2 Years of being a full-time anime artist - my impressions so far
Updated: Dec 10, 2022
Hello! Sayu here again after some time of absence in this blog. I hope you are doing well.
2 years of my full-time artist career have gone so fast, and with that, the experience. I want to document this and also share it with you. Although this might sound like a vent at times, I'll provide the readers with a solution to the problems I'm facing at the end, as some kind of catartic solution to the odds here.
Just recently I listened to the audiobook "Show your work!" from the book that goes by the same name, by Austin Kleon. It reminded me to post here again to keep track of my thoughts during the process of going through a career path that not many people follow. Hopefully this is a helpful guide for people that are thinking of going through the same things I am going through.
I often compare my job to sailing with a boat in the dark, only having a compass and maybe a nighlight that helps you see a few palms ahead. What I tried this year was compared to trying to broaden the range of the light to see just a little better, but I got no apparent success. Or at least not for the short run.
First off, I feel privileged to be able to try this career path - the currency helps me out a lot. Unfortunately, we are talking about a very specialized kind of job that takes years to be mastered, but it's not seen as such by most people because of the high amount of people underpricing. However, for anyone that lives in a place with a higher cost of living, the game changes in such a way that it doesn't depend on your efforts alone. All the artists that underprice and all the other internal and external factors will act as a waterfall that pushes you down.
First off, I'd like to clarify that even though I've been working full-time for 2 years, I've always taken art seriously, improved as much as I possibly could and posted my art online, but I've never had any luck with numbers. Not once.
This year I've been focusing a little more on the side work that goes into being an artist - agencing and trying new things that could possibly get me to my goals quicker. Unfortunately, I found out that no matter how I try to get closer to my goals quicker by trying other methods, it's always the execution (of an illustration) and the same old things that I was doing during my first year that seem to get me closer to what I've been wanting to do for a long time - which is to work for companies as an outsourced worker, work for big vtubers, and so on. Speaking of which, I got a proposal this year that seemed to propel me towards that goal; but apparently, setbacks have happened from the company's side, and I unfortunately I can't control my destiny in that sense. Fortunately, though, they told me they'll still reach out for future work.
I've been also trying to get away from some parts of my mentor's speech about the career that is somehow toxic - that everything depends solely on me, and if it's not working on my side, it's completely my fault and it means that my art is not good enough/ I'm not being flexible enough. Also, the belief that if you're not doing it full-time, you're not in the game for real and you don't deserve to be treated seriously. Unfortunately, like most people that are mentored by someone more experienced, I'm still bound to believe that.
Everyone has gotten this, at least once in their lives. While you're struggling so much to get to your goals, there's always a friend of yours that gets it easier. Or at least the story is told in less than half, so you think that they did it much easier than you and they got lucky in a way you'll never get. This happened a lot this year - friends getting their art viral on twitter, friends of friends getting their art viral (with original art), friends getting to work for triple A companies, acquaintances working on vtuber models for the biggest vtubers on twitch, someone I saw someone who started Twitch at the same time as me, streamed the same thing as me and got 7 times the recognition as I did in the same time span. Meanwhile, I'm struggling to send emails to my idols, no one emails me back and I don't feel successful.
I've often been seeing people who recently decided to take this career path seriously do much better than me as well. And I've always been serious about my work, drawing and posting. I've been feeling like I'm losing at the only game I've been playing my whole damn life.
Before starting my career, I was inspired by an artist that started approximately 10 years ago. In 2 years of career, she got her first job for a company as a freelancer. Did I get my first big proposal during my second year of career? Yes. Did I actually get to work? No. I don't think I'm living up to the greatness of this artist I used to look up on.
Then you might ask me "Sayu, so if you're looking for that, just email the companies/ vtubers that you want to work for!". Unfortunately, that's not how it works; even though it doesn't make much sense, like my mentors told me at the beginning, you have to make them desire YOU. How are you going to make yourself known if you're not relevant to these people that your looking up to? All I can ever do about this is to keep doing what I'm doing, and make sure that I'm doing it in the best way you possibly can, with a smile on my face no matter the circumstance. And that doesn't involve just internal factors, like how much you study art and improve, but external factors, like how many eyes are actually turned at you.
When it comes to having friends in the industry as a freelance artist, I never know whether it's better to have them around or not. Artists are normally a lonely figure, and other people always enrich the experience. But they can be the source for a lot of anxiety as well.
Commissions and how we deal with them
Lately, I found out that I don't want to do commissions for the rest of my life. The commissions I get don't make sense to me. This year, coincidentally, I got more commissions that align with me and I would proudly show around (since I never post some of the commissions I get); however, it's just not enough. I want to at least be able to select what I do.
I was "interviewing" a friend for a course I'm making to post on skillshare about how he got loyal clients for himself. My clients rarely return, but simply because commissions for them are a one-time thing, and not something they feel like they need. This friend of mine has 6k followers. The problem is that he answered very predictable things, like " I'm making a good result in their commissions." Well, I do exactly the same. In fact, I add a lot of things my clients don't ask or pay extra for. Where are my loyal clients?
The same old things
For the good or for bad, the solution to these problems is to always keep drawing. You could argue that waiting for the right people to see me when I'm just a tiny drop in a sea is an archaic idea, and I have to actually look for the correct people to find me commercial work. But my mentors were right. Excruciatingly right.
At this point, I feel faulty for spending my year trying to find a shortcut or a way to make it work out and feeling like I wasted my time.
Why I should be doing youtube
10 years ago, when I started posting my art online, the online scenery was completely different. Posting just finished drawings was enough for people to get to know your work, and the predominant platform for that kind of content was deviantART. DeviantART is a community-based website that allowed the users to post, create an art gallery and gain popularity by interacting with other users. It has advantages and disadvantages. At the same time that it is a helping community with many tutorials and resources, it used to prioritize popularity by choosing specific styles and interaction with other users. The interaction then was to simply comment people's art and reply to their comments. No need to show faces, go up on calls with strangers or to use streaming platforms with your face and voice. The website did not go down; it still exists, but got bought by wix after 2013 and is no longer the same. Now just recently, it got into the AI wave, showing everyone that it was never about the artists. It's always been about the money.
We have to face it: The internet has changed and there is no way we turn back. Whoever started back at that point in time, made it much easier. It was only one platform. The amount of platforms that emerged after the fall of deviantart and the amount of artists that have appeared since then are insane. And now with video platforms, we find ourselves having to adapt to that kind of content. The thing is: we artists do NOT want to do that. We already have plenty of work taking care of ourselves and making art.
However, Youtube has been one of the best platforms to create a community around one's craft - I've known that for a while, since it's been quite fast for me to grow there, and my stream viewers that come from youtube also tend to hang out for longer. However, I feel like I didn't want to NEED to do that.
Maybe everything is pushing me to share the knowledge I have about certain things, but I don't want to become a content creator, a video editor, a blog writer or whatever. I want to make art, I want to be seen and not feel like I'm screaming into a void anymore.
Yeah, I don't want to sound like I'm crying, but I definitely am crying a little inside. I've just been through this so many times I got resistant to it, and this feeling comes back from time to time. It recently just took longer to come back. But try to imagine how much desperation can come from the fact that I improved my art so much throughout the last years, have posted everything based on what people like and still haven't got my art seen and appreciated. And the last years are just the tip of the iceberg. I've been carrying my whole life's purpose with the expectation that my art gets seen, and if it fails, I feel like I failed as a person.
This was a year I really have to thank my therapist for, because she was great. She can wipe out my emotions pretty easily, as if she was a fairy. Every session I had with her was like a snap that took the weight off my shoulders.
I also have to thank Jun, my boyfriend for always listening patiently to my weeping. I know it's not easy to always hear someone cry about the same things over and over again.
I would also like to thank you all very much for being so supportive and always being there when I need. It wouldn't have been the same if I didn't feel like I impacted some people's lives, even if it's a few lives only.
Thank you very much for reading and let's go towards a brighter future.