Friday, February 28, 2014

My New Cowpoke Book Is Here!

I don't care how many books you've illustrated it's always exciting to get that box of new books from the UPS guy - who I gave a BIG hug to - it was awkward.

This book is now available at many retailers and it's the the fourth book I've illustrated by Helen Ketteman (Published by Albert Whitman) What a sweet lady! I had the opportunity to get into a car wreck with her in Houston. We were in the same car when her friend (who was driving) got into a crash. Everyone was fine but it was really nice to see how she comforted her friend who was quite frazzled. You can really tell a lot about someone's character when they're under stress.

Helen is one of those school teachers turned author - dangerous! I think that's why she writes such fun books that kids really seem to love. This one is just pure fun. I think there's been a shift towards books that teach a moral or celebrate a historical event. This book is just fun. Is it ok that we let kids just be kids sometimes and have fun? I'm still a kid and I like to have a little fun once and a while...ok all the time. Anyway if you're looking for a fun book that doesn't teach a darn thing your children might like this one!

Buy There Once Was a Cowpoke Who Swallowed An Ant

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Was Making Our "Gary's Place" Story App Worth It?

Twenty sum years ago when I was going to school the illustration students had an ongoing debate with the fine art students about money and art. The illustrator's argued that illustration was art in spite of the commission and art direction. The fine artists said by nature an assignment takes the artist out if their vision - so it's not art that's being created. I think both sides were right and wrong depending on the individual project but I think it sets up an interesting way for artists to evaluate the value of their work.

This is the blog post where I reveal my sales for my Gary's Place children's story app. Even though we have gotten a handful of 4-5 star reviews -  we've only sold a few hundred apps at $2.99 each in the past two months. This is no doubt disappointing for many of you and I won't pretend it's not a little disappointing for me too but it's only part of the story.

If you've been reading my blog you will remember that I sold tens of thousands (60k to be exact) of my ebooks starting back in 2010 and that I concluded that it was mostly due to market timing - aka “luck”. Now that we’ve had about 4 good years of story app and ebook creation the marketplace has obviously gotten a little noisey. But, most of the noise is coming from ebooks and story apps of low quality.

I still believe that an audience can be cultivated over time with a great story and good art. My long term game plan is to keep working on the series of Gary apps and Rick and Aaron are equally committed. Each new app released points back to the earlier ones and thus each new app becomes a marketing piece.  The total project should gain traction over time.

Over the past 6 months I've received questions such as: Will you be able to make enough money? Aren't you worried that your self publishing will be looked at as a downgrade in the publishing world? Seems like a tough road are you sure this is a good decision? Many people aren’t recouping their time and costs what will you do differently? The marketing seems like the hardest part - are you ready to spend twice as much time marketing your apps?

These are all good questions but none of them address the most important aspect of creating art such as: Are you having fun with it? Are you creating the art you want to make? Do you think children and parents will respond to what you’re doing? Are you committed to doing this for years? If it doesn’t make any money will the enjoyment be enough compensation? ...Yes.

I don’t think most people ask the right questions of themselves in regard to their art. They’ll question my decision to venture down this road while they themselves have been working for years trying to get picked by a publisher - sounds like a tough road. They’ll question how much money I’m making with my apps while they aren’t making much or any money with their artistic ventures. One question I'm never asked is: What are you doing different to engage parents and children? I think people don't ask this one because they are afraid that they can't create something remarkable. I'm affraid of that too and we do spend a lot of time discussing it and working on it!

I can’t think of many successful companies or products that came from following a proven method. Most success stories share a lot of peronal struggle and negative criticism. Apple came from a couple of guys following their dreams of tinkering with computers and listening to professionals that thought nobody would want a personal computer. Stan Lee kept Marvel comics going when everyone told him there was no market for comics. If U2 hadn’t won a $500 contest they wouldn’t have had enough money to record their first demo tape. The stories of artists working on their dream projects and finding success with them years down the road is endless. Yes I hope to be one of them. I’m a dreamer. I work to be able to afford to work on speculative projects.

But what am I talking about money for? I'm in this for the sheer joy it is to find time to tinker with a new medium that allows me to express creative ideas in so many new ways! That's the gold!

But perhaps this kind of speculative project is in my comfort zone because I've had a few successes with my own projects in the past. Starting a freelance illustration business was supposed to be nearly impossible. Making my ebooks was a total unknown in 2010 but has generated a tidy profit. Making and selling illustration video tutorials on my site lead to starting Folio Academy which has been a wonderful addition to my income. That has lead to starting SVS online teaching with Jake Parker which is also been an amazing project.

Each one of these projects has been born out of a labor of love. I love creating art and teaching.

So can money corrupt your art? I think so - if you base your artistic decisions on money you may never explore the projects that your audience will love the most. If you play it safe your art will be more predictable. If you follow the “proven” method you’ll find yourself competing with many who can do what you can...that seems risky to me. You are unique. You have an artistic fingerprint that nobody else can generate. I’m not willing to make all of my artistic decisions based on financial compensation.

If this thing we call art was easy it wouldn't be of much value. If it were easy to make lots of money as an author or illustrator it wouldn't be special. Trust me - you don't want it to be easy.

We should be releasing Gary’s Worms sometime towards the end of March! I’ll continue to give updates on sales throughout the year because I do think that it’s valuable information if not to understand the potential both for risk and reward. I'm a realist. I know you have to eat to live but artists also need to create to live. The trick is to make sacrifices to afford the time to create in your down time.

Make no mistake - Gary’s Place has cost me much more than time. I’ve turned down numerous freelance projects to afford the time to work on Gary...and now that my weekly blog post is finished I'm going to dig in!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

10 Step Digital Painting - Free Webanar!

You know that feeling you got when you were 5 and you got to run downstairs on Christmas morning to open presents? Not to dish on past memories but WOW - I have that feeling again! I'm so excited to be able to create a lesson and share it with people all over the world! Our last webanar "How To Draw Everything" by Jake Parker gathered 879 people from countries on just about every continent - I even saw someone named "Penguin7493" so...

Anyway, we have another webanar coming up on March 1st at 7:00PM MST and this time it's my turn to share my digital painting process. I've broken it down into 10 steps. You know that old saying that I'm about to butcher - "eating an elephant is hard unless you eat him one spoonful at a time..." or whatever but you get the point. If you learn to do something methodically it can not only make the task seem easier but also give you results you can replicate and really that's what's important.

For those who decide to purchase the video recording of the webanar we've decided to throw in some extras this time (we're learning). You'll get 3 things: A PDF study guide with a verbal description of each of the 10 steps. A bonus video explaining in detail how to set up photoshop to use the texture settings in the brush pallet and my FULL photoshop painting with over 30 layers from sketch to finishing touches. This is a high res file over 300mb  - my working file so you can deconstruct the Dragon Rider and see what she's really made of. Use it as your own working file to replicate my layers if you want to. This is a great way to actually see how someone paints in photoshop.

I realize that many people will think I'm crazy for letting my artwork get out there to be used by anyone for any purpose. I think most artists get a little to attached to their work and subsequent self importance. In the end it was 25 hours having a blast doing exactly what I want. If someone makes T-shirts out of it in some other country good luck - send me a picture of all the cash - that'll put a smile on my face!

To attend the webanar is FREE but if you would like to pre-order the video, PDF, Bonus Video, and Dragon Rider Photoshop file get $10 off using coupon code "10step10" - but this will expire the end of the day of March 1 - check out the details in our store.

So you need to get registered for this event in order to be sent your individual joining link from GoToWebanar - simply click here and follow the instructions! See you soon!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Are Visual Arts Degrees Valuable?

Question: Why don't companies like:  Disney, Pixar, Sony, Blizzard, Microsoft, Blue Sky, Mattel, Hasbro, Random House, Harper Collins, and Scholastic hire artists based on whether or not they have a college degree? Lets cut to the chase - it's because colleges and Universities routinely give degrees to students who haven't mastered their craft. This really isn't news but I thought I'd briefly write about this so I have a link to copy and paste to artists who ask me for advice on what degree they should get? The other day an artist wrote to me asking what colleges look the best on a resume for animation studios.

If a bachelors degree in visual arts said anything about the quality of students pumped out each year companies would require and interview applicants with BA's and BFA's. The truth is that these companies couldn't care less that you have a degree. They want to see what you can do. They want to look at your portfolio. They also want you to be semi normal but that's another discussion.

BUT - most professional illustrators DID go through a University or art school program. Most artists aren't motivated enough to impose the rigorous hours of practice necessary or even know what to practice to become professional. Schools provide an exposure and immersion to mentors, professionals, markets, networking, methods & techniques, history, standards, and philosophies. These introductions can unlock hidden desires and passions the beginning student never knew they had. So ironically you should probably go to school (and that could mean everything from University to art school to online classes and tutorials - one or a mixture of them) to get good at your craft but don't think too much about the certificate you get - nobody is going to ask for it.

*The bachelors degree is really only valuable if you want to teach at a public or private school, institution, or college and then you will need a masters degree to top it off. Oh yeah - and getting a degree will make your parents happy.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

If You knew How Much I Used To Struggle!

I know I've talked about this before but I really want you to know 2 things:

1. This art thing that you want to get good at takes a long time - a lifetime really.

2. It's really fun when you start to put all the pieces together and start creating images that gather an audience!

To this day I still have a problem drawing in front of people. I have no problem painting in front of a group but I'm so unsure about my drawings I get really self conscious. This fish for instance goes through a really rough loose stage that changes form many times before I start to see things I like. Often I don't like where it's going and have to start over from scratch - that would make a really fun demo wouldn't it?...and the fear of that happening is paralyzing - so I don't often draw in front of my classes.

I gave the assignment to create a "Fish King" character in my Imagination and Visual Literacy class at UVU and invited my students to send me images to post - some of them took me up on this invitation. I hope they realize that they draw better than I did when I was going to college. I was put on "probation" for being such a horrible artist.

Oh yeah - it was my son Aaron's idea to put fish hooks in his lips - credit where credit's due!

I love the diversity you can see in their work. By nature artists want to be different. Artists want to show the world something they've never seen. Check out Dallin Orr's and Todd wilson's work.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Are We Creating Too Many Artists?

I often get asked these three questions: 

1) Are you worried that you are helping too many artists - that will one day take away your business?

2) Why would you help other people learn how to make story apps and ebooks that will ultimately compete with yours in the market place?

3) Aren't you worried that you will have a bunch of artists copying your style?
I was happy to finally be able to make this video to explain my position on the abundance mentality vs the scarcity mentality. I would love to know how you feel?