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.

Confidence or Guts?

“I just need a little more confidence”.

“How can I feel more confident”?

“I just don’t have the confidence to do this”.

I’m not sure you can just “become confident”. It’s not something you can decide you will be or declare it to be so.

Confidence is earned.

The key ingredient to becoming confident (along with a decent haircut, btw) is just plain guts. Releasing your curled toes that cling to the edge of the diving board.  Making the phone call. Pressing send on an email. Showing up at an event that scares the crap out of you. Walking up to the mic and asking the question.

So where do you get the guts? We all feel afraid the first time we did something. And discomfort is all part of growth and skill-building. I mean who was completely confident to sit down with their lunch tray at the cool table in junior high except for someone who had either done it before (and didn’t die) or the ones among us who are truly fearless (or completely delusional)?

But that’s not me and probably not you either.

I remember going to an event with my sister Chrissie a few years back. I have no memory of what the event was, I only remember that neither of us knew anyone except each other. My natural inclination was to skulk along the wall, dart over to the snack table and then slip out the back door (you will notice that I always make sure that snacks are part of any plan worth doing). But no, my sister Chrissie put out her hand to the closest stranger and said, “Hi, I’m Chris”.

Now, what kind of madness is that? Introduce yourself to a stranger? What? You think you’re MOM or something? This is the kind of activity that I felt completely uncomfortable about for years. If fact, when it was Girl Scout cookie time, I actually wrote out a script to try to sell cookies to my very own aunts!

Fast forward a few decades and I realized that my best shot at making any money and fulfilling my creative dreams was to be an independent illustrator, primarily licensing my art for cute and fun products. But that required making calls, sending cold emails, and showing up in person.

How was that going to work?

I had to figure out how to go from here (broke artist with a reasonable okay portfolio) to there (thriving artist with a few royalty streams at any given time). But I figured if I had learned how to draw well enough to go pro—a task that required many hours of practice, study and sheer grit to get better at it, then this part of the biz could also be practiced and studied too. But at the end of the day, it was the “sheer grit” part that took me to the next level.

Was I confident I could do it? Of course not. Was a I bundle of fear and uncomfortable dorkiness? Of course, I was! But the actual doing of the thing that made me the most uncomfortable was the thing that brought me to the thing I always wanted. Yeah, confidence.

And when you have done it enough times and by doing so you saw this thing called “success”, confidence takes over and you don’t need as many guts. You’ll remember, “oh, yeah, I did this before and I didn’t die”.

Confidence comes from accomplishment. Guts come from, well, your gut. When staying where you are no longer serves you and you’ve run out of excuses or diversions, conjure up a memory from when you demonstrated a little moxie (even if you have to go way back to our Girl Scout Cookie days)  and use that feeling to propel you to where you want to go.

I promise you won’t die.


PS. Right after I published this I started researching quotes by Aretha Franklin and this popped up:

“Be your own artist and always be confident in what you are doing. If you’re not going to be confident you might as well not be doing it”.

RIP Queen of Soul

Alexa + Your Creative Biz = Best Friends!

People seem to have a love/hate relationship with voice technology (like Siri, Google and Alexa, Amazon’s voice streaming service). They either love the convenience of being able to get any answers they need by just talking to an inanimate object (as opposed to shouting at Uncle Howard camped out in your recliner at Christmas) or they are pretty sure The Government, Russia and Mrs Peterson from church is listening to your every request.

But even though I have some reservations and would probably refrain from a question like, “Alexa, what’s the best place to bury a body?” I wouldn’t mind asking her to reorder my favorite hair products. So I’ve jumped in!

If you have an Alexa devise and use “flash briefings” , you can add “Your Creative Biz Minute with Ronnie Walter” along with your weather reports, breaking news and tips for getting out household stains. Each week I will bring you a quick tip, a little inspiration and maybe even a nudge to keep being your adorable and talented self— all in less than two minutes.

You can sign up here and let me know how you like it!

The Evil Twins of Your Creative Business

Maybe I’m overthinking this, but I’m pretty well convinced that feeling Overwhelmed and Overthinking every twist and turn of your business are two sides of the same coin. They’re like the nasty twins!

You see, when you Overthink every decision, before you know it Overwhelm stops by to see what’s going on. Soon the two of them are hand-in-hand, wreaking havoc with your creativity and progress. And it’s a proven fact* that when Overwhelm shows up, you shut down.

But part of our job description as creative business owners requires us to brainstorm ideas, tap into our endless well of curiosity, and consider every possible scenario for a problem or situation. And that’s fine—unless nothing ever happens, we freeze in the same spot we’ve been in for days…or weeks…or, oh yeah…years. That’s when you know the twins have moved in and settled down.

So, how do you politely show them the door? Well my dear, meet my fixer friend, Simplicity! When you feel the O-Twins pulling you down into their spiral, stop and simplify. Most situations, when brought down to the simplest terms, fall easily into a yes or no decision. And sure, we all make wrong moves from time to time, but most are small pivots, not business killers.

And here’s something I know for sure. When you’re trying to make your mark with your creativity, the world at large (and by world, I mean your market or audience) only wants to know three things:

  1.     Who you are.
  2.     What you do.
  3.     How do you contribute to this world (or your reason for doing that thing you do)?

And once you can articulate that, you don’t have to Overthink every decision. It either supports your criteria or it doesn’t. Simple, right? It’s a Yes. Or a No. Or a No, for now.

I’m not saying that once you feel more confident in your purpose and pathway, these two persistent devils won’t show up from time to time. That’s normal when you consider how our creative brains jump into overdrive from time to time. (Like maybe right before we fall asleep…). But stay focused on your path, and each time you’re pulled either direction, just ask yourself if it aligns with your bigger goals. (Wait, you do have a few big picture goals, right?) If they do, then plan and schedule for it.

And tell Overwhelm and Overthinking to take a hike and not return—unless they’re bringing the coffee.

The Curse of Curiosity

I was at a party over the holidays and one of my neighbors asked me what I was doing these days. And since I have my elevator speech down, I said, “Besides my illustration work, I also coach artists to help them make more money with their art.”

“How do you coach artists? Isn’t that kind of hard?” he asked as he took a big scoop of my super fabulous Pimento Cheese.

I knew what he was thinking. You know, “all artists are crazy, how can you possibly work with them and anyway, aren’t artists supposed to starve?” Or maybe he was just thinking how awesome that pimento cheese is.  I know I was.

I explained that artists aren’t any different than the rest of the population (I left out that I find us far more interesting, but whatever…), but I told him that although what may look like crazy or off-beat to “the civilians” around us is what we are blessed/cursed with. Or what I would call “hyper curiosity”.

I know you know what I’m talking about.

Hey…what if I…?

But if I do that, will I be able to do that?

Hmmm. That’s interesting. I should research that.

But what about this other thing?

Is that right for me?

Ooh…did you see this thing? That looks so cool!

Wait, what was I working on?

One idea leads to the next, and the next and the next and pretty soon you’ve headed down another rabbit hole, changed your mind and you can’t even remember where all this started.

Not that it’s ever happened to me…

But here’s the thing—that’s how we figure out the good stuff. That’s how we’re built; to see the possibilities, to try new things, to make the old ideas new.

But we’re also built to feed our bodies and have shelter from the weather and the nastier creatures we share with this earth. We must figure out when to stop asking all the questions and start crafting our ideas to reflect what’s happening culturally, helping people express their emotions and figuring out what the heck the market wants—while staying true to our purpose and values.

Now, that’s the hard part.

The Rule of Thirds, Revisited

The best things come in threes. You know, like primary colors, Rock, Paper, Scissors and would a BLT be as sublime without the B, the L or the T? Lionel Ritchie had it right when he wrote the classic song “Three Times a Lady”.

And life would be truly perfect if only they packaged Twix with three sticks.

The rule of thirds in design is all about balance and harmony and there’s a writing concept (particularly in comedy and humor) called The Triple. I use them all the time to illustrate a point, give a few examples and deliver a punch line (see what I did there?).

But, say you’re an artist working toward making a living with your art. What is your trifecta for success? Just like any business the three basics you need are Product, Sales and Market. And two out of three ain’t enough, honey. I know my favorite part is the Product.  Who wouldn’t want to spend all their time drawing the cute pictures, writing the fun words, drinking coffee while chubby Disney-eque bluebirds swoop in and fly off with my designs to clients with big open checkbooks. That sounds pretty cool to me.

And you know we could all be better in the sales department. We’re always a step behind making one more email inquiry, sending a new batch of postcards to Art Directors far and near, staying ahead of Instagram posts and newsletter generation and…and…and…yeah, I get it.

So let’s review.

You can continue to build your amazing portfolio, and be diligently consistent about getting it in front of the powers that be—those people who can actually make a decision to use your art on their particular thing; a licensed product, an editorial piece in a magazine or an illustration for ads and websites.

So that leaves the final piece of the Success Pie.

RuleOfThirdsThe Market.

That thing that changes due to cultural or economic shifts or because of the basic principle of supply and demand (hmmm…anybody notice how many artists there are vying for the work you so desperately want?).

It’s the thing you can’t control.

So as not to completely bum you out that all of your efforts to make a creative career for yourself are out the window, I’ve come up with some (three actually!) ideas on how you can manage (or at least deal with) the best market for your work.

  1. Be aware of the shifts in our culture. Pay attention. Connect the dots. Do you see something bubbling up that will result in a need for a product that serves that group of people? Coloring books are a great example of that. Somebody identified the need for stress release combined with “assisted creativity” and a trend was born. (and I’d like to personally thank them for that.)
  2. Look at your own artwork—have you been ignoring a market that would actually be perfect for your look but you’ve felt like it’s not the right time—or you’re not ready to go after it? Well, guess what? It’s time. And you’re ready.
  3. Do your best work, don’t try to hit a look or a trend because it’s currently popular or because someone told you that you have to work a certain way. Be true to yourself and your work and market to people who get it—and you. It’s a niche-y world out there, kids.

So yes, continue to develop the best portfolio (products) you can, make your best efforts to reach out to decision makers (sales), and try to catch the market as it whizzes by. Sounds like a pretty good plan to me.


License to Draw–How to Monetize your Art through Licensing..and more! is now available in Paperback, Kindle and the super sized Premium Edition. Click here to see which one is right for you.