Let’s be honest, at the end of the day, money does matter and it’s what we’re looking for and having flexibility will serve you well.
And why not?
You should be rewarded for your work, especially if your work is engaging. That’s what art needs to do – engage us on multiple levels.
I’ve always been taught that developing or perhaps adopting a style is the key to success as an artist.
While the notion and mostly ‘directive’ is valid and has a purpose, I think artists and designers need to think beyond that.
I’m not implying that you need to adopt multiple styles or try out new styles over and over again hoping to arrive at a specific one that you’ll need to stick with for life. Sounds tedious.
Flexibility vs versatility
What I’m talking about is flexibility.
Although versatility has long been touted as a fail-safe strategy for designers. What about artists?
Well, versatility is one thing and is usually more tied to the physical aspects of art-making and technique. But, what I’m more focussed on is flexibility – the mental aspect or mental game of being an artist and designer.
In my opinion, flexibility is where real measurable success lies. This is where all the financial power lies for you as an artist and designer.
In this article I reference a series of illustrations or ‘doodles’ (as some would say) titled Cup of Joes that I’ve just recently listed as NFTs for minting.
But, I’m not here to discuss the subject of NFTs and the Crytpo industry. It’s mentioned throughout the article as a platform that I’ve used to list these and how it ties into the idea of flexibility.
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The difference between art and illustration – beginners’ cheatsheet
What is Art and how is it different from illustration?
Fine and Visual Art is characterized by the purpose it serves. That is, what and/or who it’s meant to serve or engage with, and also what need it is supposed to meet.
That being said, differentiating between the two in a more spontaneous context is simply an act of identifying or engaging with a visual – whether physical or digital. And then deciding whether it gives you something you need to use or simply delights and provides sensory pleasure or fulfillment.
It kind of makes art sound self-indulgent and vacuous, doesn’t it?
Well, maybe it does. But, it isn’t, because that enjoyment does need to start with you. If you’re not enjoying your own art and art-making process, you really won’t make money! So, there is some substance to it.
Here’s a beginner’s cheat sheet in terms of what you need to know about fine and visual art.
Fine and visual art techniques:
- Uses traditional analog and physical materials eg. charcoal, pen, pencil, paper, canvas, paint, spray paint, wood, etc.
- Processes include woodcuts, etching, screen printing, photography, video, animation, film, etc.
- Techniques include painting, drawing, sculpting, crafting, DIY, upholstering, carving, etc.
A good deal of physical flexibility is required when in practice as a fine artist because your work will be predominantly material and not digital. Tactility is a huge part of critical interrogation, whereas with illustration, the job can be mostly digital.
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Fine and visual art methodologies:
- Journalling, sketching, brainstorming, record-keeping, photographic documenting, public activism, study and discourse of a particular subject, personal agency, personal activism, etc.
- Art can be created for personal fulfillment
- Work is created for public engagement (galleries – in person or online)
- Art can be made specifically to decorate interior or exterior spaces
- Work is created for sale and to generate a personal or business income
- The artist dictates the content of the work – this is the most important defining factor between art and illustration
What is Illustration and how is it different from Art?
An illustration is characterized by more commercial purposes. Although illustration for personal expression such as a creator’s Instagram account or a self-published book filled with personally motivated illustrations is also an avenue that many pursue.
3 Characteristics that define Illustration:
- Stylization – an abstraction of visuals into a uniform or rhythmic appearance
- Standardization – where there is a group of visuals in a series and they’re all based on the same idea or concept
- Instruction/guidance/purpose – where the intention is to guide or instruct the viewer what to look at, where to look, and what emotion needs to be felt or lesson needs to be learned
Examples of where illustration has a commercial purpose:
- Educational books
- Novels that contain illustrations that allude to or visually comment on the written words
- Illustrations used in advertising campaigns that use entertaining illustrations to educate the viewer about the content (product)
- Cab be used in public service promotional materials where it’s used as a more engaging alternative to photography
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In fine and visual art there is much (if not all) room left wide open for personal interpretation. It is completely personal and targets the individual, even if you are viewing it as part of an audience looking at the work at the same time.
Being an illustrator in a commercial context doesn’t guarantee you much flexibility because you’re always producing art according to a client brief.
Art and illustration are never separate. It’s closely related and sometimes there is an overlap. Having flexibility in your conceptual process and technique, and allowing each discipline to inform the other opens up avenues for expression and technical exploration.
Why you should never discard old work
Or anything from a sketchbook or journal! Everyone does this. We all hold on to ideas or unfinished work with the notion that one day we’ll return to it.
I used to feel embarrassed about doing that until I decided it was time to be more flexible in my thinking. And not just with my materials or technique.
All work is VALID work!
Never discard your old work or ideas because you can either:
- Continue the work to completion – chances are you will have had enough time to contemplate what it needs, add to it, or edit it to improve it
- repurpose it – change its purpose or improve upon it to meet a different need or appeal to a wider audience; or even better, diversify your income-generating opportunities from it
- reinvent it – change it to something completely different; sometimes this process can yield more ideas or you can create a new body of work by simply being flexible and open to the idea of reinvention or refreshing
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Flexibility and reinvention
Creating new identities for your work can be as entertaining as reinventing yourself or your wardrobe.
Taking an idea or artwork post its original identity can be a very thought-provoking process for you as an artist. But, learning to let it go is the first step on the path of transformation.
Allow yourself to see the possibilities of an idea, concept, or existing artwork beyond its current shape and form.
Shape and form
I, like many artists, feel naturally inclined to sketch an object realistically. It helps me see the object for what it is.
It also helps me investigate its physical qualities as well as its spatial relationship with other objects. Looking at it in natural, realistic terms allows me to take it a step further and also examine any idiosyncratic features. Those also motivates me to think of spatial idiosyncrasies otherwise overlooked.
It’s in finding these oddities, that moves a drawing or concept sketch from its observational form and context to the intersection between visual art and illustration.
In other words, as an artist, you might ask yourself “Do I want to abstract this further and allow the viewer to form their own interpretation and meaning?”.
Or, “Do I want to abstract these attributes and use them to teach the viewer something. Or perhaps abstract and stylize it so much that it takes on a new form that becomes a visual language instead?”.
The difference between art and illustration is obvious here. It’s something I did once upon a time with Joes’ illustration.
You see, it started as an observation, which then became a doodle and which I eventually filed away thinking “It’s just a crude, quirky rendition of a still life of a cup of coffee, it’s silly”.
Coming back to an artwork with a more ‘flexible’ attitude
It was only years later that I looked at the repetitive lines, the obsessive textural elements and from a different angle.
At the time, I was playing around with GIFs and basic animation. In contemplating the hot coffee and swirling liquid, I considered animating the swirling lines indicating a playful, stylized, rotating liquid.
But, where to from there? And so it stood still for a while – no pun intended.
Have you ever found that you create engaging or entertaining work and have no outlet for it?
Well, it was only up until recently that I realized that they could find a home in the digital space. A real, legitimate space developed almost exclusively for digital artwork.
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A new place to place art – daring to show flexibility
I’d heard of NFT for years, but my knowledge about it was vague. Well… more like an assumption that it was all too techy and not-for-me, and probably too good to be true.
And so the work stood still again.
But, a while later, I took a closer look at the market again. And after much research, I realized that even though these Joes are not the trademark of my artistic practice, it is still my work. Because like I mentioned previously, ALL work is VALID.
So I came to the conclusion, that these former ‘doodles’ are in fact engaging and it does delight the viewer.
But, best of all, there is an audience for it out there, one that I did not know about before. Plus, there is an opportunity to be rewarded for it. And why not?
As artists, creators, and makers we all deserve to be rewarded (read: remunerated) for work that satisfies a need or provides entertainment that viewers might not find elsewhere. And here is an opportunity to own it too if you are a collector.
I must admit, I was resistant to it at first and wanted to stay on the path of traditional technique. But, I also didn’t want my audience to become confused about what I was doing and was known for.
Flexibility is important and so my lesson is that I decided to be open-minded about the projects in my portfolio.
If I didn’t adopt this attitude, I’d be missing out on making money right now!
Where to start with your existing artwork – an opportunity to demonstrate flexibility
Start where you are as they say. Excuse the cliché, but it is quite right.
Use what you have in your sketchbook or cloud storage. As artists, we are constantly visually documenting everything. It is our nature, the way we think.
Create a mood board by compiling images of ideas, sketches, patterns, doodles, or graphics that resonated with you, but you haven’t developed.
TIP Look for the simple and uncomplicated. Less is always more when it comes to spotting a good concept. And think in series – visualize multiple components or iterations of the same idea.
If you have multiple drawings but they seem to not fit in with any larger body of work, see how they can become a standalone range. Can you create more drawings or images from the existing ones – how can you extend it?
Let go of what you see in front of you and allow yourself to reimagine.
Release its current identity. Be flexible.
Once you do this, you set yourself free and start to enjoy yourself more instead of overthinking. This is important. You have to train your mind to let go.
The creative life is not a linear journey to a finish line, it’s a loop—so find a daily routine, because today is the only day that matters. Worry less about getting things done, and more about the worth of what you’re doing. Instead of focusing on making your mark, work to leave things better than you found them.
Platforms to show and sell your work on
If you’re past the beginner stage of your artistic journey, you might already have work to showcase and sell.
Here are a few NFT art marketplaces to check out:
If you prefer to stay in the more traditional world, here is a list of popular places you can sell your art:
You’re not limited to these examples. You can also sell your work on your website or blog using WooCommerce.
Or just as effective, you can use the selling tools integrated with social media for example with Meta business suite and Instagram.
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Flexibility and keeping an open mind to paths that you may have rejected before can yield new possibilities. Whether it is for income generation or forming a new relationship with a brand new audience, remember that you can have it all.
It seems the new personal narrative is about multiplicity as opposed to a single-minded vision or path. Or is it multi-dimensionality? I do believe this stems from our hyper-consumerized society at present, but there’s some good in it for us artists.
We just have to make good and positive use of it!
If you liked this article, feel free to leave a comment, I value all feedback.
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