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Posts tagged ‘art’

What happens when you are avoiding NaNoWriMo

Okay, I’ll admit it. I started November off with the best of intentions. I wasn’t going to officially do NaNoWriMo. But that didn’t mean I wasn’t going to write. I needed to finish the next book in the Honor & Duty series. Then there was the next Eerie Side of the Tracks series to work on. And the next fantasy novel. Well, you get the idea. Lots to work on and not time to start a new project. However, I wanted to hold myself accountable and pledged to do the 50k words, just not on a single project. Then came the end of last week and Myrtle the Evil Muse infected me with a new story, one she demanded needed my attention NOW! For once, however, she let me off with only 5k words (mainly plot notes) and a cover mock-up. Read more

Ars Longa (Repost)

This originally appeared on my blog as part of a series. You can find all of them here. This seemed appropriate here, as well, and I’m dealing with some stuff that makes my writing a little… fuzzier  than usual. More on that later. I have no answers, and as I wrote a while back, humans need answers.

Ars longa, vita brevis, occasio praeceps, experimentum periculosum, iudicium difficile

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Burg Eltz

Burg Eltz

Sometimes when I’m all out of words and ideas, I cruise the internet looking for something that sparks my imagination. Photos like the castle in the mist above make me want to write fantasy set in a world where magic is very real.  Read more

The Art of Design and Selling Art

I’d decided to combine two things today. One is the wrap-up to the design concepts I’ve been presenting the last couple of weeks, and the other is a how-to and review of what I’m doing to market my own graphic designs right now.

Firstly, there were three brave volunteers that sent me ‘homework’ from last week. I’ll ask in the comments that you keep it respectful, and if you want to share a link to your efforts go ahead but expect critique.

Wine of the Gods Series Postcard

Pam made a comment in her email that her covers are too dark. I don’t think that’s the case here. But I do think that text on the face isn’t a good idea. I’d suggest backing the horse a step, so there is more room in front of the horse’s face, and putting text there. Also, Pam, you want to consider that this is not a YA series, having a child as the face of it may give the wrong impression. I personally loved the Black Goats but…


This is the back of Kevin Cheek’s postcard. My problem is with the legibility of the font here. You can us more than one font in a design, and in this case I would do a simple font for the text excerpt, maybe georgia or calibri (or whatever you set for the interior of your book).


And this is the front of the card. In contrast to the back, this is open, low signal-to-noise ratio, and to me, punchy. The only thing I would add would be a tiny url under ‘begins here’ for the people who don’t want to use a smartphone and scan the QR code, although since you do have it on the back that’s probably enough. But as a mnemonic which is the basis of a logo, this is great for imagery.

Ney-Grimm Postcard

Another single-sided postcard, this one also takes advantage of a limited color pallet which can be very effective. There are only a couple of things I’d change on it, and one is , I suspect, already set in stone. But the other is an easy fix, which is to add a url for the book, whether to an author’s website or directly to Amazon. She chose not to use a QR code, which is fine, as those are mostly aimed at people who either don’t want to carry the card around (I’ve had people pick my card up, scan it, and put it back down) or who want to buy the book on the spot (which is great!).


Moving on to the next topic:

Selling Art

I know there are not a lot of us who are working at art and writing. I probably wouldn’t have gotten into it, the art is sort of my sanity valve when school gets intense, except… I kept getting asked to sell pieces, print, coffee mugs (looks hard at a certain person). So I started looking into how to sell pieces without too much effort on my part. I’m frankly too busy (or too lazy, take your pick) to try and get out and do physical shows with my artwork. So it had to be online-only. Ebay is right out, I’ve always thought of it as an online flea market and these days, a chancy way to buy anything. And I’ve had an Etsy shop (actually more than one) in the past, but that’s a whole lot of work to set up properly and keep it going, not to mention listing fees and FREE always sounds better anyway.

So. I have a DeviantArt account and use it, including setting up to sell prints and files through it, but after a negative comment on the quality of a print, I knew I had to look elsewhere. My first thought was to look at buying a printer to create giclee prints, because having them done as one-offs by a printer was going to put the price through the roof. This is doable for less than two hundred dollars initial cost, the printer can handle up to 13×19″ prints, and I may still do this down the road, but it was still a chunk of money that I wasn’t sure would pay off since I’m not doing shows (see above, lazy, busy… but if you’re interested, read James Young’s excellent posts on the topic).

And the coffee mug, well, that one was a stumper. I looked at what it would cost to have a run printed, and I thought about what I would do with 72 mugs that might never sell, evn though they would be affordable to my customers that way. And it would limit me to one design. Hrmph… Ok, CafePress or Zazzle?

I set up a CafePress shop. It’s pretty plain jane, but it is free to set up for the artist, and it does give you a fairly large audience (in theory) of people who actually shop the Cafepress shop. But their algorithms push best selling items to the top (as they should) and unless you’re selling a lot, you make 5%. Take a look at CafePress pricing sometime, and keep in mind the artist doesn’t get much of that… it’s as bad as traditional publishing.

Fortunately, you aren’t locked into selling with them, because I was able to find the ideal solution for me with WooCommerce and Printful. Printful, to tie it to the industry most of us are familiar with, is like Createspace. They are a POD company but rather than books, you can use them to order tee shirts, mugs (aha!), prints, and other things I haven’t even considered like ballcaps and leggings. The best things for me are that I can tie them right into my website, since they use my woocommerce portal, and they are free to the artist during set-up.

Here’s how it works. You sign up with Printful, setting up an API code to link your WooCommerce store with them, and then you can upload print-ready files. They are very good about making sure that you know if there is a problem, as in uploading a file that will not print cleanly. I have had good reviews from the folks who ordered tee shirts through them, and I have seen myself that their quality is high. But it all depends on that original file, so be sure you understand how to do that before proceeding.

Once you have a file (or more) uploaded, you will be able to create ‘mock-ups’ where your image is superimposed on the item you want to sell. You can do this yourself, but so far I’ve let Printful handle it, and most of the time it looks great (prints that are landscape orientation is the primary exception to this).

Here's a few things from my shop, on Printful mock-ups.

Here’s a few things from my shop, on Printful mock-ups.

Once you’re happy with the positioning and size of your art, you can turn your attention to the fun part, at least for me. Picking colors. While the mugs and posters come in one color, the tee shirts are available in many colors, shapes, and sizes. I’ve had a lot of fun with that. So much better than the standard geeky tee color: black and more black. If you’re lucky, grey.

Moving on…

Setting pricing is fairly easy. You will be paying Printful when an order comes in, for the printing, product, and shipping. On top of that is your profit, and you get to pick your amount, although you will want to keep paypal fees and taxes in mind, so don’t set it too low. I usually tweak mine to be in the ‘makes a little money’ and ‘customer can afford this’ range. Once you’re done, you can either sync with your shop, or order a proof. Yes, you can order proofs to see what their work looks like – Cafepress doesn’t offer this option, and I’ve been very happy with it from Printful. It let me see their quality in person, and they offer a discount to artists who are doing this, so you won’t break the bank to handle the goods. This isn’t a way to get a lot of stuff to sell at a show – they cap how many and how often you can order.

And that’s pretty much it. When the customer orders an item from your stop, the order goes to Printful, the item is printed, packed, and shipped from their facility (it’s in California). You don’t have to pack it up, run to the post office, and worry about a thing. It’s done.

And so am I on this post. I’ll be around for comments, though, and happy to answer questions.

Crowdsourcing and Alternate Pursuits

I’m writing this rather late, and I am afraid it may be short, as well. I’d apologize, but the projects at hand yesterday were lengthy and pressing. Besides, they gave me the idea for this post.

Yesterday I spent from about 9 am to 5:30 pm at school. The last four hours of that was a lab, during which I processed samples in triplicate, and then ran 15 titrations to gather the needed data for a standard and sample data. It was sort of fun. We’re not a large class, at this level of chemistry and at the branch  campus I attend. A total of nine of us in the lab, working hard and amazingly not tripping over anyone. Only one piece of broken glass yesterday! Because a lot of what we’re doing is hurry-up-and-wait, we chat. One of my classmates is a gunsmith, and another is a gun nut, so yesterday I got a lead on the First Reader’s Christmas present – I want to get him a Mosin Nagant. I get a charge out of the younger classmates I have, and despite the lengthy day, came home happy and ready to take on the next task.

But that’s irrelevant to writing.. or is it? Because after arriving home later than usual, I still had math to tackle. I’d asked a friend to help, and in the process of working through problems I posted a picture of a problem to my open timeline on facebook (even if you aren’t logged it you should be able to follow the link, it’s public) which led to help, hilarity, and a revelation to me. This isn’t the first time I’ve crowd sourced for school, or writing for that matter. In the acknowledgments and thanks for Dragon Noir, I tell not only Larry Correia, but the whole MHI forum, many thanks for their help. Larry let me ask questions in his sandbox, and the forum members (MHI Group here) gave me all sorts of, ahem, interesting scenarios. Which culminated in my writing a scene where a pixie goes bowling for ogres with a logging truck. Really, all I’d wanted was a lead on a weapon a small being could logically handle. What I got was more. Working with the right kinds of people can actually help prime the pump, if you can imagine your brain as a hand-dug well with a lever-style pump.

Writing is mostly a solo affair. (heh – and now I’m reminded of what Heinlein said about writing “do it in private and wash your hands after”)

On occasion, however, chatting with friends, posing questions, or just rolling in a conversation with a bunch of like-minded geeks can lead to magic happening. You’re still the creator, but like a flint and steel, they struck the sparks you then carefully blew into a flame on the tinder you’d already set up.

Speaking of questions, I recently got an email asking: ” I suffer from weak search foo (wow, that sounds like a condition that deserves a comic storyline…). I hesitate to bring this up in public for fear of starting a flame war, but do real authors generally use a particular text editor? Word? Adobe? Scrivener? I feel almost certain that this is available *somewhere* on MGC but darn me if I could find it. I also imagine this topic, among authors, is like discussing which religion is best.” 

Firstly, the questioner is correct – this can go badly. So please, in the comments, be kind to one another. Remember that we’re all going to have points where we agree to disagree.

Human heart painting

Watercolor, with digital manipulation and text. The actual painting will have more detail added this coming week. But it was fun to play.

And finally – since it is late as I write this, and my head hurts and my hands are tired – I wanted to talk about alternate pursuits. When you just cannot write, for whatever reason (emotionally drained, overworked, burned out) then I highly recommend you find another outlet. I’ve been creating art recently, in spare moments. I want to write, but I know that if I sit down to write, I will no sooner get the well primed and the pump working, then I will have to get up and go. Or fall over into bed. But creating the art is keeping me from losing touch with my creative spark, and it relaxes me. I can fit it more readily into the nooks and crannies of life than I can writing, at the moment.

What is your alternate pursuit? And how can you tie it into your writing well, to help prime the word-pump in preparation for the times you do have to write?

Visual Art and the Writer

After yesterday’s embarrassment of riches when it comes to posts, I wish I had more to offer. The truth is, I’ve been working more on my visual art recently than my writing. I’m horribly blocked. I know why, and I think I know what to do about it. I just haven’t been able to get words on paper. Photos, and paint on skin, and the ever-ephemeral art of folding air… those occupied my brain much more this summer. It’s not a bad thing – I’m a professional artist, after all, but they aren’t the same as words.

Which isn’t to say that they can’t be inspiring. I hit DeviantArt at least once a day (and usually more) and I choose to browse through the Undiscovered category when I do. This is a sort of curated area where you see art that isn’t the unfiltered flow of random submissions (everything from crayon scribbles to the divine digital works) and there can be some real gems here. I’m not, as a rule, looking for coverart. I manage my images in other ways, and prefer to tweak them to be original before I use them, for myself or clients.

Wilderness by totorrl

Wilderness by totorrl

What I am looking for are pieces that make my mind whir into motion, into making a story begin. I keep a gallery I call Provocative, not for the element of seduction in the art, which is rarely present, but the way they spark my mind into action. It isn’t always a painting, I keep a lot of photos in there, as well. Nor is it always a photo with people in it. The absence of a human form does not mean there is no character, or elusive hints as to why there is no person within the plane of the picture.

labor by duongquocdinh

labor by duongquocdinh

I had the opportunity the other day to go to an art museum with my kids. As I was walking around showing them pieces I had noted before, and explaining bits of history, technique, and style, I realized that this is something I need to do more often. All too much, as a writer, we assume that everyone knows what we mean when we use a term or describe something briefly. I’m not talking about adding tons and layers of description, but of a need to go look. To use your eyes on three-dimensional forms rather than the two dimensions of text. Yes, paintings are 2D, but a good one opens a portal into another world, just a glimpse. As a storyteller, we can turn that glimspe into a moving picture and use it to tell a saga no single piece of art can.

Art by Simon Stålenhag

Art by Simon Stålenhag

And then there is science fictional art. It’s out there. And some of it is utterly brilliant. Go looking for it, and you’ll suddenly have more story ideas than you can handle, I can promise you that.

Science Fiction by FMH

Science Fiction by FMH

But wait, you say, won’t everyone have the same ideas, looking at these pieces of art? Perhaps. But no two writers will develop the same ideas in the same ways. And as I looked at the above image and saw a far-futuristic archaeologist with her drone minions, my First Reader looked over my shoulder and commented ‘paranormal.’  Why? I asked. Well, he explained, there’s that dreamy quality that says fairyland to it. Sure, there’s technology, but it looks like fantasy to me.

Harrisimemna-trisignata-larva by Duggiehoo

Harrisimemna-trisignata-larva by Duggiehoo

There’s another useful idea to use photos for. Developing other races/species for your alien worlds. I’ll never forget the feeling of discovery and elation as I read Dave Freer’s Rats, Bats, and Vats and recognized exactly what his alien race was, in Terran analogue. This was before I knew him personally, or what his training was. But it was unmistakably a sea urchin, and they make a wonderful alien. Chances are there are many bizarre creatures your readers have no idea exist, which can be mined for wonderfully bizarre alien species without defying the laws of physics and biology in their design. It can be a useful shortcut. The caterpillar/larvae thing above illustrates this nicely, I suspect.

1638 jewelry and lace

Detail of a c. 1638 painting of ” Daughter of Deiterich Bromsen” painted by Michael Hirt

A more obvious use for a visit to an art museum, of course, is research. The detail shot I took of what is in reality a 3/4 length portrait of a young woman preparing for marriage gives clear ideas as to the jewelry and clothing authentic to 1638 Germany. Allowing for the portrait being of a younger woman, the wealthy daughter of a war hero, this can give a depth of detail to a story beyond dry words on pages of documents. It will also keep you from falling into the fallacy of assuming that the further you go backward in time, the simpler the art was. Quite the contrary.

Japanese carvings seventeenth century

Old Men playing at Go (Japan, 17th century carving).

Now the Pickle

Her Beautiful But Evil Space Highness has an issue with her interwebz (look, a BBES Princess is no match for Space Bureaucracy. This should be self-evident. Just because one possesses, in one’s delicate and feminine but iron fist, the power to crush stars and snuff out the lives of billions and billions of innocent peons does not exempt one from waiting for the Soulless Technician to show up. Sometime between eight and noon. Perhaps. If the stars are in alignment and Mercury isn’t retrograde. What do I know: I just minion here.) and between oppressing her latest planetary acquisition and and asked me to fill in. So instead of a novel Novel Writing Seminar post, you get to listen to me philosophy-ize. Lucky you.

I read a thing yesterday (full disclaimer: Mrs. Dave read it to me while I cooked dinner. Then we argued about it, and then I read it after dinner and putting Wee Dave to bed for the night in his super-duper suspendy baby hammock. It’s a thing, and we all like it.) wherein a writer for the Atlantic bemoaned the shift in what it means to be an artist. Fuller disclaimer: I’m prone to growling at such things as passive-aggressive elitist twaddle, as much as I am to considering them in anything resembling an objective position. I’m curious on your take on it.

What immediately came to me was a clip from Men in Black 3, wherein our heroes attend a shindig in the 60s, and encounter Andy Warhol.

Most of the article is taken up in a fairly solid explication of what it has meant to be an artist through the last few hundred years. Words like artisan, poet, and playwright denote a craftsman’s status. One who constructs a thing; a worker and a creator. Michelangelo and Shakespeare fall into this category, and the implication is that this is how they, and Kit Marlowe (though perhaps not) thought about themselves and how their contemporaries thought of them. This was the world in which an artist (or other artisan) was lucky to find a wealthy patron to finance their lives while they created.

Later, an artist came to be a mythical creature, huddled in a chilly Parisian garret suffering for their art and subsisting on baguette crusts and dreams. The best of this era became the equivalent of rock stars, sponsored into high society by (yet more) wealthy patrons who would shower them with wealth and material comforts (and lots and lots of booze, I shouldn’t wonder) and they would move among the high and powerful as a figure of mystery and wit and enlighten even these mighty with the burgeoning greatness of their art. This was a time where Art (note the capital) was inspired in tortured genius by some mystic muse.

Then, as time marched through the end of the modern age and into the postmodern, what it meant to be an artist changed again. It was important to be a professional, and sufficiently credentialed. One attended the appropriate university, learned techniques and sat in lectures, spent hours practicing, and then graduated. One found a job, often in conjunction with a school of some sort, and worked at one’s art. The artist was a professional like any other, putting in hours; paying dues.

Now? Well, now we’re turning into something else, apparently. No longer is the artist a solitary figure, struggling to bring forth a work. No, we’re now exchanging depth of discipline for breadth of versatility. Artists now study many disciplines, the better to appeal to a broader market. Indeed, it would seem that the End of the Gatekeepers is nigh, and the hoi polloi are making a mockery of Art. It’s possible I’m reading things into the article, but while I found a lot of useful information in it – and outright enjoyed reading most of it – I can’t help but grouch at the writer’s conclusions.

There’s a fundamental misunderstanding at work, here. Namely, it’s not that artists are now working to appeal to the market (instead of working to create good art, it is to be understood). Truly, artists have always worked to appeal to a market. The disconnect here is what that market was in the past, and what it is now. The author of the article gets so close. Art is work, and the worker should be worth his wages. But the worker still must get paid.

Look, Niccolo Machiavelli wasn’t writing The Prince for the average Florentine (or was he? Gramsci would evidently argue otherwise, and to him I give a slap on the nose. Silly commie.) because none of them could PAY HIM. At least, not enough to survive on. This is why you never see any great works dedicated to the guy who lived on the corner and made children smile. Nope. You dedicated your book to someone with wealth, in the hope they’d take an interest in this common artisan with the intriguing ideas and – incidentally – excellent judge of character.

The same remains true, though the market has now shifted. No longer are we forced by necessity to appeal to a small group of money’d oligarchs. Or rather, we are, but the pool has gotten MUCH larger. But we still appeal to our market in the hopes they pay our bills. That hasn’t changed. Art is nice, don’t get me wrong. Truth and Beauty are nice work, if you can get it. But Platonic absolutes don’t put food on the table or keep Wee Dave in onesies and liver pate. Indeed, the set of those who can pursue Ideal for Ideal’s sake is limited to the set of those who can do so for no remuneration. Namely, the amateur hobbyist and the financially independent dilettante.

For the rest of us lowly mortals, we must continue the slog. Develop your skill sets and your markets, hone your craft. Continue your education and work your nets. Treat your job like it’s a job (I’m bad at this. I blame the 8 month old psychic vampire who’s recently taken up residence in my domicile.) and get paid. Doing art is good. Getting paid for making it is better. Leave the determination and analysis of Art to another generation. One with no skin in the game.