There are a number of artists who despite the difficulties of the industry managed to produce their own creations and get them to the public. There are not many of them but within the art community we hear about them all the time. Their names are on every artist’s lips. Even the book stores have sections devoted to these famous artists, directors, and studios who sell their own ideas and lead a team of artists to produce them. But most of them got started by going through years and years of toiling at the bottom of the industry and they worked their way up. Some of them started their own studios which entails many more years of competing just to survive if not longer before they have enough capital to produce art on their own terms. But is this always the case? Are there any exceptions? There are.
Up until the early 90’s all the big comic book super heroes belonged to either one of the two publishers at the time, Marvel comics or DC comics. All the decision making power and the fates of these heroes was ultimately up to the editors and publishers. Our favorite artists and writers worked for these editors and even though they were making the comics for the readers, the decisions were ultimately up to their bosses. That was until 1992 when 7 high profile comic artists left their positions to start a new publishing house called Image Comics. They created their comics without giving up the copyrights to the characters they created. Artists like Jim Lee who had become famous drawing X-men began working on his own ideas like Wild C.A.T.s. Todd McFarlane, who had previously drawn spiderman, then created the now famous, “Spawn.” It got so popular that a feature film, an animated t.v. series for HBO, and a whole new genre of toys were made. Image Comics still publishes creator owned properties meaning they publish the comics but they leave all the rights in the hands of the creators. The comics market boomed and their new creations were immediately competing with Marvel and DC comics. This shifted the power away from the big business people to the creators.
Since Todd McFarlane was able to keep his rights to Spawn he was able to make the decisions and make his own terms when other industries asked to produce a new genre of toys, a feature film, and an animated series. The toy line was so popular that it created a whole new market for adult action figures.
Some young comic artists were publishing their comic art and illustrations online at online communities. Seeing one another’s work regularly one of them finally got the idea to compile some of the comics into one volume to publish into a graphic novel. When Kazu Kabuishi started looking for a publisher for his and his friends’ comics they found bigger and bigger publishers making offers until finally Image comics offered to publish their book! Since then he’s published two more volumes and these artists continue to publish their comics together without an editor or any concern for pleasing anyone besides themselves and their audiences. Many of these artists have comics online as well which you can find at www.flightcomics.com
Comic Strip Syndicates
Comic Strip Artists don’t have anyone telling them how to draw but for a long time they had to sell all the rights to their work and all the licensing rights to their syndicate. They didn’t have any choice. If they didn’t sell out to the syndicate they couldn’t get published in the newspaper. Then the syndicates had all the decision making power when it came to merchandizing. The syndicates kept giving them huge restrictions on how many panels they could use and the newspapers kept printing them smaller and smaller. Bill Waterson, the creator of, “Calvin & Hobbes” saved up his money and finally paid a huge amount of money to buy back the rights from his syndicate and refused to sell out to sponsors no matter how many zeroes they added to the offers. His work was so popular that everyone wanted him to merchandize toys, t-shirts, coffee mugs and everything you can imagine. They offered him millions but he refused them all. He is one of the few artists who continued to draw his comic strip himself never hiring ghost artists and then signing the work like many other comic strips have been done. In one of his Calvin and Hobbes books he talks about how why he was so adamant about keeping the integrity of his beloved creation. In complete contrast to Calvin and Hobbes, Charlie Brown and Snoopy from Charles Schultz’ comic strip, “Peanuts” has been used to sell everything from life insurance and animations to theme parks.
Now, with the advent of the internet, comic strip artists can launch and gain fame for their comic strips without ever even being printed in the Sunday Funnies page. Penny Arcade ( www.penny-arcade.com ) and Player vs. Player ( www.pvponline.com ) are two popular comic strips that have never been syndicated or published in newspapers. They operate outside of the syndicated newspaper industry that had always dominated the world of comic strips. This new generation of artists publishes the strips online and many have a regular audience. To see more popular web comics you can also visit www.lunchboxfunnies.com. If you’ve been to the comic strip section in your local bookstore then you’ve probably seen Scott Kurtz’s Player vs. Player comic strips next to Garfield and Zits. He’s never syndicated or had any reason to. He wanted to see his strips in the newspaper and caused an uproar in the comic strip community when he offered his strips to the newspapers for free. He didn’t even care to be paid because he makes a good living just having them online and only wants to see them printed in the local paper. If you read about the nightmare that Bill Waterson went through trying to work with his syndicate and then read about the freedom with which Scott Kurtz publishes his PvP comics it is quite shocking. This is the difference between the art world before the internet and after the internet. The power has completely shifted back into the hands of the artists and their audiences.
If you are a flash animator then you could also make it big by publishing a really funny video online. When Joe Cartoon ( www.joecartoon.com ) put an animated frog in a blender and an animated gerbil in the microwave the word got out pretty quick. This one was actually shown to me by my father who had seen it at work. A couple years before that I had not even heard of the internet! That seems like forever ago but in fact it was more than 10 years ago. Since then we have seen web cartoons get so famous that I even saw a couple animators interviewed on Jay Leno on the Tonight show who created an overnight famous animation making fun of the presidential election. With the internet people can become famous for an instant quite easily. The difficult thing for the artist is to capitalize on that 8 seconds of fame.
If you would like to see more professional animations then you can check out http://www.ColdHardFlash.com. I find that this website shows a wide range of animation styles. To see the full range of short flms being produced at a profit you can view www.AtomFilms.com
Bobby Chiu’s Imaginism studios
Bobby Chiu is an illustrator who went to art school and found himself floundering at the bottom of the commercial art world working crappy production jobs. At first he wasn’t even using his skills as an artist. He was just uploading files to the internet for the company he was working for. He could have gotten a job doing his art, but his mentality was he’d rather work a dull job that allowed him to draw and paint on his own terms rather than work a job doing illustrations he didn’t like. He didn’t want to lose the passion for his work. Eventually he polished his work enough that he was able to take on freelance work as a professional illustrator. Once he started getting enough of the assignments that he liked to do he finally quit his production job and set out on making a career as an independent artist. After working as a freelance artist he and some fellow illustrators started their own studio, Imaginism studios ( www.imaginismstudios.com ) They only take on clients and assignments that they genuinely like to do and they constantly practice their drawing and painting skills on a daily basis.
Bobby Chiu also started some online classes at www.schoolism.com. He and two other popular illustrators, Stephen Silver and Albert Ruiz, are taking on 15 or so students at a time and giving them personal feedback through videos and audio recordings. They even take the student’s artwork and add their own digital over painting to help the students learn the techniques. If you have the drawing and digital painting skills but you need help getting a more professional level of skill as a professional illustrator then I highly recommend these classes.
There are many artists and directors who have amazing stories of how they became decision makers in the art industry. They lead teams of artists to get their creations produced. Watch the extra features on any of your favorite animations and you’ll see stories about famous directors in the industry. The things they have accomplished are extremely admirable, but the reason I have chosen to write about the individuals above is because they are able to create their artwork on their own terms. In the industry, even the most famous creations’ fates are tied up in the power struggle between artists, producers, lawyers, and big business owners. Even directors have to please their producers and deliver a product that will make up for the extremely high costs involved with production teams. Ultimately they have to please decision makers whereas independent artists are the decision makers. The biggest disadvantage for independent artists Is that they typically much less resources to work with.
One Artist, Many Incomes
Outlets for the Independent Artist
If you have your own artwork and are ready to show it to the world then there are many ways to make money off you’re artwork. Here are just a few of the websites and business models that make it possible for artist’s to make money off of sharing their creations.
Stock Photography/Video. Have you ever been to a stock photography or stock footage website like www.gettyimages.com, www.sxc.hu, or www.istockphoto.com? These sites offer professional images for a price. Their libraries are huge and are always getting bigger. As a professional photographer, videographer, or illustrator, you can sell your work to them for them to sell to others. They may pay you upfront or they might give you a commission on every sale they make off of your images. Commisions are a form of recursive income which is great because it keeps coming in whether you continue to do more work or not. Many of the business models I will be discussing here are recursive income. As an artist you are creating assets. An asset is any property you own that puts money in your pocket. The best assets are the ones that keep putting money in your pocket time and time again.
Even if you are a web designer you can make some recursive income by selling your designs to www.templatemonster.com where they’ll be offerred to 1,000s of potential template buyers. On each sale you earn a 20% commission.
If you create your work in 3D programs, then you could sell your creations at www.turbosquid.com. You name your price and upload your files to their site. If you have created a model, a character, a rig, or some useful tool then you could make it available to other 3D artists.
If you create a book of any kind whether it be written, a graphic novel, or even a portfolio as I did, you can get it published at www.Lulu.com. They print on demand, meaning you don’t have to order a huge amount of prints. They only print as many as you ask for so you could order just one copy if you wanted. If you upload your book and ask to have copies they only charge you the costs of the print. You get your books at cost! If you add your book to their online gallery then you can add as much revenue to the price as you’d like. Lulu.com will sell your book online and the price will be the cost of print + you’re additional revenue you want to receive on each book + Lulu’s commission which is 20% of the revenue you are asking for = The Total Price of your book. Lulu.com also gives you the option to let people download your book online. E-books have no printing costs so the price consists entirely of your revenue + lulu.com’s 20% commission. If you choose not to make any revenue then the e-book is free for the audience to download. Lulu handles the financial transactions and send you a check for your revenue. You don’t have to pay your for revenue or commission when you purchase your own book, so if you sell the book yourself then you’ll make even more money on each sale. And you don’t have to handle the shipping and handling because if someone pays you then you can order the book yourself but give lulu.com your customer’s address instead of your own. Before I graduated from art school I wanted a print of my portfolio. I figured I might as well turn my portfolio into an art book, so I wrote an introduction and created an illustration for the cover. I can now tell people I am a published artist. Then I hand them my book and ask them to purchase it online if they’d like. So many art students are going to all the work to create a portfolio, you might as well become a published artist at the same time. Not to mention you’ll get your portfolio printed at cost which is much cheaper and much nicer than sliding Kinko prints into clear plastic sleeves like I’ve seen so many art students and teacher do before. Lulu.com also sells cd’s and dvd’s so you could create your own dvd movie and sell it online through lulu.com.
To take a look at my book on www.lulu.com you can check it out at http://www.lulu.com/content/300777. You can download it for free although the online version shows the double page spreads one page at a time.
I’m sure we are all familiar with the ebay.com auctions. There are many people making money for themselves out of buying and selling on these auctions. It’s simple. What I’m trying to tell you is that if you are creating artwork, then you could be selling it just like people sell anything else. And if you open your eyes to the world of business you’ll see that there are alternative ways to make money other than the traditional selling of products or services. You can actually make money off of licensing, inventions, templates, advertising, and many other business models. At some point you may be giving your ideas away for free like I am doing right now and still be making a living!
If you are a film maker you can sell your short films/videos to www.AtomFilms.com. They showcase your videos on their website without charging the public and they make money off of the advertising. One of my flash teachers sold them a film and it was so popular they asked him to produce more. An airline purchased the license to air his films on their flights and he earned a commission each time it aired. He would get random checks in the mail whether he continued to animate or not. And since atom films wanted him to produce more they made a contract for him to produce a series. With the previous success of the first film he was able to negotiate for much more pay on the newer films he produced.
Business opportunities like this are possible for anyone who owns assets, but employees are not likely to receive any such special opportunities. The greatest hope for an employee is that he get small incremental raises over time, or have one of his ideas get produced by his employer’s company so that his employers can make money off of it. Many employees get other job leads, but in reality they are still in the same situation no matter where they work.
When an independent artist’s work becomes popular he/she often gets offered good jobs as well. It’s just one of the many opportunities that publishing your art opens up. The biggest difference is that an employee knows what to expect from his finances as long as he has his job. But an independent artist may at any time suddenly find their artwork suddenly bringing in a lot more money than usual. There is also the risk that their work may not bring in any money at all. So for some independent artists there is more risk but for all independent artists there is much more opportunity for reward. For this reason many artists do work that they know pays, and try to do develop their own independent art on the side until it is bringing in enough consistent income.
Another way to make money is to sell merchandise. It’s crazy just how easy it is to sell t-shirts, posters, coffee mugs, prints, or anything else online. You could create a website and start selling products with your own designs on them this week even if you don’t know web design. And you could get started without spending any money at all! Take a look at http://www.pennyarcademerch.com or click on the shop link at http://www.pvponline.com. These guys created online comic strips and sell merchandize with their characters on them. At www.Cafépress.com or http://www.ThinkGeek.com you can upload your designs and start selling your own t-shirts, coffee mugs, posters, or whatever else right away. You could then create a blog at http://www.WordPress.com or http://www.Blogger.com and create a free website for yourself that’s easy to update even if you don’t know any web design whatsoever. I know web design and have created my own websites in the past, yet these days I prefer to use blogs. Even if you are extremely proficient at creating web sites, it’s still easier and more beneficial to just use a blog service. Once your page is up you can then put a link to your products being sold at any of the above websites. You could even accept credit card transactions through http://www.paypal.com. They create the link and then you paste it into your website. You could also create a webpage full of your online products through your very own online store through http://smallbusiness.yahoo.com.
This is my favorite business model listed so far. If you sell advertising then you can give your audience free access to your artwork. It’s also easier to promote yourself if you are making access to the work free. Everyone loves free. And since you are selling advertising to other websites you can still make money while giving away free access. Magazines operate almost entirely on this business model. People may have to pay subscription fees, but in reality they are hardly paying more than the cost of print. That’s why you often see magazines being sold at such great discounts. They’d almost rather give the magazine away because the more readers they have the more money they can make from advertising. The real money comes in from the people paying to advertise to the magazine’s audience. To sell access to your audience you must first have one. This requires making a website and marketing it which I’ll discuss in the next chapter.
Chapter 4 – Freedom as an Independent Artist