📙 #005 - an excuse of sorts
Digital vs Physical
My degree was an arts degree that just happened to involve a lot of computers. I've always considered myself an artist who loves to get inky and can touch and smell the paper; I just happen to use the computer for a lot of it. When I finished my degree, this whole internet thing was kicking off, and I had a choice, go the "starving artist" route or start on the whole internet adventure which has taken me all the way to San Francisco and back, helping to build Flickr along the way, a cornerstone of "Web 2.0".
And exciting as that was, I always missed the artist part. The first four newsletters, my Instagram account and blog were all part of my trying to escape the internet and get back to being a hands-on artist. So I was ridiculously pleased when I finally made a net profit from selling pen plots.
So, of course, the following month, the act of being in the right place at the right time dumped a pile of cash in my lap for doing digital generative art, presenting me with once more a choice between physical and digital, getting its claws into me right when I'd managed to escape.
Plus, I wanted to show other pen plotting artists that it was possible to make a living from selling art, which is a much harder position to take when the answer seems to be "Get lucky, be at a point in time when lots of different particular things all align, oh, and not pen plotting".
I was back at the position of going, "well, I can use the money from the digital stuff to support the physical art", which is a compromise I'd failed at before but decided it was worth another shot.
ArtBlocks, the primary place where I make my digital art, exploded in hype and interest and goodness knows what, promptly making several artists millionaires (well, at least in crypto-currency terms, adventures in tax are currently underway, I believe), in return for writing code.
Now, I don't have a problem with this; it's just not really for me. I've had the luxury of already going through the Web 2.0 boom/bust cycle and seeing several friends suddenly become rich, or fail to become rich. For some people on either side of that coin, it's been either the best thing, or the worst thing that ever happened to them.
I've come to accept that my position is that I would just like to do work and have a sensible, steady income, where it's my job to make art.
ArtBlocks seemed like that, and thankfully from my point of view, it is going back to that. Somewhere where I could make two or three projects a year and then be actively engaged with the community the rest of the time.
A bit like a band releasing an album once every few years and touring in-between. I try to think of it that, rather than people paying me for my art once or twice a year, they are paying my wages to be a practising artist, and my job is to be active all year round, not just popping up now and then to go "buy my stuff, k/thx, see you again in six months".
Procrastination and Therapy
All of the above led to a good old pile of procrastination. Thankfully I'm not really an anxious person; I'm pretty chill as it happens. I'm also reasonably good at treating art as my 9-to-5 job. The trouble was making sure that my motives for doing work in that 9-to-5 time aligned with my own core beliefs.
When the carrot of financial security is dangling in front of you, much like it was when I first finished my degree, you can second guess yourself into paralysis.
Thankfully one of the things it did give me was the resources to get a kick-ass therapist and about a million "productivity" books. That's probably a topic for a whole different newsletter, though.
Due to lots of therapy, I now feel a lot better, but also about eight months behind schedule.
Previously I wasn't getting things done because I had a big old procrastination block linked to all sorts of beliefs and self-worth issues. Now I'm not getting things done because I'm making my way through eight months of built-up admin and tasks; progress!
Pen Plotting Tutorials
This brings us neatly back to pen plotting.
One of the main tasks I'd given myself was to make some pen plotting tutorials. I'd also told myself to stop making new pen plot designs, but rather that things I posted about pen plotting should be related to the tutorials.
The tutorials would (and will) be starting with straightforward things, like drawing lots of straight lines. I didn't want people to see what I was doing and think, "Oh, that's too complicated. I could never do that", but rather "Oh, I wonder how I too can do that", and have a tutorial for them.
Needless to say, when you're a "content creator" and you've decided to lock up your ability to "create content" behind a whole construct of "I'll make tutorials", which you then throw a procrastination wall in front of, well, yeah, things don't go well!
Add in a newsletter which is supposed to be about my adventures in pen plotting, and you get, well, here.
The light at the end of the tunnel.
So, where am I now?
Well, Zachary, my son has a handful of exams left, which I have to drive him to in the next couple of cities over, and there's a wedding coming up, but it feels like, touch wood, that those are the last things which are going to take huge chunks of time out of my work weeks.
I've been whittling down my to-do list to the point where I almost feel like I'll be pro-activity working on forwards looking things rather than catching up on over-due things.
Therapy and the productivity books have gotten me to the point where I can work on two things at once!!!
I've previously had the habit of not being able to start on one major project until I've finished a current one. But, through the miracle of planning, I can now do one thing in the morning and then switch to something different in the afternoon.
This is great, but I generally have three things to do...
... I'm trying to make those cross-over as much as possible, so my YouTube videos are ideally about either 1 or 2. And if I can try to combine both pen plotting and digital together, or at least make my work both physical & digital, that's a bonus.
I can't quite fit doing three things into a day, and if I carefully spread them out throughout the week, then it still feels like I'm not dedicating enough time to any of them unless I spill out of the 9-to-5 boundaries which I'm determined not to do.
There are times when I still feel like I'm falling behind my peers from looking at just how much they're getting done, but shout-out to my therapist once more; I think I'm okay with that.
1,000 true fans.
Back in 2008, a time when apparently fonts on the internet were tiny, Kevin Kelly wrote the blog post "1,000 true fans" https://kk.org/thetechnium/1000-true-fans/
There's a shorter and more reasonably sized-font blog post about it here: https://www.hypebot.com/hypebot/2019/04/the-truth-behind-the-1000-true-fan-theory.html
The summary from that second post being...
"The idea is that if each of the 1,000 fans bought $100 worth of product every year (the figure equals an arbitrary full-day's pay), you'd have an income of $100,000, which, even minus expenses, can still represent a reasonable living for most artists. The trick, of course, is how you expand your fanbase to that magic 1,000-fans number (providing that you buy the theory in the first place, of course)"
...the maths is a bit shaky for pen plotting. Assuming 200 workdays in a year, I'd have to sell five pen plots a day for $100 each on average. Even just the practicality of the throughput on plotting puts that out of reach.
A classic slide appeared in presentation "decks" in the time of Web 2.0, which looked like a pyramid and went something like...
Out of all of your followers, 10% will respond to something your post with something like a "Like" or "Thumbs-up", and 10% of those will more actively engage, and 10% of those will follow a "call to action" (subscribe, buy, etc.).
So if you had 1,000,000 followers and you said something like "Hey, please go buy my latest album", 100,000 would hit the like button, 10,000 would re-tweet/post or comment on it, and finally, 1,000 may go do the thing you asked them to do 😁
Those percentage numbers start higher when fewer people are involved, but all the behind the scenes evidence I saw when working at Flickr and being in and around San Francisco backed up the trending to 10% of 10% of 10% rule as they grew.
Although I think just doing pen plotting is pushing it, I feel kind of reassured that there's a position I could take of doing a hybrid of digital, plotting and prints, treating it as my 9-to-5 day job and possibly at some point make that a sustainable thing.
If we take it back to a musician angle, I don't think I would want to be in a big successful band and everything that comes with it. I'd much rather be part of a smaller, sustainable community.
Back to regular service
This was a slightly longer than I was planning newsletter; I guess that's how it goes when you're still harbouring a little bit of guilt 😁 you'd also think I'd know better by now than to go "Everything will go back to normal now, and all things will be back on time, I've totally got this", but...
Everything will go back to normal now, and all the things will be back on time, I've totally got this!
Thank you for joining in!
I believe I decided somewhere in the past that the newsletter should have a "Things I'm doing around the internet" and a "call to action" section, but this has already gone on long enough, so I'll save those for next time.
However, in the spirit of the 1,000 true fans and because I think this is a place where we can get a bit nerdy and behind the scenes, let's go with the following section.
Social Media Empire
The big news to report over the last few months is I've been putting more effort into YouTube at the cost of posting on Instagram. As Instagram pivots towards video, I'm often left with the choice between filming things vertically or horizontally, and horizontally is winning out at the moment.
Everything is telling me I should do Reels and TikTok, so who knows, once the exams and wedding are out of the way, I may give that a spin 😬
Follower count is a terrible metric, but let's stick with it at the moment; here are the numbers...
For sanity, I'm going to leave Facebook and LinkedIn off that.
Instagram has been steadily going down over the past few months, most likely due to not posting or engaging much. Meanwhile, Twitter has been creeping up because that's where I post my digital work.
YouTube, while looking tiny, is making me smile; 763 is way more than I was expecting, especially as I feel like I'm just treading water until I start putting the pen plotting tutorials up there. Also, the amount of effort I'm putting in is possibly more than I should be, but it turns out I really really enjoy making videos, even though they still take me forever.
If I could wish for anything, it'd be becoming magically fast at editing videos.
Finally, the newsletter feels like the most real thing. Any of those other platforms could pull the rug with a quick change of the algorithm, but the newsletter feels like the real core group of us; despite my total lack of sending them for the last six months, this feels like the heart of the community.
Thank you once again.