Sunday, June 28, 2009

A Step Backwards, but Okay

I just finished printing my second version of a woodcut portrait of a really adorable white bulldog. I was 95% happy with the first one I did, everyone I showed it to (including the artists in my life) thought it was super, and my client probably wouldn't have noticed the little things that I didn't like...but I'm so glad I redid it! It's so much better. Those little things that weren't quite right the first time made all the difference in the world. A much stronger piece.

I'd love to BE the best at what I do, but DOING the best I CAN at what I do has to be my standard. I just think a little sloppy or accepting less that my best is a baddddd slippery slope. I have to go forward, get better, not fall backwards.

And let me tell you, dear fellow artists, it was so tempting to just say "good enough!" In fact, I thought about it for two days before I finally decided that morally and "artwise", I just couldn't accept 95% of my personal best.

So even though it seems that I took a step backwards, having gone back and started from scratch, I just feel it moved me forward a notch because I learned and improved. So one step backward and two forward, not a bad outcome.

I hope the same is true for you in your art life. I hope you're really striving for YOUR 100% and not settling for less than you're capable of. Our runway is short, we just have to take every opportunity to grow!

And this brings me to no commissions right now. I have done pretty well this spring, and am looking forward to a summer of some goofing off, and lots of working on things I've been wanting to do for a while. I'm going to take a few weeks off of marketing, as well. It's vacation time. We're going away, sitting in the garden, and hanging out. Time to refuel!

Monday, June 22, 2009

The In-The-Home Studio Nook

In my recent efforts to produce more, (and always,of course, better) art, I've had to face that one of my obstacles is poor studio practices. My studio used to be a whole room, where I had plenty of space to leave things a mess in one area and just do a clean up every once in a while. I did myself no favors working that way.

My studio right now, is now a nook in my dining room, and just like those of us who have had large kitchens and small kitchens, the same kind of meals can come out of both if you organize and run things right. I've been thinking about how I have gotten so much more efficient because I now run things right in my tiny, but productive studio nook!

The worst thing is when you are all ready to make art, go to your studio area and get so discouraged by the looks of it that you just turn right around. We are here on earth to make art, not watch t.v. (and of course, there's some other reasons we are here, but making art is what we all have in common, right? :D )

Here are my suggestions for a small, but efficient studio, learned from experience:

1. Don't "borrow" equipment from the studio. It's just not that expensive to buy another pair of scissors. I have had to search high and the bathroom because I cut my bangs? In the kitchen where I was cutting string? Same with rulers, tape, packing tape, razor blades, etc.

2. Don't stash non art stuff in your studio. Organize your "other life" in other places. You shouldn't have to root through drawers past the bills, family photos, notecards, etc. to find your art stuff.

3. Remember the 80/20 rule! I read somewhere long ago that we use 20 percent of our spices 80 percent of the time. So naturally, put those 20 percent in the front, accessible. Don't have to get past the peppermint oil to get to the parsley. Same with your art supplies. Okay, if you're reading this, you're an artist, and I KNOW that means that we buy...overbuy...all the time. That's a good thing! It makes us more creative. But even if you have a large space, 80 percent of your time is going to be at your art nook within your studio - your easel or table, so keep the stuff you need the most there within reach.

Those with a nook, like me, see if you can find another place to stash all those media you're going to learn to use someday. Is there a cabinet you can clean out in the basement for the stuff you are not actively using? Big tubs in the garage? I store my large sheets of paper under my bed in a cardboard sandwich and hang my large paper ripping straight edge on a nail behind the basement door. Don't put away in an attic that's not easy to get into, or behind or under things so you can't get to it. Just not in the prime real estate of your art nook.

4. Keep "jobs" together. I keep all the tools I need to rip paper for printmaking together in one spot. I keep all my printmaking supplies and equipment together in one box. I keep all my art marketing materials together in one box. I keep all my mailing and matting things together. All of these activities take place on my dining room table, right behind my easel. I just have to go retrieve them from their "other spot" in one trip, do the work, and back into the box for one trip back. In a small spot, I think it also helps to gang up jobs as much as possible to make for easier clean up. I often have more than one commission going at a time, and I prep as many as I have at the same time.

5. A place for everything...and everything in its place. Yeah, yeah. It saves soooo much time. Blindfolded, you should be able to put your hand on anything you need.

6. A large enough trash can within reach. Since I'm right around the corner, literally, from the kitchen, that's easy. When I had a whole room, that made a difference.

7. Clean up every time. You wouldn't cook and eat a meal and not clean up for a week would you? (Don't answer that!). Seriously, if you ever have had that life experience, you know how it is...there's less and less counterspace, less and less sink space, less and less correct tools for the job, you avoid it forever and when you finally get to it, it's a HUGE job, you're scraping what should have rinsed off. Same in your studio. You can get away with it in a larger one. In a nook, no way. And the bright side is it will save you money. No thrown out brushes, dried up paint, etc. And if you are literally using a part of another room, leaving your art debris around just makes the rest of the room look messy.

8. Keep a nice dog bed in your studio. Now, this is the most important part. Nothing like a little company of the very best kind!! If you don't know me, I am pet portrait artist, Robin Zebley, and my website is

How do you keep your studio, large or small, organized? I'd love to hear your ideas!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Twittering for fun and prospects!

Tweeting has been driving a signifant number of new viewers to my art sites! Of course, the more eyeballs that hit my pet portrait sites, the better my business! It takes a while, I think, to figure out how to do this, but this week I felt like I'm getting it:

I followed ppl who I think will be interested in following me. Animal people. I follow who they follow.

I then decided to follow those who aren't really potential customers: other artists, online market experts, tweeters who inspire others to go for their dreams, organic gardeners, crafters. And their followers. Although not "blatant" animal ppl, lots of folks who are organic gardeners, crafters and inspiring people also HAVE pets and might consider a pet portrait for themselves or for a gift. And I noticed some interesting things about how those who have a lot of followers tweet:

What happened was that twitter became a more interesting experience for me, I followed links in tweets that seemed interesting to me, and started following blogs that will help me.

So I learned what makes a reader take that more active step of clicking on the tweeter's profile, going to their website, etc., which is exactly what I hope to accomplish and HAS been happening...a lot...this week. What did I learn that I brought into my tweeting?

First, I respond with @ responses. It's so nice to know that someone is paying attention. Which means I skim through nonsense tweets to find something interesting so I can respond in an interesting way. With twitter, you gotta find the meat fast.

So, I am culling out who I follow. I am culling the animal rescues. What can I say? I know they're all great folks with desperate situations, but I can't adopt them all. I cull those who tweet every few minutes. I culled those who tweet stupid stuff, like "going to get coffee", "coffee is so strong, going to get more milk" "I'm back people! This is good coffee". I cull those who market...and only market...obviously and desperately. I cull those who only talk about the weather, follow fridays, etc.

This leaves me with more quality tweets that I can engage with. My belief is that once I have a quality exchange with someone...sometimes humourous and teasing, sometimes "way to go!", sometimes a comment on a link they gave...that they are more likely to remember me as someone they like and want to really follow. I know that as a tweet consumer, that is how I reacted. It's not that every tweet I read has to be profound, I like the casual and silly stuff, too. But not if it's all silly stuff.

Second, I leave space with my tweets. Better to tweet once an hour 4 times a day than 4 times in 10 minutes. For one thing, I'm likely to hit more people...those who's habit is to be at the computer at different times. The only time I've been deviating from that is when I really want to say more but can't fit it in, and that's been once, I think.

Third, I kinda backhandedly mention my portrait business only in an appropriate way, for instance when someone @ s me with a compliment. I'll say, "rt @nice_person, thanks for the compliment on my colored pencil pitbull portrait, you made my day!" I check those @s first thing, because I miss them, generally, real time.

I also mention when I've updated my blog.

Other than that, I try to be more of a responder, and I got that from someone else's tweet. That successful social networking is more about giving. The getting follows!

Third, I send direct messages to anyone following me that I want to follow me (and block the salesmen). I thank them, tell them I'm looking forward to their tweets and tell them what I generally tweet about.

And yes this has been timeconsuming. But I have been doing the culling and following, and direct messaging during tired, down times when I can. So before bed, "watching" the Phillies, too tired to draw, I have been doing these tweet chores. Also odd moments when I go to my tweet home, I'll see some culls and get rid of them.

Hope this helps someone else make a little sense about how this can work for you. Hit twitter often, but just a short time. Make meaningful return tweets. Cull the herd to make your tweet home more interesting. Become a consumer, as well. Direct message. It's working for me!! (BTW, I tweet as "robinzebley") And hey, while you're here, buy something, huh? :D

Monday, June 8, 2009

Ratcheting up the marketing

In addition to my pledge to make art for 12 - 15 hours a week, I'm pledging a half an hour a day = 3 hours with Sunday off - to marketing. I've relied on word of mouth and if I want to make this leap, I've got to get more eyeballs on my work.

Summer is a terrible time, it's traditionally been my slowest time, but experience has taught me that marketing doesn't have an immediate payoff anyway.

I've neglected driving around putting flyers up. It's literally been years since I hit some of them. So, back to that. Time to get some new streams opened up!

And today I'll be walking down to Reading Terminal at lunch, where there's a bulletin board above the tourist info, and thousands of visitors from all over the world. I've been filling that up about once every 2 months, how lazy is that? It's a 10 minute walk, if that!!

Plus there's a great noodle house that has the BEST soup in the world. :D

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Today is International Drawing Day!

And I'm working on a horse face in colored pencil. I'll be showing it on my other blog and on the American Artist Forums Drawing forum later today.

Won't you join in and draw today? No matter what your skill level..and if you are skilled, you know the value of drawing...and let's celebrate the most basic building block of our creations!

Friday, June 5, 2009

It's Prioritizing That's Strangles US!

Lori's 20 hour challenge has change my life, I'm serious! I realized that before, it was like, "okay, what's the most important thing I have to do now", rather than, just do it. I know it will all sort out if I just stop thinking about WHAT to do next artwise and just get on with it.

It's also amazing when you pick up a magazine and think...this is eating at my Challenge time... and I don't really CARE what Tom and Katie are wearing!

And it builds on itself. Nothing like seeing how far up the hill you've climbed to want to keep going! So c'mon, join us HERE. Soar to new heights! And pass it on!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Challenge - it's working!

Committing to a finite number of hours is really working for me! I guess some ppl do well with To-Do lists, but just putting in the hours on any of my art is really moving me along. Since my day job is getting really horrible, it's such a pleasure to see so much accomplished in my art!

If you aren't trying this...I highly recommend!! Just pick a stretch and go for it. Commit to reporting your progress on the American Artist forum site below and I bet you accomplish more than you dreamed!