An Open Letter to Artists

Hello Friends,

When the world seems a little sideways, that might be the exact time to make art!

Making things helps us make sense of things, takes us to another world, and connects us to others.

If you’re feeling insecure or anxious, I totally understand! But it may be the perfect time to get those feelings onto paper or canvas…I know that’s my approach these days—and it will keep me away from the ice cream, at least for a little while!

Enjoy this short video and take care!

Ronnie

The Power of Drawing

In last week’s Coffee with Ronnie, I talked about how important drawing is to your long-term success as an illustrator. I was concerned that my message was a bit of a “now get off my lawn” moment, but to me, drawing is kind of everything.

If you are self-educated as an illustrator you may have skimmed over the drawing part and gotten right into the design and learning software part of your development, and that may have worked just fine for you. And if it did? Cool!

But here’s the thing about drawing—drawing is a fundamental tool to help you noodle out ideas, make the ideas in your head come to life, and help your audience see what you mean to say. If you analyze an illustration you love, you can probably reverse-engineer it to see how the structure of the work is in the drawing, and you can’t fake that.

It’s why a unicorn riding a bicycle looks believable to you or why you can draw 25 coffee cups stacked on top of each other looks normal to you even though in real life they would all topple onto the kitchen floor. When you know how to draw, you can push your ideas forward in a way that your viewer says, “yep, that makes sense to me”.

It’s about understanding proportion and weight and scale—and more. When you know the basics of drawing, you soon find out that you can draw anything, and to me, that’s freedom! It never leaves you and you only get better with time and practice. It’s why you see accomplished artists and illustrators show up for life drawing nights long after they’ve “made it”.

So if you feel like you are at a place when you can’t quite express the ideas in your head or you’ve come to a point in your career that you feel stifled, maybe you need to back it up and work on your drawing skills. I explore more details on exactly how (and why) to do just that in this video.

Just click below to watch, and you can watch the other videos from my “Coffee with Ronnie” series here.

Also, I am “live” on Facebook most Thursdays at 3pm (eastern) chatting about art, the art biz and how we can keep moving our creative goals forward over the long haul, just click here to find out more!

Dear Auntie Ronnie…

Ever since I was a wee little artist I read all the “agony auntie” columns in newspapers and fashion magazines. I was fascinated by Dear Abby, Ann Landers and the ones in Seventeen magazine (should I break up with Brad before the prom or after???) got me through junior high and high school. And if I had an alternative career, this would be it!

And just so you know, I’ve written these first questions myself, based on common questions and concerns I hear from my coaching clients, but if you have a question, feel free to shoot me an email here.

Dear AuntieRonnie Logo

Dear Auntie Ronnie,

I’ve been trying to make a living as an artist for a while now and I can’t seem to get any traction—heck, I can’t even get anyone to answer to my emails! What am I doing wrong and is there any chance I can “make it”?

Signed,

Talented and Ignored

Dear T and I,

Hey, I hear ya, sister! First, I can’t tell you whether you can “make it” because

  1. I haven’t seen your work
  2. It’s hard to tell sometimes whether the market will respond to a look before it’s out in the market, but that doesn’t help you one bit now does it?
  3. I don’t know everything. (what?)

But here’s what I can tell you. This all takes time, even in the best of scenarios. Timing of decision making and production cycles are not in your control so you might be contacting the right kind of people but at the wrong time. Hey, that happens.

But I would ask you to be honest with yourself. Are you spending enough time in the efforts needed to get your work in front of the people you want to work with? Meaning; have you identified the categories and sharpened your view on where your work would be most successful? Or are you sending your work only to people that everyone else seems to be sending to or in a random (meaning non-strategic) manner? And are you clear in your messaging of who you are, what you do and why their customer might respond to your work?

Building a client base (either with licensing or any business model you are working in) takes time—like a lot of time. Of course, things can happen faster when you have a body of work that clearly resonates with your market (plus a few lucky breaks) but in general be prepared, for a it can be a longish slog.

I would suggest you put yourself on a schedule of sorts. Add “getting in front of people” at the top of your to-do list, not at the end. Make a commitment to a certain amount of emails per week which includes following up with previous contacts (as they say in sales training “the fortune is in the follow-up”). Looking at the longer view, take advantage of any opportunity to meet with potential clients in person whether that is through workshops, conferences, shows (if that seems right for you), and other networking scenarios.

Consider this kind of a plan. I like to look at my year by quarters. I ask myself, “what do I want to accomplish next quarter”? A quarter is 12 weeks. How many contacts could you make per week x 12? That can be a lot of you do it consistently! At the end of those 12 weeks, you should evaluate the results. What worked and what didn’t? Plan for the next 12 weeks and repeat. By looking at your year in 4 chunks, you can evaluate what happened. And if it’s “not much” then you either need to change your approach, the market you are targeting or maybe even the work you are offering.

But here’s the thing. Maybe your efforts will not work. Bummer, I know. You must get your work in front of people to know if they want it or not. That’s the only way to know. And the answer could be, “thanks, but no”. Then what will you do?

And only you can decide how much time you will spend on building this business before you decide to either pivot your attention to another market or method or go in a complete other direction using other brilliant talents in your bag of tricks. I do not subscribe to the “if you dream it you can do it” philosophy. I’m more in the “if you dream it, you can see if it will work and then you have to figure out something else if it doesn’t” camp which  admittedly is not very Pinterest friendly.

But I know how that feels and sometimes it’s not us at all. But by being honest with ourselves and how we are really spending our time, sticking to a plan or strategy long enough to see results and then evaluating those results, we can see a clearer path for say, the next upcoming quarter.

And I wish you all the best!

Love,

Auntie Ronnie

This always cracks me up

But when I heard a story years ago about stores with “n-stuff” and “n-things” at the end of their names, it stuck with me. So this Coffee with Ronnie video compiles a few “things-n-stuff” to help your creative business grow. Enjoy (n-stuff)!

Cathy Heck + Julianna Larsen = Pure Delight!

These two! Okay, I had a blast interviewing my old pal, designer Cathy Heck and her a-MAZ-ing daughter Julianna Larsen. We talked about Cathy’s pathway to designing some of the most charming products on the market, how they chose to expand their business when the economy was a bit wobbly and some great stories on working on and in a family business. Just click here to watch and be prepared to giggle!

How do you know if you’re ready?

Like really ready?

Well with some things like athletic achievements (which I know exactly nothing about) you would train, increase your speed, or weights, or times or other sportsy measurements and then you’d know exactly when you were ready for the next step.

Or say you have a job. You perform over and above the expectation of the job, you’d take all training that was offered, and probably volunteer for extra projects. Eventually, you’d spot the next rung on the ladder and go after a promotion or a better job because you have increased your skills—both business and the “people” kind and you would, for the most part, know you were ready.

In each of those scenarios there are obvious markers, guideposts, or someone saying, “Yes, you’re ready to move on”.

But what if you’re on your own; forging the path of bringing your creative ideas and amazing self to the world, how do you know if you’re ready?

Well, guess what?

You don’t.

You just have to be ready enough.

You already know that stepping out of your comfort zone is hard. Not like, “Oh, I have to speak to the Joint Session of the UN with 10 minutes notice” hard. More like, “He-e-e-y? I’m been working on this idea for a while and I’d really like you to see it” hard.

Way different.

And here’s a little secret: you don’t have to be ready for everything that could happen as a result of you moving forward, because frankly, you can’t be.

It’s impossible to know all that.

But you’ve done hard stuff before so you know that with any move you will have some discomfort. And discomfort isn’t so bad. I mean, you go to the dentist occasionally, right? You use self-check-out scanners at the supermarket from time to time*. These things aren’t fun, but you have proved over and over in your life that you can do the uncomfortable, the awkward, and the “deep breaths, we’re almost through here” moments and come out better for it on the other side.

I actually think you are readier than you think you are. And so do the people around you**. I mean, haven’t you been dreaming about and reading about and talking about this thing for like, years already?

So yeah, you’re ready enough.

And you know it.

*actually the invention of the devil

**Trust me, I talked to all of them and they said you are more than ready for this thing.

Don’t forget that I am live on Facebook each Thursday at 3pm eastern time talking about how me manage this creative life (and these creative brains). The videos are also on YouTube!

Be that person.

The one who shows up consistently.

The one who plans.

The one who says, “I’m pretty sure I can do that”.

The one who says thank you.

The one who tries to figure it out.

The one who asks for help.

The one who tries again.

The one who is easy to work with.

The one who reaches out first.

The one who knows when it’s time to rest.

The one who says, “How can we fix this”?

The one who laughs.

The one who looks at things from a new perspective.

The one who sends the note.

The one who finds a little magic.

Happy New Year!

I’m having a slow-ish start to the year. And from a few conversations I’ve had recently, you might be too.

I mean, I’m all about looking back on the year with the usual questions like:

  • So where DID the money come from last year?
  • What made my heart sing and what were the slogging through-quicksand projects?
  • And if the money came from the quicksand projects, how will I change that up this year?

You know, the usual.

So I evaluated and pondered and reached out to the people I trust though phone, email and across the couch (that’s Jim, btw) and sat with the information at hand for a bit.

And here’s what I know:

I want to make meaningful work that enhances my skills and interests.

Well, that’s pretty generic, Ronnie!

Yes.

And no.

As I make my practical plan for the new year, everything on it must meet that criteria. So with each opportunity, I need to ask the following questions:

  • Is it within my skills? (sure, I’ll stretch a bit—after all I taught myself video editing last year!) But if I need to learn a new skill to do something, how much time is taken away from the “doing something” to learn “the something”? And is that a better use of my time than developing more content that fits better?
  • Am I interested in it? We all see things go by us and think “hey, I can do that” but is it something that will hold my interest once it’s done? I don’t have time for trend-chasing, flash-in-the pan, hey that’s pretty cool detours from my best work.

And finally,

  • Is it meaningful? It doesn’t have to change the world, but it does need (for me, anyway) to be useful, to be helpful or to make someone else feel better. That includes coaching, teaching and even my art practice.

How are you approaching 2019?

Slow re-entry or with a hands-on-hips power pose ready to crush it this year?*

What are the questions you need to answer?

*Well, good for you but you’re making me a little tired.

What’s so wrong about having a job?

Most of the people I talk to are on some sort of self-employment journey. They may license their art onto products (or are try to), they sell their fine art in galleries and/or on line, or they cobble together teaching on-line and in person, selling digital products, or painting custom art. And as long as all the pieces fit together into a living that can sustain you in good times and bad, then all is good, right? I attended AdobeMax—The Creativity Conference last week which was a multi-sensory, FitBit steps busting, stimulating conference beyond the usual trade show or touchy feely workshops I’m used to. There was pulsing techno music, seizure inducing strobes and more day-glo colors that I’ve seen since my college years (and that was just introducing Questlove and Ron Howard as the keynote speakers). In one of the many sessions offered, I attended “The Gig Economy is getting Gigger” *, a panel discussion aimed at how to manage and balance your freelance business. And according to these smart people, they predict that within our lifetime, ** over 50% of the workerforce will be freelancers instead of traditional employees. I found that number a bit staggering since it has been my experience that not everyone is cut out to run their own business. And if you’ve read my blog for more than five minutes you know that this choice is not for the faint of heart. But if half of the working population is freelance, will it become easier to do so or will it degrade to the point that we will all be grabbing at whatever scraps “the man” throws our way? Dang—anybody as depressed as me right now? But there’s a thing I’ve noticed. Maybe it’s an American thing (anybody want to chime in on that theory?) but every time someone shows promise in a certain area (music, art, plumbing) the reaction is “You should sell those/You could make money at that/You should turn pro” or something else that commands you to monetize whatever it is that you have shown proficiency in. (But if you like plumbing you should definitely do it for a living—that’s where the real money is!)
We have this cultural idea that the only value in the thing you do is what is it worth out in the market—and if you are not planning on “making it big” then, well, you should change your thinking, so you can “make it big”.
But what if you don’t want to? Or you have no prowess to start and run a business? What if you don’t want the often lonely and uncomfortable feelings of always pushing a rock up hill. What if you want to have regular hours and built in collaborators and people around you that do some of the stuff way better than you can and you get to excel in the piece that you are hired to do? And what if you want, in exchange for your skills, a paycheck every two weeks so you can actually plan how you will run your life within your means instead of wondering what the next royalty check looks like? Is that so bad? Oh, sure, “job jobs” are not a sure thing these days. They are hard to come by at times, they tend to come and go more frequently than they used to and invariably someone WILL reheat fish in the break room microwave, but maybe you’re better suited for that life instead of always thinking about the next project and the next elusive client. Maybe you don’t have to buy into the “The Only Goal is to be an Entrepreneur” myth in order to have a nice successful life. Maybe you can be employed and have a little side hustle that brings in a little more coin, OR you could have free time to actually enjoy creating art without the pressure of “making it big”. Crazy, I know. So what are the advantages of a “job job”?
  • Regular income that you can plan on.
  • Collaborative work environment (you hope anyway) and exposure to alternative ideas.
  • Being part of something bigger than you can grow yourself.
  • Professional development—not just gaining knowledge about technical advancements but working with people who know more than you and can serve as inspiration for your next career move.
Think about that and be honest if you may be more suited for traditional employment or if you are built more for self-employment. If you’ve been freelancing for a while, don’t look at a job as a failure. Look at it as an opportunity to up your skills and come home at the end of the day knowing that you did what needed to be done and you don’t have to spend all night worrying what you have to do tomorrow to keep the roof over your head.*** If you’re employed, trust me— the grass over here is not always greener. In fact, there can be more dry patches developing than you can reseed in time for that lush lawn to grow. And what we all know for sure is, nothing is forever. You can always go one way or the other (well, mostly) and make it work. Just be true to who you are, what your skills are and be honest with what you really want out of life. And somebody will be super lucky to be the recipient of all that good stuff you have to offer.   *Of course, I thought it should have been called “The Gig Economy is getting Giggier” but they didn’t ask me. **Not sure if they meant my life time or the life left in the decidedly younger attendees at this particular conference, but whatever. ***I’m talking ideal scenarios here, not about the jobs with the cray-cray boss or the impossible schedule that makes you cry each night on the commute home. Not that I know anything about that.

The No Response Response

You’ve carefully chosen the potential clients that you have always dreamed of working with. You’ve developed a portfolio you are sure will resonate with one of them. It’s based on your research of their company, current trends in the market and how your work would dovetail with their product lines or editorial viewpoint. You’ve crafted a succinct, personalized email addressed to a specific person you want to reach, and after carefully proofreading it, you hit “send” with a flourish. Then you go make yourself another cup of coffee and pat yourself on the back. You’re feeling good. You love everything about what you do and can see all the possibilities as you build the kind of business you’ve been planning for. Sigh. And then some time passes (a week, two, maybe three…) and you realize you haven’t heard back from them yet. “Oh, well,” you think, “I’ll just send another quick email with a few more carefully selected visuals and a nice follow-up note. Let’s see if that helps them understand what I do.” But you don’t hear back after that either. So, you:
  1. Decide that you are a total hack and never deserved this career in the first place.
  2. Go back into the studio and draw more pictures while ignoring all marketing efforts since they apparently never work anyway.
  3. Increase the frequency and volume of your emails to this person because now it’s personal, darnit!
  4. Decide “well, it’s their loss,” and keep moving through your list of potential clients.
Now let’s sit on the other side of the desk for a moment and review some of the reasons WHY you haven’t heard back from your potential client. Things like:
  1. They are uber crazy busy and get so many requests from artists that they can’t possibly respond to each one. Responding to your submission lands somewhere below prepping for their next production meeting, dealing with their assistant who is crying in the lady’s room again, finding a container of product hung up with customs, picking up their sick kid or dealing with their crazy boss.
  2. They like your work but don’t have a place for it right now, and they hope they’ll remember you when the time comes, but right now they don’t have the time to craft an email telling you that (see #1).
  3. They are too nice to say, “Your work is not right for us and I don’t think it ever will be,” so they just hope you’ll get the hint if they don’t respond to you at all, and you will go away quietly.
  4. They just may be kind of rude and figure, “meh, it’s just another artist, there’s always another one.” (No! That can’t be true!)
  5. They have a policy that they only respond to art that they want to move forward on.
And since you have NO IDEA where they are on this spectrum you don’t really know how to proceed. But here are a few options you might consider:
  1. Keep following up on a regular basis, because you never know which piece you send might turn into “the one” (or when, so don’t attach emotion to the outcome of that follow-up activity or you will drive yourself nuts).
  2. Try one last time but this time with a non-confrontational but direct question. Something like: “Hi Joan, I’ve been sending you some artwork to consider and I haven’t heard back from you. I know how busy you are, but could you let me know if you think there’s any potential for my work at your company? I’m happy to keep sending if you do.” Joan can either look at the previous work you sent and get back to you with a “Thanks, but no, I don’t think this is right for us.” type note OR… a “You know, I like your work, but I don’t have the right project right now. But keep me posted on new work, okay?” Of course, old Joanie can ignore that email too, and now you can feel free move on—until of course, you have something new and different to send. Then send that.
  3. Keep them on your email list for announcements or invitations to shows etc. (if they have signed up, of course) but stop the personalized chase for now.
  4. Stew over it until you are so cranky that the only remedy is consuming salty snacks while whining to everyone around you how unfair the world is.
  5. Acknowledge that if the work you sent was right for them straight out of the chute, you would have heard from them already. Heavy sigh.
And here’s a little note to our beloved Art Directors (and Agents, actually): Would you consider establishing some quick email responses to artists who have reached out to you? The artists who are working so hard to present their work to you will be ever so grateful! And because I know how busy you are, I’ve written a few that you can feel free to cut and paste into your response emails: To the artists whose work is pretty cool, but not right for you right now: Dear Artist, Thanks so much for reaching out to me with your work. Although I think it’s great it doesn’t quite fit what we are looking for right now but do stay in touch in the future. To the artist whose work will never, ever be right for you: Dear Artist, Thanks so much for reaching out to me with your work. I don’t think your style is a good fit for our company, but I wish you all the best in your future endeavors. To the artist whose work is amazing, but your company would never consider that look or style: Dear Artist, Wow-great work! Although I personally love it, this look isn’t right for our particular customer; I am sure you will find a place for it in the market. My best to you and do stay in touch. And every artist’s personal favorite: Dear Artist, where should I send the contract and the big bag o’ money? So, there you have it. It’s either about you—or it’s not. They either like your work—or they don’t. It can be really frustrating and definitely dis-heartening to not get any response from your efforts. But after a period of time (and only you can be the judge of what that is—6 months? Two years? Before you turn 67?), and despite your best efforts, you have never gotten a response, you probably need to re-think some things. Either the list of people you want to work with, the market you are going after, or the art you are offering. And who know what will happen if you face that fact and make some adjustments rather than staying put at any cost? You may discover a company or a market out there that thinks you are the most awesome artist ever. I just hope they let you know.   PS. If you’re interested in a simple approach to finding clients, take my short Skillshare class called: Getting Clients—The 5 X 5 Plan to Get Focused, Reach More Clients & Stay Sane