well, 3 in a questionable state, and 4 no longer with us.
Now for close-ups and proud parent captions.
The Ones that Started It All
These are the first three succulents I ever purchased. I picked them out from Home Depot (probably) and they’ve thrived on beginner luck ever since.
The Elusive Ones
Writing an article about zebra plant succulents is one of the things that got me interested in succulents. So you can bet that I was looking for one of these. But none of my local stores ever seemed to have a zebra plant. Or if they did, it was part of a larger arrangement, which was just cruel.
Finally, on one bright day, I obtained my first zebra plant, from a Home Depot on the other end of town. They must have sold like hot cakes because I’d never find them in the same location twice.
Sadly, my favorite succulent wasn’t meant to be. Three have them have died on me. But love the way most haworthia succulents look, so I jumped at the opportunity to get this cool-looking plant:
It died on me too.
The Patriotic Ones
For the 4th of July, I bought red, white, and blue succulents. They looked amazing. Until the “blue chalk sticks” died off and the fuzzy white ones shriveled up. The red ones are another variation of Sedum adolphii. They’ve turned mostly green with less light indoors, but are survivors.
The Pale Ones
These two have similar coloring and are both sensitive. Apparently, they don’t like to be touched because the oils on your skin wear away their protective pastel coating. So any spot you poke has a permanently green mark that’s darker than the surrounding area.
I’m on my second pachyphytum. It was a scraggly plant with most of its leaves missing in the clearance section. Although my first pachyphytum died of sudden unknown causes, I like to think I’m making up for it with this “rescue plant.”
The Fuzzy Ones
I love that there are fuzzy succulents. And that they’re all named after bears. But once again, I seem to have bad luck with these varieties. I got these three around the same time and arranged them neatly in a communal pot. The Bear Paws didn’t seem to like having roommates and didn’t last long. The Teddy Bear was doing fine but has been strangely stiff since the first freeze…
Meanwhile, my Panda plants seem to be surviving winter just fine and loving their space.
The “Hardy” Ones
Near the end of last summer, I finally crossed a line. I order succulents online.
They arrived quickly, well-packaged and not at all harmed. Since these were hardy outdoor plants, I stuck them into a planter outside. For a few months, I enjoyed seeing them grow rapidly, produce chicks, and change color according to lights and temperature.
Then one not-so-cold winter day, I decided to eat my lunch outside. I glanced over to the planter where my outdoor succulents were and did a double take. There was NOTHING THERE. The planter was empty except for torn up leaves and trampled dirt.
I don’t know what animal did this, but I hope they got indigestion. If that’s a thing animals can get.
The One That Grew on Me
I bought this succulent because it looked different and then sort of regretted it. It looked like a regular plant. There was nothing cutesy or succulent-like about it. But I planted it in a wine glass with a cactus-shaped neck and let it grow.
This plant is surprisingly hardy. And the tiny baby leaves that pop up at the top are bright red at first and then morph into a violet-red/green gradient. It’s quite nice and is actually low-maintenance, unlike most of these other ungrateful succulents.
The Mystery Plant
One of my plants came with a little sprout in the same pot. I assumed it was from another succulent and planted it in its own little pot. And that plant has grown nonstop. It graduated from a toothpick support to a chopstick and is still getting taller. The lower leaves have started to produce their own sprout. Any leaves that fall off seem to develop roots instantly.
Is this even a succulent?
I had a lot of fun drawing these – even though colored pencil blending takes forever. So much fun that I started a second page of succulents drawn from a top view.
Here’s a sneak peek before these hit my Instagram:
I’m a pro at making lists that suck. You know when the number of things you have to do is so overwhelming that you just have to write them down? Or those daily lists you make with all the things you want to get done, but inside, you know is completely unrealistic?
Yeah, those were my kind of lists.
The thing is to-do lists are great for productivity. But that’s if and only if they’re done well. Just scribbling down everything you need to do in list format and hoping you’ll be able to cross out most of them by the end of the day won’t cut it.
So how do you make lists that don’t suck? I’m glad you asked.
Use Separate Lists
You might have wildly varying items on your list, from work tasks like uploading a new blog post to personal goals like working out or studying Korean.
But we approach these goals differently, as we should. The work tasks on my list almost always get done on time, because they’re work. Someone’s counting on me to do them. The personal tasks not so much.
In school, we’re able to get away with putting everything on a to-do list – or those free school planners – because they were all work tasks. You might have listed homework and projects in your planner, but many of these were finished in the same day too (or they weren’t supposed to be, but you were a master of procrastination).
Personal goals are all on you. You might need to create systems to keep yourself accountable, like taking a class or finding a language partner. So keep work and personal tasks in separate lists, and be prepared to do a lot more work defining your personal lists.
Break Down Anything Too Vague or Large
Another reason we have difficulty accomplishing personal goals is that most of them are too vague. Or worse, they’re listed as a vague task with no ultimate goal in mind.
“Study Korean” has been on many, many lists of mine. But this list item sucks because:
It leaves too many possibilities.
It doesn’t actually tell me what to do.
It doesn’t refer to a goal.
“Study” is an incredibly vague task. What is studying anyway? Is it using a textbook? Memorizing vocab? Watching Korean dramas and hoping you absorb the language?
Unless there are more details you’ve laid out behind the scenes in your brain, you’ll have a hard time motivating yourself to tackle this amorphous command to study.
On the other hand, if you use a textbook or website and plan to get through one module a week, your goals are suddenly much clearer. You can take your weekly goal and break it down into daily tasks. You can keep a list of long-term goals, but your daily to-do lists should only have small tasks.
Pro-Tip: Capture everything.
Originally I had a few more tips for this post, but then I started reading David Allen’s book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. It sounds good, doesn’t it? Well, this book IS GOOD. And much of Allen’s system is focused on lists.
One of the first principles is to capture everything. Allen’s reasoning goes like this:
Most of the time, we waste mental energy trying to remember what we need to do. Instead of relying on our memory, we should everything out of our heads and onto paper. Or an app. Or your organizing system of choice. He includes personal and professional tasks alike, from planning a family trip to setting up client calls. The more comprehensive and reliable your capturing system is, the more your brain can rely on it and stop worrying.
I’m not even halfway through the book, but this seemed like a pretty good gem.
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 the domain for my professional, academic website (and home to a new blog).
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!
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!)
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.
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:
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?
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:
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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:
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):
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:
Amusing, but not so good. The only digital art I’ve done recently is the phonepaintings 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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.)