It’s January 1st, 2014, and time for plotting out my upcoming year. I don’t call these “resolutions” per se, but more of a roadmap for the general direction I want to go this year. There will be inevitable roadblocks and delays, but if I can get to even half my intended destinations, I’ll be happy.
So let’s get to 2014…
What I’m Doing in 2014
I’m hoping 2014 will be the year I can finally break through this barrier I have with sketching. I did a whole talk at Big Nerd Ranch last year about “Blank Page Syndrome” and how it contributes to my lack of art output. I often get wrapped up in deciding what to draw and trying to make it perfect that it takes way longer than it should, and often I don’t even try.
I’ve brainwashed myself into believing everything I put to paper has to be perfect and has to be shared with the world. I’m going to try my best to get over this hump, and hopefully can lean on some fellow artists for support. I follow some guys that do amazing daily sketches and are a real inspiration. Jay Myers is one. If you don’t follow him, you should.
One thing that has helped with sketching in the past is to collect a list of ideas ahead of time. I’ve recently switched my to-do manager from Things to Wunderlist, and have started a list for “Daily Sketches”. I often think of things that would be fun to sketch and stupidly think I’ll remember them. I never do. But with Wunderlist on my Macbook, iPhone and iPad, I always have a way to make a quick note of it for later. Then when I sit down to sketch, I just pick one.
I also grabbed this new daily sketchbook from Amazon. The one I tried last year (which now contains a whopping 28 drawings), just wasn’t working out. It was a small book, and each page was split into two days. Plus, the paper is super thin, so brushed inks would bleed through. I ended up having to switch to colored pencils for coloring anything. This new one is much larger, about 8x10, with one page dedicated to one day. Plus, the paper is thicker. Only issue I can foresee with it, other than being heavy, is that it’s not spiral bound. Could be a pain trying to hold it flat while drawing. If all else fails, I’ll just keep using my toned paper sketchbook, which has a really nice look, too.
One of the things I’ve been struggling with a lot lately is how to display and sell my artwork and prints. I’ve had an Etsy store for quite a while now, with not much success. I only made 18 sales all year, including commissions, and I paid $68 in fees (not including Paypal). Overall, Etsy isn’t bad, but there is a limit to what you can do with it. And your fees are always totally different each month. Items are always expiring, so you have to re-list them again and again.
So I’ve been looking at options. A few weeks ago, I set up a trial store at Shopify. Hands-down, I believe Shopify is the superior platform for building a store and customizing it to your needs. And if you’re a developer, you get full access to everything. I absolutely love it, but it has some drawbacks. The main one is the price. The base tier is $30 per month, which is just out of range for a “hobbyist” artist like me. If I ever got a large enough following and could count on enough sales, it would be a no-brainer. But I just don’t (yet) sell enough to break even at that price point.
The other issue, and this is not unique to Shopify, is the lack of “discoverability”. On Etsy, I often make sales out of the blue to folks who later tell me they found my art through a random search. They might search for “Muppets” and find one of my sketches and buy it. They had no idea who I was before that moment. If all you have is a standalone store on Shopify or Big Cartel, etc, you’re out on an island by yourself. It puts a lot more pressure on you to self-market. Like I’ve said, if you’re Skottie Young with 44k Twitter followers, you can do that. All you have to do is tweet about new artwork and people will go check it out. When you’re still a nobody, your percentages are drastically lower.
I’ve also toyed around with a store on Storenvy. They are similar to Etsy, but also allow far more customization. You have a standalone store, but you’re also linked into their Marketplace, which supports discoverability through searches. One drawback to Storenvy is its lack of support for digital downloads. I can only imagine they’ll have to add that eventually to keep up. Even Etsy supports that now.
Then a few days ago, another option occurred to me. I’ve hosted AtlantaJones.com on Squarespace for a few years now and really like it. I’d forgotten that they’d added ecommerce support in the last couple years. When I first played with it, I wasn’t impressed. They provide a Shopify importer, so I was able to quickly add all my products and give it a spin.
I have to say, overall, I’m pretty impressed with it. It supports physical products, digital downloads, and even “services” as product types. It also supports multiple product variants and groups, all with potentially different prices. This was also a major failing of Storenvy. You can make a variant (like, specifying a matte or glossy print), but you can’t charge differently for each option. You also can’t group variants, to have separate sets of dropdown menus. Squarespace supports Stripe for payments and a bunch of shipping options. I’m not totally happy with my options for displaying a main store page, but as a developer, I have lots of flexibility there.
So I’ve been paying $10 per month for Squarespace for my blog. To open a store, you have to bump up to their “Business” plan, which is $30. In reality, it’s only $20 more, and it lets me integrate even more of what I do into one location. So for now, I’ll put Shopify on hold, and keep going with Squarespace to see how it goes. Most likely, I’ll also keep Etsy around, unless Storenvy just totally takes off. This will all evolve over the course of the year, I’m sure. The main thing will be to start increasing the amount of art I post and trying to drive up my follower counts on Twitter and Instagram. That should also organically increase traffic to my stores (fingers crossed).
Artist Proof Sketch Cards
So over the course of 2012 and 2013, I contributed to two trading card sets:Superman: The Legend, and The Walking Dead. The way it usually works is, you get paid a base fee for each card, then for every so many cards they approve, you get a certain number of blank ones back. These are called Artist Proof (AP) cards. You can then sketch on these and sell them outright for whatever price you want (they’re still subject to licensor approval first).
I’m still sitting on six AP’s for Walking Dead and 5 for Superman. This year I would really like to get those cards drawn and available in the store, or maybe up on eBay. I haven’t done any sketch cards since I finished the last set, so I could use the practice.
Chuck Jones Auction Painting
In both 2011 and 2012, I was fortunate enough to be asked to contribute a painting for the annual Red Dot Auction to benefit the Chuck Jones Center (which I’d done the website for a couple years ago). Was very honored to be invited and happy that they both fetched decent prices in the auction.
I was invited again in 2013 and received my canvas, but somehow everything conspired against me and I just ran out of time. I hated to not submit something, but this year I definitely will.
Towards the end of 2013, I started selling a bunch of shirts with the “Ancient Aliens” artwork. Not sure where the surge came from, but it was enough to get me my first payout from Redbubble. I’ve got several more ideas, so I’m going to make some more merchandise available throughout the year, starting with this Walking Dead/Toy Story mashup (which, ironically, started out as a simple sketchbook drawing).
2013 was a landmark year, in that it solidified something for me: I really, really like to write. Sure, I’ve written blog posts over the years, and at one point thought I wanted to be a screenwriter. But then I get busy with web development, art, or any number of other things. This year, I started reading more, and consequently developed more of a hunger for writing (a new Neil Gaiman book always does that to me). I’ve got a dozen short story ideas filed away, and posted one to the blog already. I have one about done, but got hung up on the ending for a couple months. Then one day, BAM, the ending hit me. I just have to write it down.
I’ve also been writing a lot more for work. I’ve already written two chapters for an upcoming Big Nerd Ranch book (and training course), and since starting in August 2013 have written a total of 7 blog posts (one will be published in early 2014). All told, it’s added up to over 14,000 words. And I’ve got a lot more articles lined up for 2014.
So my goal for this year will be to definitely keep reading more, but also finish 2–3 more short stories. And in between, find some time to keep my own blog fresh. Always. Be. Writing.
What I Might Do in 2014
First Sketchbook, Second Attempt
Last year, one of the end results for sketching more was to have enough art amassed by year’s end to collect them in a sketchbook. It may have been a physical printed book, digital or both. Unfortunately, I felt I hadn’t done enough art to warrant it. However, once I started really looking back through my files, I think I just might have enough, if I sprinkle in some older favorites as well.
So for starters, I think I’m going to try to put together a 2013 book in January or February. It will likely be a digital e-book only, and will compile all the halfway decent art I did that year, plus some noteworthy other pieces, and what the hey, maybe a short story or two.
Then, by next fall, I’ll start planning for the 2014 book. Sounds like a plan, right?
Once again, I’ve utterly failed at a resurrection of my comic strip. I only did one in 2013, and that was in December, a full two years after the last one had been published. Problem with strips is that they just take so long to produce, even going as fast as I can. And ideas aren’t always readily available. Any time I try getting it restarted, I put so much pressure on myself to keep it up, the whole thing just implodes.
So, in regards to the comic, I’ll continue to play it by ear. I’ll do a strip when I feel I have a good idea and the time to do it. Period. Some year might be the “year of the webcomic”, but this probably isn’t it, either.
Artist Commission Site
I continue to be unwavering in my belief that this is a good idea: a web-based service dedicated to making it easier for artists to list, sell, manage and deliver art commissions. Nobody is doing anything exactly like it, and attempts by sites like DeviantArt are pretty lame.
I’m going to have to play this one by ear as well. Whenever I get close to starting, I realize the sheer amount of work to be done and I sort of freak out. Once I get it carved up into manageable chunks, I’ll feel better about getting started. This project depends on how some other things pan out this year, but I’m hopeful.
One thing I’m looking at doing in 2014 is more speaking on web development topics. There are a couple conferences I’d like to submit proposals to, including the CSS Dev Conf, which I attended last year in Colorado (this year it’s in New Orleans). Not sure if I’ll make it in, but even if I don’t, I’ll try to do more internal talks like the one I did on Blank Page Syndrome.
What I’m NOT Doing in 2014
There are always casualties in these roadmaps, and in 2014 there are a couple.
Trading Card Game
This is the idea I had for a trading card game based on the Avengers poster project from 2012. I think it’s still a good idea, and I still plan to do it. Just no place to squeeze it in. I’d almost have to dedicate the bulk of my free time for a year just to pull it off. And I’ll need help.
I’m going to keep my Avatar Commission service on hold for now. Honestly, it’s a mixed bag for me. I really don’t think $25 is enough to charge, but would anyone pay $50? And at $25, it doesn’t feel worth it to haggle with someone who insists the likeness isn’t “just right”. I mean, nobody will argue with me that a Batman commission doesn’t look like Batman. But if they think that drawing doesn’t look like Aunt Judy, holy shit, watch out. Right now, until I can safely raise the rates, it’s just not worth it. That said, once they reopen, I’ll likely also offer caricatures and zombie-fied versions to delight your friends.
So that’s that. Another year, another roadmap. More of a guideline, really. Plans will change and surprises will pop up, some for the positive, I’m sure. But mostly, this is the path I’m hoping to take this year. Watch me do it at the links below!
And hey, why not buy some of my crap?