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Unexpected Results From Trying New Things Creatively

July 29, 2015

I have been uploading my artwork to the internet since I was about 15 years old. I am now 31 so that’s more than a few years of exposure.

Before I start writing out the jumble I’ve got stored in my brain in a semi-organized fashion, I want to clarify that I say all of my results or successes have been unexpected because I go into everything I do for fun first and foremost, expecting nothing to come of it. That way I’m never disappointed.

Also having access to the internet, and using it as a tool has been absolutely imperative to just about everything I’m writing about.

So way back in 1998 I started uploading my artwork on a fantasy website. Every upload took about two days to be approved by a moderator and it thrilled me to no end seeing my doodles in a gallery format on a website that was frequented by artists of all levels of ability.  I continued on there for a year or so until I discovered Deviantart.

Uploading my artwork to a place where I could acquire feedback from around the world was extremely helpful to me in a lot of ways and it contributed greatly to my confidence in sharing my creative endeavours.

When I was about 19 (2002) I was introduced to a print on demand site called Cafepress. I was really intimidated by the idea of putting my designs up for sale at first. There was a booming, soul crushing voice inside of me telling me that I wasn’t good enough, and that the whole world would laugh at my presumption that people would pay actual money for anything I created.

But despite that negative voice inside of me, I figured I had nothing to lose, took the plunge and taught myself everything about being a print on demand shop owner. It took me a while (years) to figure out the best ways to format images and what sorts of images were the best at attracting buyers but I sold products to people in several countries and I made a little bit of money through the commission process that was in place at Cafepress at that time.

Random people would also contact me via cafepress to commission me for original paintings which was an added bonus of developing a presence in the print on demand world and that did a great deal to further grow my confidence as an artist. I continued to develop my skills and expand my store with new designs whenever I had time to do so.

One day in November 2008 I got an email from a woman who had bought one of my pillows featuring a fairy tale painting. She identified herself as a line manager for a webseries called The Guild. She said that she really liked the pillow and wanted to know if they could use some of my artwork in the filming that they were doing in December as they needed to decorate the main character’s  (Codex’s) apartment. She specified that they couldn’t pay me but they’d give me credit for my work.

I had never heard of The Guild at that point so I checked it out and watched the first series. I liked what I saw and replied to her that I’d be happy to help. She then told me that she’d refer the show’s creator (Felicia Day/Codex) to my Cafepress shop so that she could choose which paintings she’d like to use in her character’s apartment.

Felicia chose a handful of designs, and I sent them the high resolution digital files so that they could print out the images themselves. I also got a nice little thank you note from Felicia.

The big orange one isn’t mine but the others are.

So for the next five seasons (until it ended) I became an avid watcher of The Guild for two reasons, the first was that I enjoyed it, and the second is that I was always keen to spot when my artwork was in view through the camera. The majority of my paintings can be seen in the party scenes toward the end of season 2 as there are 4 or 5 lined up on the wall leading from Codex’s front door but after the party scenes were done I noticed in seasons 3-5 they moved two of them to either side of Codex’s window so they can be seen often in scenes shot in her bedroom.

guid2

I am not ashamed to admit that it does make me smile knowing that even though they’re out of focus 99% of the time, everyone who watches those episodes of The Guild (millions of views) has been seeing my paintings.

As a fan of the webseries it makes me happy knowing that I was a tiny (miniscule) part of it in my own, distant, artwork providing way.

I also noticed a few years ago when I was keyword searching my name on Google that someone made an IMDB page for me as miscellaneous cast for The Guild which kind of amuses the hell out of me.

So there you have it…. one example of how I started out just posting my artwork on a free gallery which turned into experimenting with print on demand and ended up branching out into an entirely different experience all together.

Another branch of posting my artwork on a free gallery site turning into something unexpected was when I was contacted one day through Deviantart by a woman who shared a story with me about how her cousin had passed away recently and she had been looking all over for a drawing of mine because he had this tattoo on his chest that she wanted to get put on her chest in his memory but she had to find it, she only knew that he got the artwork for his tattoo from Deviantart and so when she located it, she contacted me.

curious_dragon_by_stuwaha

Together we established that I never actually knew this man. I was sorry for her loss but also extremely touched that she went through so much trouble, not just to find the original image, but to let me know what it meant to her.

After she had the tattoo done, she shared the photos with me.

I know of many people who have had my artwork inked on their bodies over the years but this one is my favorite. Not because the sketch translated the best as a tattoo, but because of the heartfelt sentiment behind it.

A third example of how experimenting with new art styles branched into something unexpectedly positive was when I decided to teach myself some basics in digital painting.

Before I elaborate on that though, I want to say that I ditched Cafepress in roughly 2010. They changed their policies about certain things that translated to my store, and all of the years of work that I put into it no longer receiving 98% of my commission fees. So basically…. they were still selling my stuff and making plenty of money off of it, but they were also absorbing my profits. It was a dirty little policy change and instead of taking the hit, I moved all of my content onto another print on demand site called Zazzle… which I find to be vastly superior to cafepress anyway. So for the record… Cafepress BAD… Zazzle GOOD!

Now back to my digital painting. My husband has a habit of buying me random art stuff that he thinks I’ll be interested in playing with, so for my 26th birthday he got me a little bamboo wacom tablet.

I had always been extremely intimidated by digital art and had only previously dabbled slightly with some sheep on a massively inferior and infuriating tablet that made me want to act out in violence toward inanimate objects.

Having the better tablet and not wanting it to gather dust in its box encouraged my decision to give my digital stuff another try. I read some tutorials, downloaded some freeware (GIMP) and set to work… making more sheep because they were extremely simple and I basically just modified a single template with every new design that I produced. (Also they make me giggle) After I had a handful of sheep I started to upload them to Zazzle and put them on a range of products… much to my amazement… they sold.

sheep

There have been so many occasions when I have been shocked by what people buy from me. I make a cartoonish picture of a sheep pooping… people love it, people pay money for it… people WEAR it…  I spend 30 hours on a detailed watercolour painting… no one even looks at it. It’s all so hit and miss, you just never know what people are looking for… therefore, I find it’s best to just put it all out there.

At any rate, back to my sheep…. I kept making them because it was excellent practice and there was clearly a market. I stopped my SillySheep store at 50 designs and moved onto a new store called BabyDragons where the designs were slightly more complicated and I continued there until I basically got bored with it. All of this took place in about 12 months time.

cthulhu

The unexpected result from all this digital doodling that I did for fun is that I haven’t so much as touched those stores in years, and they’re still making me fairly regular money. It’s not a ton of money but it’s always awesome to get a random cash injection for absolutely zero effort now and again.

As with Cafepress I’ve had a lot of people commission me for work through Zazzle out of the blue too so just having that exposure has been really helpful and it’s flattering to be commissioned for anything. It also makes me especially happy when people buy something like wedding invitations from me because that’s sort of a huge deal.

Then for a few years I was in a creative lull. I spent some time getting back to my roots in graphite and I produced a few paintings and trading cards but that was it.

matthew

After my daughter was born I rediscovered my love of writing and started creating regular articles on Squidoo which I had only dabbled in slightly a few years previously.

I really immersed myself in producing these little articles purely as a way to maintain my sanity and handle my transition from being childless and working full time to being a stay at home mother. A lot of what I wrote were craft oriented tutorials which got me back to one of my primary passions in life, making things with my hands.

The unexpected result of all this writing turned out to be hundreds of dollars raised for charity. I could have had them send me the money instead of donating it but it was more hassle than it was worth, and I missed being able to fund-raise when I was working in a large office so it sort of filled a hole for me. I wrote for them for about a year until they announced that they were going to be shutting their website and that prompted me to start my own blog so that I could transfer all of the articles I’d written.

Once I’d established my blog (which you’ve found yourself reading right now), I just kept on writing for myself. I still haven’t monetized it… That’s something I should probably consider at some point, but the reason why I’ve come around to my blog is that when I was looking for ways to expand it I began considering Etsy again. I’ve had an Etsy store since 2008 but I never actually did anything with it until 2014. As a little experiment I put a few pairs of book earrings that I’d made up for sale and to my surprise… they sold!

So I made more… and those sold…. Over the next year and a half I developed several lines of products that I make at home and sell through Etsy, and I’m by no means getting rich, or even making a living off of selling miniatures and bookmarks but the proceeds from my sales fund all of my crafting and it enables me the freedom to try new things. It also provides me with spending money so even though I’m a stay at home mom, I have income.

may20

Also besides having successful sales through Etsy and attracting a pile of private commissions (including one that literally came in as I’ve been typing this) the additional bonus result from giving it a shot, is that my products have been taken on by two craft stores in Scotland.

In the future I hope to expand into more shops and I’m having a lot of fun doing what I love at my own pace as I balance my roles as wife and mother.

Through all of these years of casual experimentation in art, crafts, building online stores and providing customer service, I have developed a lot of skills that I didn’t’ even realize I was developing. These skills have helped me to further my creative endeavors and they have even assisted me in the full time paid jobs that I’ve held in my adult working life.

I continue to develop the skills that I acquired every day and I try new things as often as my spare time allows. Sometimes it works out better than I had planned and sometimes my vision falls flat on its face, but every experience is a lesson learned.

‘Perseverance’ is a really important word to me for a number of reasons, and the moral of this story that I’m trying to get across more than anything else is that if you dig out the mental duct tape to stifle the voice your head that tries to damper your confidence, and put yourself out there, and keep trying new things you’re going to come out on the other end with experience that you wouldn’t have had otherwise. Then you have the option to build on that experience, good or bad in any number of potential directions. The important thing is that you just keep moving forward.

Deviantart is free. Zazzle is free. Gimp is free. Blogging is free. Writing for potential profit sites similar to Squidoo like Hubpages are free. Countless articles written by people who want to tell you exactly how to best utilize any of these services are free. Also countless tutorials teaching you how to make just about anything in the world you want to make are free.

You only need to take the time to find them and then summon the motivation to do something with what you’ve learned… and you never know who you’re going to encounter or what sorts of unexpected opportunities will develop along the way!

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From → Arty Crafty

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