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.