One of the more daunting parts of being a self-employed artist is the balance between marketing and creativity. I’ve often joked that, in this field, one has to work three times for each job – you have to work to find the job, you have to work to actually do the job and you have to work to be paid. And on top of that, there’s the original reason you got into this line of work – you’re a creative person.
So how can you manage producing personal work in the face of the rest of your professional to-dos, especially marketing? The trick comes in thinking of personal work not as a distraction or even something you should do, but as one of the best forms of marketing available. Creating personal work is actively seeking paid work.
But where to find the time? Between invoicing, cold-calling, creating paid work for clients and emailing (and emailing and emailing), it seems impossible. Changing your mindset to value well-executed personal work as one of the most successful paths to great-paying gigs can help you find the time.
Creating successful personal projects in a hectic climate relies on a few fundamental truths:
I spoke with several artists at Dripbook about their relationship with personal work and how they use personal work as a direct form of securing new paid work.
Henry Hargreaves is a Brooklyn-based photographer who has one of the most-viewed sets of portfolios on Dripbook. I see work he posts to his portfolios that, within weeks, blows up in the blog world (see here, here, here, and here). It seems like he’s got an entire PR agency behind his promotions, but it turns out it’s much more simple – he makes a lot of great personal work.
“I’m really inspired by what I see in the blogosphere,” he says. “I see something that I think is cool and I think, ‘You know what would be even cooler, then cooler again’ and I take it from there. It’s all about focus and being able to bring an idea to life. In terms of what I produce – it’s for me. I used to try to showcase what I thought people wanted to see and was only mildly successful. Then I changed track and created work I would like to see and the balance in interest shifted.”
Henry points to a recent cover he was commissioned to do for the Village Voice that came from a quirky “Zen of Yoda” series he made “that started as sayings of Yoda’s written out on keys from old keyboards in the mud. Pretty random, but it got the attention of the The Village Voice art director, so in the end it got the result.”
Noah Fecks is a New York-based food photographer who recently co-created a blog called “The Way We Ate,” in which he and his partner prepared and photographed recipes from every single Gourmet Magazine ever produced (about 815 issues!).
“Paul and I post something to the blog every day,” Noah says. “We spent our own money and time, cooking, buying ingredients and kitchen tools, shopping for props and surfaces, cleaning, doing dishes, all in the quest of creating not only something we love and enjoy, but something that speaks for us as far as our talents and individual sensibilities. A printed portfolio and website are not enough to secure the work and clients we’re looking for.”
“I can personally think of about five or six recent large advertising and editorial jobs where being able to show our blog and other personal work to prospective clients ‘sealed the deal’ and got us the job,” he adds. “It’s also nice to be able to show a client what we can do without all the whistles and bells of an amazing stylist or a very expensive studio (both of which we adore, but don’t always have the luxury of working with).”
Neil Webb is an illustrator in the United Kingdom who is happily so busy that he’s not creating as much personal work as he’d like. He’s no stranger to personal projects, though, and he made a good point about the potentially limitless scope of personal work, and how he stays focused when creating personal projects.
“Now that I have being doing this for awhile, one of the hardest things for me is to start with a completely blank page, or no theme, because the possibilities then seem overly limitless,” Neil says. “With my personal projects, I find I have to channel the discipline of my paid work – I tend to set a brief that approximates something I would get through a real editorial or publishing proposal. Other times I’ll find an existing article or book and begin working with that.”
What about you? What personal projects have you made that lead to paying gigs? Send through links and summaries of your process. It’s always great hearing about creative personal work leading nicely to new paid gigs.
Alex Wright is a creator and the Creative Director of Dripbook – a sourcebook and web-based portfolio management tool for commercial artists. Alex spends his days working to make technology help people. Alex lives in Austin, Texas. Dripbook
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