I won’t sugar coat it- these are spooky times. The Covid-19 outbreak has hit everyone across every spectrum in a million different ways, but it’s hitting we artists differently, and in many ways early . I can’t speak to being an expert on how to survive all this that’s before us and more significantly for the working artist, than what’s coming in economic terms, but there are things to plan for and consider. I claim no high authority on advice here, but have been speaking with a lot of my peers about this and here below are some of the what I’ve been hearing.
I’ve been a professionally working, full-time artist and writer now that has seen 9/11 roll through and the ’08 financial crisis burn through the publishing community like a wildfire. Things are going to change. Things are going to be hard. What we all are on the other side of this is going to be different than what we were a few months ago when this was only a whisper of a thing from a far away place. But we will get through this and we can survive it. The best thing is to be watchful, flexible and nimble in the coming days and months. Store your nuts for winter as much as you can, ( because winter is indeed coming), but keeping yourself forward looking is not only a salve agains the stresses of right now, but practically, also what’s going to make sure you come through this intact.
Welcome to my everyday. Yes it is oddly true that quarantine methods being delivered far and wide to prevent the spread of the virus looks more or less exactly how we already live and work. We’re in the age of the victorious cave dweller now. As it turns out we’ve all been self-quarantining for years! I myself have a massive deadline and a ton of work to get through over the next couple months to finish my next book, and have been on 7-day workweek protocols for last two. This new norm has been my norm for a while now, so as one among us who can give advice to those learning to cope with suddenly being at home and working remotely, there’s a lot to give.
All the stuff we take for granted, in our daily freelance studio lifestyles… setting up a schedule and routine, organizing challenging and still achievable deadlines for getting stuff done… Avoiding distracting areas and not making the mistake of working in your bedroom, or rooms where distractions abound are all excellent starting places. The protocols we’re used to as structured freelancers are skill sets our new brothers and sisters could use our wisdom to develop. Working from home means also using resources more at home than you did before when you were getting lunch and sometimes dinners out as a result of your work life. Making sure you have what you need, anticipate and plan ahead for what you will require. And most importantly for the newbies out there, learning to cope with isolation and the emotional distance and basic human contact the normal worker might be used to is no joke. We of the studio have come to manage and even hug our isolation and separation from others, but it can come as a real hit to those not used to it. Happily the age of the internet is here to help. Constructive online communication and social media can be a resource here to help feel less alone in the world. Of course it’s not the same as office chatter or seeing actual humans in real life, (not by miles), but given we’re not supposed to be doing that now, it’s a workable ration to draw upon so you’re not totally losing your noodles alone in your apartment or home.
Get up early go to work. Get dressed as if you’re going out, This is a piece of advice I cannot encourage more- I myself will even when I’m not feeling well or didn’t sleep enough, dress upwards to combat the sense of drag this brings. (so if you see me in a tuxedo walking around, know Greg has insomnia again). Getting dressed is a trigger, in a good way. The hardest thing when working at home is getting work done at home. Devote a special area as your work space and avoid anything being done in that space that isn’t work. Don’t work anywhere else. Not everyone has enough space to exclusively devote a room or nook, but it does help to create triggers that while you are at this space and at work, you are working. Distractions thrive if you are in the living room or kitchen someplace where you are not used to making work happen. If you can set solid work hours and stick to them. Stop when they’re done. Again, if you’ve got kids and they’re also home now, this is not so easy, but try. Even if it’s just for an hour or two at a clip. It’s important for kids to respect when you’re working as you likewise should when they’re remote schooling. If you can synchronize those events, all the better. It’s going to feel weird its going to be weird and it ill probably be so for at least a few weeks, so cut loose your prior habits, get used to this new norm for as long as it lasts and it’ll come together faster and better. Every day will feel like Saturday and a week of Saturdays can put the zap on you in a number of different ways. Keeping it organize, setting realistic goals and hitting them, all will help you make this work.
Another option that may have no immediate fiscal benefit is producing in-studio working or process videos. Not anywhere near my usual comfort zone personally, but something I know I’m considering seriously, and a thing that can return back to sales later too… make a demo of a piece or a live stream of drawing it with a post to your shop right after. There’s a lot of kids home from school and a lot of folks in general rightfully wanting to put their minds to something not global-pandemic related, and your art can be that safe haven. Again, the internet will be your super weapon in the next few months, so take full measure of it, be creative and bend it to your public, social and household income purposes.
Yes artists and creatives, this is a novel time to really get to work, break out a new path, experiment or get caught up. Build those portfolios, branch out into new territories and use the forced isolation as an opportunity to explore yourself and your work. There will be an after to all of this and it makes sense to look towards that day, and see what you can do to make sure you’re ready to roll when it comes.
For those artists hit early and hardest, it’s you who make the bulk of your yearly income on in-person conventions and trade shows. This is a blow that’s immediate and landing hard and will likely keep coming in the months ahead of us. It’s possible that Fall shows may still come together, but we can’t honestly know for sure, and even if they do I’d expect a sharp decrease in turnout, both for the lack of spare change in people’s pockets as these layoffs roll through, but also as a preventive measure. Coronavirus will be with us through next winter in some form large or small, so anticipate this and take seriously the need to pivot, and pivot now.
There is no simple and immediate fix for this sudden vacuum of planned income, but it is a time to reorient towards non-IRL selling experiences. Yes I am talking about getting those websites updated and functioning. If you haven’t already got a shop or online selling platform together, whether it’s through your own website, Easy, Bigcartel or whatever, now’s the time to go to there. For all the artists out there who aren’t going to be on the floor of a con to sell their work, there are ten buyers who aren’t able to get what they come to those things to get, at home ready to support you. Figure out a way to get in touch with them. I had about 9 pieces in a physical group show I had budgeted towards selling and that show got cancelled, so I’ll host the same work as its own show on my website. It’s not ideal and I don’t expect it to be as successful or satisfying, but we work with what we got. Offering sales of your work, sketches and commissions you might normally seek can be a good way to start bringing new people into your shop or selling space. Most artists don’t have a true and known online shop to peddle their work, so not only is it going to take a little time to build that, you’ll need to start making your customers and clients aware it exists and that you’ve got stuff for them there. The lasting effects of this time will change things for us all going forward, and while the shape of that continues to take form, branching out, thinking creatively and expanding your base and community is a key way to continue onward. Think of this as a time to reconsider how to move forward in new and different ways, both in terms of how you manage and run your business but also creatively and with regards to your own art’s content.
Well most find themselves working from home, but they are working. As far as I know at the time of this article, we’re all pushing ahead with projects and work. I know way too many people who had books or film projects coming out right about now- I myself very nearly did as well, and thankfully bumbled out of that particular bear trap. Book tours and a lot of the usual and effective promotional platforms in rolling out a new project are being shut down and that is indeed a huge hit to the prospects of your baby getting out there like it could have in different times. I suspect publishers will all be taking hits from this thing, and there will likely be some slow down in the coming months and year or two of projects getting the green light as everyone weathers the hit we’re taking. You artist/writer friend, cannot help or affect this. Much of what’s going to impact our community is coming from outside and it’s incumbent upon us to meet what that is and roll with it in some way. But I think it is a time to make sure the work you do is the best work you could do. This is not new as an ethic and really we should all be doing this as a practical policy going forward, no matter the situation… but now more than ever it’s essential. If there’s less out there to do covers for, there will be more competing for that same work and quality, work-ethic, positive interaction will all play a crucial element in securing those gigs so you can then likewise secure another. We’ll all be leaning hard on online marketing to get the word out and yes, theoretically, books and at-home entertainments should see an increased value in the coming months for obvious reasons.
If you have a book or product going out soon and find your usual publicity enterprises shut down, try and push hard wherever there can be efforts to spread the word. More and more creators are being expected to take on their own marketing for even big-name publishing projects. It’s a touchy subject I know but it’s already a thing, for good or ill, so make the most of it with regards to your project, rather than wait for someone else to rescue it from obscurity. Online social media email blasts whatever it takes. You’ll find coordinating with your publisher to be an essential aid to this effort too. So don’t be afraid to reach out and see what you can all come up with. A hit doesn’t need to be a mortal blow, and if you can pivot just enough to avoid one, that could mean everything for the baby you’ve been creating for these past years. You publisher is not the enemy, but your partner- Wonder-Twin that action and brainstorm paths forward together. There is going to be a lot of depressed sales and numbers of newly birthed projects right now, but don’t fall into the trap of shrugging it off and using it as cover that will ensure a worse outcome if you can. Yes it may be trying to spoon out the ocean but it will redound well to you and through the eyes of your publisher for you to be face forward on this, to see them as the allies they are, and together figure out how to make the most of what is undeniably as stressful situation. There will be an after to this present, so keep your eyes on that horizon and steer all things towards that place… you’ll be in better shape to meet it when it arrives.
YOUR STRENGTH & POWER
There really is only so much we can in the end do to affect what’s happening. Holding off on that equipment upgrade, planning on being able to move some of that stuff home to where you need to work. Put some repairs into that old janky car you’re driving rather than go all in on a big loan to get a new one. Yes interests rates are going to be zero or near zero for a good while and yes it is also smart to think about taking advantage of that as a homeowner or in other areas where you can make this work for you. Artists live and die based on their overhead versus their income. Part of what encourages flight from the big city hubs, like LA, Sand Francisco and NYC for freelancers who transplant to smaller towns and rural areas- aside from the natural beauty of these places- is to live bigger and better and more freely under a less heavy financial price and these truths are even more true now than ever before, and will be going forward I am certain.
One of the first instinctual things to do is sharply discount your work for sale. I don’t recommend chasing this impulse right away. (If ever as the great grandmaster Dan Dos Santos has begun to educate me against). Pricing is a tricky and delicate and hyper individual thing to manage, but once you lower the price of your work, that’s your new price. hard to climb back up from it and it does inherently devalue your efforts. That said, less is more than nothing and you must do what you need to. Consider first creating or selling smaller less expensive pieces… I find that buyers love the little sketches you do before a major work, or even tiny personal pieces that while not necessarily possessing the same panoply of value as your heart work, offers a luminous little peek inside a particular aspect.
Don’t be afraid to push out from your usual comfort zones, adapt and respond to the audience you’re seeking to help support your art. Sometimes that means trying a new medium or new genre, or any number of responsive approaches. Indulge in a little pop culture too- it’s an area I’m known to be find of already, but I have come to learn that content drives desire a lot, and familiar areas and subjects can be a draw into your own more personal work. (As far as copyright issues are concerned, yes you should be mindful. While making an original piece of art of say, Princess Leia is perfectly legitimate and okay, it is a generally good practice to avoid making products, such as prints shirts, pins cards… anything in multiple steps out of the protective umbrella and into firm copyright violation territory. It’s not that Disney will necessarily track you down and sue you right away, it’s that you may be burning a bridge to them as a future client if and when they review you online, they find you’ve been doing this as a practice). Offering free shipping or other discounts also work. and yes you can offer some extremely occasional sales on your online shop, but don;t push that button too often or make them a cyclical thing or else your customers will simply wait for your next sale rather than buy. This is not to say that the big work shouldn’t;t be posted either- sometimes even if a big piece is too rich for a buyer’s wallet, it can bait them into your shop where they might find something more in their ballpark. Be present, be public, be consistent. This is the key to online sales and keeping ahead of the algorithms of whatever social media sites you should be using to evince your self and your work to others.
Your mental and emotional health are as important as your physical health and its important if not downright essential to support yourself in healthy ways right now. Try to keep interacting with your therapists, look to find one, meditate, exercise, share with friends and family… whatever it takes to help you support your inner self is going to be key not just for getting through this, but surviving it. Reach out when you need it, ask for help when it’s necessary, and offer help wherever yo can. There are limits to what we can do for each other remotely, but that doesn’t mean we’re powerless to do anything. I myself have long ago crafted a defensively -birthed capability of looking down the long road and in these times right now that can be truly overwhelming. There’s going to be truly hard times coming as the tsunami from this earthquake rolls over our societies, and our communities- and much of it unpredictable. Some us need more help than others, be honest and open and look for the signs in each other when that help is required. We’ve always been a tight and supportive community and now is the time to recall lean hard on that, even if it is agains tour basic nature to do so. This can be an opportunity to grow and build forward if handled right.
Again I’m just one troglodyte speaking out from the mouth of my house-cave and I would absolutely welcome any input, or additional constructive advice to managing what we’re all going to be going through over the next month and year or so. Feel free to reach out with questions, post them below or suggest ideas and pool resources. We’re a community that spans the globe and are already interconnected through the medium you’re now reading this on, so let’s take advantage of that strength, knuckle up and get to work. There is a lot of opportunity out there for us to grow together, to stand and be stronger together as a community, so take heart. We’re artists and creatives and chaos is what we do. We got this, and together when I think of us all as a community, I can find no place of purchase for fear.
“What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls a butterfly”. The situation will have changed three times over since I started writing this, and I’m sure much of this will be old news or out of date, so help to keep things alive and relevant. There aren’t any bad idea, so let’s hear them. Share, create, plan forward… and don’t forget the fart jokes. Humor helps and humor heals. Be smart and safe out there!
*** ALSO please be sure to check out Ron Leman’s brilliant piece on a similar theme, RETOOLING FOR THE FUTURE right HERE.