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Freelancing Tips

0

Mamet: The Artist and Mass Media

This passage from David Mamet's Three Uses of the Knife: On the Nature and Purpose of Drama got into my skin and stuck in my noggin:
Mass media...are created (by what force we cannot say); they spring into existence, if you will, and offer the promise, in many cases the reality, of great wealth to entice talented people who would otherwise be uninterested. They offer, like any other dictator, the promise of freedom if applicants consign themselves to slavery. The writer, the actor, the director, no less than the viewer, are thus wooed to spend their lives doing nothing. They are paid handsomely (or merely promised handsome payment, the lure of wealth being so potent that a promise if often sufficient - like the gold rush or the lottery - to hold the multitude). They are paid to remove themselves from the ranks of potential artists, to give up the desire to express, confront, connect, mourn, question, decry, unite; they are paid to serve the cause of censorship.



In my teens, when my buddy, Scott and I were collaborating on short comics stories, and in my early twenties then creating and publishing our own comic, Trollords, we took comics and our art very seriously. We were pleased that the book did so well we could make a living at it, but eschewed that as our primary goal: we were artists! Our pal, Len bought for me a used book he stumbled across, How to Be a Money Writer! Gosh, we had a good laugh at that. Written in the '50s or '60s in dated prose, it captured everything we weren't about. But after a few years, the market changed, we and most others weren't selling nearly as many copies, we both got married, and although I still stressed following my bliss and creativity, it became clear I needed to make more money doing art if I was going to continue.

And through the years for my wife and me, buying a house, having and raising kids, building another house, growing a business, it's been the main struggle to be "money artists" while not selling out entirely, and setting aside as much time as possible for personal creative projects. All too often, the trade-off leans one way, to providing and caring for the family. For me and many, that in and of itself is a noble goal, and perhaps more noble than living just for one's art, which in some respects is a selfish pursuit. Achieving a balance between the two remains largely elusive. So while I find truth in Mamet's assertion above, it also seems too black and white, too rigid and judgmental. The book was released in 1998, so perhaps his opinion has changed since. Certainly, he was engaged in writing for and directing movies for quite some time before this was written. And he's made more movies, created and produced a TV series (The Unit) since. I liked or loved most of his output, including his plays which have been adapted to screen, and though I'm a big fan, I've never seen one of his plays performed live. So, would Mamet (or should any creator) consider any work done that has any commercial influence less legitimate or worthy as art? Michelangelo's Sistine chapel ceiling is considered a masterpiece, a great work of art, yet it was a commissioned piece. I've been touched emotionally and inspired and challenged intellectually by music, art, movies, TV shows and poetry that gained the creators payment, sometimes handsome reward. And I've been left cold and unmoved by work done by artists with pure intention and motivation, unsullied and not corrupted by greed or monetary gain.

So as I make my way now through this process, answering these questions, it still remains a challenge to achieve a balance. Our lives are easier, less stressful when we take on commercial projects, when the money is flowing in more than not. But when we're busy with that, personal creativity often takes a back seat. And even if some of that personal work finds its way out into the world, as has occurred for me with my Night of the Bedbugs childrens book, while my main purpose is to reach and affect kids and families, I'd also love nothing more than to make part or more of my living from it or such work. And what's wrong with that?

0

Microtek Scanmaker 9800XL

I always wait several months to upgrade on software to allow plenty of time for everyone to work out the bugs. But after having waited about nine months to take the leap to Apple's Leopard OS, I was eager to make the move. Before doing so, I've learned by being burned it's best to check that other software or hardware companies support their prodcuts in a timely fashion for a new OS. I ran into trouble with my Microtek scanner last time I tried this when upgrading to Tiger. It took Microtek 18-24 months to make available a driver that would work with OSX 10.4. Yikes! Unfortunately, I discovered this fact after the upgrade, and was forced for a year or two to keep my ScanMaker 9800XL hooked up to my old computer in another room. What a pain!  Not efficient and a waste of time. This kind of problem has driven other artists to give up on Microtek completely.

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Well, they're more on the ball this time, as the driver was made available about eight months after Apple released Leopard. That's not super-fast, but an improvement, and if you're going to wait some months for the new OS, it's probably worth it; at least, it is for me.  The Scanmaker 9800XL is a large scanner that accommodates the large comic book art I do (no more splitting apart pages with multiple scans and piecing them back together digitally), and is less expensive (now about $900.00; I paid $1100.00 five years back) than other comparable scanners (at least 2-3 times the price). It does a nice job on scans, saves tons of time given its image space. As long as they continue to improve on support, I'm going to stick with Microtek, and can recommend it.

1

Bookmark as Business Card

I don't like business cards much. During nearly twenty-five years of freelancing as an artist, I've found I rarely need or use them. But a few times each year, I'd get caught empty-handed when someone would ask me for one, and I knew I needed something to hand out in those situations. So instead I had printed up a bunch of bookmarks. bms_bookmark.jpg I figure people may just keep a bookmark around for a while longer than any old business card as it actually has a use beyond itself. And one can never have too many bookmarks. The illustration on one side of the mark depicts a couple children reading at night under a blue moon, so people may also use it while reading to their kids, or give it to their kids to use. The idea is to provide a built-in reason for people to keep it around and out, so they'll see it more often and be reminded of our little company and what we do. And if it encourages anyone to read a bit more, all the better. They're a little bigger to carry than business cards, but I keep them in my car or carry bag whenever I go out. It usually gets folks' attention just because it's different -- it stands out. On the back of the bookmark, I simply list the web site address and few things one can find at our site. For more thoughts on trying something new with business cards or the like, my pal and fellow artist, Cedric Hohnstadt has designed a set of new cards for himself, prompted by a helpful article on the subject at the Pro Freelancing site.

2

One Art Style...or Many?

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I've read advice recently that illustrators should stick to one art style, which jibes with suggestions I received when starting out that artists working in the commercial field should specialize. Fellow artists have also shared with me stories they've heard the same thing, sometimes expressed adamantly. Well, then I guess I must have been doing something wrong the last twenty-three years, because I've followed my instinct, instead working in a variety of styles, and it seems to have worked out well enough.

Now, I understand where the advice is coming from, and know that it can work. And I can see why art reps and agents look at it this way. But I'm proof positive it's not the only way. Of course, there are benefits or drawbacks whichever way one goes:

Disadvantages to working in many styles:

  • An artist can become a jack-of-all-trades; master of none
  • Art Directors will remember you less easily
  • Artists can lose focus creatively and in marketing their work

    Advantages to working in many styles:

  • It keeps artists fresh and creatively curious
  • It offers up a change of pace and keeps artists from stagnating
  • Artists may discover a style or path preferable to a previous style
  • Artists may snag gigs they'd not land otherwise (this has happened to me)

    But after considering all, one has to find what suits them best. This is similar to my take on an artist's temperament and preferences. Each artist must determine themselves how to achieve the balance between pure personal creativity and making a living through and with their art.

    If an artist follows their own course creatively with that being the priority, income from art may never follow. If it does, that artist calls the shots, having created a market for themselves, but this situation is certainly not one that can be counted on. If an artist stresses the commercial side, they may lean too far towards marketing and lose their way, tailoring their style to what they think and agent or clients may find to be "hot." Even if an artist happens to be successful in choosing and developing a style that earns them a living, they can get stuck with a type of work they find they've grown tired of, or never liked much in the first place. In developing a style, artists should make sure it's true to themselves, first and foremost.

    For my part, I enjoy working in different styles, in different industries, all while trying more to carve out my own creative paths and projects on the side, working to make those a bigger part of what I do for a living. I've more to say on that particular subject, but that's a post for another day.

5

The Ergonomic Artist

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The health of your back is crucial for any person sitting at work all day, so artists certainly qualify, as we spend long hours at the computer screen and/or drawing board hour after hour, day after day, year after year. This can be a concern particularly for those of us getting a little longer in the tooth, so I do a few things that help me prevent and alleviate back pain, and build up core muscles, which you might find of help. Ergonomic Kneeling Chair I must've felt some back pain in my early twenties at the start of my career, as I bought one of those Swedish kneeling chairs. That first kneeler was but a cheap fifty dollar model. There wasn't much to it, just some wood slapped together with a couple pads on it, but I got a few years out of it. And when it broke, I invested in the more expensive model I use to this day. Spread out over more than twenty years, the $400.00 I spent in the mid-80s has ended up costing me about $20.00 a year. A kneeling chair helps you keep your back straight and achieve better posture while sitting, a big plus during (and to lengthen) prolonged periods. The design of the chair transfers weight and pressure from the lower back to the knees, helping relieve stress. In the past when working on site at advertising agencies, stuck in a typical chair, I've experienced massive back pain by the mid-afternoon, forcing breaks to stand up, stretch and straighten. I really feel it when not using my kneeling chair. This ergonomic kneeling chair is similar to the model I use, with the added bonus of newer Tempur® pressure-relieving material (memory foam) inside the seat and knee pads. Also available is the optional backrest for extra support. I recommend a strong steel model like this one with five rotating legs and nylon casters. Setting ones toes against the legs helps provide stability and movement. It comes with a height adjustable gas lift, so you can set it to your preferred height. This is a chair I may be ordering soon while augmenting my studio, although this Swopper is intriguing and demands more looking into. Here's a fine, expansive Swopper review.

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Relieving Pain I received as a gift this past Christmas a Homedics Shiatsu Cushion, about which I was initially skeptical. The first round or two seemed a bit harsh, but now I find it to be a godsend. A couple rollers within the cushion undulate up and down your back for a deep massage (with heat) that feels great. For those rough days when I need something extra to help get me through, beyond the more preventative chair and exercises, the massage cushion takes out the kinks so I can get back to work. For an extra touch, some time in a hot tub never hurts and surely relaxes. Whether at home or at the fitness center or spa, those jets loosen things up after a long day.

 

Build the Core: Exercises Far more important than siting in a hot tub, it's essential to strengthen your core, meaning the muscles in your middle: the lower back and stomach muscles. I try to do both these exercises daily on my Bowflex: the low back row and resisted ab crunch. The latter comes in handy on those days when I'm feeling pain despite the kneeling chair; three quick sets usually clears it right up. Variations of these exercises can be done without a Bowflex, of course. Keep up regularly exercises like these and over time you'll build up those muscles, sit straight more easily, improve posture and feel better in general.

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Weight Loss Extra weight puts pressure on and weakens your lower and back. I'm no one to preach on this subject, as I've work to do (a-hem), but if you're carrying a few extra pounds, try to shed some and give your back a break.

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3

Wireless Phone Headset

Being a social creature with a job which requires an abundance of time spent solo, I need to make sure I find ways to keep in touch with the world beyond while staying productive. Listening to music, the radio, podcasts or audio books while working can help pass the time and keep one company. And the internet can certainly serve this function, too, but can obviously be a danger. For years, I'd have to avoid getting on the phone with friends and family, as holding the handset would keep me from work or hurt my neck. Given that, a wireless headset for your phone can really come in handy.

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I tried a headset in the mid-90s, but the cost was high ($450), the sound quality low, and it wasn't wireless, so I returned it. After researching last year a good deal, I settled on the Plantronics CS-55, and highly recommend it. It's comfy, easy to set up and use, with high sound quality. It's changed and improved how I work, allowing me to draw while talking, or make notes or sketches during phone meetings or conference calls. The headset unit sits on the base to charge when not in use. A single charge should get you ten hours of phone time. Though other options exist, I've found the band over the head works well; I'm afraid the piece that wraps around the ear would eventually hurt. The CS-55 requires a phone set-up as pictured above on the right. It may seem cumbersome, but is preferable to carrying a unit with you on your belt or some such. You can use an existing desktop phone or pick one up cheap on ebay as I did, for only $10 (the Plantronics site offers a list of models with which the headset will work). I'd suggest also getting the HL-10 phone lifter. Rather than lifting the phone off the hook manually, the lifter is attached beneath the handset, and lifts the phone for you make a call, with but a single touch of your finger on the side of the headset. The headset also features a mute button on top, which can come in real handy with interruptions that tend to pop up in the home office, like kids, etc. Amazon.com offers the Plantronics CS-55 and HL-10 in a bundle, for under $200. Purchase it through our Blue Moon Boutique and you'll help support this blog. Many more models can be viewed at the Plantronics site, where you can find the CS-55 or one more to your liking or needs. Happy chatting!

 

2

Freelance Money Matters

freelance-money_72.jpg I wish I knew then what I know now about how to deal with money as a freelancer. I think I've done all right as far as it goes up 'til now, but I had to learn things as I went along, sometimes not getting as early a start as I could have, which is a shame. So I've put together here a few items to give you a leg up. Of those suggestions I've listed below, some are common sense, some we know what to do but put off, and some are "why didn't I think of that sooner?!" Some of these pointers are broad-based and could apply to anyone, freelancing or otherwise, but are particularly helpful for those living the freelance lifestyle, especially if one hopes or expects to go at it long-term. Savings for Living Regardless of your living situation (single, co-habitating, married, providing for dependents), it's smart to save in fluid funds three-to-six months worth of expenses. Freelancing can be a crazy roller coaster ride, and having that cash safety net for the slower periods comes in awful handy. It relieves stress, allows you to make more focused, relatively desperation-free choices about what kind of work to pursue, and when and how to go after it. Pay off your credit card every month Credit cards are convenient and great for keeping track of business expenses. Many credit cards offer cash back for all purchases, so make a lot of sense, especially for large expenditures and investments like computers and studio equipment. May as well take advantage, providing you can be disciplined enough to pay it off every month. Interest is a killer, so avoid it at all costs. Line of Credit For those times when cash flow may be a problem, a line of credit is invaluable as a second safety net. If you're going to pay interest, make sure it's interest you can write off on your taxes, which a second mortgage like this allows. To qualify, you'll need some equity or collateral, so you'll already have to be in debt with a first mortgage, so this will not apply to everyone. There's nothing wrong with renting, especially if you're younger and just starting out. Personally, I preferred owning a home and building up equity as soon as possible, but to each their own. You can use a line of credit to expand your business by purchasing equipment to keep current, or for promotional purposes. In the end, even if you never tap into it, a line of credit is a good idea for peace of mind, at the very least. Buy used cars If you drive, and unless you're freaky for autos, never by a new car. It's a waste of money to buy new, as a car depreciates considerably as soon as you drive it off the lot. Though as a freelancer you may be called on to work on site, much of your time can be spent at home. Either way, there's no sense having a sparkly new vehicle sitting and gathering dust at home or exposed to the elements in a downtown parking lot. If you do drive for work, business meetings and to pick up supplies, make sure to keep track of your mileage, which can be claimed. And when the old car has hit a wall, donate it to a worthy cause like a Veteran's Donation Program like we have here in Minnesota. Then it's time for the next used car. Long Term Savings Saving for retirement is especially important for the freelancer, for reasons mentioned above, and more. Being self employed, you have to create your own equivalent of a 401K account, and no employer will be offering matching funds. I sure wish I'd gotten an earlier start on this, as I'd be in even better shape had I socked away a few bucks here and there when younger and beginning my career. Take advantage of the power of compound interest. This may seem like a boring subject for artists trying to live a creative life, but if you're attentive to it and follow through, you can buy yourself security and autonomy. If you're twenty years old and can set aside even $25 a month, it's better than nothing, and can add up. And if you've waited or couldn't get an early start, it's not too late, just begin now setting aside as much as you can spare, and envision painting and drawing in your retirement without having to worry about monthly expenses. Additional Freelancing Tips I've plenty more I could share about rates, estimates, how to set up a company, licensing and copyrights, etc., but it's been covered comprehensively and in good detail at other blogs, such as Cedric Hohnstadt's and Tom Richmond's MAD blog. Check out these links and their "Business of Freelancing" category pages for some great advice and insights.

0

Creative Preferences and Working Temperament

Having lunch with a fellow artist a couple years back, he described to me his working schedule. He had the same job all year, storyboarding a cartoon, doing about four-hundred drawings per cartoon each quarter, four cartoons a year. Given that, he could schedule his working time, balance it with home and family life, and basically work nine to five, easy as pie, just the way he liked it.

I then gave him the rundown of how things are in my studio, at our house. I work for a variety of clients during each year, sometimes juggling five-ten active jobs at once, oftentimes not knowing what I'll be working on exactly next month, let alone the next week or next day. Our family has gotten used to being flexible, ready to adapt to a new schedule at a moment's notice.

"That sounds awful!" he said.

And I had to laugh. I like it this way, and I think I'd get a bit antsy were I in his situation, which he obviously preferred.

And that's the trick, really, when you're a freelancer, artist or otherwise. You can get all kinds of advice about what kind of work you should do, what pays the best, that you should specialize in this or that, what's the best schedule, etc. But when it comes down to it, you have figure out yourself what works for you. You need to think about and choose what you really want to do, how and when you want to work, then put it into action. If you're not doing something you love, it makes everything that much harder. You have to like what you're doing, and pinpoint when and how you best you perform, then put yourself in those situations more often than not so you'll excel and succeed. For me, it sometimes took a while to learn about myself and my preferences, and I'm still learning, after freelancing now for twenty-three years.

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Early in my career, I worked in the comic book industry, having spent years dreaming of doing exactly that. I met my goal fairly early, at age twenty-two, and drew hundreds of pages over several years. I started out by self publishing, drawing my own characters, then drawing superheroes for other, large publishers like DC Comics. Over time, I became less interested in putting in the many hours it takes to do comics. I realized I'd already achieved the dream. And the kind of comics I really wanted to create weren't necessarily the type on which I could make the kind of living I envisioned. It was time to set new goals, find a new dream.

So I began searching for other kinds of work. It wasn't easy at first making the transition, but I've found a nice balance between doing finished illustration, comics in other fields, and storyboards. Balancing between these three, I can work on long-term projects and those with a quick turnaround. Plus, working fast on storyboards helps me keep loose and think on my feet, not sweat the details, while finished illustration helps me keep that work tight and polished. And with it all, I'm applying the skills I learned in doing comics, what I love the most: telling stories and composing pictures.

Now, there are nights I put in time when I'd rather not, and there are weekends I'm working when I'd hoped to take it easy. But in every case or situation, I make the call. There are times when I'm bushed, would prefer to take a pass, and do. But after a busy weekend, I can always take a break in the middle of the week if and when things slow down. Juggling this way mixes it up, keeps things interesting, and helps me stay creatively fresh. I can also take on certain kinds of work that pay well which allow me to do others of interest that pay less.

I understand some would find my working situation chaotic and make them crazy. Some might prefer more stability and a better expectation of what's coming their way the next day, week, month or year. The key is to find what suits you best.