The Answer Scale

It’s that time of year again. No, not the time of year when you start realizing that yes indeed, there will be a summer this year. Or if you’re in Florida, they are reminding you that hurricane season is right around the corner. Not those seasons!

If you’re an artist in the business of trying to secure contracts to work with amazing people who want to license (or buy) your amazing designs to use on their amazing products, you know exactly what time of year it is—it’s showtime, baby!

Between Surtex, Blueprint and Licensing Expo, the next few weeks are all about last minute preparations, packing, picking cute outfits, getting your nails done*, a few sporadic mini-panic attacks and constant low-grade worry—plus all that follow-up on the other side. Or maybe you’re like me and are attending to stay connected to the industry, meet and mingle with all those delightful people and absorb a trend or two. (In other words, my only panic is cute outfit selection and hope for a three-day good hair run.)

So, whether you are sitting behind a table at any one of those shows, emailing your work to a decision maker (or conjuring up the nerve to) I have good news for you. The responses you will hear do not have to be soul-crushing or career ending or anything of the sort. In fact, study this handy “Answer Scale” guide so you can figure out exactly where you are in the conversation.

And do you see the worst thing they can say to you? It’s “no thank you”. That’s not so bad, is it? Or a variation is, “it’s not right for us”. That doesn’t mean its not right for them ever, or not right for anyone ever it’s just not right for these people right now.**

So let’s review. “No Thank You” is the worst, with the best being some variation on (cue the angel chorus), “we’re sending a contract”. And each answer in between should be considered a win.

If possible, try to relax a little bit and take a tiny minute to congratulate yourself on what it took you to get to this place. And if you are at any of the shows, soak up as much inspiration and artist comradery as you can and learn how you might get more “we’re sending a contract” responses than “no thank you’s”.

And I’ll see you soon!

*twice a year whether you need it or not.

**And if they happen to say anything worse than “no, thank you”, you probably don’t want to work with them anyway, now do you?

 

How does your brain work?

Despite my constant defense that artists are not crazy (well, no crazier than the rest of the population), I do think our minds work slightly differently than, say, a software engineer, research librarian or the restaurant server who remembers everyone’s order without writing anything down. If Wally Waffle had required me to commit the entire menu to memory, I may not have made it through that second year of art school.

Over the years I’ve managed to accept that multiple tracks of information, ideas and every embarrassing moment of my life are all running at full speed and I’ve even devised a few methods to stop at the right station in order to get something (anything) done. So what do you do to corral the ideas, quiet the chatter and forgive yourself for that thing you said? Personally I am pouring all of it into drawing cartoons, writing and teaching what I know so I can blessedly sleep, knowing that it will all be waiting for me in the morning.

HonorYourBrainPS. My new Skillshare class, “How to make Money with Art Licensing” is now live. Use this link to get 2 months free–just think what you could learn in just two months!

I give up.

I give up.  All. The. Time.

Every time I start something new I think, “Is this working? This may never work. Maybe I should give up.”

And then I don’t. And then I work on it some more and get to a certain point and consider giving up again.

Wash. Rinse. Repeat.ImHere

It’s kind of like how you feel when you attempt to grow out your bangs (or “fringe” for my non-US readers). You give up a million times and then one day you decide you will stick it out through all the phases from “more hair product “ to “odd head bands” to “I can finally tuck it behind my ears” to full on pony tail. And then of course, you look at some old pictures and realize that you really did look good in bangs/fringe and off you go to the hair stylist.

Yeah, it’s like that.

I muddle through the indecision and messy false starts and debate giving up oh, a dozen times a day. But then I sit back and try to look at things with a fresh eye and move forward.

Or right before giving up (again) I call Debi or Marianne or Abby or Niya or I take a walk with Jim and ask, “What do you think? Will this work?”

And usually (since they have all given up a couple dozen times that day too) we noodle through whatever it was that was making me think about giving up and I can move on.  There’s a difference between giving up and blindly moving forward. It’s the space in the middle that makes it work–the “oh, what if I tweak this or that or keep this and toss  that”  until you realize that you only need to give up on the bad parts–not all the parts.

That’s how creativity works. Ideas and plans don’t always move from one smooth transition to the next but through clunky processes, doubt, rethinking, and sometimes a gentle nudge from someone else. They need to bump into the status quo, push the envelope, bring something new to the table. There’s a reason there are all those clichés about creativity.

Because they are true.

So, yeah, go ahead and give up. You’re in good company.

What if…?

ronniespeaking

A few weeks ago I spoke to six (count ’em 6!) classes at a local high school. I was asked to speak to a variety of classes about how I use technology in my business because apparently just as we used to say, “why do I have to know how to use a slide rule?” they are saying “why do I have to know how a spread sheet works?”  Yeah, I know.

So I put together a talk about how even though I draw pictures and talk to people for a living my business if no different from say, Boeing or Target or Hostess Twinkies except they are super large and I am super tiny. We still have to deal with things like Sales, Marketing, Finance, Customer Service and Production (that’s the picture drawing part). Those big guys have entire departments to manage those things but I just have little old me (and little old Jim) to pay attention to each aspect of the business. I explained to them that in order to handle those things I use technology for keeping track of customers and money, to make the production side easier (you know, like Photoshop?) and word processing so that me can write pretty some day (stole that line from David Sedaris).

And for the most part they listened and nodded and asked me really good questions—except the students in the 7 am hour because—7 am. I like speaking at these kinds of events because I want the students to see a couple of things.

Like:

  1. You can indeed have a career essentially doing the same thing you did in third grade.
  2. You can do it no matter how damn old you are.

I also love these kids because it brings me back to that simpler/confusing/horrific place called high school and how it feels to be figuring out what your eventual place will be in this world.

But this is a long way to tell you a sweet story.

You know how whenever someone has a hugely horrible thing happen to them or a horrendous illness or they dangled over a cliff for two days holding on by their shoe lace and they say, “Well, if I can just help one person then it was all worth it”? That’s how I feel about appearing in a classroom at 7 o’clock in the morning. I know, I’m a giver.

I don’t know when the last time you were in a high school, but some of the ninth graders look like they still get a sucker at the doctor’s office while the seniors could be substitute wrestlers at the most recent WWF match.

As one of the classes got themselves organized, I chatted with 2 boys who showed me what they were working on in Photoshop. They told me all kinds of things that were completely over my head while I smiled sweetly and pretended that they weren’t 4,286 steps ahead of me in the Photoshop learning curve.

I proceeded to give my talk and then, as the class reorganized themselves for the next session, one of these boys quietly asked me a question. Now picture this. He’s one of those tiny ninth graders, holding an enormous stuffed to the gills backpack on his lap. He peered over the backpack and quietly said, “Can I ask you a question?”

“Sure”, I responded.

“Where do you get your ideas?”

“Ah, good question!” I answered. That would have been a good question to be asked in front of the whole classroom, but of course in the emotional quagmire which is high school, there was no way this kid could have asked his question out loud since he would have not been able to predict if his simple inquiry would  set off a chain reaction of humiliating interactions for years to come.

But I told him this: Every time you are starting a new project or get stuck on a particular part of a project ask yourself “What if…?”

What if this is bigger? What if this is smaller? What if it’s red? What if it’s black? What if I market to a new audience? What if I find a new client? What if I develop my own products? And if that doesn’t help you move forward, you can do what I told this kid to do.

Open a folder on your computer and name it “I don’t know where I’m going with this” (yes, I have one of these folders). And the next time you find yourself looking for ideas, look in that folder first and you may see those ideas in a different light. He smiled and thanked me and then hoisted that giant backpack on his back and off he went to his next class. I hope I helped him, both creatively and of course metaphorically (because I am deep that way).

Oddly, time and distance help us see the path more clearly sometimes. And that’s when you grow from that little kid peeking over your backpack to the professional wrestler you were meant to be.

 

Ronnie Walter is an artist, writer and art business coach.  She has mostly recovered from high school.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

When Bad Things Happen to Good Artists

RonnieInCup-WEBIf you know anything about me, you know I’m pretty positive. I try to be upbeat in the worst of situations, in fact sometimes I feel like I am cursed with a sunny disposition.

And I know how much we want to put a rainbow and Skittles® face on how super uber fabulous drawing pictures for a living is. And it is.

Mostly.

I have been in the illustration biz almost longer than I have not been. I have had products that stayed on the market for years generating good royalties in some of the biggest retailers in America. At any given moment I have projects cooking, my work is under consideration somewhere and the royalty fairies are working their magic.

I have managed to not have a ”job job” despite the cultural bias that says that artists can’t be successful and we’re all a bunch of flakes. OK, maybe the second part of that can be true in some cases, but I’m not naming names. Although I could.

And of course, getting paid via royalties can involve wild swings from “I’m rich!” to “I’m broke!” over the course of any given year (or week). And truth be told, I have managed to make enough money to not worry every night about whether or not I will be eating cat food when I’m 82. I mean, I even went on vacation that one time!

So far, so good.

But what do you do if, for instance, in spite of your best efforts you never ever get that client or project you want? Or things were going along swimmingly, and then all of a sudden pulling together your next mortgage payment, or student loan–or grocery money—becomes tricky at best, or maybe scary beyond what you have previously known in your life?

What if a project that showed so much promise and consumed months of your work and talent tanked at retail? Like really tanked—even though all kinds of pretty smart, experienced people gave it the green light every step of the way?

What if you were having conversations with someone about a juicy awesome project and you shared your whole bloody hopes, dreams and unique plans with them, and five minutes after they passed on it (with you) you see that they have implemented your hopes, dreams and unique plans with someone else?

Or (deep breaths, kids) you found yourself in the middle of a (gulp) really expensive lawsuit?

Well, there! How’s that sunny demeanor working out now? And just so you know, over the course of my career every one of those things has happened to me at least once. Thankfully, not all in one year but spread over lots of years of drawing pictures for a living.

Ask anyone who has a business doing anything. The guy who owns the tire store. Your hair stylist. Heck, even your gynecologist (because who doesn’t like a bit of small talk during your exam?). They will tell you this: business is fraught with risk. And rewards. That’s why many of the wealthiest people in the world are business owners. They have weathered any number of hardships and slip-ups and bone-headed moves and still managed to stay focused on the big picture. Of course, many businesses do not make it. That does not make them horrible people or losers or any kind of “less-than”. But most of them will tell you, it’s not how many times you fall; it’s how many times you get up that makes the difference. And knowing when enough is truly enough helps too.

Each time I was tripped up I chose to get up. To brush myself off. To absorb the hurt and maybe the anger. To make it right when I could. And forgive myself when I couldn’t.

And then I go find something funny or surround myself with the people who love me and still think I am adorable and hilarious.

And then I draw a picture. Or maybe two or three.

Passion, Purpose…Paycheck?

2Coffees-WEBDon’t we wish they were one and the same? Because that’s the dream, right?

Picture this: Each morning you waltz down the cobblestone path to your vine covered studio, clad in a breezy white linen tunic with soft leather (vegan leather if you like) shoes in teal or raspberry or sage that appear to have been crafted by a hobbit to your exact specifications, but on you they look somehow elegant and effortless.

You slowly sip your cold-brewed coffee as you prepare to start your day. You’ll spend the next 2 or 3 hours on a painting, or that screenplay you’re writing; only interrupted by the chirps of the chubby bluebirds on the windowsill as they serenade the Shetland pony in the field across from your organic garden.

Your phone rings and it’s your editor or your agent or George Clooney hoping you can join them for a quick bite–on their yacht–to discuss how much they love your current paintings/screenplay/novel/in-depth exposé of what is really in tofu.

Oh, and then you wake up. And realize that although what you really want to be doing is paint/write/share your brilliance, reality hits. You know what I’m talking about; those pesky things like paying the electric bill, raising the children (apparently they don’t raise themselves) and going out for the occasional meal you don’t have to cobble together yourself.

Those things.

So is it unrealistic to expect your passion to hand you a paycheck now and then? Maybe. But when you get right down to it—maybe your passion might take the form of writing or painting but it’s really about what your purpose is in doing that thing. Do you want to help people say things that are hard to say? Do you want to bring joy and happiness to others? Do you want to stir things up, rattle a few cages?

Because maybe if you switch “your what” to focus on “your why” you can start to imagine the value—and if it resonates with some, it might just resonate with others.

Then you can spend the afternoon strolling through the woods to find that hobbit cobbler–I hear he now offers those shoes in celadon.

That thing you do…

KittyThing-WEBHow’s that thing of yours going?

The thing you’ve been dreaming about and planning and training for?

That thing.

How’s that going?

Do you love it?

Do you think you’re supposed to love it but it’s not exactly working out how you thought it would and now you don’t love it as much as you once did?

Is it harder than you thought it would be?

Are you making progress? Does it look like it’s going to work out?

Are you still doing it because you’ve met some cool people there and well, they seem to be pretty happy with that thing so that probably means you should be pretty happy too, right?

Are you feeling a bit guilty that you’ve devoted a whole bunch of time and a fair amount of money to make it work and you’re thinking, gee—maybe this isn’t really the thing I want?

Do you find yourself doing a thousand other things rather than the things you think you should be doing to move this thing forward? Do you think that tells you anything?

That’s kind of a big thing, you know.

Sometimes a thing needs to be revisited, re-tooled, or revised to bring it closer to the thing you wanted.

But you? You’ve got this thing.

 

Arrow-AquaBlueSigning up for my newsletter gives you all the news from the studio, sneak peaks of the blog posts and links to fun stuff that can add years to your life and several more bags of money to your attic (full disclosure–it’ll just be fun and informative!) The sign-up is right over there on the right hand side of the website–or just fill in that annoying random box that pops up now and then. Thanks, dolls!

What I’ve Learned Half-way through my 100 Days Project

bossofyouRoughly 52 days ago I decided I would start a 100 Days Project like I have seen other artists do on Instagram. Or some do 365 Days of Paintings or 52 Weeks of Something. There are any number of ways to slice and dice the concept.

Before I started, I pondered what I would—and could–commit to. I decided to do 100 Days of Advice as my concept and hashtag. I thought this would give me a broad enough subject so if I wandered about with funny ones, or super serious or heartfelt advice I would still be within the parameters I had set up for myself. But it also allowed me to stay focused and not head into the all too familiar “what the heck should I do?” territory of creative life.  And I reminded myself that there weren’t any 100 Days Police out there ready to write me a citation if I headed in a new direction, skipped a day or abandoned the whole idea and turned to How to Make Oven Mitts out of Bath Mats as my next project.

Here are some things I learned so far:

  • Some days it’s really hard! Even though you have set your intention about what you want to do, actually continuing to have ideas—or enthusiasm–can be difficult to conjure up. But soldier on, my darlings—let yourself off the hook by doing simpler designs some days or a shorter message and get on with it!
  • Consistent daily action toward anything will bring you progress. If you picked up a harmonica tomorrow and practiced for the next 99 days thereafter, I’m pretty sure we could recognize a lively rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching In”*. In 100 days you will have an enormous body of work that you didn’t have before—now how cool is that?
  • As I look back on even these first 50 days, I am definitely seeing an evolution of my work. I don’t know where it will take me yet but I know that at the end I will have 100 seeds of ideas to develop further, to group together in ways I couldn’t see before and I suspect a few creative a-ha! moments.
  • Posting for 100 days in a row (more or less, trust me–people aren’t counting) will increase your visibility on Instagram and wherever else you post. More followers, potential clients or interesting projects have the potential to come your way because You. Showed. Up. Doing a consistent daily action and not sharing it is a valid way to grow as an artist, but if you want to be seem—or make money—you need to show it to the world.

So how do you start?

beginagainPick a date. Any date. Or join a group that is doing it together. The adorable folks at They Draw and Cook are starting one beginning April 19th. Go see them on Instagram to join the fun.

Pick your topic. Make it broad but specific (ha!). You might just share 100 Days of Sketches or 100 Days of Flowers or you can get more specific and do 100 Days of Wildflowers or 100 Days of Cupcakes—you get the idea. Pick something that you are pretty sure you can accomplish but not so narrow that by day 37 you are sick to death of it!.

Once I finish my 100 Days of Advice, I know what my next topic will be—it may kill me, but I won’t know until I try, right?

You can follow along with my #100DaysofAdvice—I am @ronniewalter on Instagram.

 

*It’s the only thing I learned to play. I apologize to my family. And the dog.

How Artists Get Their Groove Back

I’ve stolen a phrase from fire fighters about how to put out the flames if you happen to be on fire. But what if you want to start a fire–like your creative fire for instance? Funny! It’s the same three little words! Soon you’ll be smokin’ hot–creatively, I mean!

StopDropRollArt-WEB