It is already a week ago that I traveled to Nijmegen to participate in The Big Draw‘s Artist Alley at the Mariënburg Library. After doing OK at TomoFair, I was curious how this would go: I expected a different kind of public here.
Unfortunately the weather wasn’t good: I arrived with a wet suitcase and a soaked coat. This must have had it’s effect on the visitor’s count, though it’s hard to say to what account. On the other hand, hosting the Artist Alley in the library, we also had people browsing who didn’t know about the event at all and just came to lend a book. In fact, at the start of the day, there was only a A4 taped to the door about the event, it wasn’t advertised very clearly, so I wonder how many people visited the library with the intent of browsing the Artist Alley vs. regular library visitors who stumbled upon us.
To be honest, I also didn’t have the best table spot in the library. Most tables were in the large space in the center of the building, and we were kind of behind that between the bookshelves. There must have been visitors that have missed us because of that.
Nevertheless, I sold a few prints, one of them to a little girl who kept telling her mother that she really really wanted that print. Those are the best customers! I also met a lot of new fellow illustrators and creatives that are still studying or just graduated. I think half of tables were from artists from the St. Joost Academy from Breda / Den Bosch. A different community than Rotterdam, and fun to meet!
The weather was much better now and we could move our tables outside. That was the good news! I suddenly had to flip my table design as I now expected people walking past from right to left instead of left to right, though. I had thought I needed half an hour max to prepare my table, now the library was already open and I was still setting up. Stressful!
Instead of being tucked away, now were were right at the entrance, no one could miss us! There were banners about the event too, it felt like a much larger event now. And The Big Draw is actually quite a big event with workshops and expositions all around the city! The Artist Alley is just one thing on the program.
Unfortunately though, I only sold one print and two stickers on Sunday, despite the weather being much better. In my experience Sunday is always more quiet than Saturday on two-day conventions, though, although I hoped differently now we had a better spot. It proves once more how much uncertainty is involved in this business.
The Big Draw is much more than just the Artist Alley and being part of an event about all things drawing is rewarding in itself too. I wish Rotterdam would get its own edition, so I could see more of the event myself instead having to leave early to travel back home.
If I sold one more sticker, I would have hit break even. Tables were free but traveling from Rotterdam to Nijmegen both ways is around 45 euros. That’s a shame, but on the other hand this is the cheapest convention I’ve attended, the location was great and there was even lunch and snacks provided at no costs. No way you get something like that at a regular convention. I probably would attend again if I got the chance!
Nevertheless I will take a break from conventions until I have more original prints and merchandise to sell. Tables were only 120 cm wide and I worried if I would be able to display all my prints, but in the end I had actually quite some spare space. It made me realize I actually don’t have that much to sell, and simple business sense tells me that I automatically will sell more if I simply have more to offer. Conventions take quite some time to prepare, so I think it isn’t a bad idea to step back once more and use that time to create more personal work. After all, I should do that more regardless of creating merchandise of it!
The first one-day convention I tabled at! I picked TomoFair Rotterdam as my sister @empoh expressed her wish to try to table at conventions too, so I looked for a small, affordable convention nearby. The sports hall it was organised was only 30 minutes from my home, perfect for a test of our joint venture!
We had a good space, on the corner near the entrace. Having a which enabled us to hang some prints on the side of our stand, which worked out nicely! I saw people walking by and pointing at the prints multiple times.
Like at many conventions, some products did very well and others didn’t sell at all. The Pokémon Snap print did quite well, just like Grovyle and the Hollow Knight stickers. My sister sold a lot of her Rayquaza prints and Snom stickers. I’m happily surprised I sold my Harpy Bonfire print twice, which has never happened before!
Using the Tikkie app for customers who didn’t have cash on hand was a genius tip of my boyfriend, if I didn’t have it installed we would have missed out on half of our sales. I’m still undecided whenever I should get a card reader: do the transaction costs hold up to more sales?
I have reasons to believe one of my Zinemadness zines was stolen from our stand. I counted all my stock before the convention and after, and one is missing despite I’m sure I didn’t sell one. It hasn’t happened to me before but I have heard stories of colleagues that this does happen at conventions sometimes. It is hard to prevent too, unfortunately: at times there are a lot of people before your stand and even with the two of us it is impossible to keep our eyes on all the things on the table. Still it is a shame people do such things.
All in all, I think we did good, although I hoped on a little better turnover. I sold a many stickers, but they’re only €3, so I didn’t make a lot of profit to be honest. And TomoFair itself is also not very cheap with stands starting at €119. But I might be inpatient again, expecting to have figured out this already! I think what I need is just more stuff to sell.
My sister and I both really enjoyed tabling together like this! I didn’t bring my largest prints, if I did the space might be too small for me, but this way it worked out nicely. There’s another TomoFair Rotterdam in december, we might do this again like this.
Next up: The Big Draw Nijmegen! A larger event with a different focus (all things drawing), so I’m excited to see how that will go. I’ll make sure to have some more prints for sale.
With all the commotion around Instagram’s new features, I have been thinking whenever I feel happy being on the platform and if my time spend there is worthwhile.
Using social media is part of my marketing strategy as a business, how commercial that may sound – it is something to review every now and then. In a recent newsletter Rengin Tümer wrote how she analyzes her social media strategy every year and leaves platforms that don’t perform well. After all, being on social media takes a lot of time and that time cannot be spend on other things.
So let’s do a thourough analysis of my social media strategy and platforms I’m on! Let’s start with why I’m even spending time there: my goal is to gather a community of people interested in my (personal) work and be visible for freelance opportunities. It’s a twofold goal, which creates a problem: these two different target audiences may not be interested in the same content I share. Posting about tabling at a comic convention is interesting to fans of my work, but clients not so much. So for each platform, it is important to keep in mind which target audience is present and what content or information is most interesting to them.
This table shows all the social media platforms I’m on, in order of active-ness. I use Instagram the most and LinkedIn the least. There are some patterns visible: the platforms I’m the longest on seem to have gathered more followers, which is understandable. But it also shows that engagement and followers do not always collerate, and some platforms are much better in showing my work to prospecting clients than others.
Let’s have a more in-depth look at each platform.
I check Instagram three to five times daily. Though looking at the table, it seems that freelance-wise, it is a waste of time to be on there. Though I have the second most followers on that platform, it never has led to a paid opportunity. All I got were scammy DMs telling me I was selected for a sponsor deal to promote jewelry or makeup, but I had to “react fast as there were only 3 places left!!!!”. Yeah, sure.
Thing is, I don’t know how much of the following I have on Instagram is part of the community I’m trying to build. So it might not generate leads, in business speak, but does it foster Etsy sales for example? Google Analytics and Etsy’s analytics also don’t seem to strenghten that hypothetis, unfortunately. And engagement wise, I get on average about 25 likes per post, which is less than the recommended 10% of your following count. And it keeps dwindling down.
So all in all, I could say I should either 1) improve my strategy for that platform, meaning I would have to post a lot more, and probably videos too. I don’t want that as videos are super time consuming to create, which leaves 2) leave the platform and focus my efforts somewhere else.
A lot of friends of mine use Instagram and no other platforms I use regularly, so I’m stuck on there if I want to see their updates. But I should think about putting my focus elsewhere.
Looking at the table, the follower count I gathered on Twitter in less than two years isn’t half bad, it took me way longer on Instagram to reach the same number. Follower count is not everything of course, I don’t have much engagement on my tweets (yet); still I had more conversations about tweets than I had on Instagram – there seems to be more community there.
Apart from that, people have found my work via Twitter, which is one of my reasons to be on social media in the first place. And additionally, I have found numerous opportunities through it’s search and in my feed through people I follow. That’s all making quite a strong case to start using Twitter more.
So far I’ve only used Pinterest to promoting my Etsy products. Many Etsy marketing Youtubers suggest its by far the best platform to promote your products on. Pinterest is very lifestyle focused, 80% of its user base is female and fashion, home design and crafts are top interests. I’m not sure how far I’ll get with my fantasy illustration and game art, but for Etsy I see traffic coming in through Pinterest, and I’m sure that I sold at least one product through Pinterest.
I think it would be worthwhile to try Pinterest for general interest in my work, not just products. Why? Because Pinterest is first and foremost a search engine. That means that content has a much longer lifespan than less search-centric platforms such as Instagram and Twitter. I rarely get likes on posts older than a month on Instagram, but on Pinterest my best performing pin is more than a year old. That means that in the long run, it’s less about being constantly active and more about creating a lot of content so you have more opportunities to be found. To paraphrase Kelsey Rodriguez: where Instagram is a grind to keep appearing in your follower’s feeds, every pin (like every Youtube video) adds to your collection of findable content.
And as Pinterest lets you link towards your own website or other platforms, I think it could work quite nicely in addition to other platforms.
DeviantArt I have mostly abandoned since 2018, but it was the first place on the internet I posted my art. A lot of the people I followed moved to other platforms and the community has changed since then. Now I’m not active at all and new posts get little engagement as a result.
Older work keeps getting found, though, as I have been contacted twice by people wanting to get this old Zelda piece I made in 2015 tattooed and that person was willing to pay for a licence fee. So I feel checking it every now and then doesn’t hurt.
I joined Tumblr when it was the first platform competing with DeviantArt, and many users started to move to Tumblr. I never gave it as much time and energy as DeviantArt, which is probably why it underperforms in terms of account age and follower count.
I also feel like I have never gotten the hang of Tumblr. New art posts never get much engagement, but posts about Etsy reviews always do. Is my following more interested in that? Or does a post with a link always better in terms of likes? Whatever the case, I was approached for an unpaid opportunity recently, and older posts sometimes get attention out of nowhere, which makes me wonder if it is more search-centric than I initially thought. There are also visitors on Etsy coming through Tumblr, but they are so little that I wonder if it actually is worth the effort. It won’t hurt to post new work on there, though I’m not expecting too much of it.
I rarely post work on ArtStation. To be honest, I don’t like the site very much. It is the celebrated art platform for the entertainment industry, and while they organise great contests and sponsor events and things, the site itself is still treated as a portfolio. I just don’t see how I can be active on there without posting non-portfolio work, which defeats the purpose of the website, doesn’t it? When people ask me if I have an ArtStation, I tell them “yes, but please follow me elsewhere too because I post three times a year there!”.
That said; I have a personal portfolio website, so I don’t have to keep ArtStation ‘clean’ of less-than-perfect work and studies (which everyone seems to post on there anyway). And yes, because it is the celebrated industry platform there will be relevant eyes on my work. I suppose it would be better to post more work on there.
One could discuss whenever this is a ‘social’ platform or whenever it belongs to the list, but as I have started to post on there since beginning of this year, I have to review it too. I check in every week or so and only post about project releases with my art or other ‘professional achievements’, so wouldn’t call myself active on the platform.
Freelance-wise, it has been the most fruitful: people have reached out to me three times, one of which I had met earlier during a network lunch (so she hasn’t found me through LinkedIn but I’m not sure if she had found my email without it). And it did lead to a paid opportunity! One opportunity I respectfully declined as I wasn’t the right person for it, and the other is still in limbo. All in all valuable leads so far, which is to be expected of a ‘professional’ platform.
As for ‘followers’, these are all people you actively connect with, which makes them much more valuable than followers on other social platforms. LinkedIn is quite search-centric too in design, so I will definitely keep posting about these ‘professional achievements’ and add projects I’m proud of so I keep appearing in search results!
Looking at my two goals; building a community around my work and being visible for freelance opportunities, it is clear that some platforms work for one goal but not for another. It is safe to say that clients find me through Twitter, Artstation and LinkedIn. Especially the latter two are valuable for being visible for opportunities.
When it comes to building a following, Instagram could work, but not for me. I’m putting my hopes up for Twitter and Pinterest, while occasionally posting on Tumblr and DeviantArt too. Overall, I’d like to focus on search-centric platforms more.
Checking daily, posting multiple times a week: Twitter
Post any new work but not checking daily: Instagram, DeviantArt, Tumblr
Post new work when relevant: Artstation, LinkedIn
I want to end this article with a disclaimer that your mileage may vary. What works and doesn’t work for me is not the one-and-only way to use social media. I know plenty of illustrators getting a lot of opportunities through Instagram, for example. If you like creating videos, go for it. Still I hope my experience and attempts to measure succes in my social media strategy helps you weed down through the things that only cost time and focus on things that actually bring you something!
When I’m on a deadline and have to use most of my working time to meet it, my mind always comes up with the most wonderful ideas and things to do. I guess that’s a natural thing; your brain is probably urged to look for quick wins instead of the hard task at hand. After finishing a rough deadline just at the end of January, I had time for these creative urges again!
I really felt like painting and study the fundamentals again. Maybe it’s because I struggled a bit with large assignment I had to wrap up last month – I think the immediate reason is twofold!
Firstly, I watch a Dutch tv show called Project Rembrandt, an artist competition for amateur painters. During the competition the participants have to complete technical excersises, such as life drawing and still life painting. Seeing other artists paint and practise really inspire me to do the same!
Though the show claims to be a contest for amateur painters, among the participants are a graphic designer, architect, game art student and illustrator. Appearently going to an art academy and having had painting lessons does not exclude one from the contest. I think that’s not entirely fair to the participants who had no creative training whatsoever. On the other hand, the people with creative professions didn’t get judged considerably higher or better; While our illustrator and game art student made it to the finals, so did our geologist. In the end it’s fun to watch, and that’s wat matters, isn’t it?
A trip to the Van Gogh museum
The second reason I really felt like painting lately is a visit to the Van Gogh Museum with my sister last week. Van Gogh is the prime example , perhaps even the origin of the troubled poor artist trope, but seeing his work does the same thing as the tv show: it makes me want to paint. You can feel his enthousiams and work ethic through his paintings, and that’s just really infectious!
But what his story also shows, perhaps, is that you can become an artist without formal training, and later in life too, if you persist. Van Gogh was 27 and had tried various studies and courses before he decided to become an artist. And even though he briefly studied at the Académie Royale des Beaux Arts in Brussels, he is mostly self-taught. I’m sure he would have loved the wealth of information and study material we have now at our fingertips with the internet.
The art tests of last month didn’t result in jobs, unfortunately, but I think it was good practise nevertheless. In any case, new work to add to my portfolio!
As my official C# course has ended, I’ve continued my studies with the book Fundamentals of Computer Programming with C#. Where the course went over the fundamentals pretty quickly so you could start building something fast, this book goes really in-depth. And it contains excersises after each chapter, so I can really use it to improve my programming skills! Most of the excersises focus on math problems, brings back flashbacks from my math classes in high school! So far I’ve created programs that calculate prime numbers, numbers from the Fibonnacci series and find a sum or product in a given array of n numbers, things like that. Not sure if it helps making games, but it makes sense to me to start with the fundamentals.
Tabletop RPG & board game ventures
This month I also reached out to board game publishers and tabletop roleplay game publishers. I realised I loved doing full illustrations as much as I like doing concept art or game assets, so why not try to get more illustration jobs?
Within a few mails I got a reply from a board game publisher, whenever I might wanted to illustrate upcoming board games published in 2022 and what my rates where. I was suprised I got a foot between the door so quickly, but after I send them my rates they replied they didn’t pay more than 80 euros per character illustration. That would come down to about 10 euros per hour – quite far from what I usually ask for such work, of course.
Someone else got back to me asking if I would be open to do an illustration for $200 (about €160, before taxes). I hestitated at first, but decided to go for it, you have to start somewhere, right? Unfortunately the person changed his mind and wanted me to do four black-and-white illustrations for $50 each instead – each of these illustrations containing one or multiple characters and a background – in no way doable for me without getting below minimum wage.
I was quite shocked by this, to be honest. Are these rates normal? And how do people making a living if this is what you get paid for such an amount of work? After asking around and doing some more research, it dawned upon me that these are actually quite standard rates, though there is a lot of variation between companies. Illustrators working in this field all supplement their income with taking on work from other sources or have a partner that can fill in the gaps, I suppose.
So yeah, in my experience, video games pay way better!
Swim On Zine
Let’s end this post with a visual component: here’s a little preview of the shark illustration I did for the Swim On zine! This collaborative charity art zine paying tribute to all kinds of sharks, containing 100 illustrations by 76 artists. All proceeds made from the zine will be donated to WildAid (formerly sharksavers.org).
In an effort to try to get into blogging regularly, I’m following Joni van der Leeuw‘s example and try to write regular blogs about what I did the past weeks. I like writing but it’s one of those things that quickly drop to last place on the to-do list and therefore never gets done. I’m opting for monthly updates now as weekly seems a bit too much effort (and I don’t know how much I have to share anyway), but we’ll see!
MerMay has come to an end, and so have a lot of projects I worked on the last three months. Yes, my planner is almost completely empty: that means hustling for jobs again!
I applied for a few job offers, though, and last week was nothing else than drawing art tests. I suddenly found myself drawing only space suits and ships the whole day to meet the deadlines, oops!
Indigo is the most important game industry network event of the Netherlands, always taking place on the last Friday of June. Just like last year it was held completely online. Met new people, some who might hold exciting opportunities! I have a few more meetings next week that spilled over, fingers crossed!
And last but not least: I’ve been learning how to program in C#! Back in April I had a few meetings with a career coach (a free opportunity I thought wouldn’t hurt) and I did some tests to chart my interests and skills. Guess what? Even though I’m a creative person (duh haha) I’m also quite happy doing analytical stuff. In fact, I’m the opposite of the chaotic artist cliché, I’m actually a very organised person, starts work every day at the same time, never comes late to meetings, etc. And the fact that I’ve had a self-build website in my teens and installed this website myself too shows I have affinity with code the very least!
So my career coach strongly advised to look into programming. There is, after all, a high demand in developers. I came across a C# course I could participate in for free due government subsidy, so I took my chance! C# is after all the scripting language in Unity, probably the most popular game engine.
This is not a career switch, though! I do not want to give up all the time and energy that I’ve been putting into finding my way around illustration and game art. I just think that knowing my way around code will be a valuable asset. And it would be cool to develop my own little games, wouldn’t it?
I’m not exactly a Sinatra fan, but I thougth this would make a striking title to my yearly retrospection post, haha! It has hardly been a very good year in many aspects, but I feel happy and humbled that the pandemic hasn’t hurt me or my business financially!
I started this year trying to get a foot between the door in the board game industry. I contacted a lot of companies during January and February and was even asked for a quote for Christmas themed puzzles. I attended OBJECT with fellow BNO members and had my first and last convention on March 7th and 8th.
And then everything closed down in this year’s first lockdown on March 17th.
Right then I was in the middle of starting to work on a game prototype with Roofkat – I had visited him in Zaandam in February, a good two-hour trip from my house. The lockdown forced us to work via Skype, but it would probably been the same without it.
A lot of my fellow convention artists weren’t as lucky as I was; they depended on the income of events like Comic Con Rotterdam. And one by one they were all cancelled. Some set up a online equivalent: Stay Home Comic Con. People could join the Discord channel, watch streams and there was a website with links to everyone’s webshops. I participated in the stream too (woo, first time!) and I had 60 watchers at one moment! I enjoyed doing it, so I considered streaming on a regular basis, but I haven’t really picked it up yet. Maybe because I’m secretly too nervous for it!
Spring passed and the first holiday I was going to spend with my boyfriend was cancelled. I spend the summer mostly working, trying to enjoy the ridiculous warm weather whenever I could. But with everything live going online, I was able to attend conventions and events I never would have attended live, being too far for me to travel too. I made a lot more international contacts, which might help me in the future. That’s definitely a good thing that this pandemic has brought me!
Some other highlights of this weird year:
I made a mural with friends of Draw Club Rotterdam at a local culture centre! We were almost finished halfway March but didn’t get the chance to add the final touches until August. It has become a Frankenstein’s monster of different styles, but it was a great experience working together!
I was asked to jump in and create some map illustrations and icons right before Godhood’s launch. It was great to work on that game again after a few years, so much has changed since then.
The game VR Giants, where I did level concept art for, had a very succesful Kickstarter campaign! I was able to share some things I made for it, hopefully more soon!
I also participated in the Artstation Keyframe challenge, but should have made more time for it; I was unable to finish it before the deadline. :/
And other cool things I’m not allowed to share yet, unfortunately!
Looking back, I definitely want to have another go at trying to get into board games. I think I’m limiting my options too much only trying to do video games. After all, there are plenty of board games in need of fantasy art too!
When I made the switch back to Windows after five years of using a Macbook Pro, one of my concerns was migrating my notes.
I have an Iphone and I had totally grown used to creating the native Notes app for anything – resulting in over 250 notes of college lectures, recipes, freelance project notes and ideas. It was a total mess.
Notes to Evernote
Time to dig up my old Evernote account. In my teens I had made an Evernote account to organize all my story ideas, species and characters I had made up and wrote comics about. I was quite obsessive about it creating a believable world for these characters – it was quite the trip down memory lane when I first logged in after three years, haha!
I enjoyed using Evernote as it allowed me to arrange notes in different categories and assign tags to them. As I was already used to working with it (albeit a bit rusty!), it seemed the perfect solution for keeping my thoughts organised.
Problem arised: how to get my notes from Apple’s native Notes app into Evernote without having to copy and paste them all by hand?
It’s clear that Apple doesn’t want you to use ever a different program than it’s native Notes app: migrating notes to another program, especially Evernote, is a pain. I tried multiple automation scripts, but none seemed to work for me, it would export the notes as .html files full of markup, or .txt files, both which Evernote can’t import.
So, in the end, I did copy and paste all 250+ notes by hand. It took an hour or so, but at least I got them where I wanted them!
Now some people have recommended Notion.so – and it looks pretty amazing so far!
Having used Notion.so for a few months now, I can heartly recommend it! I use it to collect notes about every part of my business, that means notes and feedback about projects, task lists for updating Etsy and social media post planning. And not the very least: Notion does support importing notes from Evernote!
I also moved my complete CRM to Notion. I used to keep track of studios and people I reached out to in Excel, and I still miss the ability to color cells conditionally as you can in excel. What I got back in exchange, however, is the posibility to link databases – and that is really Notion’s strength. I now can link companies to people, which makes it really easy to see whenever I contacted studio X and who I was in contact with, when, and what we talked about. Adding more info means of course also spending more time writing down all that data, but I still believe it helps!
What a year it has been, both personally and career-wise! Back in January, I was busy adding the final touches to my graduation project. After that I took a short holiday and I started with my freelance career. Time for a review: what have I been doing this year?
Graduation: finally into the wild
I underestimated how hard it would be to find work in the illustration field, and that made me feel quite self-concious at times. On the other hand, I knew it would take years before I would make enough of my illustration business to quit my part time job, and I was trying everything I could to make it happen. I could feel stressed and sad for not doing enough, but I was already putting in all the effort I could.
I also realized that being alone all day working by myself is something that comes naturally to me. Of course I would start feeling lonely if I didn’t speak to another human being for a week – but I really enjoy being just with myself all day.
In the end I’m still proud to do what I always wished for in five months work: creating concept art for video games! Hope to be able to show you something from that soon!
Global Game Jam
A week after graduation I participated in the Global Game Jam, which was a blast! It reminded me how great it is to work in a team, meet new people and learn from each other in such a pressure-cooked environment.
Although we decided not to continue, I look back upon this as a happy learning experience. Looking forward to the next Global Game Jam in two weeks already!
Heroes of the Ages: A Legend of Zelda Anthology Book
This was my very first collaborative illustration project for a so-called zine, and I naturally enjoyed working on it, being a tribute to a game series I absolutely love!
In February the Kickstarter launched and it seemed to go really well, until a few hours before the end: Kickstarter took the campaign down due copyright infringement. I was quite struck by this case of bad luck, my first dive into the zine community seemed amazingly fruitful… I guess we became too large to go unnoticed.
I’d love to have another try at these community projects, though I will be more selective about their theme and professionalism. My time is much more limited now than when I was a student.
Conventions and Etsy
2019 has also been a year I had more tables at conventions, with varying results, of course. One cannot expect to do everything well at the first try!
Overall the experience is the same: I enjoy doing it, but I feel I neither a) have artwork that fits in the scene so that it serves the masses or b) have artwork that is original and niche so I can thrive while doing by own thing. In other words, I should critically review what I want to get from these conventions.
Opening an Etsy shop however has surely paid back its efforts: right from the start I was already making a few sales! Without any advertising! I still have to learn a lot about best practises and how to optimize my products, but I’m happy so far! Still, my thoughts about convention artwork also haunts my Etsy shop, especially as Etsy doesn’t allow fan art to be sold.
Art Summary 2019
Let’s end with on happy note. On DeviantART it used to be a kind of tradition for many artist to share a ‘art summary’ whenever a year turned over.
Creating these usually left me with a feeling of not creating enough, but now looking at it, I feel excited to start creating! On to a creative 2020!