Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Time Boxing the part time painter

I find it hard splitting my focus sometimes. I get so many competing tasks, so many different groups of people wanting different things from me, that there are days that I feel I'm not doing any work effectively.

Time Boxing is a technique that has been around for a while, probably has different names, but is most often referred to in the software development sphere. I thought I'd talk about it as it's a very simple but effective technique that can be applied to anything that you need to manage - particularly when you're shifting your mindset significantly.

Monday, 30 November 2009

Remaining arty when you don't have time (EMG Zine September)

Time is a precious commodity when you are a busy person. The more crazy you life, the less time you seem to have. And even when you get time, sometimes the last thing you feel like doing is painting, paperwork or marketing. There will be times when you have to choose, have to cut back, have to be realistic about how much you can do.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Meditation and the part time painter (EMG Zine)

I’m the first to admit being a stress bunny. Some days I thrive on it, other days it near wrecks me. In my everyday life there came a point where I needed to sit back and start learning how to relax. One of the relaxation tools I learnt was meditation. I’m not great at it, I get distracted easily, and I don’t do it anywhere near as regularly as I should. However I did find that a nice side effect of relaxation and meditation was the improvement to my creativity.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Links Shout out - Pattern Tap

"Pattern Tap is here to satisfy and encourage the inspiration needs of my interface design peers and peeps. We aspire to be the one stop pattern shop for your next inspiration need." (from the website)

Split by functionality, this is like a scrap book of design elements. Navigation, backgrounds, buttons, lists, icons, headers, tables etc, there are about 45 categories to browse through. Great for when you are trawling for inpiration, trends, or just really awesome designs to ooh and ahhh over! 


Sunday, 23 August 2009

Links Shout out - Phoenix online graphics editor

Anyway, always the hoarder of cool links, there has been an increase in the number of online image editors available and this is one of them. It can be integrated to some online image galleries like Flickr, Facebook and Picasa, plus there are a stack of tutorials. It has a number of advanced features like layers and cloning tools. Of course it's no Photoshop, but if you're on the road and don't have access to anything but the internet, this kind of tool could be invaluable.

Phoenix online graphics editor

As always, make sure you read the terms and conditions on the site.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Links Shout out - The Beautiful Necessity

I like pretty sites. I like sites that have variety around their focus. The Beautiful Necessity is a site that looks at The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and features links to everything from sales of the original paintings, products and artwork inspired by the movement, costume design, films and tv, artists and a whole series of articles that may inspire, or just move you to drool :)


Saturday, 11 July 2009

How to prioritise competing tasks

In a previous column, I briefly mentioned working smarter, not harder. One of the things that I find difficult to manage at times is what to do first. You get so many things on your plate, you only have so many hours in the day, yet you are expected to complete everything NOW! When you have conflicting commitments and you can’t really drop them, how do you work out what to do first, and what to push to the bottom of the list?

First and foremost, have some way of keeping track of everything you have to do. There’s nothing worse than finding an email you forgot to answer... a year or two later. I’m guilty of that, in fact I know I’ve got a couple of way overdue tasks on my list! This is my way of working things out.

  • Paid work should always come first! If you are a professional, you need to treat your paying customers like gold. They are your bread and butter. Being slow is ok, as long as you keep communications open and tell them you’re going to be slow. But never take money and renege on your contract or sale. It’s going to be hell on your reputation, and nothing travels faster than bad news!
  • If you have two tasks of equal importance and one’s been in your in-tray longer, that’s the one that probably deserves your attention first. However, if it’s hanging around for ages – like months - maybe you should reconsider doing that task at all.
  • The job that pays more bills is the one with the highest priority. Being an artist is important to me, but my day job pays all the niggly things like my mortgage and for food– so I’m not going to screw up that because I was up all hours painting! (Says the girl up til midnight painting on a ‘school night’ *ahem*).
  • If a task seems too hard or you know that you are never going to get to it, you are entitled to boot it out the door. Don’t keep it on the list, there is seriously no point.
  • If a task looks like it’s going to suck the life out of you and take forever, see if you can break it down into smaller tasks. An hour of sketching is a little more manageable than having to draw 50 line art pieces.
  • Stuff you’ve bartered for should be treated the same as paid work. No one hates another artist who receives a trade and reneges on their promise. It’s just not cool. Don’t do it.
  • Do fun tasks after you’ve done the ‘work’ stuff. Use it as a proverbial carrot (or in my case chocolate). If you do all the fun stuff first, you’re only left with boring, tedious things that will seem to take forever and ever and ever and.... so try and organise your tasks using this theory.
  • Do 5 minute jobs NOW! Don’t procrastinate. Knock them over and get them out of the way.
  • Be able to live with your decisions. Recognise that in order to do things well, you have to focus on one thing at a time!

And above all, learn to live with the fact that there are only so many hours in the day, only so much work one poor little trooper can do before they keel over, and that you are not in fact a superhero that can do 12 things at the one time. It just isn’t possible! As much as we would like it to be!

If you are interested in tools to help organise yourself a bit better, here’s a previous post I made on creating and using todo lists

Link shout-out - I Draw Girls

Links shout-out! A great collection of digital tutorials/ walk throughs that don't just focus on drawing women (despite the name). Even though this is mostly centred around fantasy & games art, there's plenty for any digital painter. There are zombies, ninjas, mecha, life drawing sessions, studies of old masters, free brushes, backgrounds and architecture. Worth losing yourself for a couple of hours. Check it out!


Wednesday, 8 July 2009

5 online photo editors

Digital editing doesn't require expensive software. You don't even need to be home to access you desktop editor. Simply hook into the Internet and have a look at the 5 best online image editors (according to Lifehacker readers)


Wednesday, 1 July 2009

What should you do when you need to take a break (EMG Zine May)

Working two careers can be exhausting. Sometimes you just need to step away from one to keep your sanity. It might be that your day job has taken over your life and you barely have time to cook dinner, let alone paint. It could be that you are a full time artist, and you find yourself doing more business and marketing tasks than painting and you need time to create new products. There could be family commitments, illness or injury.

Whatever the reason, how should you go about the process of cutting back on some of your commitments?

I've had to do this several times as my work peaks and recedes. Some months can be very cruisy, while others I have maybe an hour to myself all day. I still keep on working both jobs, however the balance is definitely skewed towards the day job at the moment!

So where to start?
1. Identify the 'dead wood' you can trim from your life
2. Ease back on commitments you can't get rid of, or don't want to drop i.e.simplify your life!
3. Work smarter

What should you look at getting rid of first?

  • Things you hate. You know the tasks I'm talking about. They are the ones that you drag your heels on, avoid answering emails to, put in the 'too hard' basket. They suck the creativity right out of you. They bore you. They feel like work. If you're doing work like this, and have very little time to call your own, you will burn out.
  • Things that don't make any money or you are doing for free. If you can't do the job, someone else can. And if it's free, unless you are doing it for your own reasons it is unimportant. If it was truly important, they'd be paying you!
  • Things that are not cost or time effective. If you spend 10 hours making something, then sell it for a few dollars, then you are selling yourself short ... especially if your time is limited. Your time is a valuable commodity!

How to ease back on commitments and not disappear entirely

  • Maintain an online presence somehow. Whether you use a blog, twitter, facebook, or mailing list, make sure you don't disappear of the face of the earth for 6 months at a time
  • Finish the things that you've started or reschedule them. It's bad business to turn around on a client and say 'that painting I'm halfway through, well can't do it' if you really can still finish it. Reputation is still king when it comes to business.
  • Prepare people for the change or give them alternate contact points. If you're closing down your shops, try and give people warning, or at least tell them you can still ship products, and give them a contact point.
  • Try and ease back on things, one thing at a time rather than all in one hit. Sometimes this is unavoidable, but if things are gradually getting more and more hectic, you can try and start cutting back one thing at a time

How to work smarter?

This is for another column, but essentially it comes down to:
  • Know thyself. Know your limitations, habits and strengths and work to them
  • Learn to say 'NO' and to prioritise your tasks
  • Value your time and energy
  • Try not to over commit!

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Shoutout - Smashing Magazine

Another shout-out to a great illustration and inspiration resource: http://www.smashingmagazine.com/. This site showcases talent, design tutorials, ideas for being a more efficient designer/ artist/ illustrator and a host of free resources. Beware, you may get sucked in for hours!

Monday, 1 June 2009

Jack of All Trades (EMG Zine April)

There's an old saying about being a jack of all trades and a master of none. While this saying is often about someone who never perfects anything, but rather can do lots of things adequately, from an artistic point of view there are many reasons why you may want to be a little more adaptable and flexible when it comes to subject matter and style.

So which is best? Being a specialist with a particular artistic bent, or being a generalist who can do lots of things, but doesn't specialise in any one thing? Here are some thoughts on the matter:

  • "I never ever get bored with painting pink fairies with monarch butterfly wings".

    Being a specialist can be boring. If you have to paint the same thing, the same colour scheme, the same style ALL THE TIME, life can get a bit dull. Of course, if you are passionate about your speciality then it can be a never-ending exploration of something you adore. Kind of like chocolate or trashy romances. Some people could live their lives never eating another kind of sweet, or read anything else and that's ok.

  • "Hey, aren't you that girl who paints the weird dancing turnips?"

    Is that really how you want people to remember you? And is that really what you want to get commissions for, for the rest of your life? As a specialist you can be pigeonholed. You can be defined by a particular moment in time -- much the same way an actor gets typecast. If you love dancing vegetables, then great, you won't have a problem, but if you don't, it can be very hard to escape from people's expectations.

  • "Who are you again?"

    If you don't specialise, you can get lost in the crowd. Imagine yourself a bird of paradise amongst a bunch of pigeons -- You want and need to be noticed. Being memorable (for good reasons) is a way to build a fan base and get sales/ work.

    If you have many different skills and subjects that you can paint (competently), you open yourself to a greater variety of projects.

  • "Why don't you ask her? She's the queen of painting purple unicorns!”

    Being a master in a particular field immediately makes you an expert whose advice is sought. This can be good and bad -- depends on if you are happy to answer questions, or even defend your position as an expert. There are a number of digital artists that are expert painters that essentially have to provide work in progress shots to 'prove' their method.

  • "I have no brand!"

    Having many skills and doing many themes can make it difficult to 'brand' yourself. How do you want yourself to be known if you don't have something that stands out as representing 'you the artist'? As a specialist, your speciality is your 'brand'.

  • "How dare you paint a space monkey? You're supposed to paint mermaids!"

    If you are a specialist, you can have violent reactions from fans when you don't paint what they expect. You'd be amazed at comments from so called fans when you change your style or your media. It doesn't matter what the reasons are, if you have a fan base for a particular reason, you do something different and you are bound to tick someone off!
    Sometimes specialisation only has a small fan base. You may be brilliant at what you do, but if there are only three people in the world who love your stuff, unless they are willing to be your patrons, you may need to broaden your artistic field.

So what is the best approach? Generalist or specialist? Well, it really comes down to a few things.

  • You have to paint what you love or connect with. Whether it's a style, colour or subject. Things that have meaning to you, or you enjoy painting, generally come out better than something you loathe and struggle to paint.

  • Know thyself. If you love to paint the same kinds of paintings, go for it. If you get bored with the same paintbrush between one painting and the next, you might be happier doing a bit of illustration, a bit of design work, and selling products as well.

  • Skills regardless of specialisation are important. Without skills, you lose credibility.Finally, people grow and change. You might specialise in one thing for ten years, and then abruptly change and do something different. And that’s ok too!

Friday, 1 May 2009

Do I Really Paint Like That? The Artistic Post-mortem (EMG Zine March)

Even if your time is limited, there is one part of any project which is critical to help you improve. Whether you spend five minutes or a week, doing an artistic 'post-mortem' on completed works is a good habit to get into.

So what do I mean by this? Well, at my day job, we have what's called a 'post implementation review' -- it's where a bunch of people get together and dissect how the project went. Sometimes it's full of people patting each other on the back; other times it's full of people pointing fingers and burning effigies.

An artistic 'post mortem', for me, is where you apply the same principles to a completed piece of work and reflect on what went right, what went wrong, and more importantly, where the opportunities for improvement are. We don't always need a bunch of critics to tell us what is good or bad. One of the most important things an artist can learn is how to be critical of your own work. To help you become more reflective about your own work, try asking yourself some of these questions the next time you finish a painting:

  1. What one thing would I do again?

    This can be something as simple as using a particular color, waiting for a wash to dry, or using a particular stock photographer. Sometimes the smallest thing that works can lead to a brilliant new style or technique.

  2. What is one thing I'd never do the same way?

    Everyone makes mistakes. Some are small, some are huge. Even if something is successful, you might decide for example that you never ever, and I mean never, choose to paint a picture with more than five roses in it.

  3. What one thing did I do in the piece that I could improve on for the next one?

    Be critical. If you took a shortcut like placed someone's hand behind their back, or relied too heavily on one photo reference, aim to paint at least a few fingers or sketch a hand. Don't get stuck and never improve. Everyone can improve.

  4. If I could do the piece in a different medium, what would it be and why?

    Sometimes when you finish a piece, although it was a success, you feel that it may have turned out differently if you'd made a different choice in media. Would a pencil sketch be better as a digital painting, should you have used oils instead of watercolours, or would a photo have been more effective?

  5. If I had twice as long to do this piece, how could I have improved it?

    Time is always a factor. When you are doing this part time, sometimes you have a limited window in which to complete work. Even if you paint full time, you might have several project on the go at once. When you are finished, work out what you rushed through, what you slaved over, and see where you skimped.

  6. What part did I take the longest on, and could I have been quicker?

    You can get bogged down in the details. That 8 hours you spent painting fur -- will it actually be noticed when the piece is printed out as a greeting card? Practice speed painting to improve your abilities to render image quicker and more effectively.

The key to asking questions about your own work is to work out what you need to do to improve. It's not about beating yourself down, comparing yourself against others, or giving yourself a complex. It's about learning to take off the rose coloured glasses and see your work as it is. If you can't see you own strengths and weaknesses, you can't necessarily take criticism, and you certainly can't improve or grow.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Link shoutout - Artemisia

In lieu of proper posts, I'm going to start doing some shoutouts to great resources on anything remotely related to art, illustration, productivity, business and what not.

Today's shout out goes to Artemisia -a blog that covers fantasy art from the female perspective. Apart from the fact the artists in question are all very talented (if you don't know Melissa Findley or Louisa Gallie's artwork, check them out!), their posts are interesting and intelligent - without coming off as bra-burning feminists. They list stock resources, give their opinions on cover art, and feature female arts in the fantasy art field. It's only new, but hopefully they keep pumping out the articles (in between the artworks!)

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Stop Giving Yourself A Guilt Trip! (EMG Zine February)

Thou shalt paint whenever one is not:

a) At the day job

b) Making the house liveable by cleaning, cooking, ironing or fumigating

c) Laid off sick with 2 broken arms or completely incapacitated

The consequences of ignoring these commandments shall be eternal guilt...

Um... When did I agree to this?

Most artists have gotten themselves in the situation where they feel they *should* be painting if they have free time. (I'm not talking about blowing off your responsibilities, I'm talking about feeling under pressure to create stuff just because you are an artist and you have spare time.)

You try and be a superhero, putting unrealistic and often unhealthy expectations on yourself. And if you don't meet these expectations you get miserable. Or if you're like me, you start to feel a big, fat case of the guilts. After the guilts start, martyrdom sets in and you paint because you *should*, not because it's fun or rewarding, but because you've made these silly rules that you can't have any semblance of a life.

I'm guilty of it. In fact, I worked myself into the ground trying to have two careers, and somewhere along the way forgot to have fun. I got so caught up in having to paint because I was an artist and it's what I should be doing, that all painting felt like 'work.' Commission work, personal work, portfolio work -- it felt like I was churning through it, but the heart wasn't in it in the way it should be. Oh don't get me wrong, I gave 150% on each piece; it was more the way I felt inside as I painted. It got into a nasty cycle of working, coming home, doing necessary chores, painting because I had free time (not because I had a drive to paint), and all the while thinking I’d rather be doing something else. And heaven forbid I did something else; I'd be thinking about the fact I should be painting when I wasn't. While I had guilted myself into painting and was producing stuff, I wasn't enjoying the process.

It's kind of like being allowed dessert. You really want a chocolate sundae covered in gooey hot chocolate fudge sauce. And then being sensible or being bullied into getting the fruit salad. While the fruit salad is healthier and tastes great, what you really wanted was the ice-cream. The whole time you're having your pineapple you're thinking about the ice-cream. In the end, you got dessert, you're down a couple of dollars, you've eaten something you really didn't feel like, and you haven't really got rid of the craving for the sundae.So what can you do when you start feeling guilty about NOT painting?

  • Slap yourself in the back of the head and stop thinking that way! Nobody likes a martyr and no one but yourself is putting expectations on you. If a company wants you to do 50 paintings in a week, they're only doing it because you allowed yourself to be put into that situation. Be realistic about what you can do and recognise your limitations. Also recognise that you are entitled to a life!

  • Relax! The painting will still be there tomorrow, a week from now, even six months later. It's like riding a bike. The skills may get rusty, but they don't disappear.
    You don't have to spend all your free time on one thing. You are allowed to have more than one artistic pursuit or hobby (actually, this should be expanded to be 'you are allowed to have a life!'). I have several (hobbies, not lives :) ) -- I play music, I do medieval recreation, I dance, I play computer games… It may help to balance you out or inspire you in different ways. It also helps to reenergise you when you are having an artist block.

  • Don't think about what you think you should be doing when you are doing something else enjoyable. Again it's like the chocolate sundae. Your free time is just that -- free! Free to do what you want, not free to only do painting and nothing else or you shall be struck down by some omnipotent being. A little bit of guilt helps you get through the things you have to.

You don't need it in your free time. So go forth, paint because you want to, not because you feel guilty about NOT painting.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

The Lazy Artist (EMG Zine January)

Originally posted : EMG Zine January Issue

I know that purchasing more hours in the day is not really achievable, nor is getting rid of the day job, but to coin a phrase my boss uses all the time -- we want to work smarter, not harder! This is where learning to be a 'lazy' person can help you get more stuff done (like painting!), and in less time. Here are some ideas to help you become a 'lazy artist' and increase your time for painting!

Automate stuff

Anything that you can set up in five minutes, and that takes less than a click to cancel is great. You can:
  • set up direct billing for website hosting/ domain names/ art site subscriptions
  • subscribe to rss feeds through your mail client (rather than visiting the site daily)
  • Set up automatic filters/ rules on your email inbox. Rather than having 6000 emails in your inbox, it's a lot easier to deal with 5 emails you HAVE to answer then and there
  • Automate your computer gadgets including
    • backup procedures (my external harddrive has an automatic feature, but there are loads of free tools out there. Check out http://free-backup.info/ for loads of information)
    • virus scans
    • defragging the hard drive

As I have my computer on a lot, I try to schedule the tasks for when I'm not likely to be working so that these processes don't interrupt my flow. Create a digital Personal Assistant with free online tools Why remember stuff when you can set up a reminder? The less you have to remember, the more free space in your brain for other important things. Well that's the theory anyway! Set up reminders for:
  • paying bills (if you haven't automated them)
    doing daily chores (like remembering to hang out the load of washing you put on 2 hours ago!)
  • deadlines for commissions, competitions, submission dates
  • interrupting procrastination such as catching up on forums, random internet searches, playing solitaire *ahem*
  • Eat/ sleep/ have a real lifeThere are loads of on (line tools to help you manage your time such as:
    Remindr -- http://remindr.info/
    Hassle me -- http://www.hassleme.co.uk/
    Remember the Milk - http://rememberthemilk.com/

With some of these sites, they can even send reminders to your PDA, Blackberry, Mobile Phone or other electronic devices.

Why reinvent the wheel - Alternatives to a website

If you don't have time to develop your own website, or are finding it difficult to get around to updating your html & FTP'ing it to a server, then maybe you could use an online gallery for updates with a link from your main page or profile to the gallery. Some Online galleries you might like to look at are:

Another alternative to online galleries is to redirect your website to a blog. Some blogs are capable of hosting content such as images and videos. The benefit of using a blog is that they are quick to update, many have very simple interfaces, are very customizable and are free. Of course they aren't websites, and so don't have things like storefronts, but you can link to places where you can sell.

For an overview of some of the blogging software available: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weblog_software

And if you are really pressed for time, try microblogging where you are limited to about 150 words. It's quick and easy and many of the microblogs have widgets for syndicating content. Examples of these include Twitter (http://www.twitter.com/), though many places such as Facebook and MySpace have similar tools known as Status Updates.

Let someone else sell your stuff

Another way to save on time is to stop doing the manufacturing of prints yourself and get someone else to do this. You may like to explore services such as Zazzle, Cafe Press & Deviant Art Prints, or consider licensing your images for manufacturing. The main downside to this is that you have no control over quality, and your profits may be fairly slim. But it does mean all that time you spend making things could be spent on painting. Being a 'lazy artist' is not about taking shortcuts, it's about prioritizing and working out what you want to spend your precious time on. And the more time you have to paint, the better!

Sunday, 15 February 2009

ninja mountain podcasts

In case you haven't heard, some talented illustrators have been getting together and chatting about the sci-fi/ fantasy illustration industry in a series of entertaining and informative podcasts. So far there are only 3, but they are well worth the listen.

This is the blurb from their site http://ninjamountain.blogspot.com/:
This episode features Jeremy, Jon and Patrick as they discuss their first freelance jobs, how to get started as a freelancer (and how not to), art school, Applebee's, space boobs, and anything else that comes to mind. Get ready for an hour of art talk!

Episode 2:
This week, Andy Hepworth joins Jon, Jer, and Patrick, as the ninjas discuss portfolios, getting work, convention networking, and even a bit of art talk as they debate the merits of ArtRage, the digital painting program.

Episode 3:
It's the usual group of guys (Andy, Jeremy, Jon and Patrick), tackling the big subject of what they broadly call "client relations": working out contracts, getting paid, "exposure deals" and other scary stuff. They also discuss the best method of figuring just how much you should get paid for a job.

Feeds are available through iTunes as well

Saturday, 17 January 2009

EMG Zine posts

I'm expanding my blog to EMG Zine which is run by the multi-tasking artist/ writer/ entrepreneur Ellen Million. This has been in the works for a while so it's exciting to finally be apart of Ellen's team. I'll still be writing here, but my extended articles will be posted at EMG Zine first, then posted here at the end of the month.

http://emg-zine.com/item.php?id=486 - is a post on Being lazy and getting stuff done (if you can't wait for me to post it here). I'm under the monthly column 'Part Time Painter'.

As a side note, while I work through my website redesign, I thought I'd post a link to a website which is something many people wouldn't consider. http://www.vischeck.com/ checks your website or images for usability for people who are Colourblind. I use it mainly for checking that text can still be read more than what the images will look like.