Sunday, August 16, 2015

PSA: People Cannot Create in a Vacuum

People cannot create in a vacuum.

In 2014, while attending Louisianime, a young attendee came up to my table, super excited because THE Nattosoup decided to attend his local con that year.  Apparently, he'd read all of my alcohol based marker reviews, and he ended up behind my table, chatting about the life of an artist whenever he felt overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of the show.  I was touched that he was so excited by my attendance, and happy to oblige his request (obtained with his grandmother's permission) to decompress in the safety of my banner's shadow.

Last year, right before MTAC, Keicai (@caideleh on Twitter and Tumblr) notified me on Tumblr that she was planning on attending MTAC based on my glowing recommendation from the year before.  She'd read my blogpost and had decided to make the drive from Indiana to Tennessee with a friend in tow to share a table.  Not only did she contact  me on Tumblr, but she made it a point to come up to me on Sunday and chat, which really meant a lot to me.

This year, at Mechacon, Angelle (@Stark_Alchemy) a clay artist who I met at Louisianime the year before, came by my table to say hi, catch up, and check out this year's merch.  I was happy to catch up with her, and glad that she came by to say hi.

These moments of connection, which are sadly rare, really mean a lot to me, and are a big part of why I created this blog in the first place.  At the time, about six years ago, I was still learning so much about art and draftsmanship on my own, and my biggest resources were the /ic/ board of 4chan (yeah, sorry), the Creative boards on Something Awful, and  Although there were tutorials online on DeviantArt, and the critiques on CA were very useful, most of the information I found was through PDF copies of then out of print books- The Famous Artist Course, the Famous Comic Artist Course, the Andrew Loomis drawing books, Burne Hogarthe, and my favorite, the Glen Vilppu Drawing Manual.  I started this blog shortly before I started my graduate courses at SCAD, and have kept writing about all sorts of art and comic related topics since.

Throughout the years, I've had a couple goals that have always just been out of reach.  For one, I've always wanted this blog to be a small source of income, given the long hours I spend on each post, and unfortunately, despite even the most recent additions, it still costs me money to run this blog, rather than at least paying for itself.  Another of my goals for this blog was to use it to help build a community for my work by providing useful information in a searchable space, another goal that is still woefully out of my grasp.

I have been frustrated with the lack of reader interaction for a couple years now, and I've been wracking my brain with ways to change that.  I've tweeted a lot about this topic, as well as the topic of blog sponsorships a lot on my Twitter, hoping that someone might suggest something novel as a way to remedy these two big elephants in the room.  I acknowledge that people do occasionally comment on this blog, but I must admit that the addition of Google Comments instead of my old Captcha comment system leaves me not only unable to reply to comments, but unable to even access them.  Until I can solve this issue, if you'd like to say something, please email me, or tweet me about it (please include the link, so I know what you're talking about specifically).

I would also like to come up with a compromise of interaction that works for me and works for you guys, so if there's any system you prefer, please let me know in an email.  Would you prefer to chat on Twitter, over Instagram, or send asks through my Tumblr?  Please do let me know.  I have a poll up on the sidebar, and you can vote for your favorites.  It's heartbreaking to have written for so long, to have had so many readers, and so many page views, and to still have such limited engagement with the people I supposedly write for.

My reality:

I work from home in my apartment in Nashville, TN.  I don't have any friends here--I'd moved for a job, and now that that job has ended, I'm paying my rent through savings and the money I make doing freelance and conventions.  The friends I do have are far away--we do chat online, but it's often very shallow conversations, and I do my best to hide how depressed I am. I don't want people to worry.  I work upstairs, in a room dedicated as my studio, and very often only leave the room during the day to use the bathroom or grab a bite to eat.  I juggle out of state conventions, helping to maintain How to Be a Con Artist, writing posts for this blog, convention commissions, freelance work, and comics.  I generate a lot of content, much of which is shared here or on my other social sites, and I often hear very little response, which is incredibly discouraging.  I feel like I have been trying to create in a vacuum, guessing at what people would be interested in reading.

I attend dozens of conventions every year, put on several panels, and meet hundreds of people, but I still feel like I have very few friends, and I'm incredibly lonely.  When people do chat with me, it's usually to ask a question, ask for help, or because they need encouragement.  I do my best to encourage and inspire others, but it often leaves me absolutely drained, as I have limited sources of encouragement on my end.   I have written this blog for six years, and while I've seen my audience grow substantially, I haven't enjoyed the benefits of a larger audience   Even though I've formed or helped form a couple groups--How to Be a Con Artist, and Western Shoujo Artists, these have not had the social benefits I'd hoped for.

This isolation is killing me, and it's gotten to the point where writing this blog, and never hearing any sort of feedback, is detrimental to my emotional health. I spend a lot of time and money writing, and one of the main reasons I started this in the first place was to build relationships, help establish credibility and relevancy in my larval career, and to help form a community.  I had hoped that this blog would serve as a springboard to other things, and would become a source of inspiration for other artists.  I had hoped it would open doors and start conversations.  None of these things have happened.  It's become frustrating doing research, because I see other bloggers (especially craft bloggers) achieving what I'd like to have, while I seem to be stagnating.  I've tried reaching out and being honest about this situation on Twitter (which is tied with Tumblr in my current poll regarding engagement for this blog, so I thought that would be good place to talk to you guys directly, as it's the easiest to directly respond to), and those are the tweets that go ignored.  I understand that many of you may be uncomfortable talking to, or interacting with, people who are depressed, and I apologize if I've made you uncomfortable.  I've made the mistake of considering my readers as friends, when in reality, I think most of you do not know me at all.  I'm going to change that in the upcoming months, but I would really appreciate your help to make that possible.

What I Offer: 

  • I have consistently updated this blog with art school advice (when I was attending SCAD for my MFA)
  • comic and convention insight, brutally honest convention reviews you can trust (even when they reflect poorly on me, and create bad blood between myself and the convention staff)
  • convention prep tips
  • reviews of merchandise services such as Ink It Labs, Ponoko, and Artscow
  • unbiased art and comic supply reviews from someone who has been professionally trained to use these materials, but has also had experience in self education
  • art technique tutorials influenced by my accredited art education
  • videos of workshops and panels that explain these topics in detail visually, step by step
  • interviews with other comic professionals at various stages of their careers to influence and inspire
  • Six years of content, over 800 posts covering a wide range of topics

What I want:

More support

I want to hear from you, I want to know what you think of this blog, and what you'd like to see more of.  I would seriously love it if you guys linked me elsewhere, told your friends, teachers, coworkers about this blog.  I want to know what you'd like to see improved upon, suggestions for tutorials, recommendations for products to test.  I would like you to write to companies and request that they send me samples, especially of products you want to see tested here.  Almost everything is purchased from my pocket, and that gets really expensive.

Companies You Can Contact on My Behalf:
When you write them, please make sure you mention my name (Becca Hillburn) and if you can, a general link to this blog, as well as the review you wish to mention would be really helpful.  If I've inspired you to make any purchases, please mention that as well.  The more of you who write in, the more likely they'll be willing to work with me, and I promise, any sponsorship will not affect my opinion on products, nor my ability to write a review.

If you aren't comfortable doing that, here's a link to my Amazon wishlist, Dick Blick wishlist, and Jetpens wishlist--they are entirely made up of products I'd like to review on this blog, and your donation would help out a lot.  Donors who donate supplies will receive a special shout out in the review, and I'll prominently link any of their blog/Instagram/Twitter.  If my panels have benefited you in some way, and we're at the same show, please try to come say hi towards the end of the day, it would mean the world to me.  It is so frustrating when I send my ambassadors out to take photos, and you guys light up when they say Nattosoup sent them, but you don't come chat with me at any point.  On a rare occasion, a reader will come say hi, and it honestly means so much to me. 

There is no way for me to know who reads this blog unless you guys reach out and tell me, and the more people who say hi, the better idea I'll have on how to tailor what I write about to suit your needs.  I would especially love it if you guys occasionally bought copies of 7" Kara, left reviews, or tried to get it into your local libraries, as I am a comic artist, and this has been difficult for me to do on my own.  If you know of a path to a goal (like working with sponsors) and can provide concrete advice, please let me know. 

I want this blog to finally start contributing to my income on a regular basis.  Writing my review posts, purchasing the materials necessary; this takes a lot of time and a lot of money, and while I enjoy doing it, I would like for this blog to finally start paying its own expenses.  There are a number of ways I am going to explore in the near future, but I've already started introducing affiliate links and ads beneath the posts.  Please consider turning OFF your ad blockers when you view my blog, or at least consider occasionally contributing to my Paypal.  In the future, I am going to start listing monthly donors in a Thank You post, because I feel it's important to recognize your generosity. 

Of course, this is a two way street, and there are things I'd like to do for you guys in the future as well.

What I want to do:

  • I want to partner with companies, providing both artwork, tutorials, and reviews for their products.
  • I want to start recording tutorial videos in addition to the written tutorials I have here, as I know videos are more beneficial to some of you. 
  • I want to start Livestreaming again, and I'd like it if people actually showed up to chat.  I would love to answer questions during the stream.
  • I want to host more giveaways, so I can find good homes for the products I've tested but can't use. 
  • I want to have fundraisers for schools and art programs, to make sure kids have the supplies they need to learn. 
  • I would like to do more panels at conventions, workshops at schools and libraries. 
  • I want to do more tutorials, but I need to know what you guys WANT to know, what you would like help with.  Right now, the only way I have any idea is to check the search terms that people when they find this blog.  I need you guys to comment, to send me messages, to email me with your questions.
  • I want my career to grow, to flourish with new opportunities, and I want to use this blog as a tool towards that end
  • Introduce a donation counter, and system to give credit to monthly donors, until the Patreon is up (probably sometime after Gizmo Grandma is finished)
  • Better product photography

What You Guys Want: 

I need to know what you guys want to see.  Want more WIP's on Instagram?  Want me to port tutorials over to Tumblr?  Want more tutorials here, where I include where I get more materials?  More con stuff?  More art stuff?  More Copics?  More watercolor?  Video tutorials?  Video reviews?   Would you guys like group Google Hangouts, where we chat and draw together?  The only way I will ever know is if you guys let me know!  If you don't let me know what you want to see, all I can do is guess, and guessing isn't fun anymore. If I get enough feedback I'll start a poll so you can see in what direction I'll likely be heading, but this will most likely be in the form of contribution levels on the upcoming Patreon.

How You Can Contact Me:

While comments are enabled, they aren't the best way if you'd like to engage in conversation.  Better methods of contact include: Email, Twitter , Tumblr, Instagram, Facebook.  If you have something negative to say, I would prefer you contact me personally so we can hash it out together, and if you have questions or requests for tutorials, I would be very appreciative if you sent them to me via Tumblr asks, so that I can show them publicly and establish a reputation on Tumblr, connecting the two blogs as much as possible.

Why this is a Concern: 

  • I see art and craft bloggers and vloggers all around me on the internet getting sponsorships and care-of packages from companies I regularly buy and review for, and I'd like the same for myself.  To do that, I need more audience support from my 700 daily silent readers.
  • I want to Kickstart Volume 2 of 7" Kara, the comic I've been working on, and sharing here, for the past several years, and I'm concerned that despite being very active in several comic communities, despite attending so many conventions, I won't be able to reach a $5000 goal, 
  • I want to get paid to do workshops and tutorials, and I'm concerned because despite having the credentials, and a body of work to review, I have trouble getting libraries to stay in contact long enough to make concrete plans.
  • I've attended conventions for several years, drawn hundreds of commissions, but when money is tight around Christmas, I can't seem to generate any sales. 
  • I want to eventually have a Patreon, and offer even better content, and I'm concerned that I'll have backed myself into a corner, because while people will happily read this blog for free, I don't see a lot of link referrals from outside sources.

What's going to happen:

Regardless of my frustrations, I don't believe in holding content hostage.  I'm not going to make anyone jump through arbitrary hoops.  This blog is going to continue to update as usual, at least until I'm utterly drained and have nothing left to give.  If you want to fill my reserves and prevent that from happening, simply emailing me your thoughts is a good way to do that. 

In the next few months, I'm going to complete my Walmart Art Supply Review, and start my Target and Dollar Tree reviews.  I have a set of Reeves watercolors I ordered from Amazon, and a whole box of different Kuretake pens (also from Amazon) to review.  I'm waiting to hear back from a couple end of the year cons, and I still need to write my Mechacon review.  I'm halfway through scanning an artdump.  I'm almost finished painting Gizmo Grandma, and I'm waiting to hear from 1001 Knights, so I can announce that Kickstarter's launch.  I have plenty of content in the works, so as long as I have the emotional energy, you'll continue to have posts to read.

Special Thanks:

I would be remiss if I didn't publicly recognize some of the content I regularly consume.  Many of these are listed on my sidebar feature, Recommended Reading, but quite a few of these are new, and deserve to be added there.  If you enjoy the content I produce, I recommend you check these sources out, if you don't read them already.
Do any of you readers have an art/craft blog?  Email me/tweet me and I'll check it out!  Hopefully together we can create a monthly spotlight for my readers!