My Latest Art & Videos

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Wordpress & Artists: My Favorite Plugins and Themes

A couple of years back, I did a series of posts on Wordpress and its value as a CMS (content management system) for artists wishing to create their own websites.  I am still using Wordpress to manage my site to this day and thought I'd share a few of my favorite plugins and themes!

Plugins


All In One SEO Pack - Lets you add custom tags and meta info to your pages very easily to make it more easily found by search engines.

Duplicator - Lets you copy your site and database so you can move your entire site from one location to another.  Handy if you've been building in a private test folder before moving it onto your main domain.  This plugin can also create a snapshot of your site at any time for backup purposes.

MailChimp by MailChimp and Crowd Favorite - Lets you add a widget with a customizable MailChimp sign up form into your site's Sidebar.

NextGen Gallery by Photocrati - A wonderful gallery management tool that lets you create taggable images with sleek layouts.  The pro version nets you extra layouts and social sharing links bundled in.

You can also integrate the Social Gallery plugin with NextGen to create a Facebook-esque lightbox and viewing experience with even more social sharing links.  Buying the pro version of NextGen lets you use the plugin on all sites you own and is more mobile phone friendly than the free layouts.

The Events Calendar - Great for adding your upcoming appearances into a calendar on your Sidebar.

WooCommerce - I'm still testing this one, but I've seen a lot of other artists using this one to create an onsite store instead of hosting one offsite.  You have fine control over images for your products and can even sell digital items.  Will probably post a more in-depth review of WooCommerce as a shop setup after I've had time to play with it more.

Themes

All of the themes mentioned here are mobile phone friendly.

Make - What I'm currently using on my latest site.  Make comes with a free version you can use as-is.  I love the integrated social icons bar (I was hard coding them all before into a Sidebar widget) and it's very sleek looking.  The packaged Builder templates for creating Pages on your site allows you to do Pages with columns, image sliders, galleries, etc. very easily without requiring a lot of coding knowledge. It is e-commerce ready with WooCommerce integration in mind.

The Pro version lets you get rid of the template tag on the bottom as well as opens up extra Page layouts and pre-made templates where you can toggle Sidebars on and off and auto-populate Pages based on their intended use for quick Page building.  You also get access to more type kits that let you change the font style of your whole website at once.

The free and pro versions both have a ton of customizable Widget areas such as multiple Footers and Menu locations.  Buying the Pro version also lets me use this theme on all of the sites I own.

Virtue - Has a free and pro version.  The free version lets you create grids using Portfolio items.  I almost went with this one for my site, but I found the Portfolio setup a little confusing.  If you can manage it though, it seems like a pretty versatile theme.  Just like Make, you get tons of customizable Widget areas, such as multiple Footers and Menu locations.  It is also e-commerce ready with WooCommerce integration in mind.

Wave - I never got to test this one out on my own, but the demo site looks good and it's also e-commerce ready.  I'm including it here as an option because it was reviewed highly, is a decent price, and might be an option others might want to try.

So what are some of your favorite plugins and themes?  Share in comments!

Monday, September 15, 2014

My First Kickstarter - Part 3 - What I Learned

So my first ever Kickstarter has ended and I regret to say that it did not meet its goal!  I am not completely crushed, however, as this has been an  experiment from the beginning.  I knew it might fail due to my own inexperience with hosting this kind of campaign.  I'm writing my thoughts here so that I (and you) can learn from my mistakes and triumphs.

"As the Lady of January, I must protest this treatment!"

What Promotion was Effective (or Not)?

To see a full list of the places where I promoted my Kickstarter, see Part 1.

- The Art Nouveau Tumblr blogs I submitted my promo posts to took about 2 weeks to process submissions.

- The Facebook Groups and Pages I submitted to never replied.

- The DeviantART Groups I posted to, especially artnouveau, were very supportive and enthusiastic! I had a few pledges directly from dA due to spreading the word there.  It's also a community I've been on for 10+ years, which probably plays a factor.

-  Reddit, despite everyone's insistence that it is vital, was useless for me.  I got a couple of upvotes, but I suspect Reddit is only effective if you have a particular fandom that would be interested in your topic. Alas, none of the several subreddits I posted to provided a single clickthru of support according to my statistics panel.  Perhaps I just didn't find the right subreddit with the right people?

-  Paid Facebook ads ($40 worth, to be exact) seemed to be somewhat effective.  I got plenty of shares and Likes and a few pledges via Facebook, according to KS's stats.  I promoted both a video post and a text post.

-  Paid Twitter ads (or promoted Tweets) got plenty of Favorites, but resulted in no direct pledges.  I have to wonder if people bookmarked the project page and came back later, which made them come up as direct traffic instead?  Either way, I had $100 free credit on Twitter for trying out their Ad area for the first time, so it was a great risk free promotion.

- During my campaign, Kickstarter launched a whole new way for projects to be found via their 'Discover' panel, which now includes clickable sub-categories for their main categories, which make it easier to narrow the focus of the projects that pop up for random discovery viewers.

The Bottom Line:  Out of all of the sites I promoted my Kickstarter at, my top three referrers which resulted directly in pledges were direct traffic via Kickstarter's site (especially after the debut of the new discovery panel), DeviantART, and Facebook.

Disclaimer:  My results may not reflect your results, especially if we have unrelated projects.  Best to test them out for yourself and see where your target audience exists on the net!

Toughest Challenges


Losing sleep - I spent a lot of time at night trying to think of the exact perfect way I could say the right thing to encourage people to invest in my project.  I kept thinking up endless tasks for myself to do.  Not a recipe for good sleep!

Obsessively checking email - Even though I promised myself I would not become obsessed with this, I could not help but clicking refresh to see when Pledges came in.  With such a short timeline, every day is vital and might bring new pledges!  This is a dangerous activity for our egos, especially when a campaign fails.

Fear of not promoting enough or too much - Was I spamming people?  Was I not asking people to do enough?  Was I not clear about what my project was trying to do?  All of these thoughts kept bouncing around in my head every day and night, also not conducive to sleep.

Why Did My Campaign Fail?


And now the tough question!  Why did my campaign fail, anyways?  I got some great feedback from a person who was kind enough to come forward and tell me why they did not back my project as well as fellow artists who have ran their own campaigns in the past, which made me come to some important revelations.

Confusing Expectations - Most potential Backers thought they were getting the entire series at once or they wanted to get the whole series at once, instead of waiting.  What they did not understand is that by backing this Lady, they actually help to fund the next Lady in the series.

If I were to just finish all of the paintings first without breaking them up into a series, I wouldn't actually be able to put any of the funding received along the way to a good use (IE. helping me to hire models, acquire new art supplies, etc) and therefore being able to improve the next Lady in the series.  I was not clear enough with my project Story and videos with how vital backers would be in influencing the creative output of this series and thus helping these paintings to meet their full potential.

Lack of Variety/Demand - The downside of only having one Lady in the series so far is that it is highly reliant on those with a connection to January.  January isn't a popular birthday, as far as I can tell, meaning there were less Backers interested in picking this one up.  Now October?  I have a feeling she's going to have an easier time meeting her goal!  (October has been the number 1 requested Lady so far!)  By the time I get to the later Ladies, the previous Ladies will be included as part of the Rewards, which will add to the demand for that Lady.

What Would I Do Differently Next Time?


I definitely want to try Kickstarter again and I plan to continue the Ladies of the Months Kickstarter series. However, I will definitely be going about things quite differently after this first experience.

-  Plan a strict time table BEFORE I start.
I had a loose time table in my head, but so many delays came up, particularly with the video editing, that I stressed myself out more than I should have trying to get things posted within the relatively small window I had to promote in.  Next time, I hope to have all of my sample Rewards and videos created and ready to post before the campaign even begins.

- Target my promoters ahead of time.
I'm going to make a list of places to promote my Kickstarter ahead of time so I'm not scrounging during the final days stressing myself out and desperately trying to find the right outlets who will respond to me.  I hope to approach promoters first and give them some lead time for working in an article about my Kickstarter into their schedules first so they won't run into the problem of my campaign being over before they even have a free slot.

- Build a bigger fanbase first?
I'm torn on this one. Many people offering advice about this campaign stated you don't need a fan base before running a Kickstarter, but the people I have seen succeeding the most on Kickstarter already have a collector base they have built or have worked with well-known IPs.  I have a small fanbase, but it's not nearly as big as I would like nor does it seem big enough at the moment to support a Kickstarter for people who might pitch in on a whim.  Should I wait till I have built more of a collector base for a particular brand of art before starting another Kickstarter in this series?

By the same token, I've had many people notice Lady of January (and my Ladies of the Months series) thanks to the Kickstarter and just simply having the paintings out there at conventions and online has grown interest in them.  Most of my mailing list sign-ups at this past DragonCon were thanks to people wanting to know when their Lady's month comes up.  Does this mean that though January failed, my audience has grown just enough to make chances of the future Ladies' success bigger?  I'm still pondering on this one!

- Have a clearer creative journey.
I really believe focusing on how awesome Art Nouveau is and the physical rewards over the creative journey hurt my chances for success.  I intend to focus on how this series is actually helping me maximize the potential of these paintings beyond my current capabilities the next time.


I hope documenting my process has helped someone else out there.  I know it has helped me!  I look forward to presenting the Lady of February's Kickstarter in the coming months armed with new knowledge and enthusiasm.

Thanks to all who pitched in and gave words of encouragement!  If anything, running a Kickstarter gave me real, tangible evidence of all the amazing folks out there who are wishing me well and sending their support.  You guys are fabulous!

Till the next time!  I cheer to your own Kickstarter's success!

You can read the other parts in this series here:
My First Kickstarter - Part 1 - Concept, Preparation, and Promotion
My First Kickstarter - Part 2 - During the Campaign

September 2014 Giveaway and Q&A


EVENT LINK on Google+: https://plus.google.com/u/0/b/113983405055864592403/events/c6o89mu32rptsvvnpc7bi886pq0

Join me for my September Patreon Giveaway! See how my month's been going, ask me anything, and learn which lucky Patreon patron will win one of my art items!

Can't make it? Leave your questions in comments and I'll answer them at the event, which will be recorded and automatically uploaded afterwards to my YouTube channel, where you can watch the broadcast later: http://www.youtube.com/user/angelicshades 

Sponsor me on Patreon to get in on this chance to win unique items direct from the artist. Only Patrons at the $10 and up level will be added to the giveaway: http://www.patreon.com/angelasasser 

Questions are fielded via the Q&A text chat feature within Hangouts, so do not worry about 'calling in' if you are shy.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

August 2014 Giveaway + Q&A: Winner and Answers!

Now for some answers to the questions you asked in a previous entry!  Vanessa asks:

Q:  I find that I have a very hard time figuring out light sources and shading when I'm trying to draw or paint (traditionally and digitally). Do you have any recommendations for exercises or books that would help with this problem?


A:  Vanessa, mastering values is one of the most subtle, but important skills that I am still mastering, myself!  If you can establish the proper values and shadows, you can make even the most absurd forms look realistic and the most simple paintings intriguing.

Some of my favorite exercises to understand the importance of value, especially as it affects composition, is to study master paintings and create black and white abstractions of them (thanks to Chris Oatley's Painting Drama for the idea!).  Like this:


Breaking down a painting into the major value groupings which define the image teaches you to recognize that effective paintings aren't about shading and lighting everything to the same intensity, but that you can push and pull the viewer's eye by grouping together the overall values where you would like the flow of the image to move.

As for knowing what to shade, lighting and shooting your own references is extremely important!  You can bring a level of realism and grounded reality to your pieces if you can define where the cast shadows fall.  Some artists do this with photographic reference, others learn to light and rig in 3D modeling programs so they can control every aspect of their reference more easily.

There's so much more I can say about this topic, so I'll just leave you with a suggestion for further reading in the form of James Gurney's amazing books on painting, Imaginative Realism and Color and Light.  Both books talk extensively about values, color, composition, and so much more!  They are an essential part of my book shelf.

Q: As an artist do you find it more difficult to begin passion projects as opposed to commissions? Where do you find your motivation? I know that when I get home from designing all day one of the last things I want to do is work on my own projects, and I have started missing them!


A:  This is a tough one!  I am still battling to get motivated after work.  After working on commissions for other people all day, I just want to curl up with a video game or a good movie.  The best way I've managed to trick myself into 'working' after work is to realize that this is essential 'play' time.  We remain creative by letting our minds wander (see John Cleese's lecture on the matter).

It also helps for me to give myself a set amount of time I can expect to be playing.  You can get a whole lot done an hour a night if only you dedicate yourself fully to that hour!

Q: My last question is, where did your love of art nouveau stem from? What draws you to this particular movement in art?


A:  I fell in love with Art Nouveau when one of my good friends in college introduced me to the work of Alphonse Mucha!  I instantly fell in love with the elegant swirling lines and organic shapes.  Replicating the style is like pure joy for me.  Inking the tiny details is a form of strange meditation.  I feel like Art Nouveau is a mirror into another world where the artistry of the individual was more appreciated than soulless manufactured design.  There's so much beauty, passion, and artistry in the architecture, paintings, and simple household objects of the period!

Thanks for the wonderful questions, Vanessa!


Without further ado, the winner of the Bad Fairy ACEO is....



Caitlan McCollum!  You're on a winning streak, m'dear!  

If you'd prefer the 50% off discount code prize instead, let me know via email and I can get you sorted out.

I hope to return to my usual live broadcast format for September's giveaway and Q&A.  More details to follow!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Convention Report: DragonCon 2014

After catching up on sleep, emails, and the internet, I'm finally able to grab some time to write a few thoughts about this past weekend's Dragon Con!  It was an odd year for me, as my sales were not so stellar, but the sense of kinship I felt with the other artists, even during a 'bad' year, warmed the heart.

I've come home feeling encouraged and inspired more than ever before, especially since I had a disappointing show.  We all have them and I learned a lot this con about myself, my future, and how much I love the supportive nature of the art community.

I have a lot of thoughts to sort out, so I'll try to condense!

My Display this Year:

My table setup during load in.  I wore a much nicer outfit at the actual con so I didn't look like an art hobo.
This table arrangement changed a bit over time, with the books being moved up front and the bookmarks behind them.

My gallery display in the Art Show.  Art Nouveau to the left, mature fantasy in the center,
and my masks to the right.


The Convention Experience:


As always, the Art Show is a well-oiled machine and set up went rather well!  I had a lovely time chatting up familiar faces like Annie Stegg, Justin Gerard, Drew Baker (Drew, the playmats you printed were gorgeous and I sold them both!) and Peter Morhbacher (or more often, his dad, Mike. He told some stories about you, Pete. Hehehe!).

I also made new friends with my amazing table neighbors, Jasmine Beckett-Griffth and her husband Matt, and Tienne Rei and her lovely assistant, Linda.  I also got to hang out with the talented Meredith Dillman and her husband and my good friend and artist, Brenda Lyons.

The more time I spend at conventions, the smaller the art world becomes!  It's been a great pleasure getting to know other artists more personally and to realize what an encouraging and amazing community network we have.

I just wish I had more time to chat with everyone!  We were all so busy that beyond a dinner here and a shuttle wait there, it was selling, eating, or sleeping.  Makes me sad I'll miss IlluXcon later this month, where people generally have a bit more time to hang out!

The general feel from the attendees this year was...tense, to say the least.  So many seemed very upset about the crowds in the Dealer's Room and in general.  I've heard that there were 72K attendees this year.  This is insanity!  The hotels were just not made to contain this number of people.   Due to foot traffic and the general unintuitive layout of the hotels, it's near impossible to find your way to a panel on time, and that's not the worst of it!

Between myself, people I know, and other attendee experiences, we witnessed glass bottles being dropped off balconies (onto other people!), an escalator being shut down because of too much foot traffic in one area, the dealer's room being shut down by the fire marshal because of too much traffic, a fist fight on the shuttle bus, and so much more chaos!

Dragon Con, it's time to consider your attendees' comfort levels and move the event to one of the local convention centers.  I probably won't be coming to this con ever unless I have to sell things because I don't want to deal with this mess.

Best Sellers:


My Kushiel's Dart prints were a big hit and I sold out of them completely!  It's unsurprising, since the print depicts a character from a popular novel that many identify with (thank Jacqueline for giving me her blessing to sell these prints!).  My Ladies of the Months postcards and bookmarks were also popular.  People wanting to know about when their Lady will be released was the #1 reason many signed up for my mailing list.

Overall, I sold many small things this year (bookmarks, card prints, small prints, etc.) while the canvas prints and masks gathered dust.  I have a lot of thoughts on why this is that I'll cover in a minute.

Throughout the show, I saw many high priced original paintings selling across the board.  This is a very encouraging trend that I hope will be continued in future Dragon Cons!  Dragon Con seems to be attracting a decent number of collectors who aren't afraid to spend top dollar on good art.  Original oil and acrylic paintings seemed to be the most popular big ticket item out of them all.

What I Learned:


If there's anything I learned this year, it's that having a bad con can sometimes teach you a lot more about what you're doing right or wrong than having a decent year can.

My Brand is Too Segmented - I had a fair few people come up to me to say they loved my art, but that they were wondering where all of my older angel-centric work went.  This is the effect of not having sold at the show at a table in a few years and my work being in major flux since that point in time.

I've been moving towards a more serious mature fantasy vein in recent times and I learned from this experience that this type of work doesn't exactly jive with what my past collectors expected, which I suspect affected sales.  My thoughts on how to handle this problem and where I'm going as an artist could fill a book, so expect a future entry on this topic soon!  I've already gotten some great feedback from fellow artists and AD's that have proven invaluable.

Mailing List Signup Ideas - I did my standard book giveaway this year, where new sign-ups would have a chance at winning the book on the last day of the con.  However, my neighbor Tienne did an excellent job of encouraging sign-ups by giving people a choice of a free print if they signed up, which is a far more immediate tactic than a book giveaway.

She also gave folks the option to sign up to a snail mail only list, which is nice for those customers who don't check e-mail often and prefer the updates of a solid mailer.  I want to try this idea at the next con and see how it goes!

Digital Art is a Hard Sell - I had many people confuse my digital art for oil paints, which is a style I've been nursing for my own benefit, since I don't have the luxury of ventilation so I can work in this medium and I consider digital far less messy and environmentally destructive.  Once people learned my painterly work was digital, they seemed to be disappointed.   The idea that digital is 'easy mode' and is therefore worth less for that still seems prominent.

If I could do it all over again, I'd hang my original traditionally painted pieces at my table and put the prints in the Gallery Bay.  People seem more interested in chatting with me about my process and it's a lot easier to do that when the original is hanging nearby.

Coolest Costume:

Last, but not least, here is the coolest costume I saw!  Dragon Con is a costuming paradise and I am always sure to be on the lookout for impressive ensembles.

I didn't get out of the Artist's Alley much, but this one really knocked my socks off!  The amount of detail is just staggering and I can literally hear the Junk Lady's voice in my head when I look at this costume.


"What's the matter, my dear, don't you like your toys?"

All in all, this convention is still one of the best places to sell fantasy work in the Southeast and I hope to come back, but probably not at a table until my artistic voice evens out a bit.  The Art Show has an ever-increasing number of amazing artists that are definitely worth seeing, but also gives enough of the limelight to lesser known artists that might surprise you.  This mix of amazing artists and new talent makes the Art Show a must-see for any of you out there interested in either participating in the show or seeing some of your favorite artists in person.

Till next year!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

August Giveaway + Q&A

I usually do a live broadcast, but with company visiting for DragonCon and last minute prep to be had, I don't think I'll have the time!  So I'm trying something a little different this month.

For this month, leave your questions here on this blog entry and I'll get back to them in a blog post on August 27th.  I'll also be announcing my Patreon winners for that month as well!  Here's what's in the prize pot for this month:

An original ACEO drawing featuring my
'mascot', Aurora!




Sometimes an artist needs to have a little fun after drawing so many SRS things!

This is a collectible card drawing which is 2.5x3.5 inches.  It will fit anywhere you could put a baseball card, making it a miniature masterpiece!

OR, if the winner prefers, you can have a 50% off coupon for either of my Etsy shops (for masks or art)!  This is something new I'm trying out as a prize option just in case angry fairies don't fit in with your decor.  As always, in order to be eligible for the giveaway part of this event, you'll need to be a patron of $10 and above over at my Patreon page.

So leave your questions in comments!  They can be about anything and everything, though I specialize in talking about art, video games, and generally geeky things.:)  I will respond to them and reveal this month's Patreon winners on the 27th!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

My First Kickstarter - Part 2 - During the Campaign

Well here we are a little past the halfway point for my recent Kickstarter project!  My Kickstarter has had a slow start at only 6 Backers and 13% funding with 10 days left trending towards 45% by the end according to Kicktraq, but I also know from reading about other projects that the last week of a campaign is usually the most crucial with the most pledges taking place.  I haven't given up yet!

While the campaign has been running, I've been trying to find ways to continue to get the word out without hounding my fans.  This has been a really difficult balancing act of creating relevant posts without being repetitive.

Project Updates as a Promotional Tool


Each time I have shared something interesting via the Project Updates section, such as the release of the exclusive Sketch Diary for Backers and Patreon Patrons, I share this info through my promotion channels (social media, art communties, etc.) since it represents a relevant creative update to the project, rather than just another HEY LOOKIT MAH KICKSTARTER AND THROW MONEY AT IT!

Relevancy is the key word here.  If you become too repetitive about your Kickstarter, you're going to sound like an annoying spammy desperate beggar, and that's not a very positive thing to be seen as. Another advantage of utilizing the Updates section of your project is the fact this also makes your project visible in the 'recently updated' section of Kickstarter.

Relevant Creative Updates


Here are some of the project updates I've utilized (or am planning to utilize):

-  A Backers Only Preview.  I timed this to drop a week early for my KS Backers and Patreon Patrons, but I didn't plan ahead and I had to rush the video to get it out on time so that the week early lead-in didn't place the public release of the video after the deadline for my project.  The public release will also coincide with the 15th of the month, which is payday for most people.  I'm hoping that theoretically this means more people will be able to pitch in, thanks to that paycheck!

Promo Tip - an 'ad' is included for my Kickstarter 
at the end of the tutorial.

The 2nd part of January's tutorial video will drop a week after the first, where I hope the fresh attention of the video's posting will draw those last few Backers that I need to meet my goal.  I'm still in the midst of processing the 2nd video, which is taking way longer than expected.  Lesson learned - start video editing early!

-  Extra Rewards.   Not sure if this was a good idea or not, but to keep my project updates fresh, I also released three more ink drawing bundles as rewards later on.  I did this because after seeing the slow start my campaign had, I thought that providing more options would encourage more backers.  I think next time I would include these Rewards from the beginning, instead.

A montage of the extra Rewards I added during the campaign.


-  Rewards Video.  Rather than simply type a wall of text for people to read, I plan to do a video showing a preview of some of the Rewards for this video so future and current Backers will have a tangible representation they can view and also to connect once again with them 'face to face'.  I plan for this video to drop during the 2nd half of the campaign.  I would rather have shared this Rewards video earlier, but the production of the sample rewards took longer than anticipated.  Lesson learned - have a sample product/reward made before you start your campaign!

- Fun Art.  I won't spoil this one, but there's a fun idea I came up with involving the Ladies that I'll be sharing in the Project Updates too.  It's not really an 'important' update, but it is one that I think helps get across my sense of humor and provides ever-more personal connection with the people who have chosen to help with this project.  This fun art update will be coming in the final week.

Admittedly, I only had a general update schedule in mind instead of a very tightly planned out one before I began.  I'm beginning to think I didn't plan enough relevant updates to keep my project on people's radar, or perhaps my Rewards aren't enticing enough?  Perhaps I simply don't have the reach yet to really support doing a Kickstarter project?

I'm eager to look at all the information after this project has finished and discover where I saw tangible results in my promotional efforts, as this could be extremely useful information for me beyond Kickstarter.

So Many Thanks!


Most of all, I am trying to be thorough in thanking each and every person who has helped spread the word about my Kickstarter.  This means replying on Twitter and Facebook and everywhere I've noticed anyone sharing.

I want people to know that I am a real person and the fact that people believe in me enough to share my project really means a lot!

So here's a big THANK YOU to any of my dear readers who have read along with this journey as it has happened and helped me by pitching in or spreading the word.  I am so grateful!

Even if I don't get funded by the end of this blog series, I've already learned so much about how to improve my project's communication, goals, and timetables for the next time.  This is amazing priceless info!

I look forward to seeing how my first Kickstarter journey ends.  Here's to riding the waves to the end!
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