In my last post, I reviewed some of the reasons why 2023 felt like an unusually difficult year for artists.  Well, it’s 2024 now, so I’m happy to say we can put all of that behind us!  Ahh, relief.  That’s how it works, right?

Seriously though, we made it through a rough one and, in all likelihood, tomorrow and the day after won’t feel all that different.  But we keep moving forward all the same.  One of the action items that I noted in that previous post was to dedicate time and energy to “personal development.”  That pursuing personal projects or following whims and curiosities often leads to unpredictable but valuable rewards.  Even just the act of pursuing personal projects helps to define our strengths and interests so that we can better understand ourselves.

In recent months, I spent a good amount of my time questioning and rethinking my goals, interests, ambitions… all that stuff.  I questioned the way I make my income.  I questioned what I’m good at, what I’m scared of, what feels worthwhile.  I questioned how I represent my self and work publicly.  Just, everything was on the table.  I wish that I could show up in this new year and tell you all the exciting answers I’ve found, but as of yet it mostly feels unresolved.

But I have been moving forward.

Three pieces in a series of cyberpunk character designs. Each is 7×10 inches, oil on primed watercolor paper and time lapse videos have been getting uploaded weekly to my YouTube channel

A few months ago, I set myself a few goals to help push through some of the rut and worry.  These goals were:

1 new small work per week
1 new cover quality work per month
regular use of Instagram for sharing work and news
start a Patreon
build my YouTube channel
produce enough videos to support the Patreon and YouTube channels, probably through the weekly and monthly personal works

As I write it, that sounds like a lot on top of the full time scramble of a freelance artist.  But these are goals, not binding commitments.  I’ve done pretty good with some and revised my thoughts on others.  Each was arrived at for specific reasons.  But all of them serve the same purpose: throwing spaghetti.  Seeing what sticks.

Left: Green Frog, 6×9 inches, oil on panel. Right: Throg, 8×10 inches, oil on primed watercolor paper – An example of following unexpected curiosity. The Green Frog painting was part of a series I started centered on wildlife that live near me. I hadn’t planned to paint Throg, but these wildlife paintings led me to this piece as an experiment in combining the wildlife with my more typical genre work. It was also an experiment in working with far less reference and relying more on whole cloth invention, something that I’ve often been very nervous about. The three animal pieces below are a direct result of my enjoyment in painting the Throg piece. A winding, unpredictable road.

I’ve always been served well by making small works on a regular basis.  This is a low pressure strategy to explore new ideas and process techniques.  I believe volume is really how progress is made.  Action.  Motion.  Doing.  That is what small works are about.  It is highly unlikely that any of these will become portfolio pieces or land a new client.  But they will let me explore and evolve.  I can practice ideas or methods and decide what to carry forward in larger works.  And it’s not bad to have lower price-point originals for the collectors who don’t have the finances or wall space for bigger pieces.

Each piece is 9×12 inches, oil on panel. These are the latest in my small works experiments, riffing further from the Throg piece. Common threads in what gives me happiness lately are beloved movies and appreciating animals. I really don’t know much more what these are about yet, but I’m enjoying the journey so far

The cover-quality pieces are what propel a career.  They are what bring in new clients and attract attention from new collectors.  They also take a lot more time and mental energy.  I started off strong for the first two months and then got sidelined in December by Covid and client deadlines.  I find myself more intimidated to work on these projects because I get stuck on needing huge chunks of uninterrupted time to do anything meaningful.  I’m actively challenging that by working in shorter bursts over more days.  Instead of waiting for a day with 8-10 uninterrupted hours, I’m getting more comfortable putting in 2-3 hours before switching to whatever other thing needs my attention.  It still adds up.

The Woman Whose Feet Didn’t Touch The Ground, 18×24 inches, oil on panel – Inspired by The Blair Witch Project, part of a potential series of movie inspired larger works

As to the video production, Instagram, Patreon, and YouTube time… it’s a work in progress.  This was motivated by a concern that I’ve faded away from public view and that directly impacts future opportunities.  I’ve also become concerned about relying on the old business models as the world changes around me.  It is no surprise that making regular videos and trying to maintain socials across several platforms creates a significant amount of extra work.  And that is where I’m currently looking for balance.  I started the Patreon as a paywall model with videos only available to members.  But after a couple months I realized I really wanted wider visibility, which was completely at odds with a paywall.  YouTube was a better way forward.  I still don’t know where any of this part is going.  I think it’s going to take a least a year to really assess how videos complement my regular workflow.  But it’s more spaghetti.  Trying new things, exploring interests and curiosities.  It is impossible to say what effect these have on commissions and sales, though I think they can only help.  The question will be what the right balance is and time will tell.  We’ll see what sticks.