Quick Bio Info:
Name: Char Reed
Location: Currently US, but I frequently travel between the US and Norway (I’m a nomad)
Type of Artist: Digital Illustrator
Genre of Work: Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Horror
Specialization: Character and Creature design
Update: Char has just released a great new book “Find Your First Illustration Client. . .Today!”
Hang out with Char!
Skinny Artist Q&A:
Hi Char, thanks for taking the time to sit down and talk with us today. I would also like to congratulate you on being selected as our very first victim artist in our Featured Skinny Artist series.
First of all, can you give us a little bit of background about who you are and how you got involved in illustration?
Thanks to Skinny Artist for taking the time to arrange the interview! It’s the first interview I’ve ever participated in, so I’m excited. Now you’ll never get me to shut up!
Every kid draws when they are younger, I’ve always said that I never put the pencil down. I drew all through school, in every class (except Chemistry!) while still keeping an A-B average. I was lucky to have parents who’ve encouraged me in my art my whole life and are even help support me through my freelancing now.
Before freelancing, I took retail jobs at various pet stores, eventually moving to a couple different game studios as quality assurance. Last year I finally broke free of the 9-5 grind and started working full time freelance. I’m still trying to make it in the great big scary world of freelance illustration, but I’m determined to not give up now!
Maybe it’s none of my business but what’s in Norway? (Friends, relatives, scenic fjords?)
Originally, I moved to Norway in 2007 to follow a career in the game industry. There I met my boyfriend (who is from Australia) and we lived in Norway for 2 years. When I quit my job in Norway, as an American national, I had to move back to the US for residency purposes, but I still go back to Norway every 3-6 months to visit. One day I hope to have a “normal” life, but then again, that wouldn’t be normal for me – I appear to be a nomad!
My family and boyfriend are immensely supportive and I don’t know what I’d have done without them in the past year and a half. I definitely want to take the time now to thank them!
Like a lot of kids, I always was drawn to the typical unicorns, dragons and magical beasties in movies, TV and games. It easily blended into my art and I’ve just made it my focus because I see there is a market for it. The fantasy illustration market is pretty tightknit, but it’s a great, supportive community. Everyone is out to help one another (not stab each other in the back!), so it makes for an enticing community to join and be a part of.
I also concentrate my efforts on conceptual illustration, which I admired from my days in the game studios. I hope to one day to work with movie and game companies, creating characters, creatures and environments that’ll be seen on the big screen.
Who are some of your favorite fantasy authors or illustrators?
Growing up, my all time favourite book series was called Animorphs by K.A. Applegate. The series was about a group of kids who met a dying alien who gave them the power to morph into any animal they touched. Needless to say, that series probably helped push me toward working in the fantasy and sci-fi fields. I’ve read Piers Anthony, Tolkien, JK Rowling… I sense a theme here!
As for my favourite illustrators, I’ve got too many to list in one location. Just to name a few though- Boris Vallejo, Julie Bell, Jason Chan, Bobby Chiu, Jason Seiler, Adam Hughes, Brad Rigney, Melanie Delon, Linda Bergkvist, Marta Dahling, Don Seegmiller… I’m following over 400 people on DeviantArt, so I have a lot of artists I could list!
How long ago did you start your own website and what was its original goals?
I only switched to charreed.com just this year. Before I had charrartist.com, but I felt the name was too confusing to say outloud to people. I’ve had my old domain name since 2005, always with the same intent as keeping it as my online portfolio site. That way people can google my name and find my website easily.
At first, I tried to Dreamweaver my site together, I kept that design for a couple of years. Then I moved to a WordPress blog design, but I never knew enough CSS to make it look exactly how I wanted. In 2009, I found Imagevue, which is a nice Flash gallery with relative quickness (depending on your connection and browser). Because of some complaints, I’ve also linked to my DeviantArt portfolio gallery which provides a nice, simple looking HTML gallery.
I see that you have a blog as well, did you start your blog at about the same time as your website?
I use my blog for daily updates on my art, promoting various projects and items I’m selling and keeping in touch with fellow bloggers. I actually started it much later than my website, probably back when the blogging platform really started taking off around 2007. At first I never updated the thing, mostly because no one would comment or see my updates… Turns out it was a vicious cycle- if you don’t post, people don’t comment.
How do you envision yourself using your blog differently then your website?
This year I started making an effort to blog at least once a day with whatever I’m working on. I generally only use my website for posting my final “pretty” images, keeping my portfolio work slightly separate from my works-in-progress and ramblings on my blog.
I keep modifying what I use my blog for, sometimes I want to be more instructional, sometimes I just want to do what most artists do with their blogs and just post their work and other times I want to use it as a marketing platform (without seeming too “in your face” about it). I’ve worked a balance with it now, thought it’s ever evolving.
I’ve considered guest writing on other blogs, but I find there aren’t many “art blogs” in the same ways that there are “blogs about blogging (for money)”… So it’s just another avenue I may look into one day. I find the most important thing you can do as a freelancer is stay true to yourself, but incorporate as many streams of income as you can successfully manage!
What is the best advice you could give your fellow Skinny Artists if they were interested in setting up their own website and/or blog?
Even if you don’t feel you won’t stick with it, pick some kind of unified look and feel for your brand. I ran into the problem that I like too many things and never knew how to design my blog, so I kept the default ugly design for the longest time out of being paralysed with too many choices. If the worst comes to it, just go for “simple”. Especially if you have an art site, don’t jazz it up too much- make your art THE focus of the site. Even the very minimal Flash I have on my site annoys the pants off some Art Directors.
If you do have an art gallery and want to use Flash, make sure to offer an HTML alternative. Be flexible to criticism about your site. If it doesn’t work- trash it. Just think about the money you may lose by annoying someone if you keep it the way you have it just out of stubbornness. Even though I know splash pages are sort of “lame” by web 2.0 standards, the complaints about people viewing my website have gone to 0% by offering an HTML alternative- and I still get really nice compliments about my Flash gallery to those who aren’t bothered by it!
What can you tell me about the unique “Donate a Word” program on your blog?
It hasn’t caught on as much as I’d like for it to yet, but I originally planned to have a “Donate” button on my blog. Many artists do and it’s perfectly acceptable to have, but I didn’t feel right about offering a tip jar if I wasn’t doing anything to earn it.
I brainstormed over it and thought since I sketch and Ustream every day, I might as well let people help me in my creative process by having them suggest a word for me to illustrate in the morning’s sketch. It helps me because sometimes I get stuck creatively and a word can make me think in ways I wouldn’t have otherwise. I thought people would get a kick out of having their $2 word get turned into an illustration.
I’m considering collecting the words from this year and turning them and my illustrations into a book. I don’t have enough words now to do so, but if I got a few more, I’d definitely love to do that!
On our site, we talk a lot about getting more involved in the artist community and building those valuable relationships that will help your career down the road. I know that most artists cringe at the word “networking” but you seem pretty well connected (Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, CGHub, LinkedIn) Why do you think that it’s important to be connected in engaged in these types of social media sites?
While I haven’t made millions of dollars yet from networking (what?! come on, I thought that was the point of it!), it’s been proven to me over and over again how important it is to get in there and meet people and get your work on as many platforms and places you can. All of these sites have the added benefit of being perfectly FREE, so there’s no real excuse not to!
I set aside a little time connecting with people on a genuine level, on Twitter especially. To me, Twitter is like “mini IM’ing” people who could eventually help you out in the long run. The key though is to be real. Not so real as to be offensive, annoying or whatnot, but not being all “fake-y” and marketer-scammy is super unattractive on Twitter. I know there are a lot of blogs who suggest keeping your “business” and “personal” accounts separate, but as an artist, I’m trying to market ME. So that’s what you’ll get when you follow me on Twitter. I follow over 500 people, so I can’t keep up with every person, but I dip my toes into my Twitter stream a few times a day to keep connected with people.
I find Twitter to be an overwhelmingly positive networking site where everyone always tries to lift you up if you are feeling down and make you feel good about yourself. I also find it awesome how you can connect with people you admire on a personal level so easily over Twitter, I don’t think any other social marketing platform allows that kind of kinship.
I see that you are a part of DeviantART community and marketplace as well, what has your experience been with them?
I still feel very much like a minnow in the ocean when it comes to DeviantArt. I don’t do a lot of fanart and nudie pics, which are the types of things that get you (literally) millions of views on that site. I knew that going into the site, so I’m not surprised by any stretch of the imagination.
I mostly use it like another social networking site that has the added benefit of allowing me to display my artwork and possibly make some money. I haven’t earned anything so far in the marketplace yet, but then again, I haven’t invested the time creating the popular artworks that would get me a lot of sales there. I think you definitely have to tailor your subject matter to your target audience in order to expect sales. I may focus on my DeviantArt sales after I get some other projects finished up first!
If you were giving advice to someone who was just starting out online as an artist, what would be the first two or three things that you would suggest that they do?
That’s the main advice I’d suggest to someone starting out. You’ll hear people suggest to you to do “everything”- they are probably either unsuccessfully trying that themselves or maybe that’s just what they think you should do in order to be successful as an artist. This may seem to conflict with my earlier advice of creating multiple income streams, but what I mean is to focus on one genre and direction to point your art style and just go for it.
Find your target audience and market to them. THEN, you can create multiple income streams by selling different kinds of merchandise to your target market, teach to others, write about your experiences …or even branching out into another style or genre. But there is a lot of potential income that can be generated from focus and honing your talents in one area first. Being a jack of all trades almost assuredly means you will be the master of none.
As an illustrator, people think automatically that I do 3D, comics, vector work… Yet if I were to take the time to invest in each of those disciplines, I’d never get anywhere because it’d take me 10 years to learn each one! Instead, I have just focused in fantasy and sci-fi illustration. It’s a small market, but if you pursue the right leads (and I’m still learning what those leads are), meet the right people and are talented enough, you can successfully make a full time job out of it! I’ve seen dozens of people do it, so I know it can happen (at least that’s what I keep telling myself)!
I’m still stuck there on the last bit of advice myself, so what are you listening to me for?
What kind of software/setup do you currently use to do your illustrations?
I currently work 100% digital, using my 2008-model Macbook, Bamboo Wacom tablet and little Mimo monitor. I use primarilyPhotoshop, but I have also been known to use Painter, ArtRage and Sketchbook pro for my work. I like producing images that still have a “real media” feel to them, even when they are produced digitally. The biggest compliment that someone could give me is to ask, “What media did you use to paint that?” It means I succeeded in creating a piece that isn’t so obviously “Photoshopped”.
What other programs have you tried in the past?
I have worked in real media in the past, my favourite medium being watercolours. I never used them in the traditional method of coating layer after layer of washes, but I made them work for me. Since I travel a lot, I don’t have the capacity to paint in real media. The materials would be too costly to constantly ship back and forth across the ocean! I do miss watercolours though as I feel digital media hasn’t yet mastered that look and feel of the medium.
Where did the idea of Ustreaming your work daily come from?
I had tried Ustreaming in the past, but was constantly disappointed by the low amount of viewers I would have, so essentially, I quit. After I saw Dave Rapoza’s Crimson Daggers, a sketch group he started to help encourage artists to paint, study and draw together at the same time every morning, I wanted to try something along a similar line.
How long have you been doing it and what kind of feedback have you gotten from it?
I’ve been trying to incorporate various ideas to make the stream interesting, either by choosing a Donation Creation word to draw or recently, I’ve been following the 12 Week Challenge at Zero2Illo.com, so I’ve been streaming my progress. I have a small band of followers that I’ve gained over the past month I’ve been trying to stream daily. I would love for more people to join in! I thought streaming at the same time everyday would help people to remember when I’d be on, instead of an erratic schedule. I have been altering the schedule a bit, just to try to figure out what works best for me. As of right now, I stream Mon-Fri starting at 11am EST. My schedule may change, but I always keep up-to-date over Twitter, so follow me there for the latest time I’ll be streaming!
How does streaming your illustration motivate you?
I like to try to keep people entertained, I think my streams are the most interesting if people interact with me in the chat. Even if I just see my Lackies (my affectionate name for people who are just watching my channel without logging in), it still motivates me to keep working, talking about my day and how my art business is doing. I have gotten feedback from some people that they like listening to me while they draw themselves. The ultimate motivation for me to keep streaming is to be a source of inspiration in others and help motivate them to keep drawing and achieving their dreams.
What kind of software/setup do you use for your Ustream?
As any of my regular viewers can tell you, my Ustream process is not yet a smooth one. I have technical difficulties galore, but I just think it’s because technology hates me, even though I love it! I usually use the Ustream Broadcaster along with CamTwist to stream from my desktop, but I’ve been experimenting with the Ustream Producer, which is a product the site makes to help people like me more effectively stream. I just use the free versions of all the software as I don’t have any need for the more technical aspects of the program. I try to keep all the “stream stuff” over to the side, out of sight of the viewer’s eyes on my secondary Mimo monitor. It’s 7″, so it’s not a lot of real estate to work with. Perhaps if I can stop moving around so much, I can get a secondary monitor to use in my setup.
Finally before we go, is there anything else you would like to share with us?
Do not give up.
It’s hard being an artist. Especially (in my opinion), a visual artist. We don’t get to go on the Idol and Talent shows like the singers, musicians and performers do. We don’t get any respect for the creations we make and they get taken advantage of and compromised on a daily basis. No one stops to admire the Pepsi design or even stops to consider that someone actually had to create it. They barely even realize that actual people spend thousands of hours making their favourite new animated movie… It’s probably the most discouraging art field to get into as far as public respect and attention is concerned, but don’t let that stop you from being awesome. Honestly, I’d rather be an illustrator superstar over a singing superstar, if only because the papparazi concerns are nil!
I’ve wanted to give up. Even recently. Maybe it’s my over optimistic nature or my slow realization that I’m not really good at anything else other than drawing or even the fact my mom and dad would be disappointed in me if I DIDN’T become an artist (told you my parents were supportive!), but I just can’t give up on my dream of being a professional illustrator. You only have one life, so make the most of it. It’s just not worth it otherwise!
Thanks again Char for taking the time to talk with us!