10 TIPS FOR THE INDEPENDENT ARTIST

By Dei G. (Photo by Ion Uranga)

My name is Dei G., also known as DEISIGN. I am a freelance Character Designer, Art Director and founder of DEISIGN STUDIO, a provider of characters and creatures for the entertainment industry. Despite the name of my label, I am still very much an independent artist, with all its perks as well as the stress and existential angst that come with it. In the following lines, I’ll list some of the non-artistic reminders and strategies that I find have helped me get to where I am, while maximizing happiness… and staying sane. I know that some of these won’t resonate with all readers, but if a fellow artist out there benefits from any one of these tips, it will have been well worth writing them down and sharing them. Cheers!

 

1. DISTILL YOUR GOALS FROM OTHERS’.

While I was studying Animation, I was “convinced” that my goal was to become a top notch Animator and work at Pixar. However, once I graduated from college and took some distance, I realized that wasn’t’ really my dream. It was just the collective desire that was floating in the air at that place and that I had unknowingly bought into. It’s often easy to get your actual goals mixed with what is perceived by those around you as the most kick-ass goal or career path. Might this be happening to you? Check yourself and find out what YOU really want to do. Similarly, identifying what you don’t want to do is just as helpful and important.

 

2. DREAM BIG. WORK SMART. 

Be a foolish dreamer. After all, it is highly unlikely to achieve anything you haven’t desired first. Have your crazy goal? Now, it probably seems overwhelming to even think about or figure out all the necessary steps that will take you there. Instead, just concentrate on this one piece, this one assignment or decision that you’ve got in your hands at the moment. What can you do with it that will steer you, even if ever so slightly, closer to your goals? Could you turn it into a kick-ass portfolio piece perhaps? Keep your ultimate goal present in every little decision that is within your power, and before know it, you might have connected all the dots that lead to it.

 

3. STOP AND THINK FOR A MOMENT (OFTEN). 

Silly as it might sound, I was once horrified to find that I had actually not THOUGHT for a second in almost a year of just going with the flow, and doing, doing, doing. Make sure you don’t fall prey to the hypnotic, non-stop pace of the industry… or as mentioned earlier, to the ambient peer pressure of goals that aren’t really yours. This ritual of “stopping and thinking” has consistently helped me to fine tune and steer my career, get out of jobs (or even life situations) I was unknowingly fed up with and ultimately made me a happier and more fulfilled person. I dare you to try it. Stop and think for a moment.

 

4. YOUR CURRENCY IS NOT MONEY, BUT TIME. 

You don’t get paid money in exchange for the work you produce. Technically, you’re getting paid money in exchange for the time that you devoted into creating that work (hourly rates, per diem rates. etc, etc). So essentially you sell your living hours in exchange for money. Sounds depressing, right? Then do your best to make it not so, by aiming for jobs and assignments that will be worth spending your time on, besides the pay. Is it interesting? Is it fulfilling? Are you learning something? Will you regret having spent your time and energy in this? Those are questions I ask myself regularly in order to make sure I’m happy with what I’m doing.
Additionally, this cherishing of one’s time, should hopefully help young artists out there to not undercharge themselves, by not focusing so much on putting a price to their works, but to their time instead. The quality of your work and your experience are definitely a factor, but valuing your time as it deserves should help you set a good starting rate.

 

5. BUILD A “SAFETY NET” (OF INCOME-FREE TIME).

This one is definitely easier said than done and it definitely depends on a variety of factors: Your life circumstance, responsibilities, how well the gigs are paying… even health. Sometimes life happens and it’s not so easy to save money, so take this tip with a grain of salt. What I mean by “build a safety net” is to try to save an amount of money, but once again thinking about it in terms of TIME. In other words, try to have some type of savings that you could live off of without needing any income for a certain length of time (2 months? A year? That depends on how much you’re making and spending of course). But why do this, you may ask? Well, primarily to eliminate the stress of having to take each and every gig that comes by in order to pay the bills… but also in order to be able to exercise this following tip:

 

6. THE POWER OF “NO”. 

Proactive attitude, positive thinking and taking every opportunity that presents itself are often upheld as great virtues of a go-getter professional, but in my opinion, these notions are a bit simplistic and romanticized. In my experience, I have found “NO” to be a much tougher answer to give, and yet one that I have benefited greatly from: Passing on unexciting jobs to remain available for the potential next great gig… Turning down very tempting offers to extend contracts that I was no longer motivated by… etc, etc. Ultimately, having a certain flexibility to be selective with your options and only say yes to those gigs that will be fulfilling and drive you closer to your goals, is quite a powerful thing in my opinion.

 

7. ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKES YOU A DULL ARTIST. 

Being dedicated to your craft and honing your skills is definitely a must in order to succeed in this field as an independent artist. However, when I’m looking at some of my favourite artists, I personally find that their cool and original ideas outweigh their great technique. I believe that traveling, meeting new people and nurturing oneself with exciting and diverse life experiences, is not only beneficial for one’s happiness, but for making one’s art unique, genuine and interesting as well.

 

8. TIRE YOUR BODY… AND GIVE YOUR MIND A REST.

Doing some type of exercise is important in order to stay healthy and also strong enough to draw/model/rig(you name it) for long hours while avoiding pains or injury. However, I personally find that jogging or going to the gym, while it may fulfill the goals listed above, it fails to take my mind off of things and give it any rest. This is why I favor playing sports, surfing, dancing or any activity that requires your full and undivided attention. This way, you exercise your body more than you even realize, and more importantly, you give your mind a good rest and feel freshened up to get back to work. Try it!

 

9. FORGET ABOUT NETWORKING. GET TO KNOW PEOPLE. 

It maybe a cultural thing, but I have never been a fan of the word “Networking”. It sounds so cold and technical. Don’t get me wrong, I am totally aware of the important part that “who you know” can play in one’s carrier. But ultimately, what’s really behind that idea, is people getting along, liking each other’s ideas and personality and wanting to work together. This is why I would discourage anyone from worrying about “networking” at industry events or informal gatherings. You might even weird people out to be honest. Just do what you would normally do and get to know the fellow professionals you come by. You will learn tons, build honest connections and the rest will follow.

 

10. DON’T WORRY. BE HAPPY. “IT’S JUST CARTOONS.”

One common trait of any creative professional, is that we’re highly consumed by our work and creative process. This can cause our work and its problems to appear greater than they really are and cause us a great deal of stress, when we let our work’s ups and downs take the center stage on our lives. I would be lying if I said this doesn’t happen to me on a regular basis. Which is why I often remind myself to take a step back, have a drink, and see this “problems” for what they really are. The same way that I am extremely passionate about what I do, I also regularly remind myself to not worry and enjoy life… after all “it’s just cartoons” :).

 

Life Does Not Wait (staring Dei G.) – video by Ion Uranga

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