Industrious Illustrating #63 – Looking to Summer

Hello everyone! I ended up not updating for two weeks because of final projects and exams eating up all my energy and time when I wasn’t making new art. But I’m back with one more post before the end of the school year!

Speaking of which, one of my class projects this past semester was illustrating new educational materials for the UMich Natural History Museum. I ended up designing a new step-by-step infographic for using their slides and microscopes. Here’s a sample of what one of my microscope illustrations looked like:

The other artwork I’ve been making recently has mostly been fanwork and commission work since that’s what people pay me to make (and I also enjoy making). I do want to work on more original design work, especially after getting my portfolio reviewed by a mentor and realizing that my design work has a long way to go if I ever want to get work in the double or triple-A video game industries, but I’ll likely have to do that later in the summer after I’m done with my internship. In the meantime, I’ll be selling at several fan conventions this summer — Anime Park this weekend, then Motor City Comic Con (the Spring show) and Colossalcon’s Otaku Craft Fair later this month, and the Otaku Detroit Summer Bash as well as Tekko in mid July!

I’m still not totally certain, but I’m leaning toward not continuing this blog next year. I’ve taken on a lot of responsibilities (especially in the last year) that I have to juggle on top of an increasingly demanding upperclassman schedule. While maintaining this column has been nice for tracking my progress as an artist over the years, sharing it with the wider world, and getting a small amount of compensation for my time, I’ve finally gotten enough traction with getting into conventions and cultivating a dedicated customer base that I’d rather focus more on my art and chronicle my development in less time-consuming ways. But I’ll at least for sure continue to be Digipaint’s event planning admin next year, and I’ll also continue to work on myself as an artist and small business owner. It’s surreal that I’m only a year away from graduating college now, but there’s no way that I could’ve stayed in undergrad forever.

Anyway, I’ll go back to resting and recuperating from all the hard work I’ve done so far this year, and I’ll either see you guys again in the fall or if we ever chat at an in-person event! (Or, a third option, if you figure out what my art social media accounts are and follow my art journey there…) Have a great summer!

Industrious Illustrating #62 – Coming to an End

I almost can’t believe that the school year is almost over already — I feel like the spring of 2023 happened only a couple of months ago! Currently I’m trying to finish a bevy of final assignments on time this week before they’re due, which includes both UX-related coursework and client work. I wonder how it’d feel to balance a full-time job workload on top of making my own artwork for both personal and business purposes… (Also, this is why the column is a couple of days late this week)

What I was definitely able to make time for this past week, however, was driving down to Toledo to see the total solar eclipse. I don’t regret this one bit, as I’ll remember forever throwing off my eclipse glasses when I saw the sliver of sun disappear and seeing a giant void of darkness with a glowing rim of white light looming in the dark sky above me. No wonder why so much mythology and artwork has been inspired by the sight of a total eclipse!

I didn’t get any really good eclipse photos because my phone camera is older and I didn’t think of borrowing a nicer camera from LSA or Stamps’s equipment offices, so this is the best one I have

I also did Con Ja Nai last weekend and made a fairly decent amount of money — several times more than what I’ve historically made at CJN before my art business really started taking off this year. I think the addition of mecha keychains has boosted my con revenue from average to quite good, as they satisfy an under-served niche for small mecha merch. It goes to show that sometimes you don’t know what’ll work best for you and your business until you experiment and eventually hit it off with your customer base.

My setup from last weekend — I definitely feel like I need to simplify this down though, as it’s a huge headache to set up just for a single day of selling even with two people working on it

Also, filing taxes by yourself as a self-employed small business owner is a huge headache — I’m likely going to reach out to a small business CPA (accountant) for next year’s tax season since my taxes are going to only get more complicated now that I do out-of-state events. The difficulty of keeping track of sales, income, and estimated taxes is something that I don’t think enough people warn you about before you try to run an art business.

Anyway, I think there’ll only be one or two more Industrious Illustrating columns this school year before I go on summer break and focus my energy on other things. I’m not sure yet whether or not I’ll bring back this column next school year, as my art business has now taken off a lot this year and my coursework is also becoming increasingly demanding closer to graduation. However, I’m tempted to keep this running until the end of undergrad because it’d be a really nice log of my growth and development as an illustrator and product designer over the course of several years.
If you’d like to see this column come back next year, I’d love to hear from you ^^ And either way, I hope you’ll enjoy the nice weather outside in the upcoming weeks!

Industrious Illustrating #60 – Botanical Gardens 3

Hello, and welcome back to another week of Industrious Illustrating! This week I’m going back to talking about my classwork for “Making Science Visible”. We recently finished our botanical illustration project where we each illustrated a plant at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens to be later compiled into a map for visitors to identify plants of interest in each biome with. Our first set of drawings are now printed out and on display at the MBG in the hallway leading up to the entrance of the indoor gardens! I personally did my painting first on paper with watercolors and inks and then digitally retouched the painting, but some of my classmates did their drawings entirely traditionally or entirely digitally. I’d definitely recommend taking a look in the near future to see how we all approached the subject matter!

My work is currently hanging in the hallway at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens alongside the work of my classmates!

Something else I did this week was stop by the UMich Natural History Museum to take reference pictures of their microscopes. Our next class project will be creating and redoing various illustrations for the Natural History Museum’s educational materials, and I volunteered to make illustrations for a revamped tutorial for using the microscope. While I was there, I also asked some of the student volunteers about the microscope’s specs and learned that the base model is a National 215 Microscope. I’m glad that I took time out of my day to gather reference materials in-person, and I’m sure that this will be a unique and challenging illustration project.

That’s all for this week! Next week I’ll be in Seattle to vend at Sakuracon, so I’ll probably be making my weekly arts ink blog post the week after. I just finished finalizing my last merch order last night for the con, so I definitely feel like taking a break from drawing for at least a couple of days (I have 2 orders of keychains and 1 order of prints on the way). To that end, I plan to spend more time with my friends and watch a movie or two this weekend. I hope every one of you guys will also have a restful weekend!

Industrious Illustrating #59 – AMKE and the Grindset

Hello, and welcome back to another week of Industrious Illustrating! Honestly, I forgot to make a post last week because I was out of state for Anime Milwaukee and was focusing entirely on running my Artist Alley table to the best of my ability. I almost forgot again this week because I’ve been figuratively (and literally!) running around trying to make merch orders/re-orders before my next convention at the end of the month. Anyway, here’s what my AMKE table setup looked like this year:

Overall, I did pretty solidly — my revenue was on the higher end of the middle in terms of revenue I’ve made at conventions in the past — but Milwaukee is a fairly expensive city to visit and I’d bring more premade food with me next time to cut down on costs. Otherwise, I’m fairly happy with my profits and I’ll be back if this con accepts me again next year.

On other note, something I’ve been thinking about this week is that even though I do anime conventions instead of art fairs or other events because I specifically love fan culture and engaging with fellow nerds, turning my online shop and convention tables into nearly a full-time job on top of schoolwork is extremely exhausting. I’m almost grateful that I didn’t apply to any cons in April besides Con Ja Nai (Umich’s own one-day anime con!) and I haven’t gotten into any conventions in May (RIP Fanime, ACEN, and MomoCon) because otherwise my entire year would just be convention after convention interspersed with grinding out new merch designs. For one thing, even though I get a lot of merch design requests it’s not like I actually have to constantly make new designs — I’m only just starting to do out-of-state conventions this year and most attendees haven’t seen my work before! For another thing, if I just constantly work myself to the bone chasing higher revenue, would the extra money really be worth burning myself out and making me forget why I’m doing this as a gig instead of working a more “normal” job? Also, all of this is taking away energy, attention, and time I could be spending working on original projects or seeking out other potential jobs/careers, such as doing commercial illustration or user experience design/research. I definitely want to focus more on those during April and May.

That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy making new merch — I do this precisely because I love the process of researching and designing new merchandise and making them into reality — but I also can’t remember how to enjoy that process without giving myself space to decompress and relax. I think that this weekend I’ll focus on doing house chores and taking “me time” (probably playing video games and taking walks) so that I can remember what it feels like to be a human being and not an art-making machine.

All of this makes me wonder whether or not I should consider being a traveling freelance artist a viable job path in the future rather than a profitable hobby. I mean, what happens if there’s a year where I’m not accepted into any major conventions and my online sales aren’t enough to make up the difference? But also, another part of my brain reminds me that just about every industry is being shaken up by AI and other changes in the economy at the moment, and a regular salaried job would also place my livelihood at the whims of external forces. The best any of us can do is diversify our income streams and not place all our eggs in one basket, whether that basket is a corporate job or self-employed freelance. Maybe this isn’t as upbeat and hopeful as I wish I could be, but this is a column about my journey improving my art and trying to make it viable as a career, so I think it’s to everyone’s benefit that I’m candid and frank at least on occasion. I hope all of you have a great restful weekend, and see you next week!

Industrious Illustrating #57 – Katsucon 2024

Hello, and welcome back to another week of Industrious Illustrating! This week’s post is late because I spent the entire weekend in National Harbor, Maryland (near Washington D.C.) at Katsucon — a large anime convention — in the Artist Alley selling merchandise of my artwork! It broke my previous convention sales records several times over and I ran out of a bunch of merch designs, so I’m very happy with the results! I also got to network with and meet a bunch of other amazing artists!

When I was in the area, I also visited the Steven P. Udzar-Hazy Center, which is an offshoot of the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum located nearby in Virginia where the space shuttle Discovery is on display alongside an SR-71 Blackbird, a Concorde supersonic plane, an X-35B STOVL, and many other exciting civilian and military aircraft! I took lots of reference pictures and even did some on-site sketching to the best of my abilities, though I’m not as practiced at drawing aircraft and I was exhausted from driving all the way to D.C. (with an overnight stop at Pittsburgh) last week.

Anyway, I’m elated that I got the opportunity to do a convention outside of the Michigan-Ohio area for the first time and that I gained so many valuable experiences from it, plus I had lots of fun and made enough money to fund my next art business ventures and pay for a bunch of personal expenses! I’m looking forward to my slate of upcoming cons next month (Anime Milwaukee in, well, Milwaukee at the beginning of the month, Sakuracon in Seattle at the end) and I also hope to do more original design work soon with aircraft as inspiration!

Industrious Illustrating #55 – Study Step-by-step

Hello and welcome back to another week of Industrious Illustrating! This week I’m doing a quick breakdown of how I do digital painting studies to brush up on my fundamentals and improve my mental visual library for my drawing and design work.
It’s generally better to do studies from life rather than from photographs because cameras distort reality and also you can understand the subject from more angles if you see it in real life. However, for this exercise I’m using a Shutterstock stock photograph because trying to find and draw an excavator on-site during the winter months is too much hassle for me personally.

My first step is to draw color blocks to get down the idea of the subject matter while not worrying too much about complete accuracy. It’s way easier to work with a drawing that already exists than with a blank canvas.

My next step is to tweak the proportions and start adding in details to represent what I see in front of me.

As I work on details, I realize that some of the proportions aren’t correct and fix them. This is also how I work on my regular art pieces — mistakes are just a natural part of the process and can be overcome!

The finished study now looks like this! It’s not a fully refined drawing, but I feel like I’ve done enough work to better understand how the different parts of an excavator work together, which was the goal of my study session anyway.

I even draw shapes over my study to solidify my understanding of what the basic building block shapes in an excavator are.

Of course, this is only one way to do studies, and there may be a way to learn that makes more sense to you! I just hope that talking through my process like this helps you discover what might work best for you in the future. See you next week!