The Audience Does Not Exist

Connecting with one’s audience is an issue for every creative. I’m not claiming I just solved this issue for everyone and in all cases ever. But I think I just found something that works for me.

In the last blog entry I deducted that the audience does not exist. Does this mean, my audience is the void? There is nobody? Not in the slightest! I was just caught up imagining „the audience“ I have in mind when doing my work as an abstract, shapeless entity, an unnamed number of people who somehow have the same tastes and needs. That doesn’t make much sense. You can have two people in a room and they couldn’t agree on anything. Maybe I’m still influenced by the book „The world beyond your head“ by Matthew B. Crawford who makes a similar point with „the public“. That one doesn’t exist either, only imaginings of it and wild tries to conform.

Now what do we do with this bit of knowledge? Oh, it opens a lot of doors! So if your abstract dream audience isn’t there yet and likely will not materialize with a vacuum plop sound you have your head free for more important matters. You have people in your life already, real, actual people. Some of them might even take an interest in your work already. If you cater to them, you can only win. You make them happy and get feedback that you have accomplished something and you have an infinitely higher chance that other people might find these works interesting, too, as they come from a place with and aimed at actual people. If you start at literally zero with not a single soul paying attention to your creations you can always find an offline or online community or several of which you can be part of. And every community has characteristics and tastes and needs, problems a creative can solve. Or you can start out by catering to yourself. Be human. No matter what happens, you have to live with your creations closer and longer than anyone else so you better love what you are doing.

I’m going back to an early square of the playing field, but not completely zero. And I’m more excited than ever to create and to get to know the real people around me better. I guess if you get popular (and I never was popular in my life) you are just known by more people than you can actively interact with even if you wanted to. That is it. No abstract audience entity. No numbers crunching. So all is well, nothing is wrong with you for not having „an audience“ yet.

Creating a marketable body of work (part 3)

Notes on a talk by fine artists and art coaches Meagan and Michael Blessing, interviewed by art director Grant Roberts, 15.01. 2022 on the Art Work House Discord

Their socials:

https://www.meaganabrablessing.com/

https://www.michaelblessingart.com/

https://www.artstation.com/grantroberts

Disclaimer:

These notes are filtered through my perspective and interpretation, what I personally took away as a listener. I do not claim to cover the complete talk. Also, my views are not necessarily the views of the speakers.

(continuation of part 2)

Square Four

You are your art. Questions about being authentic and convenient personas come up.

So, finally, you curate your pieces towards the story you want to share about yourself and why you are doing what you are doing.

A strong and fun to follow story has the power to completely outshine your actual craftsmanship and quality of your art. Make of this what you will.

How do you discover your story? Remember, it is there already, but maybe you haven’t looked at it in a way that you can put in words before. Some questions to get started: Why am I doing this? Where am I from? What shaped me? How do people see my art? What in my art reminds people of me?

Building an audience

Whatever you do, be consistent.

If you can only post once a week on social media, then you can only post once a week on social media, but do it. And mind the language and tags the culture(s) and communities you’re in are using.

Taking breaks is natural though, too, so if you do it, don’t apologize upon your return. Most likely, people will not even notice you were away in the first place.

It also becomes interesting to keep an audience engaged at this point. Note that people must see your art at least seven times before they actually start paying attention. That is a lot of repetition, so you absolutely are allowed to recycle and repeat your older content on social media to get those repetitions in. Also, not everyone sees every new piece of art the first time you posted it, so that is another use to it!

And remember the power of your personal story. Make it easy to learn about your story and fun and engaging to follow it. Your personal artist statement can help with that. Have a long version, but also a really short one of about 25 words for someone who has no time, but a spark of interest.

(to be continued in part 4)

SPREY Log #26 – Ingame Books and Fan Dragons

Welcome back, everyone!

My life is moving so fast right now. Currently, „Your Land“ has it’s first anniversary. Organizing the subevents and celebrating with the community is keeping me busy, as well as a few smaller commissions. And yes, there is pressure, but I’m learning to be comfortable with being uncomfortable as they say.

I’ve mentioned last blog post already how I let go and went programming for a while, let go of everything (that is not the same as giving up) then realized „less is more“. I have then also tested this new paradime already by writing several ingame books in Your Land. Our game has this amazing feature where players can copy and paste a text up to 10.000 signs into an ingame book. My husband had even collected most of the past books written by players into a library. It was in an okay state when I took it over, but now with me as a driving force behind caring for the library and encouraging players to write new fun books at all occassions, the amount of books is skyrocketing, and so is the number of readers and writers, and the library is thriving. We have an organically grown literature scene now. I have heard from others again and again what I have learned ingame as well. „I had no idea how fun writing can be!“ We have all just forgotten how fun it is.

These ingame books are my playground, my experimental ground to finally stretch and strengthen my writing muscles far enough to get to a state where I can write a finished anything. You can do a lot with 10.000 signs it turns out. I don’t think any of my ingame books even scratch at that limit, I’m rather comfortable at 1.000 signs. Everytime I finish an ingame book though, something magical happens. Something in me listens up, realizing me and storytelling is not a lost cause, adding more curiosity, confidence and just a bit more ambition to the next work.

The next benefit of practising my writing in a videogame is that I get to experience a whole pipeline from idea of the book to finding the book on the shelves in a relatively self-contained, secure environment without added costs. Yes, even in a game where less forces than on the actual market are influencing what is read you have to advertise your stuff. You still have to proofread and edit and offer this service to other writers, too, in exchange, as none of you get paid. You still have to finish things. You still have to show up to write on the regular. You have to make the time to do all of this. And what I also had to do was to learn how to socialize at all. I think I finally got over the bump with that. I am running a well known Candy Shop in the game’s spawn city. And none of the players would believe my old shy „true self“ that isn’t true anymore. And no, this is actually not a case where I’m confident on the internet alone, it already crossed back over into the real world. Streaming works better than ever for me and I enjoy the resulting conversations a lot.

And it is actually true, if you have finished a couple of stories, your perspective on writing is changing up. You have more of a grid to work from in your head. It’s easier to keep the structure of the work together mentally as you’ve already worked through some of them in their entirety before. And having a good theme, really having something to say, doesn’t seem that difficult and abstract anymore, too. That was actually one of the things I learned fastest. Writing 1.000 signs is not hard, you can do it in a day or two. Writing 1.000 signs that give a meaningful or even pleasing experience to both reader and writer, that is harder. When you are thinking to yourself „Why bother?“ your current work probably does not have enough substance yet. For me, the fun at trying new things and testing how far my writing can go within the constraints has soon and quickly taken over.

I think my stream even taught me something very important the past days. I met Shiro4K, an old friend, again who now streams videogames now. He told me an anecdote from the day he met me in 2016, that I had forgotten myself. I was tabling at a convention and he jokingly asked me to draw something I had never drawn before. So I asked the tabling artist next to me for a fan you can draw on yourself and drew a dragon. I saw a photo of it, it doesn’t even look like it was drawn by me, but still works. That taught me something very important about myself, that I haven’t figured out without the reflection from others. Apparently I was never one for a uniform look of the art. I am rather one that relentlessly experiments, always moving forward and shaking perceived own limits. And it is fun being around me when I am like this. You can shake your head and go „what is she up to now?“. Let’s admit, that dragon could have gone terribly wrong, especially with my limited skillset back then compared to today. I was drawing it live on a convention. A stunt like that requires bravery. Apparently there’s more of it in me than I tend to show nowadays. It turns out again and again that I was worrying about the wrong things all along. I’m currently writing a sonnet written by an orc (with orc grammar and everything, but still attempting to keep up with the rhyme scheme and structure). I can’t say I’m good at poetry, but I’m taking the challenge. I am exactly the right person for something like this.

And now comes the clue, I’m not writing this down for the sake of me. But this gave you a taste of an authentic Styxcolor, maybe even just a glimpse of it. And if people hear about other people being authentic, it tends to encourage them to show a bit more of themselves, too. People do appreciate you when you show yourself. Go out there, try it, even on a small scope. You will probably not want ot miss it again. If you need to write books in a videogame to figure out and work on your true skill level, so be it. I bet there’s other venues to get started or repair your skillset as a storyteller, too. See you out there!

What’s on the other side?

100 Days of making SPREY – 50

Today I want to share a lesson with you that I just learned. It is very special and it is okay if you don’t find meaning in it today.

At least in some creators, there is something like two souls, two hearts fighting each other, and it can be a source of great confusion. There is one that is sensible and wants to fit the mold society set as normal, such as having a stable job and would settle for just enough to get by on good, honest, and societal recognized work. Then there is the outrageous one that howls in disappointment and despair when you do the sensible thing, one that hates you when you comply, one that wants to go explore the void without a map and without a safeguard to ever get somewhere. Both hearts have their place and your life will most likely be a balancing act between both. But what if your wild heart eats you up for shunning it entirely while the docile heart eats you up for real or perceived irresponsible behavior such as following an artistic passion without compromise?

In a very simplified way, the human brain is a simulation machine. And when we cannot predict what the outcome of a decision we make is, we do not like that. Going off into the void is vague already as a statement. What is this void that artists talk about? Where is it? What will I find there? Will I find anything there that is valuable enough to make a living when brought back to other people? If I am not successful, can I go back in time to still become something socially acceptable? Can I still make something out of my life?

We hate that. But our wild heart still wants us to go there and to explore.

Then I found an answer I did not expect in places I did not expect. My good friend game developer Martin Chow introduced me to the works of Japanese game developer Kenji Eno. This man was so far ahead of his time, it is incredible. So far ahead many of his contemporaries did not understand him – and now, as the biggest irony of all, some of his works look dated to a viewer like me from my time, but then I realize they look dated because he was one of the first. Others became famous with more refined products in the same vein later. I would call Eno a champion of the void, of „the other side“. That is when people cross their personal void and come out on the other side with something. He did not buckle down under social pressure or the pressure to succeed in the games industry and still kept to his original, authentic creative vision. Apparently the pain to comply and bring sacrifices to fit in better was bigger than the pain of not knowing if he would find any success society understands as success ever. But the journey was not a bright-eyed wonderland, it cannot have been. The pressure of society and the piercing stings of doubts and fears never leave us creatives alone. My heart breaks every time when I think about disappointing my parents by not becoming something. If I am to believe the Kenji Eno documentary I will link down below, he went through the same thing. „Oh, he was once a good boy. A gifted child. But look at him now.“

But then, what was waiting on the other side for Eno, through the void?

When I first looked into a walkthrough of Eno‘s game D2, I found myself captivated. I did not like everything I was presented, but I knew I was witnessing a piece of art. And even now I feel like experiencing D2 felt like reading a heavy novel and left the same sort of deep impact that still echoes on. You do not have to like D2, it is flawed, but you have to acknowledge that it is art and cannot help but respect the artistic expression.

But will you personally find something that is like this and has this impact? You cannot know. Even if you tried to emulate Eno entirely, you might end up with something else. And in the worst case, indeed, you could spend your lifetime in the void, where everything is scary and insecure, and return empty-handed except for the experience of having lived that life and having created. From my own limited experience I can tell you that creations change you when you push through with them and finish your creations. But what about material success, your docile heart might ask now. We have been talking about artistic things until now.

Let‘s look at Mr. Eno‘s case. He is clearly underappreciated for what he did and has probably never made insane amounts of money. His lifestyle was not glamorous, in fact, he was a workaholic until the very end. But Eno‘s successes were big enough that he could sustain a family. And he got to live out his authentic artistic visions and moved a lot of people. And overall, he did what he want. This seems like a pretty good outcome.

Does this relax your docile heart a bit? There is so much ground between smashing success and absolute defeat. You might come out somewhere in the middle and it might seem and feel weird, when you can‘t even tell whether you are on the success or failure side, but it is not as scary as imagining the outcome as one extreme or the other and nothing in between.

Kenji Eno is a champion who went all the way into the void and returned. He brought something back that moved and inspired many other people in turn and has inspired this blog entry to help other creatives, too. So Eno‘s story might be some food for the simulation machine that is your brain, if you are struggling with doubt and confusion about your wild heart. This is where it is pointing you towards. This is what could be.

Sources:

Kenji Eno documentary:
https://youtu.be/dLLQm9GjN3c

Gamasutra obituary:

https://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/188282/Kenji_Eno_A_voice_of_dissent_a_champion_for_creative_integrity.php

100 Days of SPREY – 14, 15

I almost didn‘t update my comic yesterday! Almost.

I was very tired in the evening, so tired that for one and a half hour of drawing time nothing of significance was down on the digital canvas. It was as if I forgot how to draw entirely. Then after a surprising second wind that felt like waking up while being technically awake already I created the art, updated just in time, and with two sister panels! I sought to bring more balance into my life, relaxation, and the price seems to be that exhaustion is a thing again, a constant companion even. And changing from a mode of relaxation to working invites resistance. The other option, just ignoring all of it and working beyond all limits all the time, is not a sustainable way to go as it would surely result in severe health issues later down the road. You can maybe even do this for a couple of years, but not a lifetime. And I‘m here to create for a lifetime.

I think my increasing struggle actually comes from a good place. I might be at the beginning of a new cycle of my development as an artist. While I am somewhat competent at art I am helpless like a newborn at the moment, like a crustacean that has just shed it‘s old shell and is soft as butter until hardened out again. I have a lot of new work to do.

First of all, I would love to simplify what I‘m working on. I‘m juggling too many projects at the moment. This is not even a complaint, just an observation. I am doing my best to finish them up and focus on fewer, bigger things for the future. Focussing on Street Prey was a really good idea and is a good goal. Other than that my wish to impress anyone, making free art for friends and family, or create random art for my social media feeds has effectively died off. Of course I wish I had a larger following, but I can‘t force that. Not every artist gets recognized in time or at all. What I can do is continuing to make my art and cultivating myself.

Secondly, I would like to simplify my way of working. For the longest time I lacked a grip on my own process, even when I knew that was a bad thing. I just couldn‘t do anything about it and made art anyway. Now with Street Prey, I‘m confronted with a reoccurring set of problems to solve every day. While the tasks vary in detail question, many things are returning, so I‘m getting the repetitions in, other than with standalone illustrations that can switch styles like crazy. Repetitions mean automation of some problemsolving over time and opens the brain up to focus on bettering other aspects of the problems to solve. Therefore the artist believes they are endlessly struggling while they are struggling through solving different problems consciously that build up on each other. There is just never a moment of rest, relief or joy that is distinct from the joy of small successes in day to day work such as making an important line right at the first attempt or finding something that will change how you draw a reoccuring element such as noses from here on.

And then I‘m discovering a new layer of „Less Is More“. That is one of those evergreens such as „Just Draw.“ You don‘t need to collect all the techniques, you don‘t have to know all the masters anybody could ever be inspired by, you don‘t have to work in every medium or have tried to work successfully in every art form there is, was and will be. And you don‘t have to work on every idea you have. That does in no way mean you should shield yourself from all these things. If you have much to choose from, you have a better chance of picking up what is the best for you. What Less Is More instead wants to teach you is that you don‘t need to worry and switch so much. Stick to few things but put all your energy in them, and you have a higher chance of finishing your projects and getting really good at what you are doing. But I get it, it can be really hard to determine what you want to do and how you want to do it. There is so so much to choose from.

There is no solution for this that works for everybody. I can only tell you what seems to work for me:

1) Realizing that there is more out there that you could hope to explore in depth within a human lifetime. (goodbye, fear of missing out)

2) Realizing that if you tried to work on every idea you ever had you would be busy longer than a human lifetime, too. (goodbye, impulsive decisionmaking)

3) Realizing that I have only one human lifetime and I don‘t know it‘s length. (goodbye procrastination)

4) Realizing that most of your ideas and works, even if you did not pursue the obviously bad ones, probably aren‘t and won‘t be that good. But it‘s never about the many that don‘t work, it‘s about the few great ones you accomplish amidst them. Those will be remembered and you can only get there, if you still make all the others and learn from them. (goodbye perfectionism)

5) Some people know what their authentic art and message is when they are children, some define or redefine it later in life for themselves. How do you know it‘s authentic? When you want to work on it, even if you are not getting paid, attention, or any other reward from the world. (goodbye choice paralysis)

That was a lot!

Should I send my comic into a hiatus before my new shell has hardened? No, it would be a form of waiting until I‘m „good enough“. We don‘t do that around here anymore. So I‘ll endure my next evolution while working. I will need to draw a lot outside of the comic itself, practise a lot and to explore my personal „less“ of Less is More.

See you next blogpost!