5 Costly Mistakes That Will Stop You From Selling Your Art

Vincent Van Gogh was one of the greatest and most rejected painters in the history of art.

You and I – and pretty much every professional artist in the history of the universe – understand how hard it is to make a living from original work…

The pain comes in different ways:

  • The disappointment of boxing up your books after a slow convention.
  • The extended embarrassment of a failed crowdfunding campaign.
  • The frustration of a dormant web store.
  • Crickets instead of commissions…

…but they all bring the same sense of rejection.

…and most of us have no idea what to do about it.

How do you promote your own work without being annoying?

Do you have to become a smarmy salesman?

Here’s a checklist that will help you sell your art and stories without selling your soul…

Death To The Salesman:

Smarmy salesman, Mad Men's Don Draper about to drown as his office fills with water.What’s your idea of a good salesman?

Is there anything good about him?

Many of us think of salesmen as pushy slimeballs who con honest people out of their hard-earned money.

In the six-year gap between art school and my first visual development gig at Disney, I worked many crappy day jobs.

But I learned the most about business during my two years as a salesman at Guitar Center.

When I was supposed to “up-sell” a more expensive product or convince someone to buy a bunch of high-profit “add-ons” they didn’t really need, I couldn’t go through with it.


“You’re right, you’re not your dad. He could sell a Ketchup popsicle to a woman in white gloves.”

-David Spade, from the movie ‘Tommy Boy’

Is this the only way to make money from our art?

Do we have to betray our own empathetic nature and learn how to “sell a Ketchup popsicle to a woman in white gloves?”

Of course not.

Since my time at Guitar Center I’ve learned a lot more about creative business and I’ve even experienced some honest success in my own.

Good business is about making people happy, not brain-washing them.

Good business is about compromise and cultivating mutually-beneficial relationships where everyone wins.

You give people what they want and in exchange for your service and expertise, they help you stay in business by giving you money.

Which leads us to my first point…

Mistake #1: You’re Offering Something Your Fans Don’t Want.

The first possible reason your fans aren’t buying your books, prints, shirts, resin orcs or whatever is simple.

They don’t want to.

When you toil away in secret until your great idea is “ready” and then announce it to the world, expecting everyone to just pay up, you’re risking public rejection.

Don’t spend a dime or a minute of your time on any kind of merchandise, product or crowdfunding campaign until you are certain it’s exactly what your audience wants to buy from you.

How do you know what your audience wants to buy?

Prince John, incredulous, stares into Little John's fake crystal ball in this scene from Disney's Robin Hood.

You don’t need a crystal ball.

You just have to ask them.

And don’t just ask them once. Make it an ongoing conversation. Things change.

If nobody responds then you might not have found your audience yet.

If you haven’t found an audience, then you’re not actually ready to sell anything.

In this case, you need to make sharing your work as easy as possible.

Just focus on free for now. (Although I still think you should always have something for your website visitors to buy because a few extra bucks here and there is better than nothing.)

If you do have an audience but they are consistently unresponsive, it might be time to move on…

Mistake #2: You’re Offering The Right Thing To The Wrong Crowd.

If your audience never spends money on anything close to what you’re selling then you might be offering the right thing to the wrong crowd.

These people might be your friends or your family, but they are never going to be your true fans.

Samuel L. Jackson as Mr. Glass. Scene from "Unbreakable."

“Go to where people are. You won’t have to look very long.”

-Samuel L. Jackson, from the movie ‘Unbreakable’

Where does your buying crowd hang out?

At a specific convention? In a specific deviantArt, Facebook or G+ group?

Wherever it is, go there and start cultivating authentic relationships.

Don’t spam them.

Don’t bore them.

…and don’t bail on them.

Just be a generous, supportive friend.

If they fall in love with your work, many of them will ask you where they can buy it.

You won’t have to sell your art to these folks.

…but they’ll help you sell it to everyone else.

Mistake #3: Your Fans Already Have Too Much Of What You’re Selling.

It's raining identical men in bowler hats in this painting by René Magritte.

Every time I see an artist tweet about how he “received his shipment of prints just in time for such-and-such-comic-con,” I worry…

I sincerely hope he sells a thousand prints at that convention.

…but I have a hard time believing that he will.

…because even if the art is fantastic, prints are basically the most unremarkable product money can buy. (Just my opinion.)

Does anybody really need another 11×17 print?

Now, to be fair, maybe he discussed this with his audience and got the green light. If so, good for him. He made an informed decision. Print away.

But even then, he’d probably sell more if he thought of a way to make his prints special…

A Tropical Bird in pastel by Nic Gregory [ click to visit Nic's site ]

A lovely pastel by Nic Gregory.
[ click the image to visit Nic's website ]

Last year, one of my remarkable Painting Drama students Nic Gregory brought a set of scrolls to CTN-X.

He printed his best paintings on thinly-woven cloth, rolled each one up and tied it closed with a satin ribbon.

Now that, my friends, is special.

Of course, Nic’s scrolls were a big hit with fans and studios alike.

For an example of how to make an art book more special, check out ‘Curiosities’ by my friends Victoria Ying and Mike Yamada.

A scene from "Curiosities" by Mike Yamada and Victoria Ying.

A scene from “Curiosities” by Mike Yamada and Victoria Ying.

Now, it is possible that you’ve made some very special art but does your audience know how and where to buy it?

Like this article? Please share it on Twitter by clicking here.

Mistake #4: They Don’t Know How And Where To Buy Your Work.

Now, before you start spamming Facebook and Twitter with links to buy your Brony Romance Novel, you need to understand something..

Desperate plugging will, at best, train everyone to ignore you.

At worst, everyone will get annoyed.

Your social media strategy should be 90% about helping other people and 10% about helping yourself.

A broom dog sweeps away the path in front of Alice. Scene from Disney's classic animated feature 'Alice In Wonderland.'That said, you can’t sell anything if your audience doesn’t know where and how to buy it.

This is one area where Hollywood actually has something to teach us.

They build anticipation over an extended period of time before they release something special.

Don’t try to communicate everything in one huge blog post.

Invite your audience into the creative process.

Post regular, engaging, personal updates so that all you have to do on launch day is tell them where to go…

Mistake #5: You’re Asking For Too Much, Too Soon:

Parting with our hard-earned money is painful.


As far as your brain is concerned, spending money and stubbing your toe are basically the same thing.

This is why true fandom is so very important.

Lego-Death-StarWhen the LEGO Death Star hit shelves, the Star Wars super-fans celebrated.

Sure, many of us couldn’t afford the $400 price tag, but since it’s still available in stores, it would seem that many fans bought it anyway.

My point is that true fandom is more powerful than the pain of spending money.

In order to overcome the pain of parting with their money, your creative product must make your fans happy.

…so the thought of spending their hard-earned money on your art is more positive than it is painful.

This is why, above all else, you need to become a great visual storyteller.

In order to make a living from your imagination you have to craft stories and images that people fall passionately in love with.

Before you order a boatload of books, prints, shirts, resin orcs or whatever, you should ask yourself this question:

“Would I part with my own hard-earned money for this?”

Be honest.

You can’t expect anyone to buy anything you don’t believe in wholeheartedly.

Good visual stories take time.

If you’re part of this final category, the good news is that you have a head start.

The creator culture is the future for most of today’s artists – aspiring and professional alike.

Your future offers more flexibility and fun than any of the rest of us could ever have imagined.

Focus today on the life you’re moving toward.

The future has a way of sneaking up on you…

I Really Need Your Opinion:

As you might have figured out by now, we’re going to be talking a lot more this year about personal projects and how to make a living from your own imagination.

Will you do me a huge favor and answer this question in the comments:

Which path are you more passionate about: Working for the big studios or making a living from your own visual stories (online and/or at conventions)?


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{ 254 comments… read them below or add one }

Drew Blom

Interested in doing my own stories. Even if someone is looking to work for a studio, seems to be that doing your own book is a great way to get there.


Chris Oatley

So very true.

So, would you say that you are indeed MORE passionate about your own stories?


Travis Bond

This is a good post for me to remember as I will frequently drop money on something so as to improve my chances of getting my art out there. Really, it would be best for me to spend more time at the drawing board talking to people about what they would like to see instead of me guessing or trying to play to my own perceived, but often misconstrued, strengths.


Chris Oatley

Yeah, it’s such a simple concept but easy to overlook when you feel like people are expecting genius from you.



Thanks for sharing this post! Some points really hit me, I would prefer the second option: to share my stories and make a living online or from my modest town.


Seth Rutledge

I’m super excited about working for a studio. Not necessarily a *big* one, although I think that would be nice, but I want to work in a group setting on a shared vision. I enjoy being collaborative. I like having ideas, and working in a place where those ideas are valued, but I am equally, if not more, excited about helping other people make their ideas better.


Scott Wiser

Sounds right from what I’ve observed about you, Seth! I think you’d be a blast to collaborate with!


Javier Pena

Wonderful article, as always Chris. As for the question you poised at the end, the truth is I’m not sure. I’m in my last year of college and still working on refining my fundamental skills while learning more about design and storytelling, so I can actually find that audience that you speak of. My long-term goal was to work as a 3D character designer in the games industry, and I adore painting interesting characters/worlds. With layoffs becoming commonplace in the industry and me spending my time in fulfilling awesome personal projects with friends, I’m not so sure that’s what I want anymore. Apologies if this seems redundant, but I’d appreciate the your input (or anyone else that wishes to chime in).


Chris Oatley

Well, you’re definitely not alone, Javier.

My advice is this – These days, the path to the studio job and the path to success as an indie creator are almost identical. You work hard to become a great visual storyteller, your audience grows until you eventually reach a tipping point where you can pick either path or jump back and forth between the two.



Great info. Fill your cup with awesome work and then a tipping point will come. Then you’ll be able to choose your projects. What a great way to look at the path ahead.


Javier Pena

Thanks for your words Chris (Carlos and Hayley as well!). I think you’re absolutely right. Whether I go for one of the big jobs or not, I still have to become a great storyteller to get anywhere. The Magic Box has helped me grow much over the last few months, so I’d like to say thanks for that too. You’re an amazing teacher!


Hayley Macmillan

Definately not alone. Reading through your comment was a little spooky since I’m pretty much in the same situation as you (final year in uni, still learning about design and storytelling). Originally, I was really concerned for what I was going to do when I finally did graduate, but, interestingly enough, this website (and the Paper Wings Podcast) have really inspired me to work on my own projects like an ongoing portfolio…. I sound like an advert now, don’t I? I still have lots of worries and concerns about how I’m going to do this from ‘is the idea I’ve got good enough?’ to ‘is anyone even going to read this?’

But anyway, I wish you luck in the future!


Tegan Clancy

I have bought so many amazing prints from so many amazing artists I now don’t know what to do with all of them! Collecting all the little books last year at CTN was a great idea. I have a little Etsy site myself as I am still building an audience and discovering my art. It’s cheap to run and I sell the reference paintings and sketches I do, which helped take some costs off my flight over to LA for CTN. Every cent counts :)


Scott Wiser

I prefer books to prints as well. So, Tegan, I’m guessing you’d rather work on a studio than on your own, right? Or is it the other way around? I know you’d excel at both.


Chris Oatley

Yeah, I much prefer art books to prints. …although I do own a ton of prints. …most of them are still in my closet – unframed.


Tegan Clancy

I would rather work in a studio mainly because I love being surrounded constantly by creative teams and hate paperwork :) Scott I imagine not far off for yourself now!


Ross Dearsley

I suppose it depends on the studio, but in my experience they can also have their fair share of annoying paperwork though. As a freelance artist I dislike filling out my yearly tax return, but I definitely prefer it to filling out regular studio ‘performance appraisals’.


Tegan Clancy

Ross performance appraisal forms are the worst! Sounds like you have found a great balance


Alisa Bishop

Hmm a tough question, for me I don’t really have any stories of my own I’m extremely passionate about (yet). But looking a few years from now, I really do want to have stories and an audience that is interested in them and live off of that entirely. However I am equally excited about working together with people at a studio building a story, I like helping others tell their stories. If I have to ‘do my time’ at a big studio to help fund that personal stuff, all the better. So, why not both? :D


Chris Oatley

In my opinion, you’re right on, Alisa. Why not both?



I am not sure yet. I am in the workings of getting myself into and through art school now. The idea of a big studio seems safe and secure if you can get on with them and earn a salary. But the trouble with that is then you have to create anything they tell you too so your personal creativity might become suffocated. While creating and selling my own stories seems rocky and not as stable financially. Though this path would give me the opportunity to make exactly what I want and hopefully in-turn I would be creating what my audience wants. The trick I guess is to find what pays the bills. But I need to stay happy too. I want to be an artist because it is what I love, but I need to make money to survive too. I’ll have to find a balance. I want to be a fat-and-sassy artist, not a starving one.


Chris Oatley

Hahaha! Amazing! You should put that on your business card “fat and sassy artist.”


Arahmynta Duhamel

ABSOLUTELY making a living from my own work. The only thing that makes me want to work on someone else’s vision is the fear that I will never make it on my own. I began my art education completely thinking I would work for someone else for the foreseeable future, and as I have become more disillusioned by learning about the various industries and have gotten more hope from hearing about successful artists, the more I lean towards making a go of it on my own. I know I have much more to learn and make until I am at that point, but there is nothing else I want out of life besides 40-50 hrs a week, working from home on my own art, making a reasonable living, with time for family and friends and reading.


Chris Oatley

Sounds like a great dream, Arahmynta. The good news is that you can invest in both potential outcomes with the same personal project.



Excellent and very thought provoking words!

To answer your question I started out as a hybrid graphic designer/artist/photographer in the industry. My internship turned into a paid job and I became the creative director in a short amount of time. So that’s all to say I’ve had a taste of working for others. During that time I freelanced pretty much anything I could get my hands on which was usually websites and no art. I had very few projects I was passionate about.

Burnt out I quit. But I have to create. Not creating is like dying. I kept up the photography & traveling. Only about 6 months or so ago it clicked… what I really wanted, what I was truly happy and passionate about, was what I had to say and not reinterpreting what others wanted to say. Now I’m in the Magic Box and loving it. I’m in final stages of a children’s book and hope to do more with the author in future. I feel as if I’m at the very beginning of something exciting and I have this overload of ideas and directions to take that I’m really not sure where my focus will be.

This fall I had my first taste of interacting with people and my art at a craft fair and wow was I blown away by the response! I had to run out that night and get more prints for the next day. I’m hooked and want to do more but I’m not sure I will fit in with the other conventions available. Japan has a very small crowd that caters to Manga and that’s about it. I hate feeling limited by my surroundings. (Sorry, I got a little carried away. But Chris, your questions and thoughts always spark discussion!)


Chris Oatley

This is great to hear, Naomi!!!

Congrats on your big leap of faith and subsequent success.

…and I’m so happy to hear that you’re loving The Magic Box!

Thanks for sharing!



Hei Chris,

Great post again.

Personally I’m more into making a living from personal stuff, because it would give me more independence and I can continue my day job for the required financial security my family depends on. The problem I come across is actually building the fanbase and finding an audience.

Sure you can do fanart and speak to an already established fanbase and leech off of that, but… then you’re just a leech. Alternatively you can share your work with other artists on forums and groups, but that’s also a very selective audience. Ofcourse you have to start somewhere and start talking to someone to get any traction going. I believe your personal project posts deal with this topic more closely, but any additional tips you might have are greatly appreciated.



Chris Oatley

Yes, Fred, we have two more posts left in the “Will Your Personal Project Make Money?” series and, in fact, the next post is on The Fan Base project.

Plus we have many, many more related ideas for the future!

Thanks for sharing.


Jon Thomson

I would love to have the experience of working for a big studio and building those personal relationships with others in the industry but I would like to be on my own some day. Being a designer/product developer for the party and Halloween industry, its difficult to network and relate to people in the field I would ultimately like to participate in. The Oatley Academy, attending conventions and the internet provide some of those opportunities for the mean time.


Chris Oatley

Thanks for being a part of the Academy, Jon. It’s a blessing to hear that you’ve found meaningful community there.

We have many epic plans forming that will connect the OA students and instructors even more effectively. Stay tuned…


Jon Thomson

That’s cool to hear Chris I look forward to it. I’ll look for you at Emerald City the end of the month.


Damon Drion

Awesome post Chris and some capital advice for me as I have an etsy store ready to go, when the time is right!

For me I’ve always wanted the “Studio Job” It’s a deep rooted desire that I have to achieve in my life, however I would never limit myself nor my ideas! Undoubtedly there’s a road each of us has to follow but inevitably the Studio V Personal crossroads will present itself to the creative individual!

Why the studio role for me? I feel that being surrounded by the talent you get in the studios like Disney, Dreamworks etc would keep me grounded and feed my hunger to be a better artist on a daily basis. Plus the ultimate reason is I get to be a part of something so much bigger than me!

Creating memories and spreading joy… How could I not want to be part of that?


Chris Oatley

With your positive attitude, sense of humor and focus, Damon, I have no doubt in my mind that you can make it to one of the big studios some day.

You’re awesome, buddy.


Damon Drion

Chris, you are such a positive influence in my life and dude… YOU ARE AWESOME!


Laura B

I think working in a team is healthy and exciting, IF your opinions are in any way valued. If they aren’t and you’re a cog in the system, working for a big studio (or small for that matter) doesn’t appeal. Collaboration, in its best manifestation, can only be a good and healthy thing? This doesn’t have to be in a BIG studio though. It can be in a small one, with a handful of people. It’s the teamwork that’s important, regardless of size.

However, personal projects are a must. I chip away at mine very slowly, but they are always there in my mind/sketchbook/pinned to my wall – it’s the fun part of being a creative! You can let loose.


Scott Wiser

Sounds like you get it, Laura! Collaboration can occur anywhere if we put ourselves out there!


Chris Oatley

Yeah. Great points all around, Laura.



Personally, I’m more interested in “making a living from your own visual stories (online and/or at conventions).” These posts on personal projects have been IMMENSELY HELPFUL and I really must thank you for them.


Chris Oatley

Thanks, Julia! More to come!


Naomi Craig

While I occasionally daydream about working for a studio, mostly to learn new tricks and make friends, even thinking about taking precious time away from my personal stories to work on someone else’s makes me grumpy. I have more ideas than I know what to do with and I work very slowly, so if I were to collaborate I’d definitely be happiest in the director’s chair. Maybe I’m just a crazy control freak, but I love my characters and I love my worlds and I absolutely get the most satisfaction from sharing them with other people.


Tom Woods

I have dreams of doing both if I’m honest. My dream since I started working on learning to draw is to work for Blizzard – But I also want to build my own world with stories and things based in it. I know that’s probably too much to ask and perhaps reaching a little high but my 5 year goal is to be at least at a level where I could potentially be hired by Blizzard.

Blizzard gave so much to my young teenage mind, they’ve invariably shaped how I view the world and I never forget their art. Perhaps that’s the sign I’m a fan like you suggest above!

On the other hand if I couldn’t get hired there, I at least know I’d potentially have the skill (And hopefully creativity! Hahah) to do my own thing or for another studio. I love working with other people, shooting the shit and getting excited about ideas and working together, but I also like the idea of your own blood, sweat and tears being put into a project that is entirely of your own creation.

Tough question!


Christopher Burgess

Both. I want to get the experience of working at big studios under my belt and make a name for myself by proving that I can do high-quality big-name projects, and then branching out into my own freelance work once I’ve already got a fan base.

Thanks for the advice, it’s always a pleasure reading your posts :)
Hope everyone is having a great day!



Chris Oatley

Yeah, Christopher, if I’m hearing you right, it sounds like you’re looking at the studios as sort of a career amplifier.

Thanks for the kind words!


John Salvino

The idea is still unrefined in my head, but ever since I graduated I’ve had this dream about starting a group/studio/something with fellow artists, each working on our own creator-owned projects and helping each other out. I suppose it would function as a small studio wherein each artist is the lead on their own project and can draw on the others when the need arises.

Chris, I suppose this will probably come up, but do you have any plans on presenting ideas about business models for this type of career path?


Darcy vorhees

Hi John I hope you don’t mind me chiming in but there may be small business organizations in your area that can also help you determine a business plan to make your idea work. There is a group in NYC called The Productive that does this- with investors the core company rented a space, and charges tenants rent for studio space which is to work in a coworking environment with other artists of any type. they also call on each other when projects arise that they need help with. So your idea can be done.


John Salvino

I’d heard about co-working and it seemed like a good option for freelancers and digital artists, but I hadn’t considered it in that context. That’s a great idea, Darcy!


Chris Oatley

I like the way you think, John. All I can say right now is that we are in the beginning stages of planning our next big thing and it’s going to be awesome. Hahaha… Sorry I’m being so vague. Stay tuned. In the meantime, lots of project-related conversation to come.


Dan Trauten

Your idea immediately reminded me of this studio/collective in Portland, OR called Periscope – they seem to work together on projects and commissions but also have space and camaraderie to pursue their own work. Check ‘em out and you may be able to even ask someone how they got started? Looks like what you are envisioning, and I agree that sounds like an awesome idea.




Until I learnt about Patreon I thought I would have to work at a studio for a paycheck (not that working at a few select studios WOULDN’T be an amazing experience) and on my own projects in my free time. If I could garner enough support to live off crowd funding that would be a dream come true!

Comics are my one true love and part of that reason is because of the total creative control you can have, if you so desire. (not the case with big studios.) It’s not that I don’t enjoy the collaborative process, but a lot of the stories I want to tell are about minorities which, as is evident in the media that gets produced the most, too much of a risk for big studios and businesses to invest in. Until companies are willing to cater to the audiences that don’t fit into their favourite criteria (straight, white, and male), I can’t see myself LOVING anything as much as working for myself.


Chris Oatley

I honestly believe that Patreon is THE missing piece for a huge number of creators.

You’re absolutely right re: creative control.

And we’re right there with you re: stories about minorities. I wish Hollywood would have more faith in it’s audience.



Add the point “loose in a creative competition” to your list of things that brings a sense of rejection ;-)
To answer your questions: I would certainly prefer to work for my own storytelling. I was an employee for 8 years and I’m a freelancer now for 10 more. Working for the success of someone else has the tendency to leave you more frustrated than working for yourself, even if you are less successful with the latter. Of course one must earn it’s own living and the question is maybe academic if not enough money comes in. But from experience after so many years I would prefer “doing my thing”. We do not live forever and later in life (I’m turning 48 next week) and with so many funerals of loved ones I have attended I feel that you never be as satisfied with the big success for a studio than with the small success in something you really love to do. But of course if you are passionate for a studio work than this is your thing and I would say go for it.


Chris Oatley

Yeah, that’s a great point, Silvia. It’s why cultivating authentic relationships is so much more important than clicks and “followers.” Yuck!



Got to head off to day job, but ultimately I’d like to create my own stuff freelance.



Well, I would prefer to stay more independend and work on my own personal project, but also like to work in a big team. I plan to publish my own work in the future and also do the illustrations for it. But working on other projects with a team and concentrate on tasks and be a part of a big pictures seems compelling to me.



Hi Chris
I am interested in creating my own interactive story apps.

Thanks for sharing!


Rachael Moody

I don’t want to spend a lot of time saying what has already been said. I just wanted to say YES I AGREE! really loudly so that you could know your audience is listening and I for one really really love what you are saying.

Not just in this one awesome, powerful and helpful post. But in all of them. Your blog rocks my socks and I always stop scrolling to see what Oatley’s got to say this time. I’m never disappointed and I’m learning a lot each time.

So thanks for being you. You’re helping me be a better me and that’s something to celebrate right there.


Chris Oatley

Thank you SO. Much.

It means the world to me to hear that I’ve made a positive difference in the life of a fellow artist.

That’s why I started this site way back in 2007 and it’s what has kept me going this entire time.

Thanks again, Rachael.


Denzel De Meerleer

I think a combination of both would be great! Working in a studio and being surrounded by all the talent there would be an incredible experience! Both for learning and as a place to be at. (I would go crazy just working from home)

And then telling your own stories outside that studio to keep the creative spirit flowing and to make sure that you don’t just grind to a halt.

I think they would both influence each other in very interesting ways and they would push my work to the next level. Whatever level that might be!


Chris Oatley

Yep. You’re right on, Denzel. That’s one of the amazing things about this emerging “creative class” as Jack Conte referred to them.


Viole Rodrigo

Thanks for this post, Chris. Food for thought indeed. :)

At this point I feel very ambivalent about the studio work/personal work matter. I personally see myself willing to balance both in the short term and going towards turning my personal projects into my dayjob in the long run.

This is mostly because I appreciate the chance to work in other people’s ideas as something that forces you to go out of your own ways and gives you a chance to learn a sort of flexibility of thought and process. And the things you can learn from working surrounded by people way better than yourself.
I also can get excited about other people’s ideas and I like the idea of working in collaborative environments, building collective projects. I like the idea of looking at something really big and thinking: “I am a part of this!”.

And over everything else, I know my own ideas and personal projects won’t stop popping up because that’s how it’s been all my life, all the way through school, high school and university. If I managed to find the time to do the things I am passionate about during college I am confident I will find the time, no matter what job I am doing. I must say college was really time consuming for me and *not* one of the things I felt particularly passionate about.

In the long run I think it is only natural that those passions will become the dayjob for me. And if I never get hired in a studio… I will just do my personal projects until I find the right project for the right people and vice versa. :)

I hope I made sense and this was somehow useful, it is only my opinion anyway. I apologize for my English, it is not my mother tongue and even if I triple check I am still human.

Thanks a lot for what you do, for being open and optimistic and not cynical and making it your daily task to help us, tiny little fish in the huge daunting ocean of visual arts pro world, learn how to make it.

Can I send you hugs? I want to send you hugs. Hugs!


Chris Oatley

Hugs received, Viole! Haha!

Thank you for the kind words. …and your English is AMAZING!


Stephen "Switt!" Wittmaak

Would I love to work for a big studio? Absolutely! But(there is always a but) where I am financially in my job, I couldn’t start somewhere at entry level pay and switch gears. I do conventions though and would love to make enough that my wife could quit her part time night job so she could focus on her photography more(and it frees my nights up more for art!… When I’m not watching my son). Conventions, my own book out, that’s where I want to be, not just another “Fan print guy”. I have stories in me, I just need to get them out…


Chris Oatley

You bring up a GREAT point, Stephen – and that’s one more reason to encourage those of us who are a little deeper into our careers to focus more intensely on personal “Showcase” projects that will help us jump more directly into cooler gigs with equal or better pay.


Darcy vorhees

There have been two stages of my career- the first was learning fhrough studio work and developing the techniques and know how I need, and the resume. Now I have moved on to creating a living off of my own ideas. The same person can want both things. I definitely want my own ideas to continue to make me money because while it is harder to adjust to, it is nice to not rely on the same sources of income that everyone else is- there is a lot of money out there for everyone if you’re creative about where you find it. I would love to hear any info you would want to share about it too!


Bill Harkins

Thanks for the great read Chris.

For your question:
I think a “down the road” goal is to eventually build my own IP. In fact I’ve been working on it whenever I can. But I also want to work at a big studio. As a guy who went to school for architecture and has only worked in the advertising industry, I know I have a lot to learn about illustration, and I think being in the company of great artists and just great minds in general would be an invaluable learning experience.

I think ill always be working on my own IPs and personal work on the side, but not until I feel my skills are actually up to my own standards will I start considering it my main, next on the list goal.


Louie De Martinis

Hi Chris,

I would love to be working on my own visual stories.
It would allow for more creative control.

Having no limits on the type of stories and art you could create would be amazing!



Hey Chris, great post! Honestly, I don’t have anything to add on to the discussion but I just want to ask your question. Right now, I’m interested more on working for the big studios BUT with the much bigger goal of making my own stories after I’ve learned what I can in these studios, and made good friends. I think this will give my personal project a much bigger chance at succeeding, and if anything else, getting hired with the top studios is a good indicator that atleast your art is ready.

I’m sure you would agree that being a past Disney employee has given you some additional traction to the audience of this website simply because the Disney brand is synonymous with quality. At the very least, it will get some attention, which can get a wider range of audience in the future. :)



For me, I would prefer to work in a studio as I haven’t accumulated enough knowledge and experience that would enable me to successfully work on my own. In the future, after that has happened, I would probably want to make a living out of my own independent work.



Both. I like the creative control and ownership from doing my own projects, but I also thrive on the collaboration environment of a studio and like to surround myself with passionate and talented people I can learn from. Also as much as I love the satisfaction of knowing I did something on my own it’s nice as well to feel a part of something much larger than myself.



Hi, Chris! What an awesome post, so inspiring again! I’ve been thinking more and more about these costly mistakes, and though I’ve had people ask to buy some works of mine (or prints), even I don’t know where they’d buy my stuff from! I don’t know my pricing (getting help with that finally though), and I don’t have a set audience grabber. I have many different areas in my creativity that I like to create in, however. I just don’t know what to do at times.

As far as your question, I do wish to try working in a studio–animation, video game, etc. I like the idea of art moving and/or being interactive somehow; I’ve always enjoyed that! I’ve done various levels of beginner-to-intermediate programming, but settled mainly on front-end web design and development. So I wouldn’t mind working in one of those studios, but doing more IT stuff.

On my spare time, that’s when I’d like to work on my craft. If sometimes I work for someone, it’s unnerving but a fun challenge to beat. Still, I have stories I want to show, most in comic format. I have a loooong way to go with my skills, especially with comic creation, but this is how I’d like to work. If I do get an awesome artist gig in a studio, I’d feel blessed, and what a bonus! Until then…


Chris Oatley

Hey, Jazz. Big Cartel and Gumroad are great places to start selling your work, IMO.



Thanks for this article. It was pretty insightful, and i THINK I am on the right path. I am slowly getting ready to wrap up my fantasy prequel, but I need to put more visual work out to catch people’s eyes. Like a short comic preview of first few chapters, promo drawings that present the characters and bits of their stories.

To answer your question, I would LOVE to live off my own work, my books and art, but working for a studio where I wouldn’t have to worry whether or not the next paycheck will come would be cool too.


Aaron P

Personal projects. I wouldn’t mind working for a studio of some sort (game studio, comic company, etc), but at the end of the day I’ve got too many personal stories to tell to not do it :D


Max Vaehling

Great post, boiling the struggle of putting ourselves out there down to five easy lessons (only they’re not so easy once you get into it…). I keep a close eye not just on what seems to work for others, but also what works for me, as a reader. What makes me want to buy? And, more importantly: What makes me actually glad I bought it? Of course, since I’m not planning on marketing only to myself, that can only be a start…

As for your question: I don’t hold any illusions about my chances with studios, so I naturally tilt toward the bootstrappey stuff.



ey Chris!
I am really passionate doing my own stuff, and my dream would be to have a small studio with other people who have the same passion for tell stories. I find really usefull to work with creative people who loves what they do.
I realized some time ago, that doing stuff just to have a job, never gives me nothing remarkable, but doing my things the best I can, have given me the best works and colaborations, the fact that I want to keep on working.

Thanks for everything Chris!



I think most would be interested in working on their own stories, I know I am at least, in a way that allows the most freedom. But in saying that, if a big company wanted to grab me up it would be hard to reject a steady pay check.



Without a shadow of a doubt, I am far more passionate about making my own stories (although my track record for follow-thru with my own personal projects is horrendous at best). I do like the idea of working for a studio, but it wouldn’t be the ultimate goal of my career, rather, I would like to see that as a way to sponge up as much as I can there to apply to my own projects.

(Also, thank you for being such a positive influence. Not only do you provide open, sound, and encouraging information, you are also kind and optimistic- traits that seem rare in any tech-savvy professional these days when cynicism and sarcasm is often used in place of charisma.)



These were right on the money for me. I would rather work on my own rather than deal with the big publishers, but I dislike the giant time suck of marketing and the business side of things. I love it when my publisher handles all the accounting etc. I just wish they went more 50/50 than 90/10 for their help.


Lara Margarida

Great article Chris! Even though I never advertised being open for commissions I recently had a couple of people asking if I did them (to which I said yes, of course). I feel that I should officially open commissions after those, but dread the idea that no one will respond to it if I advertise it.

As for the future, I would love to do both, really. I have had people tell me that I’m just confused like it is not right that I would want to do bits here and there, and since then sometimes I question that about myself. I came up with a little story in my final year as an animation student, and though the idea has grown and hopefully bettered since then, the project’s been on hold since I graduated so that I could focus on getting some experience in the industry, although where I’m living is very difficult. I’m still passionate about both, my own project as well as be part of projects produced by studios I’ve grown up admiring. I don’t think I would have those many stories of my own creation to make a living out of though, so that is more of a part-time passion!



this blog immediately cheered me up, as moments earlier I’d just read a rejection letter from a game studio…oh well, at least they got back to))



I would rather make money from my own creativity and take commissions and work on projects for big companies. I had a hard time in school doing projects the way teachers wanted when I saw something mew and better, and I think I would have the same problem if I worked for a studio full time



I’m definitely going to say I’m more passionate about my own stories. While working for a studio would be a fun way to gain experience and meet people, I have so many personal stories I’m personally excited about and would rather get out of my system/put my precious time into.


Ryan Arms

I worked in outside sales for a graphic design company in AZ for awhile. Most of the research I found, since I was starting out and the only one there doing that job, was that being honest and offering advice instead of pushing for a hard sell got people to think of you as a better choice since you weren’t just promoting your own stuff. Plus it is also how you get return customers and make lasting connections with your clients.

To answer the question though, I would like to be able to make my money from my own projects. It gives me freedom, control and makes me the happiest. I am trying to work on a personal project to be able to do just this right now. However, I am still just starting out with little following so I would jump at the chance for a studio assignment. I also have a family to take care of so the stability of the studio would be a great benefit, at least until I have a name for myself and can go it alone freelancing. And now that I think of it with a 3 year old at home it is easiest for me to get out of the house to work and it would be nice to be surrounded by other artists to bounce ideas off of and immerse myself in the culture.



At this point, I would have to say my passion is for the personal project. At the end of the day, you realize that the big studios need us, the creative community. We have the ingredients for the soup, so to speak.

And thanks to the internet ( ! ) and people like yourself Chris, we have more ways than ever to position ourselves as creative business entities.


Kate Barsotti

If you gave me the choice between a plum job at Hallmark and writing/illustrating my own stories, I would choose the latter if possible. There are benefits and compromises either way, but nothing compares to the rush of getting it right for yourself, your characters. If you offered me a job at Laika, however, I might be packing my bags.


Marjorie Parham

In my personal opinion… I’m more interested in both but I’m leaning more on the side of making a living with my own visuals. It could be at a small gaming company that makes android games all day, or at my local newspaper distributor where i can draw editorial illustrations.
I only say this because i don’t want to become too famous and have the world watching over my shoulder 24-7. If that does happen and i wind up there then thats fine too… but for right now, i’d rather just lay low, create, and release art and things when i have time. too many fans makes me a bit nervous… i don’t want to disappoint a whole bunch of people.


Mike Ruyle


This is all fantastic advice! I think a lot of creative people, myself included, forget that you have to be creative in marketing yourself as well and not just the same as everyone else. Thanks for the post!





Awesome article. To answer your question, I’m more interested in developing my own stories and working for myself rather than a big studio. I’ve had experience working for a big studio for several years (more on the illustration/graphic design area) and after time it just kind of got redundant. They usually aren’t willing to make different kinds of stories and reach different audiences.

The one thing I really liked about your article is the idea of sharing a lot with lots of people. I think it’s what’s I like best. The more you hate, the more people feel like, “hey look at this guys giving out all this info on how he creates his work, that’s awesome! I’ll keep an eye out on him.”

I look forward to the next article.



Erik Johnson Illustrator

I wouldn’t be opposed to working at a big studio. I imagine I could learn more working in a creative group setting that would help refine the skills necessary to sell a more personal story much later down the road.



Great post! My own stories definitely or even a partnership with just one other person; someone once said in a blog that any job you are being paid for essentially means that you could do it on a consultancy level, but you are choosing to be paid less than you are worth for it for your ability (it’s a trade-off for your lack of taking the risk). I like the idea of learning from others at a studio, but the culture can be so insular sometimes it isn’t worth it ie ‘the X way’, the ‘Y method’, not to mention long-term it can lead to complacency. So I would say two years MAX at a studio, because I would get too antsy and want to move on after that (rinse, lather repeat). Plus, I love the idea that even if you work for a studio, you get residuals, contractual commission, signing fee, and not just the attitude of ‘you should be sooo happy you work here. Have some free potato chips in our snack room! By the way we’re laying off two hundred people at the end of this week but we want loyalty!’. Caravaggio wouldn’t settle.



What a great post, Chris. I’ll try to put your advice in action. Thanks so much! I used to want working for Disney or small studios here and there, but over the years I’ve realized that time to enjoy life, no commute and flexibility is more important to me; I also hate the feeling of someone constantly breathing over my shoulder, telling me what to do. The idea of working on someone else’s ideas doesn’t excite me as much as working on my own stories. Even though as freelancers we can become a little isolated, I still want to make a living from my art and work from home, now I just need to improve my skills (since I didn’t finish art school), promote my art “without being annoying” like you said and get more audience!



I’m actually pretty torn between the two. It’s always been my ultimate goal to work for a big studio, but lately I see so many amazing personal projects from people that I’ve been feeling like it’s something I’d want to do too. The appeal of working for yourself and making all your own creative decisions is pretty strong, but it’s still a leap of faith vs. the (extremely relative) stability and expectations of a studio job.

All that said, this is a great article and it’s a topic I think about all the time. I’m still trying to find a groove where I can get people interested enough in my work to buy it.


Chris Conlon

I’d definitely prefer to work on my own properties. I’ve dabbled in freelancing and, while I was thankful for the money, I can’t say that I truly enjoyed myself. I felt like I was betraying ideas that I truly believed in, ideas that had places and characters I had fallen in love with.

I learned a lot of things working for other people. I learned how to negotiate and communicate my ideas more clearly, but most of all I learned that I really don’t like being under the gun of someone who doesn’t understand me or get my work. I also especially don’t like working for someone who is resolute about paying me as little as possible and simply sees me as a means to an end.

I grew a lot as the result my money making experiences, but working for a studio doesn’t sound right for me at the moment. I hate feeling like a cog in a vast machine. I’ve been dealing with gatekeepers my whole life, so I also hate the idea of shopping my work around until someone throws me the bone of an ergonomic chair and some free coffee so that they can profit from my imagination.

I want to make work I love and put it out there and inspire someone. If people like it, great. If some people don’t, whatever, they’re not my audience and they have no control over my emotional well being. There’s some other artist they can run off and fall in love with, so I wish them well.



Which path are you more passionate about: Working for the big studios or making a living from your own visual stories (online and/or at conventions)?

Since I was a child, I belived that perfect path to me is run my business stand alone, but after that, I feel me very realized working with teams and I start dreamming with a big studio or a studio with great projects… Nowadays I’m living this dilema. I don’t have 100% decided, but working in studio it’s my most recently experience and I feel me most confortable with this.


Juan Caruso

I think maybe you need to see things from the big studio point of view, that could give you a lot of knowledge of what to do or no to, or what you can even experiment with. But working first for a big studio didn’t have to be a requirement to start something on your own.
The experience in try and fail will a key polishing this hard diamond


Kim crabtree

I’m interested in working for myself as a creative person by storytelling in comics or novels. I have a full time job to pay the bills, but it doesn’t come anywhere near my need to get the stories out of my head.


Scott Wiser

My OWN stories, for sure. The studio that is now considering my would be the perfect place to grow along with … and pitch my own large scale animated projects in the future. But I’m glad I’m not waiting for the future to come. My current book-in-progress is one of the most rewarding projects I’ve ever been a part of.



I think that’s super important – not to wait around for the future to come to you. I think once I stopped living with the mindset of creating for ” the next portfolio to submit” and replaced it with telling “my next adventure” I not only enjoyed the work more – but I started getting more attention for it. : )


Tegan Clancy

Scott your own project is kicking it! and Beki your latest model piece was amazing! your own art is going to get you so far!


Scott Wiser

YES, YES, YES!!! That’s exactly how I see it. Bold projects may be scary, we may fail, but they WILL be noticed. I can’t wait to see more of what you do. I’ve personally watched the Box Trolls trailers over and over the past week, because it has a tactile quality the common CG look is missing! Adventure on, Beki! Your audience will thank you for it!



I’d love to make a living from doing my own works (I also paint and draw analog, oil and canvas-type stuff), though I think freelancing for a big studio could be fun every now and again — more structure forcing you to come up with creative solutions that you wouldn’t have in the first place, that sort of thing.

I’d add to your list, Chris, that good marketing is telling a story — so not only should our artwork be interesting and tell a story, but HOW we sell it should, as well. (I think you were getting at this in #4, but I’d hammer it home.) Much of the mass-media marketing tells the story of what COULD be if you buy their product. Me, I think that ALL of us artists have a unique background. Even if you grew up in cul-de-sac suburbia, there’s gotta be something interesting, some catalyst for why your art looks like it does and why you’re you. And that story is a useful connection with other artists and your audience (and I think would even have the effect of making your work appeal to a broader group). Finally — I’d just want to point out that Chris’ model (regular, free blog posts with real content, any “pitch” content in them is generally pretty understated, invitation to submit comments on a blog) is really effective marketing for his pay content. (Chris, wondering: did you do Marie Forleo’s B-school?)



(and in #1. Sheesh. Short term memory fail.) ;)


Marcelo Castro

Your article couldn’t have come in a better moment (for me, anyway). I’m just beginning to try and promote myself as an artist, via facebook, blog, etc. I’m training myself to become a decent concept artist, but I always loved to read and make comics and graphic novels, so that’s at the center of my heart, really.

The idea of making money with my own stories seems far fetched right now, specially where i live (Argentina), where historically many great artists had to go overseas to make a living. That said, thera’s the internet nowdays, so maybe there’s a better chance now.

Thank you for your continuous feed of good advice and inspirational stories, they are a great part of what’s making me think I will be able to quit my day job and make a living from my art some day.




I think it’s definitely a tough question, Chris! I think more people are more passionate about getting their own stories across, and indeed the only way to make that happen is to really, sincerely, absolutely want it.
On the other hand I think you’d be hard pressed to find someone who’d reject an opportunity to work with a big studio in order to concentrate on personal projects—not that such an opportunity would just fall into your lap. A lot of my friends are pouring a lot of time into personal projects to aid in the endeavor of getting a studio job. It’s definitely a way to show off a range of skills, not just rendering but your conceptual thinking and grasp of storytelling and whatever flair you may have.

For me, personally, I adore my personal projects but the idea of working with a team of creatives on even bigger and more exciting projects is more stimulating to me.


Gary Anger

Hey Chris! First of all thank you for this post and everything else you do to help aspiring artists find their way. I stumbled across your podcast just a couple months back and have been soaking up all the amazing advice religiously since. I would say hands down I’d rather sell my own original artwork and stories rather than working for a studio. Although I wouldn’t say I’d hate the idea of either of them. The idea of having complete creative freedom, while overcoming the hardships of becoming a successful self made creative mind would bring more satisfaction to my life than anything else I believe. Being big and famous would be a plus, but really I just want to prove to myself that I can live an amazing life doing what I love to do. And I want to be in the captain’s chair the whole time calling the shots!


Jonathan Smuda

I am an indie guy all the way writing and illustrating my own books, but I am going to give a surprising answer to your question.
Not every artist should just try and go the lone wolf route. I have met many artists who thrive executing someone else’s idea. To come up with your own ideas that are really good and done well takes a really driven person. There are some people who just do well in a support role. If an artist is one who does not want to be an entrepreneur and do everything involved in a project is is a very good idea to join a team. This does not necessarily mean a big studio, but find something you want to do and join up.
Now on the other hand creating personal projects is rewarding and fulfilling, but lest anyone be confused it is not necessarily going to pay off in the short term. Even having a couple of books that hit the best seller list on Amazon I am still making very, very little from my books compared to my day job as a designer. It is a long haul thing you have to do project after project that are filling the need of your core audience and getting better steadily.
In the end you may be best off to doth both and. As well as making sound investments with your time and life outside of art. It is really key to live wisely, don’t burn out and take thing one step at a time no matter which path you choose. In the art business it really comes down to perseverance, just keep going day by day, and don’t give up.


Brittany Du Pont

Thanks Chris! I would work from home on personal projects. Why? I’m all practical:
1)I’m in my 30s and have 2 kids, would be starting a new career from my spare bedroom. I don’t need a new career. I would do art for ME.
2) Even if I were in still in my 20s, I’d not want to work in a big studio because I want to continue living in the Small Town, Midwest.
3) Is it going to take you all day to read these? Thanks!


Randy Bishop

My dream job is to run my own studio, working on my own projects. It’s hard to work on other people’s projects when you have ideas of your own floating around in your head. That’s the rough thing about freelance too, I think. Gotta pay the bills!


Scott Wiser

Man, you’re work is SO good Randy. Yeah, we’ve got to pay the bills, but are you working on any personal projects, NOW?


Britny Lewis

Another great post! Thanks for the tips and especially the part about prints at comicon. I haven’t gotten that far in my personal project to think about promotion. I just want to make a good story. Which brings me to your question.

I am more passionate about personal projects and creating good stories than working in a studio. That said, I don’t have experience working in a professional studio. I work as a graphic designer right now and it pays the bills. It doesn’t tax my creativity too much, so when I go home, I have enough juice left in the tank to write and draw. But.. I like to think that my story(ies) will someday be my day job. Maybe a studio job… but that’s not my goal.

Thanks for the posts and the podcasts! Keeps me going every week. Also, I just noticed the teeny tiny smiley face in the bottom right corner of the website. Bahaha, I love it.


Nekbone (tony)

I actually would like to do both, work for the big studios and create my own stories. I like the idea of the big studio because I would be around like minded individuals whom can learn from and are waaaaaaaaay better than I would ever be. It seems like it would be fun to work with a team and see something that you created shown on the big screen or television, poster etc… I would like to create my own stories because of the artistic freedom. It would be like giving a little piece of me to the world for them to hopefully enjoy.


Scott Wiser

I agree with you…that’s how I feel, Tony! So what are you doing that you think could help you achieve BOTH dreams?



Hi Chris, this is a good blog on the topic of Selling Your Art’ which I linked on my pages too. I agree on many points you listed of what I define as “high expectations of your original work.” In the past, I’ve seen friends who poured their money into hardcover art-books even despite having lack of much magazine issue sales. I have been a booth-artist seller for years and I have always attempt creative ways to sell my art (but something ‘unique’ depends on the restriction rules of the con. They may only allow ‘paper products’ to be sold for artists. Anything cloth could wind up being another category) so sometimes prints are unavoidable but in a selling POV: poster printing is a easy budget and if you have high skill art-level, it works. But sadly original works still get foreshadowed by existing series by a mile. Audience tends to be attracted to interesting dynamic characters which if they start asking who this ‘hot guy’ or whether this was ‘from a game’, its your cue to start introducing them to your series and they can sense how passionate your presentation is.

I am currently working on my original series but I know all will take time and patience. Sometimes a good ‘Free’ webcomic may not make me feel very rewarded due to the time and coloring efforts that readers take for granted.

The pros of working with a studio, like an experienced mentor, you can see what would sell and what does not. You can study from experts about their obstacles, which I always take past mistakes and try to improve my characters so audience (hopefully) won’t dismiss them as another ‘copy’ comparison or even if they don’t, don’t feel discouraged. Now as I mature as an artist, I laugh off comparisons which sometimes doesn’t make sense, as a joke to readers, I would be open to poke fun at my characters than take offense.

Like you had mentioned that readers should be on friendly terms than business terms. I’ve seen from good famous comic artists, the best ones are when they ‘indirectly’ communicate with readers through their art.



I’m interested in working for a big company because once I land that gig I will finally have conformation that I actually am a “real” animator and not a just a pretender.


Jonathan Smuda

Working at a studio is a great goal, but it doesn’t make you an animator. Making animation makes you an animator. Do you have people watching your stuff on YouTube, or a blog etc? Congrats you are a Animator.
The big studio just helps pay the bills and makes it easy to talk to people outside your core audience. So yeah, do it, but you don’t need that big job to be a pro. Just keep animating, you are not a pretender



A lot more passionate about working on and making a living from my own stories. There’s something I’ve really loved about not feeling like a cog in even the most well meaning and personal machines.



Oh my god, that’s a hard question!!
Well at least is hard for me. Both ways are attractive to me, but the idea of telling my own stories in the best way I see fit is more important, even if I’m suppose to be doing something else. I always find putting some of my own personal projects over homework or other projects that need and inmediate solution or with a close deadline. I always manage to finish, because it needs to be done, but my mind is always on my own stories and ways to improve it. Every daily life situation I see or live is in a way stored in the back of my mind because “it may be useful” for a story.

The idea of working on a big name studio is probably more attractive to me because in a way, it seems you have a “stable” job (I actually don’t know how stable is a work like that, like I said: it seems) but also helps you grow and learn about the business, you live experiences that maybe working as independent you won’t learn.

Probably the idea of working on a big studio it’s a start, or maybe step into being an artist who live with their own stories. I thinks that’s more fit to me. Like I said, my mind is always in my stories, even if I’m my hands are busy with unrelated stuff.



Is “both” an acceptable answer, or is that simple indecisiveness? As others have said, working on your own projects can lead to a great studio career, and I totally agree with this – but I feel myself being pulled to try this experiment in reverse. Personally, I feel that I don’t yet have the experience and skills to successfully venture off of on my own and build the stories I want to tell. But a studio job is an ideal place to get that experience and learn from the best of the best.



Creating my own projects and being able to make a living from them would be awesome. Thanks for this post, great info.


Paul Burrows

I’m a huge fan of the TV show Lost and started doing Character Designs of all of the characters, which eventually morphed into making and selling on-line Trading Cards and a 3 dimensional Card Holder that looked like The Hatch from the show. Because I had established a relationship with Lost fans on some of the fan sites and through my own fan blog I was able to organically promote my products and was able to have modest success until a little after the show ended and then do a set of Fringe cards. I would also receive suggestions on which characters to do next.

Recently I decided to make prints of some of my non show based illustrations just to have something in my store and they didn’t do well at all. So know what your talking about Chris about finding the right audience and building a relationship of serving them rather then just throwing out whatever and expecting them to buy everything.

Also about the too much thing I’ve had artists that I passionately follow, but after the 2nd or 3rd book I get burnt out on them since they do the same thing everytime or they do something that I’m not interested in.



your article could not have come at a better time for me, for the past two years I have been trying to promote my art and barely any takers for commissions and such and I have wondering what is wrong with my art, but thanks to the article it as given me some really helpful hints.

as for the question, mmm…a tough question, there is no denying I love to be able to make a living off my own work, but I don’t really have any original ideas of my own I’m passionate about yet. then again, It would make me happy to be in a production studio of some type, just in that atmosphere of working and sharing ideas with people with similar interests as me and too have a job I actually look forward to going too.


Paul Burrows

As for your question I say both because you do need the creative outlet of making your own stuff and the satisfaction of selling and promoting it, but in reality most personal projects don’t make enough to live on and with it being so incredibly hard to land a studio gig we need all the help we can get. Since its the full time jobs that allow us to live.


Tim Beard

Another great post, Chris. Especially being someone that is trying to get started at selling my own projects online. But I will say that right now I am definitely more focused on trying to land studio job and get away from freelancing. I want to be more involved in that collaborative story telling environment. Once I can get comfortable doing that I think it will be a lot easier (in my my own mind anyway) to think about expanding my own projects.



I feel like this question has shifted greatly for me in the last couple years. I used to think that once I get into a big studio I can learn from the greats and work my way up to doing my own stories. While validation would be nice working at a bigger studio, it’s easier than ever to have everything you need at your fingertips. Especially with a digital workflow. I’d love to learn from the masters directly. (and I suppose I will someday) But with the nature of the industry in flux for so many digital artists, and with so many jobs leaving the US for houses that utilize subsidies, It seems like a foolish choice to leave my day job for something so volatile. I work at a smaller boutique post house in Phoenix Arizona. I’ve got awesome coworkers, great bosses, a great work space, and decent pay and benefits. I can’t say I’m in love with the city, and the work definitely leaves something to be desired, but it pays the bills, on time and with some measure of security. (I know not all things last forever or should)
I don’t get to focus on storytelling, but I can concentrate my free-time on stories and projects. And I do get to stay close to the process through my job, which is nice. For me right now, creating my own content on the side, while slowing building my family and foundation for my future (and theirs) is more important. Life certainly can’t all be about making beautiful images. (although it certainly helps! )

Thanks for the great article! I always love and appreciate reading.



I’m much more passionate about making a living off my own visual stories and art than working for a studio. I’ve actually been fortunate enough to work for a professional studio after art school, and while it was enjoyable, working on someone else’s property didn’t scratch my creative itch. It WAS incredible to see something I worked on in theaters. There is definitely validation in being able to elbow your friends and whisper, “I did that!”

Having worked on a major project definitely gives you the confidence to say, “I’m a professional” where you might be more timid about defining that “arrived” moment when working for yourself.

However, like is too often the case, the studio I worked at ceased to exist – it went out of business, leaving me desperately searching for another job anyway. A lot of my studio friends are regularly finding themselves in the same boat – remarkably few studios are long-lasting and stable enough to make a full career at where you can have some confidence in retiring from them. Mostly, you’re acutely aware that you’re operating on borrowed time whenever you work at a studio. Even if the studio itself doesn’t close, it may downsize at the end of the current project.

So I decided it was better to work a stable day job and pursue my dream at night than do the job scramble every couple of years. I also found, working at a studio, that it was harder for me to do art all day, and then come home and do MORE art. I don’t know if anyone else has the same experience – but it feels like I only have so much “creative juice” a day, and I was burning through it for someone else.


James Lines

I am very interested in making a living off my own work. I have tried the other route and found it fulfilling. My biggest problem is my lack of marketing skills although those are growing. Thank you for these articles, your advice is very insightful.


Chris B

Tough question. Part of me would say I’m more passionate about creating my own visual stories because that would be rewarding to get paid to do what you want to do instead of someone else telling you what to do. The other part of me would say a studio job because of 1) steady paycheck and 2) how awesome would it be to see your name in the credits of a feature film or video game etc. Not everyone could say that they created a piece of art that millions saw.



Great blog post! For me, it’s definitely my own artwork.



Though I would not mind working for a studio(or agency since I am a graphic designer), I want to make a living off my own creative stories. I love writing stories, which I am shifting from just my hobby of fanfiction to original stories and visual stories. Though, the last few months have been rough as with just getting out of college, I was still(without realizing it) not understanding exactly what I wanted to do. Now it is starting to come to me along with my digital work. I still like graphic design, but I prefer more of the logo and vector images side of it than the advertising side. Though, I am now looking for a part-time job for a bit as I need to invest in some batter equipment for my freelancing and make sure I can pay my student loans once my grace period is done.


Preston P. Jackson

My aim is to make a sustainable living with my own works as opposed to relying big studios.

I know what I enjoy the best and creating more of what I enjoy is more fulfilling and challenging than the hit or miss that could come with working for someone else’s vision. While there’s a lot of the same challenges and fulfillment in bringing someone else’s vision to life as opposed to your own, working on your own mythos forces you to have an opinion on a lot of things that have never been posed to you or posed to you in such a way. I’m looking forward to the journey even though I know it’ll be years before it comes to fruition.

Thanks as always Chris for putting into words useful insight to a heart-breakingly difficult field. Carry on my friend!



Chris Oatley

Thanks, Preston! Your paintings are awesome!!!



Your question really got me thinking – especially in light of recent discussions.
My goal is to work for a studio. I have a specific studio in mind because I admire their work thus far and their approach/methods seem to be most closely aligned to what I would like to do/envision my own personal work as.
So while I have many passionate personal projects, will always be working on them, and may someday use them as principle income, I chose the studio-hopeful route over the freelance or self-sustaining routes because:
1. Social/Collaborative Learning Environment – I enjoy and look forward to working with others, who have different interests and skill sets than I do. I love learning from them and being sociable in general. (It’s really hard to carry a conversation with an eraser or Kleenex box. Not impossible, just difficult) I know there are things I am not good at and may not enjoy and I hate when my projects are delayed, defeated or need redefined when their full-envisioning hinges on such skills. (EX. I’m not an animator and I don’t want to be an animator – but many of the characters I design I imagine/hope one day might be animated) When I work with others, even if the designs aren’t personal, it’s still very fulfilling to me to see the designs used as intended. I can observe and be inspired by my colleagues.
2. The Work – It’s not personal, so it’s challenging and I like that challenge. I think that makes my personal work stronger. Sometimes I need to rotate personal projects because I get too close to the material and risk burning out on that aspect. (EX. I tend towards designing human characters, so I’ll throw a non-human or even a prop/environment into the queue to keep things interesting) With a balance of professional and personal I don’t feel so focused so I can feel energized when switching between work and play. I’ve also noticed that I’m far better at rationing time and reaching deadlines that others set for me than when left entirely to my own devices.
Thinking about it in this way, frank self-evaluation of where I’m at now and where I want to be, why and coming to terms with that has been immensely helpful when considering my next career move. : ) So your blog timing and topic is excellent. As always. lol


Chris Oatley

Yeah, Beki, like Seth Rutledge, you’re built to work as part of a passionate, focused creative team.

Thank you for the kind words.


Ashley A. Knapp (@CtrlAltLee)

Which path are you more passionate about: Working for the big studios or making a living from your own visual stories (online and/or at conventions)? Why?

Although it’d be cool to work at a studio, I’ve got to be honest with myself. I don’t work hard enough to get good enough to deserve one of those coveted studio spots. I only practice art 10 hours or so a week, and it’s not focusing on my weaknesses practice, but a mixture of brand new techniques and doing what I like. Thinking of how to earn a part time income from my own work is intriguing, if I could ever settle down and figure out what I want to produce.


Chris Oatley

Nothing wrong with that! I think the world could really benefit from more casual artists!



Hi Mr. Oatley! great article and information! as in the case of my sister and Iboth want to create our own IP’s and maybe sell some prints etc. but like you mentioned before its great to build your audience first, so we are thinking of some social outlets like facebook pages or even tumblrs to get the word out. Thank you for sharing your knowledge! :) :)


Chris Oatley

Thanks, Marilu! And good luck as you and your sister build your own creative business!



That’s a question I’ve been wondering about…I’ve never been in a studio and I have no experience in it so I wonder if I’m suited for it… I know I like working alone, but in high school in our art class, it was very nice to be around people working on similar or different things together. It made it more fun, however, taking orders and working on other people’s ideas instead of my own..not sure if I would like it. I would rather be the boss of that and make the ideas for stories and be in a group working out the kinks… Perhaps, I would be better off by myself… You’ve worked in a studio Chris, what did you like and what did you hate?


Chris Oatley

I had a great time at Disney.

I’m not crazy about the franchise mentality. On one hand it creates more stability and dependability for the artists and the studios but on the other hand it’ll have you working on Fairies and Planes for a decade if you don’t deliberately choose to do something else.

Disney is a great place and I’m incredibly fortunate to have worked there. My friends there are some of my favorite people on the planet.

It’s just like what some of these other folks are saying – wonderfully collaborative and inspiring (and very challenging creatively). …but there’s also a big, corporate machine element that, honestly, they do a great job of subduing – but it’s a huge, HUGE company so, you know… It’s huge.

The more time I spend out of the studio, it becomes clearer that I was born a trailblazer. But I also love people – so I’m trying to invite as many of them along as I can.

“Well, I have a dream too, but it’s about singing and dancing and making people happy. It’s the kind of dream that gets better the more people you share it with. And I found a whole group of friends who have the same dream, and that makes us sort of like a family.”

-Kermit The Frog in The Muppet Movie


Matt Waggle

I am more passionate about going it on my own. After witnessing the commodification of the artist in the entertainment industry it’s become increasingly rare to find a sustainable career with a studio. The less the industry shows they care about their people the less I care about continuing to work in it.


Chris Oatley

Nailed it.



Definitely making a living from my own work.

I’ve done a couple of commission pieces, and I realized that producing work for other people who have no idea what constitutes a good finished piece (color and composition) is one of the most frustrating things in the world! It’s much more fun to work on something I believe in passionately.



Excellent post and just came at the right time as I was invited to attend a book fair abroad and will get to talk about some visual storytelling and was advised to bring stuff I’d like to use to promote myself as an illustrator while I’m there since many big and small publishers will be there..which brings me to your question.. the “passionate” part got me very euphoric and frustrated at the same time..probably from the lack of experience and financial security ..I would LOVE to just make a living from my own projects and I do all the mistakes in the book that seem to be a loop of working on so many assignments and jobs “in order to” relax “later” and do my own thing..which rarely happens..also I should really pay attention to this 10% about myself online(I don’t spam fortunately but I share and reply more than just help which I’d love anyway but I get overwhelmed)..
I’ve been frustrated about that and was even thinking of trying to get a sort of a counselor or mentor or a support group so thanks for the motivation and reminder and looking forward to more on ways to follow your passion.


Antonia Y.G.

Hi Chris!

Thank you for the lovely article!

In response to your question, I think personally (and I should note I am just about to graduate in May), I have always thought that it would be amazing to get a foot in the door and work for a big studio for a couple of reasons: first, those companies produced some of the films I have grown up with and loved and I would love to be a part of that some day but also, there is so much to be learned from such an experience, so much creative talent gathered in a single building, it’s mind blowing!
But also, I think it really helps keeping the creative juices flowing by having a personal project on the side. I reckon eventually I would like to go off and do my own thing, after having gained the experience and know-how and confidence, hopefully it would make my product better and more desirable, but mostly because we all (or the majority of us) enter the creative “business” for self-expression and the opportunity to pour our creativity out for someone else to enjoy. Doing personal work I think gets you the closest to that feeling (if you have the crowd of supporters that is) that your work makes a difference to someone’s life. It is being appreciated directly! Which is grand!
Working for a big company gives you that sense that your work/contribution to a project has been appreciated by a much bigger audience. You can go, “Oh yeah, I worked on that film that all of you love so much” but having an even tiny crowd which is there because they are interested specifically in YOUR art would, I reckon, feel even more amazing and special and satisfying. You are directly linked to that “Thank you, this piece made a difference to my life” rather than being lost in that pool of creative talent which stands behind each major studio. It’s a bit less personal?
I think in a way, what many Disney Artists do, for example Victoria Ying and Mike Yamada, the ladies behind Lovely, etc. It’s like getting the best of both worlds at that stage?

What do you guys think?


Jon Neimeister

Fantastic article! It was nice to hear something affirming my reasoning for not selling prints, cause although I think my art is technically good I’m way lacking in category #5. Need more cool factor. :P

For me, I’m hoping for a studio job at this point. I’ve been freelancing for about 2 years and I really miss having a group of dedicated people who all push each other and help each other out. And in terms of the work, I’ve never really had something that was just burned in to my brain that I had to somehow get out on paper, I very much enjoy working on other peoples’ projects, stories written by professional writers compell me more than anything I’ve come up with on my own so I don’t feel the need to compete with them and the thousands of other people out there making their own stories. Maybe that will change as my art matures, but for now that’s my thought process.



Nice post!

Answering your question: I choose to be on my own path since 15 years ago. And between traditional and online, so far I did choose online. Why?

First because my experience at jobs since I finished my career in Graphic Design was awful, so I had to go by my self. The second because it was a sort of dream to be able to work no matter where I am, and the seductive idea to reach a global audience. Though, so far I do my living as service provider in 3d visuals for games and video. Now I’m looking to became on what you already mentioned here “a grate story teller” because in my hearth I feel it is the path.

So thank you to confirm that I’m not crazy or dreaming to high. :)

Best Regards,


Eric Dullavin

I am mostly interested in creating and promoting my own stories/message/ideas, however I have no problem backing up others who may be similar. I think that working for a larger studio would be most beneficial in learning and growing in order to fully realize the personal project, but for me personally, I don’t get much satisfaction out of being a blip on a long list of credits.


Michael McCabe

To be honest I would love to do both, I would love to work for the “big studios” for many reasons ranging from the romance of the existing within that situation to helping bring those stories to life in what ever way I can. I know that sounds like an overly romantic viewpoint but it is what it is, it’s why most of us do what we do, we have a dream.

That being said I have stories and characters that I want to bring to life and to be able to do that full time would also be sweet, the exciting thing is that the two dreams could possibly in the future exist together, there are no limits to dreaming.


James Goodliff

Great article.

I’m most passionate about Fine Art

I’ve made a successful living in the capacity of an art director / lead designer but I have for several year been attempting to make the transition into full time fine art painting (oil on canvas: landscapes, some fantasy, some wildlife, some portraiture). I do ok at shows, and I do have some gallery representation but it isn’t enough to make the jump. So I have a balance of work, family, art.

Again I really appreciate the article, I’ll be re-evaluating my current position with the above points in mind.




My own work, please.

Seriously, studio didn’t even cross my mind. Because…

a) I’m on the wrong continent

b) I’m not good enough

c) I don’t have much interest in what the big studios put out, so I would have even less interest in working on it

d) I already have a job that gives me all the stability and teamwork I desire – and leaves my creative batteries full enough to do my own work in the evenings.

What I am looking for is how to become a better visual storyteller for my own personal quirky stories.


Jason Sylvestre

I really enjoy working on my own small press projects, I love selling at the conventions, being that most of my stuff is all ages there is nothing more rewarding than getting to see how excited kids are when they get their hands on your books.



I would definitely prefer to work on my own project. I hate the idea of “having to” do something because someone else says so, or of starting to work at a specific hour, just because that is the policy, and so on. A second reason for wanting to work on my onw projects is that I am much more engaged with an idea of my own, which I can develop according to my own ideas, rather than working on something someone else thought of. This gives me so much freedom in really expressing myself, rather than helping someone else express their idea.


Nane Peti

Another really helpful and informative post.

I just graduated from an animation school last year and I’m on the hunt for a studio job. I feel like having that experience of working in a studio and learning from more experienced people would help me to grow as an artist. However while I’m waiting I’d like to build an audience behind my art, which is what I’m really passionate about. I’m still in that stage of discovering my art and in the process building a portfolio i can be proud of…so i still feel like I’m transitioning.


Kevin Lufkin

Definitely more interested in developing my own personal work and stories. To have that independence would be very liberating and really explore and develop your personal creative processes. I believe a studio can definitely be beneficial in that you get to share in each others work and create something bigger than yourself, but personal development is very valuable in every artist! Great Post Chris!


Lance Erickson

I’ve become increasingly more and more disappointed with the Big Studios and the type of animated “cartoons” they’ve produced for the past few years. Makes me not want to work for them at all.

For me, I’d rather create my own content: webcomic, animated cartoon series, artwork, etc. One issue I’m finding when it comes to making an animated cartoon, is that creating backgrounds and layouts is a challenge for me. I’m more passionate about the animating of the cartoon characters. And I prefer 2D over 3D when it comes to animation because 2D characters just have more appeal than the same character in 3D.

I might consider working for a small studio if they did the kind of work I’m passionate about. That is, if I can prove to them I can do the work, and do it well.



I wouldn’t mind working for a studio to learn HOW to run one. I eventually plan to have my own studio/gallery. I know I have a lot to learn and looking forward to finding the right opportunity to soak up the knowledge. In the meantime, I create what I want, when I want and hopefully, I will sell it someday. Love reading your emails. They give a look into the real world of being an artist. School doesn’t teach that. You have helped answer so many questions. I am truly blessed to have found you. Thanks!


Chris Oatley

Thank you SO MUCH, Teresa! It’s a blessing to hear that you’re finding such value in the emails…

We love hearing your questions so don’t ever hesitate to reply and tell us what’s on your mind!



>> Before you order a boatload of books, prints, shirts, resin orcs or whatever, you should ask yourself this question:
>> “Would I part with my own hard-earned money for this?”

I laughed at this question, because you ARE parting with your hard-earned money if you’re ordering a boatload of whatever.

As for your last question: I absolutely want to and finally have gone indie. I love collaborating and my partners are wonderful to work with, but there’s a point where there are too many people involved and nobody gets to put in as much input as they could. Small groups of two or three are right for me. Then again, now that we’re starting to get our hands dirty and making actual money and having responsibilities, I cannot lie: it’s getting a bit intimidating.



At the moment I would have to say I’d rather work for a big studio than make my own stories. Not that I don’t have stories to tell but I find I work best when i’m building on someone else’s idea and providing my own creative input from there.
Being able to visualize what’s in someone’s head is one of the most satisfying feelings for me and being able to work with other people to create something is an experience I like having. I guess in that sense the studio in question wouldn’t have to be big but big enough to give me a comfortable wage.

Going with the theme of audience in your article, I think the reason for this is that when i’m working on a person’s vision I already know I have an audience. They can tell me what they want, what they don’t want, did I meet expectations, did I exceed them? Not to say that their idea is a full-proof one or everything I produce will be something I can be proud of, but it does take a lot of the work out of marketing so I can just solely focus on the design/illustration.

Perhaps in the future if I get feed up of being told what to do or just simply not given enough credit for my creative interpretations, I will probably quit studio work in exchange for personal passion.


Ben Coombs

I’m still a student so I’d like to experience both and see what works best for me. I can see pros and cons for both though. I’m leaning a bit more toward being independent so I don’t have to move my family too far from Utah.



I’m pursuing my own visual stories, (although when I was a kid, Disney was my dream job — when everyone else said “fireman,” I said “cartoonist for Disney!” LOL) Anyway, I’m working on my own graphic novel — the thing I struggle with is that everyone I talk to always loves my work, and they say so, but they are not my audience. They can appreciate the stand alone artwork, but they would not pick up a sci-fi graphic novel… ever. I’m trying to build an audience right now, so I really appreciate this post! I also enjoy your email newsletters. I’ve taken one month of the magic box — and I’d love to do it again. but the budget dictates I have to wait on that :) –so obviously you’ve hit the mark of finding an audience for your excellent content. I guess my question is this: what content do I offer when I don’t have an audience yet, and my end product (the book) is fiction. Bloggers who become authors are generally in the nonfiction arena, so the things they blog about naturally go hand-in-hand with their book, and their audience eats it all up — what do weirdo sci-fi graphic novelists with a quirky drawing style do for content to draw/find their audience? :D


Owen Garratt

A terrific article, and unlike SO many that promise to help out, it’s actually correct in it’s assertions!

Except for one small point…(respectfully)

At the end, there’s the line encouraging artists to ask if they would “part with their hard earned money for this”.

While the gist is to encourage artists to product good work – and rightly so – the problem here is that the statement presupposes that we are our audience, and we’re not.

We’re separate from our audience, and we have to create work that resonates with THEM, not to our whims. (Ideally our work is fulfilling to us and connects with the audience, or else we’re selling out and/or pandering).

Another problem is that the question brackets our audience’s fiscal ability in our own, and that’s a mistake. Currently I sell my originals for over 5 figures…but I’m a long way from buying any 5 figure art to hang on MY wall!

However, if someone wishes to pay that much, do I have the right to tell that person no just because I’m not willing/able to do the same?

Art is supposed to be expensive! :)

Everyone has that “something” that they spend money on where other people think “you gotta be nuts to spend ‘X’ on that!” For me, its vintage 70′s toys. I get a lot of excitement out of spending my hard earned dough on a MIB GI Joe that my friends think is ludicrous, but so what? It’s my bag, and they have theirs.

Hopefully, our art becomes “someone’s bag” and they’ll get enjoyment out of spending large indulging their habit. So we shouldn’t short-circuit that process by evaluating it through our own lenses and filters: it’s okay to charge more than you’d pay, because it’s not ultimately up to us…it’s up to the clients.

(Again, terrific article!)


Chris Oatley

Thanks, Owen.

Well, no. That statement does not presuppose that you are your audience. But if you don’t have enough in common with your audience to relate to them in this way, then that’s a whole ‘nother thing.

This is just one, subjective guideline artists can use to make decisions.


Perry Osuna

Great advice Chris, I really liked what you had to say . I’ll be sure to put this info to good use!



Im done with the competitive, permission based, scarcity pissin contest in concept art now. For a long time I was a shark, highly competitive with my craft. But over the years the talent gets younger, better, and worst of all cheaper. Now studios have so many hungry, desperate talent to pick and choose from in thier egotistical, highly critical thrones. All for what I ask? You dont get to keep the rights to the work you create. Your not makig any difference to anybody. You are just a commodiity that the studio will lay off when the bean counters dictate. You will never be the best becuase there are a million talented Chinese artists who will out bid and out paint you.

So do your work. And remmember the work is not about you. If you can solve a problem, or a pain you then can serve a true purpose. So use your art to make a difference. And your fans will value you more than any salary ever could.



I’m loving these personal project type posts!

I think I would enjoy working with a studio because of the collaboration involved, but I also have some personal projects that I want to get out there.


mario Aguirre

I am as always amaze and thankful about the real issues that go through our minds and hearts and the fear of being rejected. Last year i had my first convention….i very small version of comic con in my country el salvador. Last year was great, the fear of not selling anything dissipated quickly i wasnt the one who sell tons of prints, but it was good, i dindt loose any money and got to experience how people percieve my pieces. Going into this years convention (thankfully i was re invited this years) i have a question about best seller. I actually had a print that was a hit, people came over and over again an bought it. My question is should i rely on my last years pieces for this years, or should i bring only new work? isnt in money speaking smart to go for those prints, plus new ones? Do i really wanna be known as the illustrator that made that print?


Robin Childs

The first question is easy — personal projects, no question! — but the second I need to unpack a bit. (This is code for “please excuse my ramble!”)

Freedom is a big part of it. Total control over my destiny and narratives. I feel I fill a niche that nobody else can. My perception is that I wouldn’t be able to do that if I was working with a producer hovering over me.

Direct connection and multi-tasking are two other big draws. I enjoy engaging with readers, forming relationships, meeting people at conventions, educating kids in workshops, posting educational articles, and so forth. I’m happy to wear many hats. It’s exciting to know people aren’t just investing in my work, but my future and me personally. I wouldn’t have that as part of a larger system. I cringe at the “cog in the machine” element. Doing only one thing, my contribution invisible to the outside world. While there are some things I wish I wasn’t in charge of (Accounting and Marketing are my big two least favorite tasks) it’s still worth the pain of learning skills for those Blah Jobs.

And last…I’m just not good at working on other people’s ideas. Never have been. I know commissions are the bread and butter for lots of people, but they take me forever to do and I hate the outcomes every time. It’s like slogging through molasses. I’d much prefer months of teaching a room of rowdy kids for peanuts over doing a single high-paying commission. That’s probably bad business…but on the other hand, if one activity flows and the other is like pulling teeth, shouldn’t I go with the river? At least that way I won’t be all gums by the end of the day. :)


Nicole Ales

Good post and relevant too! I just got back from my first comic con working with my own artist table (which was a huge success. I actually earned money, which is crazy!).

I experiences some of those points you posted about, but I also spent the last year or so observing and trying to figure out what would be popular to sell at cons with people that follow me and the general public. But still I had certain prints I thought would sell, that people still liked, but not enough to buy. Also a lot of people generally didn’t want to buy OC prints at the con I was at, which is frustrating, but at the same time I had quite a few people asking if i had any original stories for comics etc. I’m working on one and am curious to see what will happen with it in the future.

for the ending question, I’d really love to work at a studio, it’s the goal I’ve been working towards, but I’m also checking out the independent stuff too and starting cons since I’m still just getting my feet wet in the professional world.


Hillary Lewis

I found your website I few months ago, and I’ve found it to be very inspiring! I was at the end of my last semester in art school, and found a place where I could get just the information I had been looking for the entire time. Thank you so much for posting such great information!

I’m sort of torn between the idea of working for a big studio, and working on my own visual stories. Ultimately, I am more PASSIONATE about my original work, but the idea of being a part of something as big and spectacular as an animated feature makes me just as excited.



Thanks for yet another great post. I appreciate your commitment asking questions that are important to working artists.

The thought of working for a large studio is appealing, because of the financial benefit. However, I spent three decades in the corporate world as an employee and I do not regret that experience. It has put me in a position to launch out in a different direction.

I choose to be self employed going forward. I want to be responsible for discovering what interests an audience and create a product that challenges me as an artist but also engages them.



Hi Chris, thanks for the wonderful article!
Personally, I like a balance of both worlds. The experience and connections made from working in studios is invaluable, but my personal projects are what drive me as an artist, heart and soul. My goal has always been to share my stories with the world one day, and that’s what keeps me going. This year I’m planning on buckling down on my first graphic novel that I’ve been planning for ages.
When it comes to the big studios, I always felt a little left out since a majority of my peers are/were set on working for Pixar or Dreamworks, but I just never felt the same drive. Sometimes I wondered if it meant they had more passion than me. But I realize that I’m happiest working for the smaller studios, and I’m really fortunate to have found work at a small game studio as a storyboard/cutscene artist. It’s awesome because outside of my primary job, I also get to do tasks that are outside of my area of study. So far it’s been a fantastic learning opportunity, one which would have probably been a lot more limited at a major studio because I’d only be focusing on one specific part of the production. That said, the long hours spent at the studio dig in to my personal project time, but even if I can only spend an hour a night on my own things, I feel fulfilled. It definitely beats my last job of scooping poop at dog daycare!


David Feenstra

I’m more than happy to work towards finishing small personal projects that make me happy. If I find an audience too, that would be a side bonus. I just enjoy creating to relax from my 9-to-5 gig.
Thanks for another great post.



Big studios, then on my own. That seems to be the path most people take — they do the “tried and true”, then they branch off on their own when they have experience and knowledge.



Working at a studio. Back in High School, I used to play trombone in several bands. Looking back, I saw it as a rare, unique way to enjoy music. From the other side of the conductor. Next to the drummer and guitarist. Playing harmony with the other trombones. That’s how I see cartoons, kind of. Eventually you’ll learn enough with a team to branch off and “solo”, or make your own art.

Though the more time passes, the more it looks like you can’t predict the order in which your career will go. Doesn’t really matter what I want.


Kelsey Suan

Hey Chris!
Well my goal is to work for a studio doing environments. I always had a passion for story and art of films, live action and animated. I found myself always analyzing the atmosphere and world of the story. I I like the idea of working with others, inspiring a story with art. Yeah, I want to go ahead and work in a studio with a team of people and be a part of a great project.



Hi Chris!
To answer your question, I wanted both actually, but in a certain order, first I wanted to work in a big name reputable studio, and later after I feel I have gather enough experience I wanted to do my own thing.



Mike Vest

I am a 40 year old dreamer… I have a family and have worked to FINALLY put myself through school… I graduated with a degree in GIS (map making using data) yet have been passionate as an artist for… my whole life?! I have worked as a production artist in the retail setting and now, with my degree, I have gained employment, once again using my artistic flair. I struggle with doing art for clients and art for myself, however, when it comes to creating for others, I tend to execute on a timely manner whereas if I am creating for myself, it seems to take me awhile to actually create. There could be several reasons… the wonder-child with all the questions and wanting to play, (which I love and encourage!) the constraints of creating in tiny spaces of time between keeping my day job, having a family and keeping the house maintained. But even with all the obstacles, and finally getting my mind settled down enough to create, I do prefer working on my own work better than studio work.
I did gain insight from this article though… Very well said. Thanks for putting it out there!




I’m much more passionate about working on my own stories, but I feel I can do that in my own time. I would be absolutely ecstatic to land a job ANYWHERE in one of several creative fields. Alas, I live in the middle of nowhere, creatively speaking, so unless I move halfway across the country it’s probably not going to happen.


Jody Hughes

I would like to both honestly. Or i guess try both and see which one I prefer. I am working on my first graphic novel and love he process but I have always wanted to be a story board artist. I’m hoping one day I can try story boarding for a company to see what its really like.



Chris, this is an interesting question. On the one side, I aim to work as much as I can for my personal project. But on the other side, I have to be honest to myself: My personal project is far away from attracting a broad audience, as it doesn’t build upon stereotypes. I never liked to follow the mainstream, allthough here and there some decisions and designs as to how my storyverse works might tangent what people like. But I notice that walking down my own path means to walk further away from other people’s paths. And that’s not the best thing to do to make a living. In that case, for me, it’s okay. I don’t want to make money with my personal creations.
So I am trying to manage my time for clients and personal work. I don’t aim for the big studios, but I wouldn’t mind to join a young team and building up a project with them together to help them becoming the next big studio (who knows, maybe it’s not just a thought some day).

For now I aim for indie-authors and small/middle size studios and think it’s starting to pay off way better than the recent years.
However, if there should be, some day, a fanbase that starts to follow my personal work, I could imagine to sell some prints or whatever I could think at….
But yeah, for now I want to help small authors or studios to grow. And as far as I can tell, those I work for are quite happy what I was able to do for them so far. The reason is simple: I earn more money from being hired than I’d ever earn from my own projects. But I am also trying to provide the best work I can for others that like what I am capable of at the time they see my portfolio. Of course I grow and improve, and that is what I want to provide my clients as well. I want to bring their projects to a new level of art during the time I work for them, so I am not just working for the money. But it’s one reason. What makes me happy though is that they hire me for whatever personal touch there is in my work. (Some love the way I do dragons, or the general ideas, or how I show landscapes, or lighting, etc.)

To see fans of my clients loving the covers I illustrated is a good feeling and motivates me to go on. (Same goes for the small group liking my personal work as well. I won’t ever let them down if they have any question or if I can help them with some practice.)

There are days I just wish I could live for 200 years, time is running (and by time I mean trends) and after I almost burned out last year, I decided not to run after it any longer. Just following the path of an illustrator, working for small clients or those who are middle size studios, and working calmly on my personal creations (while always talking to a couple of friends that are interested and critical at the same time about/with my stuff, and talking about their stuff as well, as they share the same passion) is the best I can imagine so far. For now, at least. If it were possible to make a living with my own projects, without selling my soul (so to say, I’d sell my soul if I would produce what others want to see, rather than what I have in mind – this goes for personal projects), I think that could be a possible way as well.

But the reality is working in another way. I guess as long as one stays true to oneself, which also means to stay down-to-earth in front of one’s own dreams and visions, whatever there is (in terms of dreams and goals) will be something that can become true some day.

I am looking forward to the next article, it has been always helpful for me to grab some coffee and take some time to read your articles and comments.

Have a nice day!



I want to answer the question, but it doesn’t apply to me 100%.

As a novelist, I don’t really have the option of “studio work” unless we’re talking content mills, which I would NEVER do. But as an editor, I think it would be really fun to do studio work. I love editing, and it would be great to spend more time editing and doing writing coaching than having to spend a lot of time looking for freelance clients.

Regarding writing, I’d rather go the traditional publishing route (with an agent and publisher) than have to devote potential writing time to self-publishing time. I’m all for social media, but it’s way too easy for me to spend time online rather than creating. I’d rather have someone else do promotional work for me so I can focus on creating.


Manuel Mtz

It seems that both have their respective pros and cons.

Working for a big name studio might give you experience on both skills and what the audience wants, as well as a steady job, but those projects aren’t truly yours. And when you’re on your own, while the project is 100% yours, there’s a lot of risk if it doesn’t appeal your intended audience.

For me the former hasn’t been a choice yet because my studies aren’t art school related at all; most of my drawing is self-taught and has so far been just a hobby. That has helped me to focus on my favorite theme ever since I started drawing, but I’m not sure if even after all this time the Friendsies are ready for prime time as they are right now. The characters are already there, but they still need a story and to put in practice what I know about marketing! Besides, my intentions to break in, whether for them or for my style, are very recent.

Of course I don’t want to limit myself to only draw the Friendsies if a big studio ever believes my style and design values would fit one of their projects. Their experience would be very valuable to keep going on and consider a serious career change.


David Niehaus

I have reached a stage in my life and career (what’s left of it) in which I have decided to go for broke and produce my own story and find a way to get it out there. I’ve been dreaming of this for over forty years, really, and the long, meandering path of my life has provided me with a perspective that I wouldn’t have had even ten years ago. My income currently doesn’t come primarily from artwork, but the job does provide me with several hours a day to work unencumbered on what I hope to make a series of books/comics/graphic novels/whatever you wish to call them. I have had the pleasure of working in a studio environment that ended twelve years ago, and loved the synergy and camaraderie engendered therein. We also did some pretty good work, I must say. I have friendships that still endure from that time, and I’ve seen some of those guys go on to great things indeed. Now it’s my turn, though it will take time.



This was a definite read! I wish I had gotten this kind of advice YEARS AGO when I was first beginning to share my work online. It’s painful to see how backwards my thinking has been when it’s come to the creative process. Fantastic advice, and I’m glad this is getting spread around (a friend of mine shared it on facebook), because THESE are the kinds of things that, like I said, I wish I had heard when I was beginning. But I’m getting it now, and it’s time to use the information. Wonderfully written, and thank you for sharing this.


Arnie Gordon

This article was right on point. The overall theme I caught was hard work can pay off, when you apply some thinking to it. This is what keeps me from getting a convention table, it’s not I don’t have something to sell. I have nobody to sell it to, and no clue where to find them.
For me I learned the best piece of advice that applies to this…
“…everything an artist does should be to prepare for the next opportunity…”
Whether is building good core fundamentals, expanding your abilities as a storyteller, or sharing your work and building a fan base.



(Really like this topic) When I started thinking about self-publishing my series, I was worried about the same facts as you listed and how would I sell well? Whenever I go to the bookstores, as a viewer you would see aisles of comic books, that the internet feels that way, a sea of anonymous web stories, many talented unknown storytellers and others that are still starting out.

What I did was go to various comic interview panels, learning what previous web-comic illustrators did and they all said ‘persistent and dedication’. I know professional (manga-artists) first works are seldom known, until their 2nd or 3rd series picks up dedicated fans. I personally feel my work might have better chances if it’s printed under a publisher’s name and they help do advertising for you while you just have to focus on producing your stories.

I might be wrong but I find it’s less hassle than having to do all the legwork to advertise for self-publishers and our works overshadowed by popular fan artworks.


Hailey Suits

I would actually be more into working for a /small/ studio than for myself or a large studio.
I would like to do my own stories on the side. But I want that security of being able to go to work regularly, have goals, and have a project to work on that isn’t entirely my headcananon baby so that I can relax when I am doing my own work.

However, I don’t want to work for a larger studio because of the politics that come with them, and the lack of freedom because many of them consider /anything/ you do, even personal work, to be theirs while you are under their employment.



Hi Chris,

I would like to be able to work in both big studios and on my own stories and projects. I would like to believe that by doing so one will inform the other. I would like to work in a big studio because I am interested in learning how to work in a pipe line and learn from other people. I like being involved in an art community where you can share your talent and learn from others. In the other hand I like the freedom of doing my own projects.
This post was very helpful since I am having a hard time knowing how to get my work out there.



I’m in my third year of art school, and I want to start my career working at a studio first to make a stable living as well as to challenge myself to work on things I would have never thought to work on by myself. Hopefully I’ll also meet a mentor or two and some new friends. With that said, I’ll be working on my own comics in my spare time and building a fan base via online and cons (I’ve only tabled at a small one but it’s been great and I managed to make back all my costs). Eventually quit my day job when my own story takes off, and hopefully my long winded goal of being the creator of my own animated series will happen (fingers crossed). So far I prefer to work on my own projects, but I think I can be happy working for others if the job is interesting and with the right people.



I’m far more passionate about my own creative projects and would rather make a living from them. I like helping people and I love visual storytelling. It would be great to be a PART of the production of something interesting or great, but I simply feel that it would be exponentially more rewarding to say something of my own and to produce something that has my own personal DNA and fingerprints.



Excellent article, by the way. Thank you for it.



I definitely prefer working on personal projects as opposed to a large studio. While working with a large group towards a goal on a specific project is fun, the joy of creating my own stuff exceeds it by far. A problem that I struggle with is making time for smaller personal projects and taking them to completion. Whenever there’s time outside of work, it’s usually devoted to either freelance work or to a large-picture idea I get excited about but can’t finish in a short amount of time, haha. I can’t wait to figure out the time management bit – personal projects really are wonderful to work on :)



Great post Chis. You pointed out some things I hadn’t considered. I want so badly to make a living telling my own visual stories, but it’s been slow making progress. I started selling art prints at shows & online about 2 years ago. I’ve made a little profit, but not anywhere near enough to live off of. I suppose that puts me under making mistake #3, but I will say the one thing I gained from it was a chance to find out which of my characters people respond to. Consistently I was selling prints of the same pair of characters, so now I’m moving forward focusing my efforts on stories and products for them. Since I was starting out as an unknown artist with no fan base I couldn’t use social media to find out what people wanted. I’d be interested to learn, do you have more advice on cultivating a fan base from scratch? No one comes to a facebook page unless they know it’s there.


Gwenevere Singley

Hey -

I started out with absolutely zero audience and no idea how to find one, and over time I’ve been gradually growing one. What’s worked for me is going onto various social sites that have a lot of people sharing art and comics (DeviantArt and Tumblr especially,) and just being very active on them.

The most helpful things for me have been participating in groups and group activities – art jams, challenges and contests, Original Character Tournaments, anything where you have a bunch of people sharing art and stories. Plus just generally interacting with people, commenting on what they share, having conversations, etc. Over time you get to know people and they get to know you, and it all starts to snowball.

Some good places to share are Tumblr, DeviantArt, Instagram, Pinterest, and to some extent Twitter. Facebook can work well as a general networking tool for normal personal accounts, but “pages” are becoming increasingly useless thanks to FB’s terrible page algorithms.



At this point, both would be great. I’m not in the industry and want to get out of the one I’m in terribly. It’s incredibly hard to quit a job without something that’s going to work, especially when benefits and school loans are involved.


Joshua Meehan

Chris! Great article topic as this whole marketing thing is a nebulous part of the art career. Personally ive found that you are correct with a helpful approach being the best approach.

I have seen this as a relationship with editors and art directors. That by making their lives easy it only makes my life better! I find i am more passionate about my indie ips and collaborations with other artists and find kickstarter an awesome platform to make the project a thing for people to hold!


Jocelyn Liang

I honestly don’t think I could choose between working at a big studio or my personal work. I said it once as an art student in school and I stand firm on the statement: I want it all.
I think it’s all about balance between the two for me. I can’t work on personal projects all the time because then I feel trapped in my head, and I can’t only work on studio projects 24/7 because then I feel like I have no creative outlet.

I do think it’s interesting how you talked about having the wrong audience though. The tricky part is not only getting an audience, but finding the right kind that you can relate to.


Angi Pauly

Hi Chris! I’ve been reading your blog posts for a very very long time now. they have inspired me to chase my own personal projects more. I’ve always dreamt of having a job at a nice studio, where I could pay my bills and more than anything really, learn from great artists that I admire, be part of a great project that would hit people’s hearts. And then I have also dreamt of making my own movies, my own stories (to be a little less ambitious), but you need some sort of capital to start one of these right? I got out of school in my country last October, animation school, but I wanted to make something else so I made a Visual Development book, the first ever in the school. I did good, graduated with Honors and…I can’t find a job, I even went to CTN and got two job interviews from FOX and Paramount, I even almost passed out when I was having my portfolio reviewed by someone at Sony Pictures and their head recruiter still contacted me…and still no job (but..I’m foreign so who knows what are my chances). Not even in my country have I been able to find jobs. Not one of 20 emailed illustrations agencies around the globe has taken me to be represented by them! So I figured, I’ll struggle for a little longer and will create my own success, even if I still have to keep emailing half of the planet. Thank you for these tips, I find them most encouraging in a very critical time of my work life (the beginning?). Good luck to everyone on their journeys :D


Dan charles celis

I’m more passionate on my current job, coz i think if i work hard now i can save up and take a break so that i can take my art seriously then i can push through doing my own. I don’t have the skills to land a job on a big studio not that im downing myself but i really know what i lack so i badly want to deserve to have time to improve.

More power to you guys!



I’m semi terrible in getting my own things done, working in a studio would be fantastic, I love being around other artists and I probably need the occasional ‘angry boss glare’ to get things done. I don’t see this happen tho, I really don’t see myself moving to the US and thers only so very few studio’s where I’m at.

Loving this whole post, this just kicks me in the rear with the simple fact that I need to blog more xD



1. I am far more interested in making a living telling my own visual stories. In fact, it is really my only path. I love creating technical pen drawings on watercolor paper. Since I use mostly my .13mm nib, it feels like I am carving the paper (I actually ruin one or two pens per project) and I call my style “paper engravings.”

They take a year to make. There is really no way a client would work with me. I can work faster, but then my unique style would be lost. Thousands of artists are more skilled then me, but few create work like I do. I realize the only way I could survive as an artist is to find a tribe that loves the insanity of the fact that I may stipple a sky for three months. They would see the print as a way to collect proof of my insanity and be willing to wait (like fans of music) as I work on the next project.

2. I guess I answered the “why” in the words above!

You Rock, Chris! I often have your podcast playing when I work. Thank you!


Bethany Lizette

Great post, Chris! I’m definitely more of the personal projects type. There are so many stories I want to tell and only one lifetime in which to tell them.

Keep up the awesomeness! ^_^


Suumin Birks

Great post Chris – I generally struggle with marketing my own work because (even though I’m proud of it), I feel like I’m forcing it upon people. I agree that it’s a much better tactic to build relationships and give something of value to people. I’m very keen to start writing tutorials on Illustrator, as I learned pretty much everything I know from online tutorials and I know how useful they can be!

I’d love to make a living from my own work, and have always been more drawn to that – however, I’m definitely curious about what it would be like to work for a big studio, mainly because it’s so great to be around other creative people.


AJ Ryan

This post was really helpful to make me step back and evaluate what I’m selling and what I might create to sell.

Personally, I think I am more toward the passion of learning at the start. By this I mean, I want to learn about the inner workings of creation. I want to learn about all that goes into a project. So I would like to start in a studio where I could learn from all the people working there as well. I am also interested in striking out on my own though, and experience in a studio, I believe, would only enhance that. A little extra know-how never goes astray.

That said, at the start, I find myself striking in both directions. I want a studio position, but I’m working on my own thing to help get me there.


Nate Call

It’s been a life long goal of mine to work for an animation studio, and I still think that’d be incredible. However it seems lately I’ve heard of more and more artist who talk about wanting to leave the studio life to do their own thing and pursue personal projects . So I can’t decide if I should focus on my own stories and ideas or still be shooting to work at a studio.


Ellie Fortune

The idea of creating a graphic novel, or a book, that people can hold in their hands and say, “I love it”, that gets my heart pounding. I want to be a stroy teller.
I love the emotional reaction my friends have after reading a story of mine. It astounds me that I can make them laugh, cry or even get frustrated. And when they tell me that I have to finish my project because they want more, I simply can’t beleive it. I know it sounds sappy but the reason I feel the need to improve my art, is so that I can better communicate the stories. I’m an artist because I’m a storyteller.
People often tell me I should work for Disney, which is a nice compliment, and maybe working in a studio would help me improve my skills and build relationships with other artists. It might be really fun? But I don’t think I could do it forever. Eventually I would have to get back to work, taking the stories out of my head and putting them in the hands of my friends.


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Jesse Smith

I feel like making a living from your own visual stories would be more satisfying for everyone. It’s a lot more work but at the end of the day, sink or swim, you are the person who choses your own destiny. That’s a pretty amazing feeling after all is said and done:)


Terry Reilly

Which path are you more passionate about: Working for the big studios or making a living from your own visual stories (online and/or at conventions)?

It was always making a living from my own content but didn’t think it was really a possibility or believe in myself to be able to do it until about a year ago. I realized then, it is all about taking baby steps to get there!

I’m working in big studios on movies and realized the past while it lacks the overall creative control that indie content has.

Selling your own work is very much for a specific type of people, most artists just do their own content for demo pieces, with no intent on selling and don’t see the importance of wearing many hats.

I think you should do an art mixed with business course for all us independent wanna be’s Chris! I would definately enroll in it!



I’m interested in making a living from mostly my own stories, but would love to work a bit with small studios as well, because I love working on teams of people. I’m very passionate about coming up with my own ideas because it allows me creative freedom, and also the freedom to make my own schedule and live/travel where I want to. But, working on my own forever would be very lonely so I’d definitely like the opportunity to work with the studios as well and be part of a community. Ideally I want the best of both worlds, hopefully I can make it happen :)


Rodrigo Santos

Dear Chris, your website has really really helped me a lot with my personal questions about whether I should dedicate more time to my drawings and imagination or not. And the answer is: Yes, I MUST!!! Answering your questions, I personally would like much more to explore my own stuff. I’m an English teacher and I don’t really depend on the income of comissions, and I’m pretty sure it helps a lot to find my personal style as long as money is not involved. Most of my drawings are for self-amusement, and I end up sharing, but of course it would be lovely to start getting some money with art – not because of the money itself, but because it would mean I could spend more time at the drawing board (as I’d have to work less in another job that doesn’t involve arts).


Elicia Mitchem

Thank you, this post really hit home for me.



Great article Chris! As I’ve already worked for some big studios, I can say it does have its positive points, particularly the aspect of being around so many creative individuals. Not only is it inspirational to see the work of others, but it also is invaluable in creating a network of connections that will help land you other jobs in the future. For me though, I definitely fall in the camp of wanting to make a living doing my own thing. There is just nothing that beats the creative fulfillment I get out of drawing my own creations. Thank you for your inspirational and encouraging work, it really means a great deal to a lot of people, myself included!


Grady W

Great article, I’ve been recently doing some independent projects mostly for fun. I’m realizing that you either have to keep doing them because you enjoy them or you’re developing a skill you aren’t able to develop in a studio. The most difficult lesson I’ve been learning is to let go. Not every project or idea you come up with is going to be the one.



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Working for big/small studios is an honour for me. Of course, it’s an experience that could make or break a career.

Although, who wouldn’t want to make a living out of your own ideas? I’d bet it’d be more exiting and more pushing for me since I’d work at something I love and created!



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Personally I think any artist would have a greater sense of accomplishment if they made a living from their own books but I wouldn’t walk away from a studio job if it’s one I can relate to.


Pat Marconett

Hi Chris,
Nice article! Perhaps I’m an outlier, but I really enjoy the studio environment. Its such an amazing feeling to have a respected artist want you to work on their project & pay you for it. I’ve never sold any personal artwork, so maybe its a similar feeling? I also find trying to manage a project all on my own really overwhelming. Its nice to just have to focus on one element & make it great, or just do small projects that don’t require tons of commitment………………….that being said, I’m really interested in self publishing now & I want to start developing my own stuff more to help get my name out & hopefully help with future jobs.



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I used to think that going on the main track of big studios was where I wanted to go. I mean, I majored in comics! I was dead set on trying to go for a deal with one of the big two, or Boom! or the like. But the harder I think about it, do I really want to? My desire to join one of those studios comes about from needing to pay the bills (art college, sadly, does not pay for itself). But I think if I could create a steady income of enough a month to pay bills and put a little away, I would be as happy as Larry. I’m so much more creative when I am not under restrictions.


Gwenevere Singley

I would ABSOLUTELY love to be making a living from my own stories! I’ve been slowly trying to move in that direction for the past few years. I’ve always had a bunch of stories I wanted to do, but until some years back, I had no idea how to get them out in the world, or whether anyone would be interested, or how to find out. Of course there was much waffling before I started putting anything out at all. Then I discovered social media sites and things have started snowballing… DeviantArt was especially helpful as a testing ground for the first few years, apparently a lot of my target audience hangs out there. Who knew!

So far I’ve mostly been throwing things online for free, partly to see if I CAN tell a coherent story, partly to bounce things off the world and get a reaction. Next step is figuring out how to monetize any of this, I guess. Meanwhile, I’m having a grand time sharing stories with people. (And following other people’s stories – sharing stories can quickly become a two-way street.)

Ironically some of the clients I do commercial work for seem to be increasingly of the mindset that they also want to do their own thing. Doing your own thing seems to have become A Thing. Probably a good thing!



Actually I think both working on your own projects and working for a big studio are beneficial and if possible I’d like to do each in my life. I think those are completely different ways of work and give you different experience :)


William sutton

I resigned from my “day job” at the end of last year, to pursue animation and my own project “TAR of Zandoria”, an animated series about a hippopotamus barbarian.
It was a really good job, Director of Design & Engineering, and I had been with that company for 15 years! But I felt that it was fear that was keeping me there instead of pursuing my dream….
I am rendering the last 2 shots in this first episode, and am planning on posting it to YouTube. I don’t have a plan for how I’m going to make money yet….I just had to do it, ya know?
Maybe I can use this to get a foot in the door at a studio, but it would be more fun to continue to develop this character and build this IP and create some true fans :)


Tyrone Barnes

My own stories are where my true passion lies, and I’m currently trying to establish myself in the online/convention scene, though I do have ambitions of entering into the big studio scene with my own ideas in tow, ready to be produced.



Being able to work totally on my own appeals to my love of freedom. However, I imagine that a big studio would connect me to much more dynamic people and mentors, who could ultimately push me further and be more satisfying.



I think my immediate goal is to work for one of the big companies. I think right now I need and enjoy the energy and motivation that comes with working in a team of people towards a product that people are passionate about. I’ve been with Playground now for the last 6 months-ish and it’s probably been some of the toughest work I’ve done, on an ‘AAA’ title – crunch time really is exhausting. But – I absolutely love that sense of pride that comes with seeing your product start making a buzz among the fans of the genre. It’s also given me chance to work with some areas of the pipeline that I’ve not had chance to before – and while they might not seem immediately useful you’d be surprised how getting more involved in the 3D end has benefitted my 2D stuff.

I also think that working with the bigger studios can be a good path to leveraging your name to the public should you wish to start developing your own IP later. Being able to say ‘hey I worked on game or film X’ might lend more credibility to your personal products to the public at large, especially when considering things like crowdfunding. (I’m sure you can probably attest to this somewhat, Chris :) )

So for now I love working with studios – I actually get a great buzz out of solving other people’s problems visually. But I think perhaps later down the line I’ll want to start looking into a project of my own (technically I’ve already done a bunch of stuff for it, but it’s fairly haphazard right now) as I have stories I want to tell, both in writing and visually. My long term goal is definitely to publish a full length novel with a visual companion, but at the moment I’m having more than enough fun working with loads of equally talented people in a big studio.


Henry Pope III

I have always wanted to create my own characters and comics. I enjoy what is already out there, and mass produced by major studios and fan artists, but never really been a fan of anything myself, at least enough to draw tons of it to get peoples attentions. I always feel my own creations are my better work.

My plan is to get my comic completed and either published or on kickstarter to get funding for a first print run. My social media impact has been very stagnant over the last 6 months as I been building it up. I most certainly could use some help and/or insight.



Making my own stories, art and world has been and continues to be my goal. It’s a consuming process that takes so long to get right but when it works it shines. That’s what it’s about … Making people happy with what is created. I’ll never be able to cure cancer or orchestrate world peace but if I can make someone pause and smile for a few moments then I feel a sense of satisfaction. My world revolves around creation but creation needs community to make it all worth while.



Thank you for these, and what you do. I can positively say I want to share my own message. I just wish I could sort out exactly what that was. It took a long time to stop pursuing someone else’s dream in college, to build up the courage to leave. Now I work in a day job full time in order to manage rent/bills, reserving the evenings for my real job as an artist and designer. I am dreaming of/considering making the change from employee to entrepreneur, but I am not able to without at least understanding how to communicate with and locate my audience.


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Sharon Salazar

Late to the conversation, but that is a really good question (and really good tips). What I’m most passionate about doing is some mutant hybrid of studio and freelance work. I’ve done one very large commission, and I do many free ones just for the fun and challenge as gifts to people I love. I’ve done norse mythology, Iron Man, Metroid, portraits… but every single one was a collaboration of sorts. I don’t like pushing MY vision of what I want to make on someone who orders an original. I take all my talents and vision and incorporate it into the ideas and desires of the customer, and I work with them and perfect the vision with them through each step.

So, long made short: collaborative freelance. Customized originals.


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Patrick Gaumond

I often feel part of a minority with this opinion, but I would personally rather do work big studios, or maybe more accurately, for other people. I don’t know why but I’ve always preferred to draw/paint other peoples characters and designs rather than create my own. I still love doing my own work but there’s something gratifying for me painting other peoples characters, painting other people’s ideas.



I’ve worked for a few big studios; it feels very stable, but I’ve always poked the idea of, branching out on my own, with a sturdy stick. I’ve never been sure how to find the audience big enough to compete with the big studio work I do though. For example I create interfaces for mobile games, generally what ever genre comes my way, but I would love to do print games, or develop interactive theater. A lot of the time I have these ideas but I’m not sure how to sell them, or if they would even be worth it to try and sell. Maybe I should just take the leap and dive right in, I’m just concerned about splitting my dedication and losing the stability I currently have. I also wonder if the risk is worth the reward?


Sean Andrew Murray

As a person who has worked for big game studios, and who is now venturing into the world of creating my own fantasy world and products, I much prefer the latter. I am still doing client work, but it is on my own terms and I am not forced to work on one thing for one client for years and years only to have stuff cancelled or pulled out from under me. Obviously, I would love to be able to just concentrate all of my time on my own world of Gateway, and maybe I will get there some day – who knows – but just the pursuit of that dream is worth the time and effort and can be extremely rewarding in a way that is different than client work.



I would love to work for myself! You have some great points about really looking at my work and saying ‘would I buy this ?’ Some things I would and others maybe not… the other hard things is trying to find my crowd.. I hope I have lovely things to share and would love feedback but I havent found the right crowd yet!



Excellent article. I feel quite the same way about prints as well. Thank You.



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