Maybe you’re one of the thousands of full-time freelancers who long for the freedom to fire your bad clients…
Buzzing with inspiration, you begin brainstorming and blocking-in your favorite ideas but there’s one question that keeps bugging you…
Will this project succeed financially?
I get at least one email a week from a subscriber who is struggling with this exact question.
My response: Does it have to?
Because their stories are so similar, I’m going to combine several real artists into one fictional artist.
We’ll call her Ophelia.
We’re going to help Ophelia decide which kind of personal project is right for her.
But before we can help her, we must first understand her struggle…
Ophelia’s True Passion:
Ophelia has been working hard on a concept art portfolio so she can quit her graphic design day job, move to California and work for Blizzard.
Despite having watched hundreds of free digital painting tutorials, she’s frustrated that her art still looks generic and lifeless.
She has only been pursuing a career in concept art because, ironically, concept art is a convenient career choice.
She decides that comics are her true, creative passion and springs into action.
She orders a Scott McCloud book from Amazon.com and stays up all night brainstorming ideas for an OGN (original graphic novel).
Around 3:30 am, the buzz wears off as she begins to fear the amount of time and energy she will have to invest to do this well.
Worried that this project might not make enough money to free her from her day job, she sends a frenzied email to me, asking if her comic project will be worth the work.
At 11am the next day, the FedEx guy wakes her up with a doorbell ring and a triple-knock.
It’s her new copy of ‘Making Comics’ by Scott McCloud.
Ophelia flips through the book and sets it on her desk where it remains for six weeks until she moves it to the shelf with the rest of her unread reference books…
Why did Ophelia’s inspiration fail?
Because she doesn’t think for herself.
Think about it: She never actually decided which creative career to pursue. She just followed the current, popular obsession: Concept Art.
Once she realized this, she took decisive action.
…but less than 24 hours later she was back where she started. Why?
Instead of taking the time to define success for herself (and for her own personal project), Ophelia thoughtlessly followed the current, popular obsession: Money.
Don’t get me wrong. I love concept art. It’s a great gig. Ophelia’s the one who decided it wasn’t for her.
I’m also not suggesting that it’s wrong to hope your personal project makes money.
I sincerely hope it does.
What I’m trying to say is that money isn’t always the prize.
Ophelia never considered that.
She let money barge it’s way in and ruin the party (as it tends to do).
…and because of that, her OGN fizzled and now she feels a little bit like a failure every time she looks at her bookshelf.
Maybe your “Blizzard” is “Wizards Of The Coast” or your “OGN” is “Animated TV Pitch.” Regardless, I think we’ve both been Ophelia at some point.
Maybe you’re her right now.
…and we both might be her again.
The key to avoiding Ophelia’s fate is the answer to one important question:
What is the prize?
What Is The Prize?
Because Ophelia didn’t think for herself, she never defined the prize for her personal project.
…and because she never defined the prize, her expectations defaulted to the most convenient choice: Money.
…and because she knows enough about comics to know that they don’t typically make much money, she gave up.
The success of a personal project is defined by the prize.
Different types of projects lead to different types of prizes…
Four Types Of Personal Project:
- The Geek-Out: Geek-Out projects are celebrations of the Artist’s own fandom. They can be ongoing but I recommend setting a clear goal that signifies when the project is finished. For example, a Kickstarter campaign to collect, print and share your collection of Harry Potter fan art. On that note, follow my friend and student Sydney Dean to see how she brings joy to herself and others with her Potter-centric Instagram account. The Primary Prize for your Geek-Out project might be the cultivation of creative community or a creative catharsis.
- The Skill-Builder: Skill-Builder projects are designed to develop artistic ability and agility. For many Artists, Inktober is also a yearly Skill-Builder project. Before you take on a Skill-Builder project, listen to this classic ArtCast episode for some tips on how to avoid burning out. You can watch Matt Kohr’s “Draw 100” video for a great Skill-Builder example. The Primary Prize for your Skill-Builder project might be an accelerated production schedule for your indie comic or training for a labor-intensive job like Storyboarding.
- The Showcase: Ideally, a Showcase project proves that you can do the job that you haven’t yet been hired to do. The Prize, of course, is getting hired to do the job you want to do. Listen to some of my First Flight students talk about what they learned from developing their own Showcase projects, then learn how Shawna Tenney’s Showcase project became an bonafide, children’s book.
- The Fan-Base: A supportive fan base can completely change your life. The Prize for a successful Fan-Base project is the freedom to do what you love for a living. Our friends at Patreon.com talked about the vitality of Fan-Base projects on this ArtCast episode.
Art Vs. Money:
About a decade ago, artist Hugh MacLeod changed my life with his essay How To Be Creative.
(For those of you who are familiar with Hugh’s work, this is the essay that became his inspiring book Ignore Everybody which is now available in all the various digital formats.)
In the essay, Hugh says “Art suffers the moment other people start paying for it.”
Whether you agree with this statement depends on your definition of art.
But if you give Hugh enough time to explain, most of you will see that he has a bigger, more important point:
“The more you need the money, the more people will tell you what to do. The less control you will have. The more bull$#!! you will have to swallow. The less joy it will bring. Know this and plan accordingly.”
I bring this up to pose a (mostly) rhetorical question…
Would You Do It For Free?
If Ophelia really loves comics as much as she says she does, why does she need me to tell her it’s worth her time and energy?
…wouldn’t she just do it anyway?
Her OGN was a project that she, in a moment of private honesty, identified as her true passion…
This isn’t one of those B.S. “It’ll be great exposure!” offers from some rando on Craigslist who is asking her to illustrate his personal project for free…
Sure, it’s possible that right now is simply just a bad time for her to take on a personal project of this magnitude. (This is why I put my own comic on hold. It’s wise to start something you can finish.)
…but judging from what she wrote in her email to me, it just sounds like she was really on to something before money messed things up.
…or how about: “My finished OGN is irrefutable proof – to myself and others – that I have what it takes to be an indie comics creator.”
…or how about this one: “A self-published OGN is the only way to get publishers to take me seriously.”
What if she just stopped worrying about profit and finished her OGN?
She’d probably feel happier and more creatively fulfilled.
She’d definitely feel even more passion for making comics.
…and she’d probably be selling some books.
Passion Before Profit:
Every profitable personal project I know of began as a passion project.
We do call them “Passion Projects”and not”Profit Projects,”don’t we?
Don’t sacrifice one for the other. That’s not what personal projects are about.
If your personal passion does make money, it will probably become an additional revenue stream, not a total, financial game-changer. (Although the financial game-changers are becoming increasingly more common…)
Your passion is the real game-changer.
…because your passion sustains your reputation, your ideas and your craft.
Whether the prize of your personal project is the attention of a big studio, consistent income from a supportive fan base or the final email you’ll ever send to your nightmare client, make passion the priority.
Share Your Passion!
What passion project are you currently pursuing?
If your passion project is stalled, what would it take to get it moving again?