Friday, August 23, 2013

iPad and the Artist

Yup, I was one of those people that used to scoff at my significant other's Apple gadget love.  Why did we need all of these excess things that only serve to tether me to the internet so that I can never, EVER escape?

But then he gifted me an iPad and now I am forced to admit the usefulness of this tool for the working artist. (Curse you, Kev!)  Could I live without it? Probably.  Would I want to?  Nope!

A Thousand and One Uses

Credit Card Processing - While it wasn't my original intended use because I had a more expensive credit card terminal, I eventually retired my more expensive terminal in lieu of the portable Paypal Here processor.  I was paying a monthly fee, bound to a contract, and paying a large 'security' fee every year to keep my professional terminal active.  

What was worse is that I still had to pay for it when I wasn't using it much.  Now, with more flexible data options built right into the iPad as well as mobile processors like Square and Paypal Here, processing cards is a far less daunting task!  I will miss being able to print receipts from my terminal, but most people seem to be okay with signing digitally and having a digital copy mailed to them.

Reference Tool - I've gotten into the habit of propping my iPad up on my desk with references up on the screen.  This allows me to save paper since I would've printed a collage of references out to carry with me in the past.  I can then have those references anywhere I prop up the iPad, in the studio or on the go.  If I have internet access, I can always set up the iPad anywhere there's a tabletop and get in a quick life drawing section with Pixellovely.

Illustration Research - I've gotten into the habit of using my iPad for multiple types of research.  I have many albums of reference photos, tons of cheap digital collections of masterworks, and every digital ebook reader possible.  I never thought I could give up the glorious smell and feel of holding paper books, but the ability to highlight passages from novels and add searchable notes to them makes finding descriptions for future illustrations far easier!  I even have a handy app called Art Authority that has artists organized by period, title, subject, etc. and is updated regularly.

Space Saving - This ties into my last topic.  After much trepidation, I've been converting all of my text novels into digital.  The iPad allows you to use Nook, iBooks, and Kindle, which makes it the most flexible ebook reader out there.  I still keep physical artbooks because there is just nothing that beats the presence oversized printing has.  Still, I ran out of bookshelf space long ago and replacing the space my novels took up with artbooks has been an easier trade-off than I thought with the advantages digitized books give me in reference tagging my novels.

Art and Portfolio Display - I've noticed a trend in artists producing their bodies of work as specialized apps fans can download where they can browse their art, share it, and purchase prints.  That just blows my mind!  With the massive amount of folks browsing the Apple appstore, this is an opportunity to really get your work out there.

Not to mention, I have since retired showing my little Itoya portfolio to folks at cons. The glare on the plastic pages was always annoying, as well as the scratches that built up on the pages over time.  Now, I just whip out my iPad and let the viewer control the flow.  When I want to add new work, I just download it instead of having to print it out and add it to the physical book.

I've also seen some really cool trends with people publishing their Tarot decks digitally.  Check out Stephanie Pui-Mun Law's beautiful deck app to see what I mean.  What an amazing way to publish your work (especially if it's a card deck)!  I can imagine interactive sketchbooks done in a similar vein.  Click the finished painting to see video of the works-in-progress or hear the artist talk about their inspiration for the piece.

My portfolio on the iPad using Portfolio for iPad.
App review forthcoming!

At Home - The iPad also serves as a portable music and movie viewer when I'm cooking or cleaning house.  It's also my recipe database, which allows me to consolidate my cook books since we do not have too much excess space in our apartment.

My Favorite Art Apps for iPad

Portfolio for iPad - As shown earlier in the screenshot. It has some advantages that using iPad's default album doesn't allow you, such as toggling views for your gallery images (full screen or image with thumbnail strip showing the rest of the work in your gallery).  It allows you to fully customize the fonts, arrangement, and images in your gallery.  More on this app later once I've given it a convention test run!

Pose Tool - A simple little 3D pose tool that lets you play around with a male or female figure. You can view the models with skin, with muscles, or broken down into gestural shapes, which I find effective for figuring out the physics and flow of your poses.  You also can choose between body types for each gender, old, plump, average, and lean.  I also love this app because it's pretty simple and I don't need to learn any sort of robust program to use it.  Just select a limb and use the sliders.  It's not perfect, but it'll do for simple posing needs.

Color ViewFinder - Point your camera and capture the colors in the viewfinder.  You can then save the palette with hex codes. Best of all, this app is free!

Disney Animated - A bit hefty in the price tag, but when you consider the fact you're getting so much info in one place, it is well worth it!  There's everything from visual development on every major Disney feature to concept art and a timeline of Disney Animation.  I supremely enjoyed the color 'barcodes' of all the major feature films all put into a timeline by year.  It's Disney art at its best, meaning endless inspiration for any kind of artist and storyteller!

Other Cool Things?

I haven't had the chance to utilize the iPad as a digital sketchbook much.  The glare from the screen in sunlight is pretty harsh, though the new Wacom stylus tempts me so!  Do you guys have any other tips for using the iPad this way? App recommendations? etc.?

Any other cool things I should know about?  I'd love to hear your thoughts!  The iPad makes me squee with the potential it has to enrich the lives and marketing potential of artists everywhere.  I must know all the things about it!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Are Conventions Worth Selling At?

This question has been on my mind a lot lately.  Especially considering that I have chosen to take this year off from conventions, with the exception of Illuxcon in September.  After all the money, blood, sweat, tears, and coffee, are cons worth your while to sell at?  Here is what I have learned after 10+ years of doing conventions as a hobbyist and 4 years as a professional artist:

The Pros

1.  Staying in Touch with Fans and Building Your Reputation
This is the number one reason anyone thinks to attend conventions not as a fan, but as an artist.  You get valuable face time with people who might like your art and start getting your name out there on the tongues of people, which is an especially good move if you are the kind of artist who plans to make their income selling art directly to their fanbase.

Face to face selling is also far more effective since your fans can get to know you as a person so they have more of a reason to buy your art. Sounds weird, but having a personal connection to a REAL living person can be very powerful!  Meeting someone in person allows us to want to emotionally support them even more than if they were a faceless artist online whose art we merely consume without consideration for the human behind them.

2.  Marketing Yourself
The other main reason we as artists choose to attend cons is to meet with the folks that can put us in touch with jobs.  Art directors, game developers, publishers, etc.  You'll probably never meet these awesome folks who lead you to professional opportunities unless you go to conventions!  The downside, these folks may not be at smaller cons so you'll have to attend the larger ones which may not be local to you. True, you can still email in a portfolio, but I consider face to face interactions to be more memorable/powerful.

3.  Meeting Kindred Spirits
After spending months in the quiet darkness of the art cave, getting out into the world again and talking to people who are just as geeky and passionate as you are can be such a gift!

4.  Valuable Selling and Setup Experience
Every artist needs this!  You need to know the joys of being juried into a show, meeting the deadlines of setup and application, the proper way to set up your display, etc.  Most of all, you need the ever-important skill of dealing with people.  A lot of us spend a lot of time alone without knowing how to market ourselves with confidence.  This is an especially handy skill for when you want to start showing your portfolio to the folks that can get you jobs opportunities beyond selling to your fanbase.

The Cons

1.  Selling Too Early
Notice how I didn't put 'Making Money' as one of the Pros of conventions?  It's my belief that most people who try to sell at conventions (including myself!) start selling too early.  True, it's good to start building a reputation, but if you start doing that before your art is at a professional level, you start building the wrong kind of reputation. Chances are if you start selling too early, you won't have an established artistic identity or direction to your artistic vision.  People will get to know your art by the lower quality and lower prices we all have when we first start out as green, wide-eyed wanderers in this grand art world.

One might argue that fans enjoy seeing you grow as an artist.  I'm sure they do, but wouldn't you rather impress people right out of the gate?  Starting too early can also lead to demoralization when you aren't making the kind of sales to justify your expenses because everybody else is levels higher than you, skillwise.  If you're not sure if you're ready, ask your friends or art professionals you know whether they think you are at the point you need to be to take the risks of selling...because there are a lot of risks and a very high chance of burning yourself out when money is involved!

2.  Demoralization
Chances are that 99% of you are going to lose money when you first start selling at cons (especially if you start too early).  If you're lucky, you'll break even.  There are countless expenses involved, including, but not limited to, gas, hotel, travel, inventory, food, art show fees, table fees, etc.  While most of these expenses are tax deductible, it can really put a dent in your wallet and leave you with a hollow sense of failure after all the effort you put in.

And we haven't even talked about the sleepless nights spent prepping your inventory, making travel arrangements, setting up displays, eating badly, descending deeper into the anti-social art cave due to all the prep work you have to do, breaking down displays...the list goes on and on and on and on.

3.  Time Consuming Distractions
On top of the dangerous levels of demoralization, conventions have a way of sucking up our lives.  By the time you're done with one convention it's time to start prepping work for the next one!  It's all about sell, sell, selling and sometimes you get so fixated on selling that you forget to make new work.  A year (or two) later, you might realize you have the exact same work you're showing to fans and art directors and you're not advancing, artistically, because you've spent all this time making a short term dime instead of preparing for long term opportunities, like that portfolio you keep ignoring so you can SELL, SELL, SELL at conventions.

Bottom line is you need to balance conventions with creating new relevant work for your portfolio or you might find yourself stuck in a fruitless loop of selling.

4.  No More Fun Times
After a few cons of selling, you realize that you aren't able to go to all the late night parties or stalk all the Jack Sparrows for your photo album or Pin the Tail on the Anthro.  You've got a table to man and unless you have backup, you're going to be stuck there for 80% of the con.  You'll probably need to be there relatively early too.  Some of us can handle partying AND selling, but that's a recipe for a health nightmare!

Worse yet, you stop having fun at cons, altogether, because they are nothing more than selling opportunities for you rather than a place to be passionate about what you love with other people.  Sure, there's nothing wrong with making money, but attending only to sell can sometimes sap the soul out of the whole experience, especially if you don't sell well and end up demoralizing yourself instead.  I would personally rather be in the studio painting something for my portfolio that I can be excited about rather than selling at a convention I'm not really interested in. (Which is the exact reason for my break away from conventions this year)

Other Thoughts on Conventions

On Anime Cons - A great place to cut your teeth as a hobbyist  to get some basic setup and selling experience.  Also wonderful for experiencing pure unadulterated fan enthusiasm!  However, they're generally not viewed as very professional and it's hard to maintain serious prices in most artist alleys, where people are generally at a novice level, and therefore charge far less than you would see at other shows.  The younger attendee crowd for these cons are generally looking for cute cheap things to take home instead of expensive pieces of art. (These are all generalizations, of course. If you can sell well at any con, I encourage you to go for it!)

On Small Cons -  These can be small fun events to network with people, but usually aren't so good for selling.  This also includes cons which are just starting up.  Be prepared to not make any money when you hear that a con is just getting started.  If you're unsure, ask a show director (ie. the art show director) about how many years the con has been active and what the average attendance rating is like.  I usually like to sell at cons with 1000 or more attendees, unless the theme of the con is one which suits my art or my tastes, then I will take a chance on it because it might be enjoyable to network there for me.

On Professional Cons - By 'professional', I'm talking about cons like Illuxcon and Spectrum Fantastic Art Live which are focused purely on art and artists.  I have never attended a con like this and I'm looking forward to learning how they might serve different needs than your standard fanbase convention.  I suspect it's going to be a whole new engaging experience where I grow my skills in networking and as an artist, rather than hone my skills as an entrepreneur.  I plan to report back later after I attend Illuxcon this year.

Final Thoughts

All in all, conventions are a wonderful, but exhausting experience!  I personally recommend that up and coming artists work on their skills first before putting too much time into the experience of selling at these events.  A sad fact of the industry is that people aren't going to be looking for you by name when you first start out.  That kind of recognition comes from long, hard years spent building your reputation and your skills. (10 years on average, according to the pros I've talked to!)

Definitely attend them and enjoy conventions BEFORE you end up chained to a table!  Enjoy the atmosphere and learn the scene.  The most important thing conventions allow us to do is to get in touch with that nexus of passionate people who can lead us to a deeper appreciation of our beloved genres and stories, while also giving us valuable learning experiences.  Good luck and remember to drink plenty of water!