(I’m thrilled to have Jennifer Miller as today’s guest blogger. Jennifer is a wonderful artist and one NRP is honored to work with. So let’s give her a warm welcome — Amanda)
Hello! I should do a quick introduction. My name is Jennifer Miller, and I am (now) a professional artist. There, that was pretty quick, right?
When Amanda approached me to write a blog entry for you all to read, I found myself nervously pondering just what on earth I could write about. When writing in my own blog, I know I am writing to fellow artists and art enthusiasts… or, at the least, someone that is interested in what I do on some level. Writing a blog entry for a publisher left me wringing my hands, wondering what I could say that would be of value or interest.
So, I chose to write about something that I think all creative professionals struggle with… especially those of us that do Freelance.
Freelance is a zainy thing for those that aspire to see their work published. For some, the stars align just so and things seem to work out. Jobs come in, your name gets published alongside a Thing that you made, and times are good. If you are doing really well, you can even pay a few bills that way. Then there are the rest of us that fight tooth and nail to get somewhere, and just when you think that something is going well, it’s yanked from under you.
I think that many artists, writers, musicians, actors… give up somewhere along the line. “This isn’t working out,” they think, and feel crushed that their dreams are not going as planned. I know that I have felt this way more than I care to admit. And sometimes, this works out for the best, because not everyone will enjoy the madness that is Freelance and getting Somewhere. Some people will be much happier and healthier when their talents stay an enjoyable hobby instead of a constant scramble to find work and get a few bucks. And that is totally okay too.
But… ah, the sweet, sweet feeling that you get when something does finally work out. Seeing your name (painting, etc) on that shelf in the bookstore… or even next to the title in the e-store… that’s something else. Everything feels glowingly worth it in those moments. And while for some surely there is a sense of fame and glory in this, for many (including myself) it’s more personal than that. There is a sense of self-worth that we often deny (or are scared to admit) that becomes gratified when we get published. The time, the grief, the struggle and rejections all become wonderfully worth it in that moment. And, more than anything, it is encouragement to continue to create, which is a winning situation for both the artist/writer, and the person that would continue to enjoy the works of the creator.
Instead of blathering on for pages about the balance between struggle to make it and the joy of making it, I’ll instead bore you with a short tale of how the world is Greatly Ironic in regards to my own career.
I’ve been doing art for as long as I can recall, and have been making lines on paper to resemble things probably since I was able to hold a jumbo-crayon or sidewalk chalk. I’ve been doing art with the ambition of doing it as a career full time since 2004… so, about seven years. From the start, I had visions of painting dragons and the like for book covers, tabletop RPGs, and so on.
With sparkle in my eyes and great enthusiasm, I set to work creating a large portfolio of my best paintings. I spent weeks of time and no small amount buying book references on how to approach and submit to every place under the sun where I felt my art could be used. My eyes firmly on publishers and game companies, I still explored every venue that uses my type of artwork… from greeting cards to magazines, tabletop RPG companies to clothing companies. At no small expense I assembled tear sheets, portfolios, resumes, and self-addressed stamped envelopes and started submitting, following each company’s unique submission process as necessary. For some years I submitted well over what I will guess to be 200 packets.
It was a good day when I got a rejection letter.
Most of the time my submissions were met with deafening silence. To be fair, many companies, especially larger ones, do get swamped with submissions and don’t have the time or resources to respond individually to each (which is why I love smaller places such as Naked Reader). Still, it does not exactly put one on cloud nine, and follow-ups were often even more discouraging when I was able to get in touch with someone. During this time, I did a lot of small individual commissions to pay the bills, and eventually got a part-time job doing something nearly unrelated to my own work, helping out a fantasy sculpture company. I enjoyed my work with them well enough, but it wasn’t my work and the nasty Troll of Discouragement was kicking me soundly in the rear end. At one point, like most artists, I threw my hands up in disgust over all the time, money, and effort I thought I had wasted, and gave up on chasing freelance.
Which, of course, is when the freelance jobs started rolling in… randomly, and from completely unexpected places. All of which had absolutely zero to do with all the hard work, preparation, and submissions I had put in over the past several years. My friend calls this “coyote luck”. I call it confusing and backwards (but very welcome!).
The first was a completely out of the blue email I received from Nickelodeon (yes, that Nickelodeon), needing a fantasy painting. I nearly deleted the email as spam or a joke, because it seemed so utterly impossible that Nickelodeon was sending me a generic looking email, asking for artwork. But it was legitimate and first in the line of jobs that came out of the blue, and only started happening once I had stopped actively searching. Go figure!
Seeing my artwork in publication for the first time was a surreal feeling. There was this strange sort of disconnect; is that really mine? I did that! Then, of course, is something nearly all artists do: stare at the mistakes! Aaagh. Surely there is something strangely wired in our brains for it to switch from utter elation and reward of “I have finally made it! I am worthwhile! Other people will actually see this and one of them might actually like it!” to… “Oh no, did I really paint the dorsal spines of the dragon at such a strange angle? What is wrong with me! The subsurface scattering is all wrong on that beak…”
Surely, not everyone is haunted by subsurface scattering or off-angle dragon spines. If you find that you are, I welcome you over to have a cup of tea so that we may properly discuss them.
But, I digress! At the end of the day, it all comes together and is so worth it. It’s a heck of a rollercoaster ride, and I’ve only just begun, but I sure do enjoy the trip.
You can find out more about Jennifer and see some of her wonderful art here.