Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Breaking the myth that artists do not have to eat!

Contrary to what one might believe, we artists like anybody else, need to eat and drink to survive (FYI, water in Singapore is pretty expensive too). So I post commissioned comics on my FB from time to time but sometimes readers just can't tell that they are commissioned work (i.e. we work with what clients want). If you come to think of it, it's not possible to survive by posting 100% free webcomics all the time right?

a) Typical Day at Work

So I am going to demystify how an artist (or mythical creature to some) works.

I'm a bit different from most artists, I do not stay at home all day to draw. I need to go out to meet potential clients (although most of the time they are just "discussion to explore possibilities working together"), which means talk and most of the time no closed deals (I'm horrible with sales too). I do not have an agent/manager, so I have to do my own sales pitch and assess if the project can increase my fanbase. However, artists like me need to be in a certain "zone" where we really focus on our drawing, so I always schedule my time well and lock myself at home for 2-3 days a week just to draw.

So basically how I spend my time...
  • Outside. Meeting potential/existing clients, meeting friends, giving talks, or buying materials.
  • At home responding to emails (a lot), fan comments (a lot) and messages. Sometimes have to call or watsapp clients to nail down certain designs. I also receive a lot of emails asking for partnership so I have to assess their platforms and reply them.
  • Doing administrative work. Like issuing invoices, paying bills, looking into new conventions/services and whether to apply them. 
  • Writing answers to interviews by journalists, reporters or bloggers (Easy for them to ask, lengthy for us to type!)
  • Sometimes update website or blog. I usually spend at least 2 hours per blog article (because of my poor grammar, need to check again and again) to half a day.
  • Preparing presentations and rehearsing. I talk about a wide variety of topics (like creative journey, social media marketing, self-publishing, cultural differences, etc.) so I like to customise slides for each different audiences.
  • Preparing work for exhibition or production.
  • Marketing events before and after. Why my book signing and talks are so successful is because I do sufficient marketing BEFORE the event to let my fans know and build up the hype and AFTER the event to thank them. Many people forget the "after sales" service of thanking their fans for showing up, but I make sure I do that all the time.
  • Drawing.
The number one time waster is actually EMAILS. A week ago, I had to remove my email from my Facebook page because I kept on receiving invitations to quote and casual requests for quotations. Individuals and companies have no idea how much time we have to spend on these quotations because once we put a figure there, we have to commit to it if clients choose to proceed. So I had to consider carefully each email and the quotation price. I do not like it when it is obvious that the client is emailing multiple parties (via bcc, or the email is really generic that I can tell) to ask for quotations to compare. Obviously since my quote will not be the cheapest, it will just be a marker for them to select the cheapest vendor. When I sense that it is not necessary to engage me for the project and that it can be assigned to any artist, I will ask them to check my rate card on my website first. Unfortunately, they sometimes pursue to get the exact quotation so I had to seriously spend time to ask them more questions to work out the complexity of project and time required. And in the end, as expected, they got the quote and disappeared.

The number two time waster is Clients from Hell, either they do not know what they want or they keep on changing their minds. This is another huge topic but I am thankful that I do not have a lot of them so I leave it to to cover.

Therefore yes, besides doing all the above, I have to continue updating FREE webcomics, so I had been unable to work on book 2, which I hope to be all new content... So the reason of starting Patreon is to reduce reliance on freelance work so I can finally START working on it!

b) Health Issues

Not many professional artists talk about this, but quite a number of us suffer either wrist, arm or shoulder/neck problem due to long hours at the same pose drawing. Eyes strains are also not uncommon. For me, I tried to upgrade to a bigger graphics tablet to work with and had to go to yoga every few days to relieve my neck/shoulder ache problem. (although I admit the initial motivation was vain to look good)

c) How we earn money

I am sort of an unconventional artist so I have multiple channels to get income...
  • Commissioned artwork from clients (Individuals and corporates/organizations)
  • Advertising/Sponsorships (due to my large following on social media, but currently not a lot because companies are not used to hiring a cartoon character as ambassadors)
  • Sales from selling books and merchandise
  • Appearance and demonstration fee at talks
  • Teach (ok I do not have time to do it now, maybe sometime in the future)
  • Donation/Patreon
Basically Commissioned work is the top income earner for me, followed by Patreon now (love you all!). Although I have good sales from conventions, the profit (minus cost of producing the goods, rent and helper fees) can only sustain for a month or two.

d) My Expenses

As much as I wish to eat yummy air all the time, I have to buy food and take public transport to places. I also fall sick like any other human beings.
  • Medical/Dental/Insurance. I fall sick very often, so I spend a lot on medical bills. I think some of you know about my sister's case, she has cancer, so when I applied for insurance, I had to pay a higher premium due to family history (well better than they reject my application completely!) My premium is currently around SG$300/month.
  • Transport. But if you know teleportation, please get in touch with me immediately~
  • FOOD!!!
  • Bills. Like handphone, internet, electricity and water. I am very lucky to get free rent.
  • Pay assistants/helpers. So I can concentrate on drawing and selling.
  • Convention booth rentals. In case you don't know, table space at major conventions are never free. If it takes place overseas, I have to pay for flight and accommodation too!
  • Materials and equipment. Professional art materials and digital equipment can get quite expensive!
  • Miscellaneous. Well, we need entertainment and extra things in life too...

The Difficulty of Doing Art in Singapore

  1. Many people are satisfied with just passable artwork as long as it is cheap or FREE. That's why companies will email multiple vendors/artists to ask for quotations because they are satisfied with the cheapest. Even a few friends will ask me for discount too, so my reply is, if you really think I'm your friend, you should support me instead of cutting me down.
  2. Lack of support for local artists from local major corporations. I often see dead-boring photographs used on billboard advertisement and ads on trains and buses. I seriously wonder why companies spend big money to secure such good advertising space, and not willing to spend a bit more to engage local artists to draw something interesting and unique instead!? And when these companies use characters for their posters or make plushies, they rather spend on more famous foreign titles instead (though I understand they want a bigger reach too, so bad news for us). Even local P* bookstore doesn't put my book title at good shelf locations. They rather put their exclusive Malaysian comic book titles at prominent places instead. 
  3. And so we are stuck with SME clients. Of course, it is not bad if client is generous and understanding. But SMEs usually do not have a lot of marketing budget so sometimes I do partial or full barter trade if I use their service/products.
  4. Invitations to give talks, but they don't want to pay! This happened a lot last year, some who are nicer will reimburse at least the transport cost. Some organisers try to negotiate that I can sell my books during the talk... so I had to carry my books in a black suitcase and take bus/mrt to the venue to sell. I'm glad that my books are low in stock now so I can stop going around selling books and cutting down on FREE appearances/talks so I can concentrate on drawing.
  5. Market spoiled by newbies and professionals. Of course when I just started freelancing full-time, I had no choice but to accept any jobs that come to me, even $100 job to do a full page comic that take 3-4 days will be accepted. (You can read more about my "My Bee grade adventure as a full-time artist" article written last year) But now with a better portfolio and fanbase (and patreon), I am able to increase my rates significantly. Unfortunately, I asked around for what other artists are quoting for the same job, and was shocked that even veterans are quoting like $100+ for drawing a complex illustration!? Now, you may be desperate to get that job, but it's harming the industry on the long run as clients will treat it as the market rate and think artists like me are overpriced (well, of course perception varies). This will be difficult for other professional artists to quote and for you, yourself to quote in the future! You need to seriously consider how much income you want to earn a month and cover for cold months when you have no jobs at all. Charging $100 for a two-day work illustration, means your salary is only $2,000 a month (assuming you work 5 days a week and have constant work to fill). Commercial clients are also never satisfied with just one version of your artwork and there will be bound to have changes! You have to pay for that expensive laptop, that graphics tablet, that software and what about the money spent on years of ART EDUCATION? That's why "Those who are in the Arts, Culture and Entertainment industries were the most stressed group of people who received the lowest pay. Workers in this industry receive a measly $300 to $1,000 a month." (Source: Yahoo! Singapore)
So yes, that's all for my ranting. All you have to remember is I cannot survive posting 100% free webcomics so you will see commissioned work on my FB that may not be 100% my idea because I need to do what clients want. If you want to see less of it, you may want to support me at Patreon:


  1. That has to brutal

    1. I feel like a fighter most of the time. It's not a place for the faint hearted.

  2. You need a strong heart and thick hide to be a freelance artist (any discipline of the arts). That's why I'm in no hurry to get back into it...

    1. But this doesn't stop newbies from joining! :P

  3. Wow Eva, sounds like a really tough life! Jia you!

    1. It's not easy, but very fulfilling if I succeed ;)

  4. Some may ask why you do it, and all I think is that we do it because we love it. But in all fairness, you work is really something special. Keep it up, please. 😉

    1. Thanks Rudy! It's really tough to do everything myself, sometimes I think it will be cool I grow more hands~