Over the past four or five years, I’ve spent a great deal of time learning all I can, working to improve my skills, attending conferences, webinars, and even taking a couple of online courses. This year, I’ve realized that there isn’t as much out there for me when it comes to education. Yes, there will always be better artists to learn from, but many of them aren’t lecturing at conferences or teaching courses specific enough to warrant the expense.
I wrote recently that I wouldn’t be attending Photoshop World again next year, so I considered attending the ICON illustration conference. I’ve read good reviews, but it doesn’t feel like the right thing to do at the moment. Earlier this year, I had decided not to attend the Association of Canadian Editorial Cartoonists conference next summer in Montreal, because even though there are people I would like to see, it really isn’t a conference about learning. I can’t justify the expense for three or four days just to hang out and talk shop. I realize Montreal is a beautiful city, but my wife and I have other vacation plans for 2012.
One decision I’ve now made for the next year is that unless I’m working or speaking at one, I’m not going to be attending any conferences.
With the success of my animal paintings and the fact that I enjoy them so much, it is very clear that I’ve finally found my niche. This is the work I’m supposed to be doing and it’s a great feeling to have absolutely no doubt about that. While I still enjoy drawing cartoons and painting people, painting animals is where I find the most fulfillment.
It is gratifying that my work has a growing following. The paintings are doing well in both Two Wolves in Canmore and the About Canada Gallery in Banff, I’ve signed my first licensing deal with Island Art Publishers, and I’m beginning to get commissions that are a lot of fun to work on. While I’m fortunate to enjoy most of the work I’ve been doing the past decade, I’ve never enjoyed it more than when I’m painting.
With a couple of DVDs under my belt, my second webinar for Wacom in a few weeks and some knocks on the door from other companies, it has become clear that I’ve stepped well into the realm of teaching, which is often a logical step for many students to take. While I still intend to keep learning as much as I can, I’ve found that I’m finally comfortable passing on some of the skills I’ve learned, and I’m enjoying it, too.
But, where to go from here? It’s a question faced by every freelancer, entrepreneur, and self-employed person and one you end up asking yourself over and over at different stages in any career. Sure, there are many people who have done it before, some of them poorly and others with monumental success, and while their advice and example can aid in the big decisions, the choices still rest with each individual, and with how much each person is willing to risk.
For most of this past year, I was so focused on the DVDs for PhotoshopCAFE and other commission work, that I added only one painting to my Totem series, which was the Great Horned Owl. Only one. When I realized that this summer, I don’t mind saying that I wasn’t pleased. The one thing I love to do more than anything in my work, and it turned out that I made it the lowest priority. Obviously, I dropped the ball on that.
For the next year, my main focus will be these paintings. Not just working on them, but promoting and selling them. I’ve still got other commission work that I’ll be doing, and another DVD in the works for PhotoshopCAFE, but the main priority will be the work I love to do most.
There can often be a number of ‘right’ choices, and because of this, many people will succumb to the paralysis of making no choice at all. This is the surest way to stall any progress in a freelance career. Moving forward has always required taking risks, and part of that risk is making bold decisions without knowing how they’ll turn out. So rather than play a game of wait and see, I’m going to gamble on success.
With that in mind, I’ve decided to get a Small Press booth at the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo at the end of April. Between now and then, I’ll be preparing promotional material, designing and purchasing a large banner and hardware for the booth, figuring out which varieties of prints to sell, and doing as much research as possible to make sure I put my best foot forward. This will involve a significant expense, but as the old cliché goes, ‘you have to spend money to make money.’
30,000 people went through the doors last year, so I figure it will be a good place to get my trade show feet wet. I’ll be painting live at the booth all weekend, in addition to selling prints and my DVDs. I have to figure out how many of each I’ll need. I could bring way too much and go home with a lot of inventory or fail to bring enough and sell out on Day 2. It’s a gamble because I don’t know how popular my work will be with the attendees, but there’s only one way to find out.
Either way, I know that I’m going to learn a lot from the experience, and I won’t be standing still.