Tuesday, July 29, 2014


Today an interesting post came up in a group I am a member of.  The topic of the post was packaging, and whether other artists recycle household packaging, like food containers, as shipping containers.

After I stopped cringing I explained why I don't.  Packaging is a personal and business choice that reflects on you and your art.  Here are some of the reasons I don't use recycled materials, presented here for you to make your own decision.

  • They are all different sizes, weights, and construction quality.  Some are single-walled and flimsy, others are triple-walled overkill.  You will spend more time cutting them down to fit what you're shipping, or cobbling boxes together, than you would spend in money to just purchase appropriately-sized boxes.
  • They might be dirty or smelly.  I know you cleaned them out really good, but one crumbled Lucky Charm is all it takes to turn somebody off of your business permanently.  I have personally received clothing items that were stained by a greasy container.
  • Bugs are notorious for nesting in paper goods.  The glue used to turn the watery paper pulp into actual paper is irresistible to pests like cockroaches.  I did battle with cockroaches when I lived in Arizona, and if I ever see another one in my domicile in my lifetime, I will need to be hospitalized.  I don't know you, I don't know how clean you are, for all I know maybe you slept in that box last night or took it from someone who did.  Maybe you used it to haul your used baby diapers out to the curb.  Maybe your cat has ringworm and spent six days sleeping in it.  Does this sound crazy?  Too bad, these are all things I have seen cardboard boxes go through.
  • To me, it feels like, "Oh nice, they sent me their garbage."
  • Boxes are usually meant to stand up to one trip.  That's all they're really built for.  Repeated crushing, denting, dropping, and crunching ruin the box's structural integrity and make the cardboard mushy and useless.
And on and on.  I think used boxes are nasty.  Not everybody feels the same way!  But even if 10% of your customers feel the same way I do, that's 10% who probably won't come back.

Packaging doesn't have to be expensive, in fact it is probably the cheapest part of my business.  You can buy boxes in bulk from a ton of different places.  My personal favorite is PaperMart.com.  They sell all kinds of boxes, tubes, bubble envelopes, bags, peanuts, bubbles, wrap, you name it.  If your products are all roughly the same size, pick the size of box that works best for you (leave at least 1" all the way around the largest item for packing material and crushing) and order a bundle.  Most of their boxes are flat and you fold them up as needed, so they don't take up a tremendous amount of space either.  For bubble mailers, just cut a hole in the box large enough to pull them out of and stick it under a table.  Now you have a bubble mailer storage cubby with a dispenser.  And it was free!

Do I recycle some things?  Yeah, of course!  Clean bubble wrap, peanuts, and tissue paper all get reused around here.  But boxes are something we RARELY ever reuse, and we NEVER, EVER, EVER use food boxes.

In fact, the only boxes we reuse are the boxes that are plain white and come inside of bigger boxes.  Those smaller boxes usually contain things like tiny prints, bookmarks, or postcards that we've ordered from a printing company in bulk.  They've been protected by the larger box, so other than a label that says they're from a printer, they're new boxes.  But we don't reuse those anymore, since we now have a lot of small products and have bought small boxes to go with them!

Stop using your cereal boxes for shipping prints!  They are not meant for that!  They can barely protect cereal!  Gah!

Okay, rant over!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Fan Art, and Why I Don't

"How do I paint and sell pictures of my favorite characters without getting sued?"

If I had a dollar for every time I've heard this question, let me tell ya!  Here's the reasons I don't personally create fan art.  These are, I think, about as unbiased as you can get when it comes to fan art and to do or not to do.  This is usually a pretty heated topic and a lot of artists who create fan art feel they aren't respected by those who do not.  I've actually seen a lot of fan art that was incredibly well-done.  I've also seen a lot of fan art that wasn't very good, but I've seen a lot of bad art in general.  There is bad art in every genre!  So with that out of the way...

Disclaimer: Property or company names are used only as examples.

  1. Original Property - It's not a dirty word!  I don't make fan art because I am already busy developing my own original properties and I don't have time for fan art.  I can't give fan art to the companies I work with to produce products or merchandise.  I can't for legal reasons.  If I gave them fan art of Doctor Who, for example, and the BBC decided to sue them for making Doctor Who figurines, I would probably be liable depending on the contract terms.  Not to mention my reputation would be ruined forever!

    My more marketable artworks will probably continue to yield royalties until I'm an old woman, maybe even for my son after I'm gone.  If something happens to me and I can't paint, I will still have a whole body of about 700 artworks that I can dust off and re-market if I have to.  I also have a lot of things that I can develop into bigger projects, like graphic novels.  I couldn't get a Dragonball graphic novel published, no matter how good the fan art was.
  2. The Risk - You may or may not get sued.  It depends on the company and how you use their property.  Every company is different.  Some companies won't sue you and some will sue you for the smallest infringement.  If a company comes under new ownership, the new owners may have a different opinion and may go after everyone who has ever sold a Pokemon doodle.

    The law is also different in other countries and you may need to spend a lot of time researching the property you want to make fan art of and the laws of the country from which it originates.  That can take a lot of time.  I have been researching US copyright law for 10 years and I don't think I even have a good idea of how the whole system works.  Copyright law is usually pretty enormous and complicated, and there are a lot of nuances.  Your best bet is to ask a lawyer, but they will probably only be familiar with US copyright law and may not be able to give you good advice, either.

    Overall, finding the information you need may be very time-consuming.  This is why I don't bother with it.  I am already short on time to develop my own properties.

    I like what I do a whole lot, and I want to keep doing it.  I also want to keep living in a house and driving a car, so I don't put my legal butt on the line.
  3. What If - This may sound like a long-shot, but it's happened before.  What if the creators of a property like your work so much, they decide to use your ideas?  They may, or may not, owe you anything for using them.  Even if they did, do you have the money to take on Blizzard in a legal battle?  The answer is no, you don't.  Unless you are coming into the fan art game a multi-billionaire, you do not have the resources to fight that fight.

    I like to get compensated for my work and ideas.  I'm sure you do too.  I'm not going to bank on my art being so awesome that Square Enix hands me my dream job of creating Final Fantasy characters.  My time would be better spent building up a kick ass resume and portfolio so they can't refuse when I apply.
  4. Inspired By - Be inspired all you want!  Nobody can touch you for being inspired.  Just don't plagiarize or directly trace or copy a trademarked or copyrighted property and you're fine.  Chances are if you're inspired by something, the people who like that thing that inspired you will also like your art.  I have seen it before when I've been inspired by a movie, someone bought the print, and told me it reminded them of the exact thing that inspired it.
Ultimately, I have a lot of my own ideas, and I don't have time to work on developing somebody else's.  Even artists who have been paid to do it will sometimes end up with nothing they can use in their own portfolio.  Every hour you spend on your artwork is an investment in yourself.  Unless you are spending that time working on someone else's idea, then you're investing in them.  What will you get back from it?  You might get $15 for a print now, but will you be able to collect royalties on it for years to come?  Some of my popular pieces have paid me thousands of dollars in royalties which are sometimes as little as 2% of sales.  You're not likely to be able to collect that kind of money from fan art.

I'm definitely not claiming to be the authority on this by any means, these are just my reasons for why I don't create fan art and I don't recommend it when I'm asked.  I realize that a lot of people have very strong feelings about this, and while I accept that others may have different opinions, I will delete any inflammatory or disrespectful comments on this post.

Friday, May 30, 2014

The Myth of Negative Thinking

Note: I will be resuming my posts about advertising at a later date.  After some information has come to light in recent weeks about Facebook and how they sell advertising, I have pulled my advertisements and am looking at alternatives.

Today I wanted to post about something that I'm frequently accused of: Negative thinking.

Usually I hear this because I'm always looking for what I did wrong with a painting.  I don't always like the paintings I create, that's just how it goes.  Other artists finish a painting and strut around telling everyone about it, but I'm the opposite.  I finish a painting, mourn it a little bit, then move onto the next one, which will hopefully improve on all of the mistakes I made last time.

I've often wondered if other people were right.  Maybe I should try to be more optimistic and positive.  Maybe it is weird that I don't strut around bragging about every minor success.  And then I read this, and it made me really rethink my guilt over my "negative" thinking.

The linked post is about a book called The Power of Negative Thinking: An Unconventional Approach to Achieving Positive Results.  Finally!  A book for people who think like me!  This part of the post spoke to me the most:

"Recently, I had the opportunity to look over the shoulders of two painters who were giving demonstrations on the same day. The first was almost deliriously positive and bubbly about his work, his wonderful life as an artist and his prior successes. Enthusiastic throughout, he shouted epiphanies and dispensed "empowerment" like rose petals at a wedding.

The second demonstrator spoke less and, when he did, it was mostly about problems he was having with the work--and other more worrisome ones that lay ahead. A couple of times he got himself into trouble--but he scratched his brain and was able to recover. Guess what--the gloomy malcontent did the better painting. We all applauded when he held it up. There were whistles. He didn't even smile."

Ugh.  Let me tell you about that first guy.  I've met him, and he's insufferable.  Probably not the exact same painter this guy is talking about, but it could be.  He blows a lot of smoke and hot air up people's rear ends, makes them think if they just believe that they can, they can, because that's what works for him.  He leaves out the part where he's the most mediocre artist in the room, because believing really hard that you're really good doesn't make up for all the time you haven't been self-critical or practiced.

I know that I sound like a major B-word* right now, but get real.  If you aren't stopping at least 15 times during the painting process and asking yourself what your mistakes are and how you can fix them now and spare yourself public embarrassment and shame, you aren't improving.  If the whole time you're painting you're thinking about all the awards you've won in shows where you were the only artist even close to semi-pro, you're only fooling yourself.  Going on and on about the things that are going right with your painting only obscures the things that are going wrong with it.

You have to be honest with yourself.  Puffing yourself up with cosmetic garbage like that one time your art got published in a magazine will not help you improve on the things that actually matter, like technical ability, your personal style, the aesthetic quality of your work, or the marriage of these three things together.

It may sound like it's depressing to be a "negative thinker", but it's not.  And I'll tell you why: When I finish a painting and I have nothing to nitpick, it's better than all the Christmases of my childhood combined.  It's a feeling no amount of applause, awards, or big red "SOLD" signs can give me.  When I overcome and break a bad painting habit that has been with me since the word "go", I'm on top of the world.  Does that mean I don't believe in myself?  Heck no.  What it means is that I believe I have the ability to overcome any difficulties that face me, to improve myself, and to make myself the best that I can be - not the irrational belief that I am really good because I think I am.

So, maybe you're the kind of person who considers yourself a "positive thinker" - I'm not here to change that.  I'm only here to reassure the negative thinkers that they're on the right track.  The positive thinkers will bark at you that you need to stop beating yourself up, but don't.  Keep doing what you're doing, because you wouldn't want to be painting their artwork anyway.

*I'm really a nice person, I promise.  I'm also very logical, rational, and good at compartmentalizing.  Not everybody does those things, and those people tend to think I am a grinchy jerkface.  I love puppies and rainbows.  Really!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Art Ads: What Makes a Good Ad?

Yesterday I talked about Facebook ads and briefly touched on the subject of picking a good image for an ad.  Today I'm going to hopefully illustrate my point.  Let's get started!  PS: These tips don't just apply to Facebook.

The first thing you'll want to do is keep records of what images sell for you.  If there's one or two that you know right off the top of your head are very popular, use those.  One of my most popular prints, and most successful campaign images, is my painting "Forgotten".

Now, do I use the entire image?  No.  It's important to crop it so people get a general idea of what your artwork is about.  It's also important to crop it because at the size most advertisements are displayed, this image will be practically "unreadable".  You don't want your viewers thinking, Is that an angel, or are those white things hair, or...?  This isn't good.  You want something that will make your viewer recognize it immediately and want to click on it.  Here's one that always works for me:

Here's another example:

The idea is really to just give them enough that they want to click on it and see the rest of the picture and more pictures from you.  Typically the brighter the colors are and the greater the contrast, the better an ad an image will make.  You want something that really "pops" and grabs the eye - this is also a really good trick for getting people to come into your booth at art shows.  Lots of tiny little details will get lost in your average advertisement image, and will actually make your ad less appealing.

Here's another secret: Pictures of pretty girls and cats work the best.

Tomorrow I'll post about writing successful ad text!  "See" you then!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Experimenting With Facebook Ads

Good morning, and welcome to my new blog, Art Shop Talk!  I'm Tiffany Toland-Scott, a professional fantasy, gothic, and surreal artist.  I'm always finding things I want to share with other artists, but I never know exactly where to share it, so I thought I would start this blog.  Let's jump right in this morning with something that is on a lot of artists' minds: Facebook ads.

Back in 2010 when I first created my fan page, I had between 100 and 200 fans, but they were all friends I had invited to "like" my page.  I wanted to use my page to gain new fans and a wider audience, but asking my friends to share it wasn't working very well.  I decided to create my first Facebook ad.  The process use to be fairly simple.  You uploaded an image, wrote some text that would make people want to click the picture, set a budget, and submitted your ad.  If it didn't violate Facebook's guidelines it would be accepted and within a few hours you would see whether your ad was working or not.

It took a lot of tweaking before I figured out which images worked the best.  By trying several different images, I was able to find the one that yielded the highest click through rate, or CTR.  For the first year or so my budget was around $.30 per 1,000 impressions.  My CTR was way above Facebook's average, and I could easily gain upwards of 400 fans a day for just a few dollars.

As Facebook has tweaked their advertisement system over the years, along with their news feed algorithm, things have changed.  Impressions are much more expensive, between $1.50 and $3 per 1,000 impressions.  Clicks are also very expensive, usually starting at $.35 and going up from there.  I have even tried Facebook's optimized ads, which Facebook promises to optimize to get as many people to click on them as possible before your budget is exhausted.  I've had the least luck with those.  In a full day, my optimized ad was clicked 3 times, which cost me $5, and netted me 0 new fans.  Compare that to the thousands of clicks a day I used to get with impressions, and it's pretty dismal.

Facebook has also introduced the ability to "boost" posts by paying for them to appear in news feeds.  I'm on the fence about the morality of this one.  On one hand, they told me four years ago that my page was free and a free way to reach my fans - for free.  Now I understand that it costs money to run Facebook, and that if I wanted to run an ad I should have to pay for it.  But I can no longer reach my fans for free like Facebook once promised.

That said, when the feature was first introduced Facebook sent me a credit to try it and I did.  The results were pathetic.  My other non-boosted posts received more interaction and were viewed by more people than my boosted post.  In fact, without running advertisements and just by asking my fans to share my art to spread the word, I gained over 80k fans in 6 months.  I also did giveaways which worked really well for me.

Recently I noticed that only 4-5% of my fans were even seeing my posts, sometimes only 1-2%.  I didn't know what to do to reach them, so I tried boosting again.  This time it worked.  I posted a link to my Kickstarter project and with half my budget spent twice as many people saw the link and actually clicked it - and pledged - than the last link I had posted to my Kickstarter.  The new ads system still has a long way to go to being as effective as Facebook's original system in my opinion, but it's getting better.

Tomorrow I'll post about what types of images work the best for advertisements.