I Want To Be An Artist, Not A Content Creator

I Want To Be An Artist, Not A Content Creator

Do Artists Need Social Media?

I don’t know about you but I have noticed a sharp deterioration of my attention span over the last few years.

I was born in 1976, which means that I had no access to the internet to speak of until my early 20’s, and back then it was dial-up, not broadband, which as those of you who are familiar will remember, was sloth-like. Life in general felt slower then, I often watch movies that are set pre-internet/mobile phones and long for them again, sadly I don’t think it would be possible currently for me to ditch my smartphone… not yet anyway. These days if a browser page doesn’t come up within 2 seconds I get impatient! I didn’t even own a mobile phone till I was around 21, and it was very basic… just texts and calls (although I never used it to text back then). Type in ‘Nokia 1997’ to google and you’ll get the idea. Now we hold super-computers at our fingertips.

This is me demonstrating the blistering speeds of early internet dial-up

The Evolution Of Social Media

I have been watching a lot of artists on Youtube talking about deleting their Instagram accounts, one of the creators said something that really resonated with me which inspired this blog post, ‘I want to be an artist, not a content creator’.

Being self employed means that there are already dozens of things you have to do AS WELL as making art, but social media now feels like it is stealing too much of my time. Social media makes art disposable and fast and isn’t appreciated because of it. Someone will look at an image that took me a week to create and maybe only spend a couple of seconds looking at it before scrolling on. It’s no wonder that people often expect to be able to commission an artist to paint a picture for them for $50 when they are so used to this type of interaction with it. They’re not seeing the hard work.

Social media is an amazing tool and a gift for those of us trying to get eyes on our work, especially if one is in a niche which isn’t something you could sell easily in a local gallery (unlike landscapes, nudes and wildlife art which are still some of the most popular genres sold in galleries). We have created our own little worlds and followings in this intangible online space and at first, it was great, it was chronological (I’m looking at you, Instagram) and the algorithms didn’t seem to hamper one’s reach at all. It is designed to keep you hooked and stay on the platform for as long as possible (all social media is this way of course) AND if you’re a creator, they want you to make content using ALL the tools they have on their platform or you don’t get views. I would be happy to pay a small monthly fee to use Instagram if it meant that my reach wasn’t stifled and Instagram would still be able to make piles of cash!

Now you have to be an expert editor and videographer!

Instagram announced last year that they are no longer a ‘photo sharing platform’ but have been pushing ‘reels’ (copied from TikTok’s short video style) instead. If you don’t play their game and make lots of short videos, (60 seconds, you’d better make it interesting!), then your photos hardly ever get seen, at least mine don’t. I have approximately 23,000 followers on Instagram but the average number of people who see a post is around 300-400! I have to pay now if I want to be able to reach the people who are already following me. Even TikTok financially incentivises its creators but Instagram does no such thing. Social media moves too fast to keep up – each time it changes, it adds yet another thing you need to get good at or learn in order to be visible. It’s exhausting and unsustainable.

Making videos is very time consuming, it’s also distracting to have to set up a camera or phone to film yourself painting when all you want to do is just paint without having to pause the video, change the angle of the camera etc. This doesn’t even take into account the time that is then necessary to edit and upload said video. So when this video is going to be consumed in a matter of seconds, is it worth it? I don’t think so. For a long video it’s a different matter.

‘Social media moves too fast to keep up – each time it changes, it adds yet another thing you need to get good at or learn in order to be visible. It’s exhausting and unsustainable.’

I’ve been building my Instagram since around 2013 but it now feels like a Sisyphean task to make ‘content’ for it (the sort that they want – video). I used to post regularly (every day pretty much) using tailwindapp.com which allowed me to schedule posts in advance. I’d get two weeks scheduled in a couple of hours and then forget about it (other than replying to comments when they were posted). I am no longer going to do this, I won’t be deleting my account but I will post occasionally instead of trying to beat algorithms with everyday posts.

Quality Not Quantity & Conscious Consumption

It’s time for me to slow down and try a new (or old school) tactic! First of all I will make more long form content like this in blog form, very old school. I love writing and putting my thoughts down in written form and my blog is a great way to do it. I will also be trying to make more effort with YouTube. If I’m going to spend time making a video I don’t want it to be on a platform where people can’t search for it – plus once I reach 1000 followers there I can then monetise my video content. People find and watch videos that have been on YouTube for years – this makes much more sense than putting it somewhere which will be forgotten about tomorrow. I will also continue to use Twitter, despite it being a steaming cesspool of lunatics, it does get quite good reach occasionally!

Overall I want to try and stop consuming social media so unconsciously, in that I can lose a lot of time just scrolling and interacting (especially feeling the need to reply to ANY comment on a post I make) and I think of all the time I could have been making art, sewing a new pair of fancy pants, or gardening! Since deleting tiktok a week or so ago now I have noticed a big difference already.

So DO artists need social media? Can we have success without it?

Yes and no. I think all artists should have a website of some kind to showcase their work – especially if they are looking for client work or trying to sell their own work, it’s useful to have a base. Fortunately this is very easy to set up now with many sites making it super easy even for the tech-awkward. I think if you’re wanting art industry jobs and illustrating for clients then other than your website I don’t know that it would be really necessary to have a social media presence if you didn’t want one since when looking for work it is very unusual to just be found randomly, you’re more likely to have success from contacting the companies you want to work for directly with your portfolio. Feel free to correct me in the comments below if you don’t agree! (After all I am not seeking client work anymore so am out of the loop!).

If you’re like me and you’ve got your own IP and you want people to find it, then I think having some presence online is essential but try not to stress over the numbers. It’s always better to have 100 super fans than to have 100,000 followers who just scroll past. It’s definitely worth building a newsletter however, a great way to reach people who are actively interested in what you do. In future I hope to go back to doing some in-person events but I need to seek out the right ones for my work.

What do you think?

What are your thoughts? Are you an artist who is sick of social media or is it working well for you? Let me know below!

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Strangehollow And The Wonders Of Worldbuilding

Strangehollow And The Wonders Of Worldbuilding

It’s been a very long time (almost a year!) since my last blog post so thought I should pull my finger out and get typing!

Worldbuilding is something I have fallen into completely by accident. It’s something I never knew I needed in my life!

As the last post I made about Strangehollow went into how it started, this post is going to be little bit about how I have developed my process from something that was very organic and improvised, to something that now has a far more structured framework that I then build the book around.

With Strangehollow I just started painting creatures and one creature would lead to another creature idea (maybe one eats the other and so on) and I was not thinking very hard about what Strangehollow was or even that it was going to be a book! I was just filling an enchanted forest with inhabitants.

With the second book Secrets Of Strangehollow, I had at that point started to work very differently and planned it out far more. I wanted to cover all the areas of the coast, mountains, forest and swamp and describe what lives there. Stretch out the tendrils of the world even further. 

With Secrets Of Strangehollow I started to realise that there were ‘rules’ in my world that were unwritten but that appeared as I created and planned – it was very interesting. Sometimes I would have an idea and sketch it out but it just didn’t feel right. For instance, you won’t find any creature that isn’t human wearing clothing (although I think there was one sketch in the first book with a gnome like chap in a hat… that may get removed from the reprint!). I took a lot of inspiration from natural history and I definitely wanted Strangehollow to be an uninviting place for humans (on the whole). It is a place thriving with wildlife and magic that only the bravest, cleverest (or most foolish) would dare to enter. 

The Foundations

My first go-to is to think of the theme. After Secrets Of Strangehollow, I knew that I wanted to expand on the coastal/sea aspect of Strangehollow. I view Strangehollow as an amazon-sized place, millions of square miles! This gives a lot more scope and lets me wriggle into interesting places that wouldn’t be available to explore had it just been a deciduous forest of modest size. It certainly wasn’t this big when I first held it in my mind – big, but not Amazonian. 

So now I had the theme, Seas. But how do the seas interact with the land? Is Strangehollow an island? No, a continent, OK, what kind of creatures will live in the north and what will you find in the south? What is in the middle, the western edge of the place?

Now that I have defined areas with their own climate, I now have three different ‘personalities’ as it were to create from. Each part of the world has a different personality just like its own character and I treat it as such. 

The Northern Shores:

The north it will be icy – think ice floes, blizzards, giant tusked blubbery beasts and no human population, only the occasional brave adventurer!

The Western Shores:

Deep ocean, The Cliffs Of Narok, lagoons, sea serpents, dragons leviathans, mermaids and selkies, pirates and treacherous seas. 

The Tropical Southern Shores:

Azure seas, white sandy beaches fringed with lush green, tropical islands, luminous creatures and magic folk and occasional traders (including pirates again!)

These three places have a very distinct look and feel to them. This really helps with atmosphere and creature design. Each beastie I invent must look like it comes from one of these places – I think carefully about their habitat, their prey/food and how they interact with their environment and climate. 

Ok, Now What?

At this point in the process I get my favourite planning platform to help – the link previously didn’t work and still doesn’t, even though the address is correct, so just take yourself to: www.notion.so and put that in your search bar and you should find it! I set out each section and start to write down what I want to see in each location. What gets the creative juices flowing – how many beasties do I need, what sort of humans will there be and what do they do, and so on. 

Since I don’t want to share all my Seas Of Strangehollow behind the scenes (except with my lovely members) with all of you yet, I will give you a peep at my Notion screen grab for the north: 

These are the first few ideas I had when trying to imagine what I could see up north, very limited number of creatures at the moment but this is a barren place and honestly I can’t see it teeming with life in the sam way as the west and the south will be. 

From these ideas I start to sketch and develop ideas of what some of these things may be like. These two fellows below are likely to appear in the book. 

I tend to work in sections with this. I will start with the ideas written down, then sketch using those ideas as jumping off points. I then build up a good number of drawings to work from and take that to watercolour. Another way I like to work is to think of the creature names first, before sketching. Often a name like a ‘Flabbager’ or a ‘Northern Froon’ or ‘Oob’ will conjure some interesting creatures in my head more effectively than anything else! Sometimes these creature names come about as accidental mispronunciation – for example ‘Ose Nitch’ came about when I said ose nitch instead of ‘nose itch’ – immediately I wrote that down and it will be appearing in the book!

One of my first creatures painted up so far is this little flightless bird that lives on the south coast. He lives on crustaceans and sea snails that he finds in rock pools and in the shallows. He’s also quite noisy. He’s called The Screeching Fronowon. 

I hope this post gives you a little insight to how I go about creating Strangehollow and might inspire you to try your own world building exercise! 

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The Story Of Strangehollow

The Story Of Strangehollow

Four years ago I launched my first ever book on Kickstarter. I named it Strangehollow. I can’t believe it is four years ago already! The project turned out to be a huge success and that success quite literally changed my life. At least my artist life! I went from getting dribbles of client work here and there, to being able to create a future body of work which was entirely my own. In part thanks to Kickstarter, but also to my amazing members who had been supporting me. 

‘The Spriggle’ – You can never know what people will like when you make it. This guy is probably one of my most popular creatures.

Before I named it, Strangehollow was just an idea. An idea to help me become more focused and to really develop a personal style. I had always been jumping all over the place with my style, mostly because I was using digital mediums and the fact that that meant I could essentially do ‘anything’ wasn’t good for me and the way my brain works! I made a blog post about how I became more focused titled ‘How I Achieved Consistency In My Work‘ which goes into that in depth. Towards the end of my first year (2016) running a Patreon page, I decided to create and illustrate the inhabitants of an enchanted forest. I figured if I had an all encompassing theme, and a place where these creatures all lived, it would help with creating a body of work which was all connected and looked like it was part of the same world. 

Initially I didn’t really have a plan but liked the idea of it being dark and mysterious (being a big fan of dark and mysterious art). As I began to create creatures for it, it became quite clear that I was not destined to make it dark and mysterious at all! 

The painting that really solidified the way I work now, and shaped the look of Strangehollow was of this Ogre:

Something clicked when making this guy and the technique I’m using now is still very similar to this. Lots and lots of washes and layers built up to create the form and the hair/textures. 

The ogre also set the tone of the forest I think as he was rather benign looking. I think Secrets Of Strangehollow feels a little more dangerous (and I was definitely thinking along the lines of the natural world than fantasy more than I was for the first one). 

Once I had a large collection of creatures, I started writing about them. I had already been composing the intro to the book in my head for quite a long time and I really wanted to give a sense of wonder and nostalgia too, that I have about the fairy stories that I read as a kid. I think this yearning for that feeling that magic is real and that this place could have maybe existed, that I felt as a child, is what drives me to make these fantasy creatures and places. 

The name Strangehollow took a long time to settle on. I thought of it quite early on when playing with names, but spent another two months toying with other ones but in the end kept returning to this one. Naming creatures and my books is so much fun. For the creatures I often get my patrons to help me name them and there were a few names made up by Kat Cardy which immediately made an image of what the creature would look like as soon as I heard it. The ‘Darkling Glib’ was one of them that was an almost instant download into my brain. Here’s the sketch and the finished painting side by side: 

I still prefer the sketch of this guy as he’s far more disturbing! Back then I didn’t do the ‘carbon copy’ method of transferring a sketch and I just had the sketch in front of me as reference and then went straight to watercolour and painted him that way. Not something I’d do now as I prefer to have more control over the final look.

I hadn’t really thought past the Kickstarter project as I had no idea that it would be so successful. Once it was finished and fulfilled and sent out to all the backers, I felt like I didn’t want to just jump back into the forest and create another book in the same world. I was worried that I’d get ‘stuck’ making Strangehollow books! Almost like a rebellious feeling in a way! I also felt like I didn’t have anything more I could add to the book at this point (almost like I’d squeezed all the ideas out of the Strangehollow sponge), so I decided to create some different book projects. These became Cauldron, my second book about witches and their familiars, then Artpothecary (sketchbook and drawings) and a Dragon calendar for 2020. 

Once I had begun with the dragon calendar, I was already looking forward to returning to Strangehollow as my brain had started to brew on new creatures and places that I could write about again. 

Creating Secrets Of Strangehollow took a lot longer than Strangehollow. Not least because there were more pages and paintings, but with 2020 being such a bizarre and unsettling experience, it kind of put a dampener on my mojo for a few months where I wasn’t making very much art at all. I was very grateful to be able to disappear into this place again and expand the world even more. 

Thanks to my patrons, and to all my Kickstarter backers, Secrets Of Strangehollow did really well on Kickstarter. I am again taking a small break before I gather my walking stick, brownie repellent and tasty snacks and make my way back to Strangehollow, but I will definitely be going back. 

Watch this space! 

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How To Run A Kickstarter

How To Run A Kickstarter

This is going to be a big one. So big, in fact, that I was tempted to separate this into two parts. So, be warned, this is a long one (around 4000 words!) but hopefully there will be parts of it you might find useful!

Disclaimer: I am no expert in running Kickstarters and I purposely ran all of mine (7 to date: here is a link to my previous ones) very simply with very few ‘add ons’ and didn’t use pledge managing systems at the end of the campaign. I used Kickstarter purely to enable me to make books with very few frills. Even if you follow all this blog to the letter there is sadly no guarantee your campaign will succeed, these are just the things which have worked for me. 

Kickstarters! Everyone seems to be doing them, right? How do you make sure they are a success? What do you need to check before launch?

The first thing you should do if you are planning on a Kickstarter, before reading this, is to read the HUGE amount of advice that Kickstarter has itself over on its page. Everything you need is there and what’s more, loads of other creators have written blogs about how they ran their campaigns (and about why they failed too, also very important to read!). If you still don’t feel confident then you can even go and check out the Kickstarter course by Stephanie Law over at Make Your Art Work where she shares her wealth of knowledge in running Kickstarters. 

Now over to me, what did I do? (In no particular order of importance)

This blog is exclusively about my experience in running an art book Kickstarter, but could be applied to other creative endeavours too! First of all I did a LOT of research. I looked at previous successful art book Kickstarters since my first KS (I will use KS to shorten the word Kickstarter from now on) and looked at the way they laid out their campaigns and what sort of things they offered. I also am fortunate to share my life with another artist, Matt Dixon, who had already run successful Kickstarters before me and he is a big influence on how I run mine. 

1. A HOBBY OR A BUSINESS?

Decide how you want to run this campaign. KS’s are VERY hard work (do not underestimate this, and they don’t get much easier the more you do!), they take up a lot of time and a lot of energy (emotional and physical). You deserve to be paid for your time and unless you have a source of income which means you don’t have to make a profit on your project, then I strongly suggest you treat it as a business and make sure to work a profit into it in order to pay you for your time. Publishers don’t make books without profit margin or they will go out of business, so why would you?

Time is precious and I personally can’t afford to spend several months of work on something without any payment at the end, I have bills to pay! If you already have independent income that means you don’t have to make profit, then that is great, you can maybe go a bit more crazy with extras! (You should still budget sensibly though!)

2. KEEP IT SIMPLE

I just wanted to print my book, any extras were a bonus. I didn’t want to deal with lots of ‘add ons’ because that would mean I had to chase people for their choices after the campaign (and as anyone who has run a KS knows, it’s not always easy to get hold of people!) and it just adds to the already large workload. So for example, when I was offering a book plus a print, I didn’t give a choice of print, I only offered a print of my choosing, this makes fulfilment much easier. Using a pledge managing company (Pledge Manager, CrowdOx, Backerkit etc) can help you gather backers choices after the event, however, YOU will still have to go through all the results and order/sort/ship out all those different prints and pack them up.

Hardback or perfect bound? I chose perfect bound as it kept my costs down (for shipping too as the books are much lighter and a huge part of my customer base are international) and I was trying to get to a point where my work could support me financially so every few pence and pounds of profit were important. I do want to make a hardback book in future when my business is more stable. 

I know a lot of people like to add lots of stretch goals or unlock goodies along the way (especially if the KS goes incredibly well), but do not get carried away as it can seem like you have lots of extra cash to play with, but you need to do your sums/budgeting before launch. Don’t get tempted to add too many extras (especially if you are not great with maths, like me!) that you find yourself either only just covering costs or worse, losing money.

Work out what stretch goals you could add BEFORE you launch and know where to stop. If you are not good with numbers then find a friend who is to help you out with this. With my first KS I worked a couple of my stretch goal plans into the funding goal before I launched so I knew it would be safely covered in my costs. Any extras I added after the start of the campaign were light (extra prints in my case) so that it would not impact on cost or shipping too heavily). 

3. PROMOTE, PROMOTE, PROMOTE

The only way people will know about your KS is if you tell them. A lot of people I think imagine that just the act of putting up a KS on the site will mean that people will find them, this is not the case. You have to get people excited about your project. When I made Strangehollow I didn’t have a huge social media following, but I did have some and they were very communicative/interactive and I also had my patrons over on Patreon. I started to post about it at least 2-3 months before I launched my campaign, teasing various parts of the book, telling folks about the creatures (NOT every day at this point) and drawings and paintings. The longer you tease your project the more excitement you will generate (well, that’s the idea!). Look and see how other artists have handled this part of their project. I don’t think 6 months is a bad idea as a preamble, but be careful not to share everything before launch! Once you get close to launch you can get more frequent and create a countdown (and a facebook events page if you like too) to get everyone REALLY excited. 

During the campaign you want to post every day on social media (especially on Twitter). Make sure to keep some artwork secret until you launch so you can use these to make your posts. I set up my daily planned posts in advance, so I had an idea of what to post about every day of the 30 day campaign. You can post about any original art you are adding (if you have any) and so on. People generally don’t see all of your posts so don’t worry about spamming anyone. If they don’t like it or aren’t interested then they will scroll by, plus the algorithms mean that some folks don’t even see all of them. Keep artwork aside that is purely for the finished book (this is if you are making a book of course!) so that you haven’t revealed all the goodies and that you have some fun surprises for people when they receive their books. (I shared all the dragons for my dragon calendar however as I approached a calendar slightly differently and it was a shorter (2 week) campaign).

This is when having a newsletter is very helpful (if you don’t, set one up now!) as you have a direct line to everyone who is interested in what you make.  I wouldn’t send more than 4 newsletters out during a month long campaign but you will know your following best. 

I have paid for a couple of ads in the past (Facebook) but I didn’t really see any spike when I did, but I only ever paid small amounts (£25 at the most!). I relied on shares from fellow social media folks. 

4. FUNDING GOAL

This is always a tricky one to figure out. Even If you have thousands of followers who are very engaged with you and you KNOW that loads of them are interested you should still be working out your budget with a number of backers you KNOW are going to back you. So if you only have a handful of followers, find out how much it would cost you to make 50 books rather than 500 and that will of course keep the funding goal nice and low. 

When I did my first KS I didn’t really know how many would back it but I was pretty confident that I could sell 200 (if not during the actual KS I thought I would have some left over for my shop afterwards). I worked out how many people I needed to back just the book to cover the cost of printing 200 of them and that was my starting point. Once you have costed out the print costs, shipping (see below) and any other extras you are offering add a ‘buffer’ to that. There will always be extra expenses that pop up (that you can’t predict) so it’s good to have a safety net there for you. 

5. SHIPPING COSTS

DO NOT FORGET SHIPPING! When you are working out your funding goal make sure to add shipping (unless you are using a pledge manager, in which case you can choose to add shipping after the campaign, but for me as a creator AND a backer I prefer to pay all of it at the end of the campaign, not at a later date, just personal preference!). You can work out how much it will cost to ship your book by working out the weight (the printer should help you with this) and going to your local post office to find out the cost that it would be for each book when all packaged up. I was able to use a magazine to estimate the weight of what it would cost to send my books. 

I only use tracked and signed shipping for the original artwork in the KS and keep it to standard shipping for the rest of the items to keep the cost down. 

If you decide to add shipping using a pledge manager after the campaign then make sure this is very clear on every reward tier. People will often not read the info anyway as they are too excited to back, but make sure it is there! 

6. CHOOSE A PRINTING COMPANY IN YOUR COUNTRY IF YOU CAN

This might not be possible for some, but for me I wanted to support a UK business so I didn’t even consider using overseas printers even though they might be cheaper. Using a UK printer meant that I could be pretty sure when I would receive the books and therefore have a better estimate of when I could let backers know fulfilment would be, a case of up to 2 weeks turnaround from when you send them the files, sometimes less. (Not to mention no air/sea miles!) – go seek out your local printer or at least a printer in your own country, they are out there! Google that stuff!

Find out how much your book is going to cost BEFORE you launch. You need to know exact numbers and not just guess vaguely what you will need to make the project happen. Obviously there may be changes after launch but this is what buffers are for as mentioned earlier. 

7. YOUR PROJECT SHOULD BE COMPLETE OR ALMOST!

You don’t have to follow this rule of mine at all because there are many ways to run a KS (including ones which are to fund the creation of the whole thing/idea, not just the printing of the book, computer games are a good example of this but this is not how I have run mine so I am sticking with what I know!). 

If you can complete your project before you launch then you will be able to be very accurate on turnaround times for fulfilment. The first couple of times I made a KS I had my book 70-85% completed. In future I aim to have them as good as 100% finished before launch (this is helped by the fact I have a healthy Patreon page that keeps me afloat and client work to supplement that). 

Some creators have used KS as a way of funding their time to make the whole book or most of it (or whatever thing it is they are making). They might only have the idea or bare bones of the project and ask people to pay for them to have the time off their regular work to make it. I have no experience in this whatsoever so you will need to look to others for info on how to do this if this is the sort of thing you were thinking of. 

8. FULFILMENT TIMES

Always overestimate how long this will take. When you fill out your KS page and rewards it will ask you to enter in when you think the item you are making will be sent to the backer. This is always a guess, but if all you have to do is send the PDF to the printer once the money comes through then you will have a better idea when you will be able to start shipping (hence having everything done before launch makes everything easier!), but if you have to estimate how long it will take you to complete a book, be sure to be generous with that timeframe so you don’t have lots of backers messaging you asking where their goodies are. If you think it will take 3 months, say it will take 4. Then if it ends up being finished early then your backers will be thrilled! 

9. VIDEO?

I have done a few questionnaires about whether people even watch the KS videos and most seem to say no, but I am one of those people who DOES watch them! Also KS says that their analytics tell them that campaigns with a video are considerably more successful. Maybe part of the reason for this is that it gives the impression that someone has put effort into their project.

I have chosen not to be in the videos I have made (apart from my voice in the Strangehollow one) because I wanted to create an atmosphere which I felt would be spoilt by me popping up to say hello! I really enjoy videos I have seen where the creator is there talking about their project though, so go for it if you are comfortable with it! Otherwise there are many mobile based apps and reasonably priced programs on desktop that can help you make a snazzy video (I used Wondershare Filmora for my videos). Remember for the main KS video, keep it short, it doesn’t need to be a movie, 90 seconds is fine. Grab their attention and have fun with it! 

You can also embed video into the ‘about’ section of your campaign, so if you need to show a video of some making of or behind the scenes (or show the original art you have for sale like I did), then you can put that there as well as having the ‘official’ video at the top.

10. BALANCED TIERS

Most people will just want the main offering (in my case a book) but it is good to have options for all budgets. Give people the opportunity to spend their money with you if they want to!

11. PAGE PRESENTATION

Go and look at your favourite KS campaigns, there will be some variety, but you can be sure the really successful ones will have a page which looks neat and tidy and is easy to navigate. I added a LOT of original art to my first campaign which did make it a bit of a long old scroll to the bottom, but it did not seem to negatively affect the overall success. 

It is useful to show for each reward tier what people will be getting in visual form in price from low to high to match the order of the tiers that will be listed down the right hand side of the page. If you can add the odd animated gif in there, all the better (well, I at least, am a sucker for a moving picture!), but keep the fonts in your reward tier depictions you pick readable if you are going to use any (try to avoid arty and squiggly fonts, they might look nice but often very hard to decipher especially for non English speakers) and if you want to use more than one font then keep it to a maximum of two! 

12. TELL A STORY – BE ENTHUSIASTIC

Why did you want to make this book? Why do you make the art you do? You don’t have to write a long essay (and it’s best you don’t), but if you can find your ‘USP’ (unique selling point) then that will help! Maybe you are obsessed with unicorns and you happened to grow up on a farm that bred Shetland ponies? You can easily weave those things together! Everyone has a unique story and life experience which will make their project stand out, even if the theme might be a popular one as fantasy definitely is!

Whatever you make, be enthusiastic about it. If you are not excited about your project then nobody else will be. Enthusiasm is contagious! 

13. KEEP YOUR BACKERS IN THE KNOW

While your project is running you can message your backers about how it is going and of course to thank them. This is useful as you can tell them if you have added any new goodies to the campaign, but also when you have reached a stretch goal too! 

AFTER the campaign make sure to keep your backers updated on the progress of your project. Post about when you have got your print orders delivered or your books, do an unboxing… you get the picture. An informed backer is a happy backer. They are the reason you are able to do this so it is best to keep them as up to date with what you are up to as is possible, that includes delays because of ill health or other obstacles. 

14. WHERE SHOULD I START/SHOULD I RUN A KICKSTARTER?

If you have a small enthusiastic fan following on social media and a number of responsive and interactive fans then I would say yes, you can do this. Only you know whether you would be able to make it work though. If you have a following of 50 then it might not be time yet because the percentage of your followers who actually back you will be much much smaller. I think I was at approx 1500 followers on instagram and 88 patrons on my Patreon page at the time of launching Strangehollow. Kickstarter led more people to my Patreon page since 2017 as well. 

If you have no experience of selling your art, no social media presence or no following then I would wait until you have spent a few years/months on creating that following before attempting it since it relies on your reach with promotion. There is no fast track to these things unfortunately, it is a marathon, not a sprint! Remember, people will not find your KS randomly so your fan base/following are an essential part of making this work. 

15. STRETCH GOALS

Even though nearly every KS you see will have a stretch goal of some kind it is still not essential and still not built in to the KS platform itself. A great tip I was given was not to add any stretch goals on the page until I had launched. I had NO idea how well my KS would do and if I had tried to guess where to place my stretch goals, I would have run out of them very fast! Wait at least 24/48hrs and see how you are going until you release the goals and then you can balance them across the whole month more easily. They are a great thing to post about (although I don’t think they actually make people pledge more to get them, not with art book projects anyway). The first 2-3 days of a KS are always the busiest as that is when you send all your people (most of whom will pledge right away if they are big fans). I only added extras which were easy to package along with the book, no enamel pins or mugs or t-shirts that would have to be shipped separately. 

Another nice way of doing stretch goals that I have seen other artists doing, is creating little illustrations that say that the goal is ‘locked’ before it has been reached and then you upload and replace it with a new ‘unlocked’ image when it has been reached. You could do this and tease what stretch goals you might have planned without sharing what funding amount you will set them at. This will build a bit of excitement at the potential goodies to be unlocked without you trying to second guess what funding amount to set them at. 

16. EARLY BIRD?

I did do early bird offers on my first three Kickstarters. I decided to stop offering them purely because it didn’t seem to stop people pledging at the same tier after the early bird had ended (which in my case was only a £5 discount). There seems to be mixed feelings on this and I even saw someone on Twitter saying that they would on principle not back a KS that had an early bird since he felt that he was being penalised for not being fortunate to hear about the project till a later date! That is something I hadn’t even considered when offering an early bird. 

Most of the time when people visit a KS they already have an idea in their head of how much they are willing to pledge and will just look for a tier which fits their budget. The most popular tier on every single one of my KS campaigns was the tier with JUST the book/calendar in it and nothing else came close. Some people like extras but most aren’t bothered. This is a good reminder to not be tempted to add endless extras since it makes more work for you and ultimately will not be adding much value overall to the project. People want to back the star of the show, your book or print, the extras are superfluous. 

17. WORKLOAD & MAKING TIME

This is a really big job (especially if you are doing an art book) and while I managed on my own with my biggest KS (approx 800 books to send out in the end in one go), I wouldn’t want to tackle anything much over that on my own. It will be different for every individual on what they can manage and dependent on what they produce (a set of prints is going to be much less work than a book plus lots of other extras obviously!). You know what you can handle and if you need help then you must ask for it, don’t struggle on your own. 

What you must do is set aside time for fulfilment (if you can) if you are still working in a full time job. If you can’t do this you must take into account how long the fulfilment will take when you are doing it in the evenings and make sure to factor that in to your fulfilment time. With my first KS I was still doing a lot of client work so I had to work the fulfilment around my other commitments. 

18. WHEN TO LAUNCH

There are lots of graphs and charts online saying which are the best times of year to launch your KS which you will be able to find easily but try to start and finish on a week day if you can as weekends tend to be quieter (would you believe it) than week days for activity (at least they have been for me). 

19. GOING TO PRINT

When your KS is over and you have made your goal (YAY!) then you need to figure out how many books to print. The more books you get printed the lower the cost for each book. Do you go to conventions or fairs where you can sell your books? Do you have an active online shop? Have you got enough books set aside in case of lost or damaged items?

I wanted to have enough books to sell in my online shop (I don’t do conventions anymore) so I made sure to make a bigger order than the number of backers I had. I have a fairly slow moving online shop so I still have lots of Strangehollow left and I will be making those available when I launch Strangehollow 2 later this year as part of a bundle. 

20. LOST OR DAMAGED ITEMS

I always print enough books to fulfil any which have been lost or damaged on their way to the backer. There will always be a handful and the more books you send out the higher probability there will be that you need to do that. There are also countries that you KNOW will probably take weeks to arrive or not arrive at all sadly.

As an example, I had 144 backers for my Dragon calendar and set aside 10 calendars for this purpose and it’s unlikely I will need them all (only one has been re-sent). Make sure to take this into account when making your big print order!

If the second book/item doesn’t get to them then I am sadly unable to send another since it is just not possible as such a small business to do so and they would have to purchase the item again in order to receive one. 

In conclusion, if you plan well, make something people love and promote it as much as possible, you should do ok!

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How I Keep Myself Organised

How I Keep Myself Organised

Being self employed has plenty of upsides but it is also necessary to get very organised, very quickly! You soon discover that you need to be able to wear ‘all the hats’ – admin, marketing, web design, customer service, accounting, creating, social media, sales, time management…. the list does go on! I am not a naturally organised person at all.

I have a very busy brain which is easily distracted, but having a digital way to organise myself is a godsend.

I have tried the physical bullet journals and planners but it just didn’t work for me and I’d only find myself using them for a few weeks and then I would forget about them. I also found that they were more often than not, in a different part of the house when I needed them. Something digital made more sense when I always have my phone on me. That said, I actually do most of my business shenanigans on my desktop, I’m not a fan of doing it on my phone at all, but for jotting down an idea… it’s perfect! 

I used to use Trello to organise my to-do lists, and then after that I moved to Airtable which was good too but it had its limitations and I felt like I wasn’t really getting the most out of it. 

I then was recommended Notion.so by a friend and I haven’t looked back! I’ve even paid for the most basic pricing (personal plan pro – $4 a month) so I could have unlimited image uploads to it. You can use it for free if you don’t need/want to use this feature for more than 5mb. There are also lots of ready made templates to help you get started as it is a bit of a learning curve when you first join! At least it took me a couple of weeks to get into the groove of using it!

I’ve been using it for about 3-4 months now I think it is nearly faultless as a tool. I don’t think I could ever really stretch its capabilities, but for what I need, it’s the perfect filing system and keeps me on track (most of the time!). 

I made myself a year planner as my basic Notion page that I will go to every day (and if I have an idea pop into my head away from the studio, I just add that via the app on my phone) and I’m going to share my layout with you! It’s not the prettiest, and I’m sure it can be improved upon, but it is working really well for me.  You can use this template for your own Notion page if you want and you can copy it HERE.

It’s free to use and I’m not getting paid to tell you about this, I absolutely love it so I want everyone else to enjoy it too! 

For those of you out there who find organising your weekly tasks etc difficult, this really could help. Having everything laid out over the next few months is relaxing for me, rather than just jumping from one thing to another (like I did years ago) without any real long term idea of where it would go! 

I may return to the organisation subject in future with how I go about making my year plan and keeping that on track. 

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How I Achieved Consistency With My Art

How I Achieved Consistency With My Art

I would like to preface this with the fact that I am just one person who happens to be an artist and make a living from it. This is just my experience and what I have done might not work for you, but I hope at the very least it will inspire or give hope to some!

Consistency of style is something I have struggled to find for most of my life as an artist. I have a very busy brain and so I didn’t really start seriously trying to make art my career until 2004/2005. Between 1997 and that time I spent a lot of time working with horses (I wanted to learn to train them), various jobs like working in a frame shop/gallery and a sweet shop, then receptionist at a very smart estate agent in London and over that time I would also do the odd animal portrait for people, something I was good at but really didn’t feel very passionate about and therefore didn’t really get into a business mindset about it at all (in fact ‘business mindset’ was something to elude me for a LONG time!).

Some of my pastel portraits:

I didn’t go to university since my college experience was very discouraging (I even met a working illustrator during that time who told me not to become an artist as I’d never make money, thanks dude!). So I thought, pfft, I don’t need to go into art, I’ll go and get into the horse world instead (like that’s easy, ha!). This didn’t take off. 

Discovering Digital Painting

In 2004 I discovered digital art and to start with made my art using a mouse! I eventually got myself a Wacom and made digital my go-to (having been painting traditionally in pastels/acrylics/oils/watercolours up till that point). I thought that digital was the right thing to do since at the time I thought I wanted to get into creature design/concept art for movies. I didn’t know what that involved at all. Fast forward to early 2016 and I had spent those years in between really struggling to find steady work and to find a recognisable style and decided I would return to traditional media, using Patreon to document my experiments and as a form of accountability for what I was doing.

‘Paint What You Love’

I must make clear that through this time I had been told that my style wasn’t consistent and that I needed to improve my portfolio and that I should paint what I loved. I don’t think I really ‘got’ what they meant by paint what I loved because I thought I was doing it already! I love fantasy art and love werewolves, monsters etc and did a lot of darker work back then (some you can see in an earlier blog) but often when I was trying to achieve something really scary/creepy, people would say ‘that’s cute’ or ‘aww’ in response rather than ‘OH GOD MY EYES!’. It was frustrating! 

Still cute:

What I hadn’t realised is that I was painting what I loved seeing other people paint and didn’t realise that for me there was a difference between what I loved looking at and what I really really enjoyed painting. I was constantly fighting my true spirit of  whimsy and humour. I also realised, once I started my Patreon page that I had also been working in the wrong medium. I had missed traditional mediums SO much and returning to it really had a profound effect. I decided I wanted to work towards a theme to try to help myself with the consistency issue and toward the end of 2016 I started painting the inhabitants of an ‘enchanted forest’.

I thought that if I gave myself a framework to restrict me (so I didn’t jump around wanting to paint lots of unrelated things as I had in the past) that it would help with my consistency and that maybe at the end of it I might have enough artwork to make a book. I was still, at this point, resisting the whimsy! In my mind I was thinking ‘yes, a mysterious enchanted forest, filled with dark and creepy things’ but what kept appearing was not dark and creepy! 

A Turning Point

My ogre painting was a big moment for me when I was creating the forest, I really really loved painting this face and the technique I used was very satisfying. 

I didn’t recognise it at the time (2017), but I now realise that this character was a kind of jumping off point of the whole feel of what was to become ‘Strangehollow‘ as well as how I paint currently. It still took me another year and another book (Cauldron) to fully embrace the fact that I wasn’t going to consistently make dark, spooky or unnerving art! (Except occasionally as I do still have the urge, it’s just not really what comes to me naturally as it often ends up looking a bit cute!)

I now know that my art ‘voice’ encompasses the following, not always all at the same time of course!: 

  • Whimsical 
  • Beautiful (I want it to be aesthetically beautiful to me)
  • Humorous 
  • Dramatic (I do love a powerful dramatic image)
  • Inspired by the natural world (in evidence with my love of creatures!)

It’s a very helpful exercise to write down a few words to describe your style, I have to thank Savina Fransisco for this particular suggestion as it really helps to keep me on track with what I post. I will be writing a future blog post about branding and how I improved that side of my business which started with the art business boot camp course from Make Your Art Work

In conclusion it was the restriction to making a ‘world’ along with using only one medium that helped me gain my consistency. This would work on a small scale too, it doesn’t have to be a book full! You could maybe decide to make 8-10 illustrations of your favourite fairytale perhaps, anything that lives in the same world. My dragon calendar also worked in a similar way, making 12 paintings of the same subject, trying to make them all different but also still hopefully look like they are part of the same world, it’s a really great exercise. 

Anyway, I could waffle on about this stuff for hours, but I hope that this might help some of you who struggle with the consistency ‘problem’ that I did. I must make it clear that it doesn’t mean that my work won’t change and evolve over time (it already has visibly since 2017) or that having different styles is wrong. It is just something that has worked for me and might work for you too!

Happy creating!

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