Friday, September 10, 2010

Painting What Sells or Painting What You Love

What you choose to paint is usually regarded as a dichotomy. You either paint what sells, or you paint what you love.

It's easy to paint what sells. You can copy the style of a famous artist and do what they do. You can also just look into illustration/fine art annuals and figure out what people like. You can spend hours and hours practicing and drawing, and once you get your traditional classical realism down paint some dragons and monsters and barbarians with topless women and you're set.

It's not easy to paint what you love. You have to figure out what parts of your style are you, and what are habits that have been drilled into your brain by society, peers, schooling, or anything else that has led to your development as an artist. You also have to leave all that other stuff behind and do what you want. Sometimes you'll find commercial success right away, especially if what you love to paint also happens to be what sells. Other times, you'll have to find a niche audience that may be scattered across the globe. You'll probably have to spend years experimenting to even figure out what you love, then spend more years honing your craft before you ever get mainstream commercial success.

If you paint what sells, you'll probably end up hating your art and you'll be financially successful but most likely painting won't even be fun anymore. You'll be doing someone else's style, doing someone else's subject matter. When what's "in" changes, you'll find that your (borrowed) style is no longer as in-demand as it once was, and you'll have to start all over.

If you paint what you love, although jobs might be harder to find, and gallery shows might not come as readily, painting will be a total release from all the other crap you might have to put up with. When you paint what you love, you'll love painting enough to deal with loans, late fees, overdrafts, and budgeting between food and art supplies.

But life isn't a dichotomy. While it's true that there are subjects and styles that sell better than others, you can still paint what you love and be successful. Often times the love that you have for your paintings will translate onto your canvas. It becomes about finding your audience and giving your craft your all. Even if you are technically able to do a certain style, or a certain subject, if your heart isn't in it, you'll be unhappy.

When you're well-known and in-demand, people will ask to see more of what they've already seen before. Sure, styles and subjects might vary a bit, but people will want to see some continuity from your previous work. If all you have for previous work is stuff you don't like to paint, you'll be stuck painting more of the same. Even if it takes longer (which won't necessarily happen) to become more successful by painting what you love, when you finally reach that success you'll find that it's a lot more fulfilling and lucrative than just following the trends and doing what sells.

You can also figure out what your audience wants and still stay true to your own voice. Ask them! Put up a survey, ask your friends - what part of your art do they like the most? What would they want to see? Find out something that people will like, and then do your own twist on it - but only if you want to. If people say they want to see landscapes, and you hate landscapes, by all means pass. But if people say they want to see pirates and you actually like pirates, then you can paint them in whatever style suits you best.

Find the love in your work, whether its paintings, writing, acting, dancing, teaching, engineering, managing, selling, whatever. Find what you love do to and pursue it endlessly. And if you can figure out a way to make a living off doing just that, you'll be even better off. You'll find that no matter how long the journey, it will be an enjoyable and profitable one.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Rushing the Gates

Gatekeepers can be scary.

We're super excited as Chris Guillebeau is launching his Unconventional Book Tour to promote his new book, and his stop in San Francisco is going to be at our favorite bookstore, Green Apple Books! We mention this, because a lot of what Chris has to talk about in his quest for world domination is that in the traditional method of doing things, there are lots of gatekeepers.

Gatekeepers are people who watch the gates of success and choose who gets to come in or not. Gallery curators/owners are gatekeepers. Juries for craftshows are gatekeepers. Buyers for companies are gatekeepers. These are the people whose job it is to filter through all the products and people who want success.

While some prefer to allow these gatekeepers to determine their path in life, Monkey + Seal do our best to limit the amount of say gatekeepers have on our success. We prefer to rush the gates. While no one is advocating bum rushing gallery owners, what we're talking about is either finding creative ways to bypass gatekeepers, or just set up our own gate and police it yourself!

Example: Say you want to get into a huge craft fair. Huge craft fairs are generally very expensive ($300 is pretty typical for a two-day show, Comic-con is more like $800-1200), and there is generally a jury that selects whether or not you get in. While saving up and making sure you have a great product to sell and what not, you may still not get in. What to do? Make your own craft fair.

While Monkey + Seal have gotten into some large shows and not others, last year we decided that we might as well put on our own show. Thus, along with other members of SF Etsy, we organized the 2009 Holiday Handmade Ho Down. We pulled in a couple thousand people into a nightclub, had 65+ vendors hawking their wares, and had a great time.

Granted, there were many sleepless nights, bouts of drama, and lots and lots and lots of work, but that event helped establish us as event organizers, and we were able to leverage that to create our own Paper Hat Productions in order to focus on another venue that has gatekeepers: gallery shows.

I will be the first to admit that organizing an event is tons of work. Tons, and tons of work. However, you're working for yourself and you get to call the shots, and that's really really cool. You're also held accountable for the show, for better or for worse, so with all the great opportunities, there's also a margin for failure. But as we say, failure isn't the end of the world, so what's stopping you? Go out there and rush the gates.

Monday, September 6, 2010

SF Zine Fest Wrap Up: Thank you!!!

Hi everyone! First off, we'd like to thank everyone who helped to make the 2010 SF Zine Fest the most awesome one yet! A special thank you goes out to all the volunteers who helped organize the fest, spoke in a panel, put on a workshop, and came out to exhibit and show your wares! The Fest wouldn't be here without all your hard work and support!

Also, a HUGE thank you to everyone who signed up for our email list, bought something, gave us compliments, and stopped by to talk to us. We are honored and touched by all the love. We hope that we can continue to aid and inspire other artists in one giant ball of artist-love for years to come. Thank you for buying all of our t-shirts (we sold out, but we'll print more!), ties, prints, postcards, and zines.

(Note: this is sort of a lengthy post, so just be warned!)

While we had a great weekend, we realized that there are a lot of people who we met who are artists (regardless of what you might say, we know you are artists are heart, and so do you!) who might be intimidated by something like tabling at the Zine Fest. Let us assure you, the Zine Fest is about as awesome as you can get for an artist who is just starting to get out there.

For one, it's inexpensive. Although rumor has it that table prices will go up a bit next year, the organizers like to keep it affordable. There were $30 "third-tables", which meant a 2x2 foot square for you to sell your work, which is great if you're just starting out with a few postcards or a comic or a zine or two. It's a far cry from something like Renegade Craft Fair or Wondercon, where $300-$800 for a booth is the norm.

Second, it's not a juried show. That means there is no non-refundable application fee - you only have to send in your application and payment before it sells out. Easy, right? No stress about whether or not a jury will like your work enough to get in. As long as you're on top of things (signing up for the mailing list might be a good idea) you'll do fine.

Third, it's THE place in the SF Bay Area to get your work out there. Monkey + Seal love the Zine Fest because it's a place where everyone is welcome. Whether you're working to make art for a living (like us) or just want to get some ideas/comics/stuff out there (like many zinesters), or are a crafter, there's a place for you. There's also a place for all styles and experience levels: from people putting out their published graphic novel to people photocopying their comics and self-publishing, it's a great place to be!

Anyway, we think the Zine Fest is great.

And for anyone who is new or curious about what's like to be an exhibitor, here is a glimpse in the life of Monkey and Seal: a behind-the-scenes look at our preparation and day of Fest.

Friday night was spent packing. We made a list of all the things we might need at the Fest and did our best to get everything ready. Prints, displays, table cloth, shirts, ties, tie packaging, painter's tape, masking tape, duct tape, pink fanny pack, zines, comics, small original pieces, and new postcards were all set aside. Monkey spent the night burning screens, packing ink, scoop coaters, old emulsion buckets, packing tape, squeegees, and everything else he would need for the screenprinting workshop. Seal was finishing up some freelance work, and this was all after helping set-up the comics reading at the Cartoon Art Museum.

We had dinner that night around 11pm, and then we were up doing more prep work, freelance work, and reserving our zipcar for the next morning. Due to lots of work to be done, (plus remembering we had to pack our painting supplies as we'd be live painting) we turned in for the night around 5am.

At 7am, the alarm went off, and we got up and got ready for the Fest. After some quick showers and a handful of chips for breakfast, we picked up the zipcar (or "zippy," as we like to call it) and loaded up all the stuff. We drove past an ATM to get money for change, then went to be at the SF County Fair building by 9 to help with set-up. We got there a bit early, so we got a warm white hot chocolate with soy for Seal and then headed over to the nearest bank to wait for them to open to change our 20's into change.

As soon as we lugged all of our stuff into the building, we split up. Seal would return the zippy and finish up some freelance work, while Monkey went about setting up tables and chairs for the Fest, and helped direct the volunteers.

By 9:30, other exhibitors began to come in, and while there was a bit of a delay due to the building not having enough 6-foot tables, we worked around it by using blocks of 8-foot tables and subdividing them into 6-foot spaces. Francois from Family Style, the lead organizer then started checking people in, and Monkey was then left to set up the table for the show.

By 10:30 or so, Monkey had the table set-up and started talking with neighbors (like the ever-friendly Kimmy Phi) and suddenly realized that he had forgotten our new product - the collaboration Steampunk Animal postcards! Oh nos! Fortunately, Seal was still at home working, so after a few phone calls, Seal had packed some cardboard and Simple Green (other things left behind necessary for the printing workshop), and the postcards, and would be on her way via bus.

The public started walking in about 10 minutes early (as they tend to do), and from then on, it was a fast 7 hours of talking with people who would stop by our table, trying to stay hydrated and well-fed, while we worked our creative magic during the live painting. Monkey painted a new zombie girl while the traffic was slow, but ended up stopping early as we fortunately got a lot of people stopping by for the rest of the Fest. We got lots of compliments on our new shirts, and were vastly unprepared for the positive response. We had ordered 17 extra shirts (besides the ones that were already sold via pre-order) and of those we had 3 misprints (which we sold at steep discounts). By the end of the Saturday, we had 4 shirts left and had sold out of the misprints.

Monkey was away from the table from about 3-5, as he was busy prepping, running, and then cleaning up after the silkscreen workshop. People seemed to enjoy it, and Monkey is happy to announce that he'll be soon running a more hands-on workshop at Big Umbrella Studios in the very near future. Unfortunately, he bit off a bit more than he could chew and some ink got dried up in some of his screens. While this can be a bit costly of a mistake if he can't get the ink out via power-washer, it is a good lesson learned on how to run the workshop in the future!

After we wrapped up the day at 6pm, we headed out via bus to the Mission district where there was an after-party mixer at Mission:Comics and Art, a cool new-ish space down on 20th st. Before going to the mixer we stopped by our favorite Mexican joint Mariachi's. After two big burritos there, we headed over to the mixer and got to hang out with the Family Style crew, as well as new friends Liz and Donna. We then headed home around 10.

We arrived back at our apartment around 11pm, then proceeded to print out more covers for the reprinted Bad Date Zine: No. 2. Monkey packed up more stuff to bring on Sunday for the bookbinding workshop he was running with bookbinding maverick Erin Fong. We then watched the latest episode of One Piece and then went to bed by 2am or so.

The next morning it was up at 8am. We were a bit late to catch the bus we wanted, but since most everything was set up, it wasn't a big deal and we ended up strolling into the Fest at 10:15. We set up the table again quickly (we had left most of the stuff locked in the building overnight) and Monkey then realized that he had foolishly only made singled-sided copies of BDZ2, effectively leaving out half the zine! We couldn't do anything about it at that point, so we re-worked the table, spreading out a bit to fill the spot of the sold-out zine, and as more prints and the shirts sold out, tweaked and reworked the table throughout the day.

Monkey left again at 12:15 to set-up for the bookbinding workshop, and returned at 1:30 to assist Seal in staffing the table. Monkey went on an interview with journalists from City College, and they then stopped by the table to film Seal live painting. Monkey and Seal would switch off between talking to customers and painting/eating snacks, and Seal then took a break to go and get a vegetarian plate from a nearby Mediterranean place. After Seal returned, Monkey then took a quick jaunt around the Fest to see what else was being sold, and was bummed when he found out that Vegansaurus' own Laura Beck's zine was already sold out! Drats!

Finally, at 5:40, Seal took off to go pick up the zippy we had rented to bring all of our stuff home. Monkey took down the table a bit after 6 (hoping for that last-minute sale), and then assisted all the other fine Zine Fest volunteers who took down tables, stacked chairs, and swept the humungo hall. By 6:30, Seal was back with the zippy and we packed up, said our good-byes, and were off!

Whew! It was quite a weekend (and quite a long post), and we're now taking it easy this Monday and are probably going to head off to Green Apple Bookstore (of which we are proudly and affiliate for) to further immerse ourselves in cool books, comics, and indie literature. Thanks again for stopping by, and we hope to see you next year at Zine Fest '11!