How to run a business as an artist

I have looked for this information for a long while. I had a hard time understanding how all and any of this works as it doesn’t seem to come naturally to me at all. But there it is, freshly picked up from game developer Alexis Kennedy’s GDC talk on growing an indie studio on Youtube. A very simple formula how to know whether you are running a business or not:

  1. You know how much money it costs you to make what you are making.
  2. You know how much you will make from it.
  3. You know when it will be done.

Of course there is a lot more to it to run a successful business, but a lot of things seem to fit beautifully into these three questions.

I can imagine why artists notoriously have a hard time with this. When our skills aren’t fully developed yet, we have a hard time finishing a project or even just a piece at all. And even if we stick to it, we often can’t tell you when it’s done or how the quality will be. But then the art market isn’t exactly stable and predictable either. Sometimes you have a surprise success, sometimes you are surprisingly out of fashion and not in demand and it’s not entirely your own fault. Sometimes trends shift spontaneously and harshly. Sometimes you have no idea where from and when your next gig will be coming in. I’ve heard more established artists can predict an at least stable looking monthly income, so for us newbies it’s about working up to that point first.

That’s one of the pitfalls of art. You will have a long period upfront where you have to build your skills until you even are in a position to conduct business. Getting to a stage where you can confidently say how long it takes you to draw one of your typical illustrations or whatever your product is, is a huge win. And you have to be able to actually execute that no matter how you feel each day or what else comes your way. How long it takes to get there depends on the person. If it takes years, that is okay, that is just the nature of doing art.

You can have luck on the path and skip some things, but you can’t skip it all. You can also have success in art without bothering with the business side of it ever, too, but I think it would be better to at least roughly know what’s going on. You cannot rely on future luck alone.

And then you also have to establish ways on how you make money from your art. Yes, there are ample opportunities for artists, but not all of them are open to everyone and sadly there are always less open positions than artists eager to apply for the spot. If you’re doing your own thing, you’re competing with a lot of other works, too, both from living and dead colleagues.

And then you have to build it up to a state where the money is coming regularly enough and in amounts high enough to sustain yourself.

And during all of this your art may not cost you your physical or mental health or be so expensive to make that your chances of recouping the costs are too low, even if you sell.

But this for once is a clear marching path from start to finish. How exactly you get there is an individual process. Different artists value different things, have different things to offer to the world and just plainly have different life experiences that shape them and what they decide to make of it.

By these metrics I’m still a beginner and there is no shame to that. But at least I know where things are going for me now and roughly what to work on to get there. Maybe I’ll write a plan of action out loud in one of the upcoming blog posts, keep us updated on it and see what worked and what didn’t, having these business goals in mind.

Where are you going?

See you next blog post!

100 Days of SPREY – 16, 17

Today is a great day to remind myself why change and being open and willing to adapt is so very very important. Change is something that happens. Nobody can ignore or rectract the invention of the internet or the smartphone for example. Both has permeated our lives. And then it is the question in what ways we want or can adapt to that. But you as a creator, you can also change from within.

I‘m having a great time studying Yoji Shinkawa‘s works the past days. I hope they help me to free myself up from the tyranny of mindless (out)lines. I‘m telling myself to think about the form first like Robert Henri suggested in his book – and light, color and everything else such as wisely chosen important lines are means to define and show the form. This takes a lot of uncertainty away from my process, because the goal is clearer and the priorities are, too. So far I really like this new „game“ of art. Colors and light aren‘t that beast of a thousand hydra heads anymore, when you treat form as more important than nailing a certain color or making the values perfect. You will still want to nail everything in the process of showing form well, but you might make your decisions faster and with more confidence, when everything is a means to a different, possibly higher yet simpler end.

There‘s trouble on the horizon with Street Prey (SPREY) on Instagram. There was a vote yesterday and Instagram amassed to only 3 votes cast in total. That is incedibly low. I am speaking to my readers there and don‘t think they are tired of the comic. I am rather shadowbanned or otherwise not treated favorably by Instagram‘s current algorithm. Even people who would have wanted to vote did not see the new post. Instagram is not to blame for my luck of success, though. Assuming thousands of people would be exposed to my work…can I really know they will love it? I can‘t. I can‘t control the reception of my work apart from doing my best to create it well and otherwise make it pallatable. But failures with big marketing budgets show us that you just can‘t buy something becoming a hit.

On another note it is absolutely normal that interest for a longer comic vanes. If you cannot enjoy it in only one sitting in full, there will always be a slight and growing resistance to look into it again on a different day. It is the same with books. Reading doesn‘t give you the fastest dopamine for your engagement and there are many other worthwhile activities to compete with it. But can you blame the reader for not trying hard enough to work through your creation no matter what? Wouldn‘t you equally have to blame the creator for not captivating the reader enough with superb craft, and hardly measurable qualities like heart and soul and subjective entertainment value in the work? In the end it would be blaming each other for being flawed and shaking fists at entropy.

I have been learning and am learning so many valuable lessons while making „Street Prey“. I would still be making that comic, even if nobody was watching except my two eyes. It is flawed like every first of it‘s kind is, but it is also fresh and has already seen a couple of transformations already alongside with me.

I could whine about Instagram, my misunderstood genius and insist on my current way of working and sharing the comic. I could choose to ignore it completely as a non-problem. Or I could stop for a moment, think, and wonder whether I can improve in any direction. In my understanding, Instagram, Twitter and alternative platforms aren‘t meant or optimized to share a long form comic on. Gone are the times where people had the leisure to check out a whole account. They might take a glimpse on recent works and then move on again. Places like Webtoons have become the go-to for reading and sharing webcomics. People will not expect them in other places except for personal or dedicated websites maybe. At least in theory sharing a comic in other places is not the dumbest idea though, as you can get drowned out by other comics easily if everyone jumps on few platforms like Webtoons. I don‘t worry too much about that at the moment, as I‘m a comic beginner. My work is not at risk to compete with that of seasoned creators yet, but I‘m learning. A beginner has the freedom to start anywhere with anything and I have taken a lot of advantage of this. But there comes the moment when anything anywhere stops working and it‘s time to specialize, focus or otherwise adapt, either to changes from within or those of the environment.

I would not do myself a favor if I threw SPREY as it is onto Webtoons. Something like medium shifts cannot be explained or sold to an audience that is used to a wholly different level of consistency. Also, SPREY operates in a fringe area where you can almost call it a prototype for a simple RPG or visual novel rather than a comic. I have a UI instead of speech bubbles. I have one panel per page which you can read as single screenshots. I have choices the reader has to make and that influence the story and it‘s outcome. Was/am I a gamedev all along? I should mention that I‘m pumping hours and design work like crazy right now into the„Your Land“ videogame towards our next update and having a blast.

I will need more time to think about what to do next. Things are in a flow in a very interesting way right now.

See you next blogpost!

Restructuring III – Launch Week

I found myself in a quite surprising situation the past week.

The week I declared to be my relaxation and restructuring week became the week my husband and I released our first videogame, „Your Land“ and I prepared and opened my first digital solo art show in that same digital space.

Your Land Release

I‘d carefully say both my husband and I are rather daydreamy creative types, although I clearly and sadly beat him in anxiety by miles. So it might seem like a miracle we actually finished the game. We have been working on it since a year and as it‘s our first game, so the development cycle was rather shaky and a sandbox fantasy RPG probably too big for a team of originally two people. But luckily for us we met a lot of great people along on the way who in one way or the other contributed to „Your Land“ while we grew and learned. We hope that we in turn could either contribute to their visions, too, or at least give the best game back that we could make at the moment. Also, I am very grateful for the small but creative community that has formed around „Your Land“ already. They help to shape the world more than in a classical development model. In the classical model there is a clear distinction between devs and players and devs throw content out and get feedback in return. In „Your Land“ everyone can contribute content, build own places within the world or otherwise get involved while we as head developers oversee the creative vision and consistency and provide the framework of a game lore and a general direction in which the world is heading. My husband loves interactivity even more than me. In his ideal vision the players write the world‘s further history all by their actions. The future will show whether we can achieve that.

Above: testing the “whirl technique” for gesture drawings stressing volume control. A huge thank you to comic artist Stinch Wackbacker who introduced me to it!

Manul Art Show

And the art show? Oh, the art show. I can best describe it as a tale of blind passion and redemption that absolutely does not show in the end result. That is nothing special if you think about it. Every piece of art tells a story in itself and there is a whole different story of how the artwork got made. So the creation of an exhibition as an art event in itself can have a story of itself, too. I had nightmares about middle school and my dreamy forgetfulness that tends to bring me into trouble sometimes. But it‘s just a price I have to pay for an otherwise very creative brain. My nightmares circled around past failures. Of course they would do that in an important launch week and when I would work on an art show, something that I know as a big source of disappointment. But still powered up from the completed 100 days challenge I just accepted what I felt, the past, and let it not influence my work in any way. I just pushed through scaling down and editing some of the best of my manul pictures to exhibit them on 128pixel squares in „Your Land“. It is funny how my experiences from real world art shows translated into that. Yes, we even had to prepare the ingame digital space and make sure interested visitors would find the exhibition rooms, had snacks available and would not get lost in the other parts of the exhibition site, an airship airport. I met several versions of past me while working through the pieces, a lot of past confusion that luckily got resolved. I was very content but also very tired, when everything was finished. And I‘m working on a manul zine with at least two volumes to bring this project to a final conclusion.

Above: avatar of my husband admiring the Moonul during preparations for the show.

Also, I was very lucky. A streamer was present at the grand opening and later uploaded a clip of his adventure at the Manul Exhibition. You can see it through his eyes here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b0OkYfSkMEc

And was it good?

The release of „Your Land“ was a huge success for our means and set a new record of 10+ players being online on the server at the same time. There was only one small bug and that got identified and fixed by my husband in what felt like under two minutes. He, the experienced coder of us, said himself the launch went almost too good. A couple more plots in the digital city of Haven were claimed, new houses in the merchant area were and are getting built, filling „Your Land“ with more life. The opening of my art show was a modest success. I cannot pour my life story and all background stories of the manul drawings onto the viewers, so I practised myself in smaller talk than that. And the visitors seemed to be entertained by the manuls, too. I could not ask for anything more and am also grateful that this simple, small event probably helped me to get over past wounds and made thus made me a better artist again. The world of anxiety is boundless and has no solid floor( that is the beauty of it, isn‘t it?), but I feel like I‘m standing on solid floor right now. So if I could do the 100 days challenge, and I could do that, too, what else can I do? The future will show.