Commission painting: Thoughts a year+ later
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I had actually meant to write (or record) something about this around January because at that point it had been closer to a year since I really started doing commission painting work. I wanted to share my thoughts on it because this didn't really turn out the way I had expected.
First up... let me say that I've been selling my painted minis on and off since 1985 or so. Though for most of that time I would paint things up and then sell them or paint them, play with them, then sell them when I tired of them. I had only painted on commission a handful of times over the years. I never really pursued it vigorously because I prefer to paint what I like to paint and I've always had a job that paid the bills so I didn't really need the money.
So, a couple of years ago as I'm looking for work, living on unemployment and taking various contract jobs (mostly in web design) I started really noticing the number of people who seem to be doing fairly well painting minis for a living. The one that was the biggest influence on me was Blue Table Painting. These guys have been doing commission miniature painting so well that they've turned it into a thriving business with many people being gainfully employed through that company.... and it's all in the US! With this in mind I started wondering if I couldn't make a go of it myself. I had two fears. The first was that it wouldn't work out and that I wouldn't be able to pick up enough clients. My other fear was that I WOULD be successful and that I would have so much work that I would start to hate it. Neither of these things happened.
I think that the important thing for my own initial success was my YouTube channel. Actually watching the person you're thinking of hiring to paint your miniatures actually paint miniatures seems to allay a lot of the fears that people have about ponying up a bunch of cash to somebody they've never met before - even though my initial videos were all shot with my Droid 1 phone (later a Flip camera and currently a nice Microsoft HD Webcam). On top of that I'm pretty much everywhere on the web. Google me... a search of "Jay Adan" turns up well over 16000 results - the vast majority of which are me. They would ALL be me if it wasn't for that blasted DJ Adan or that kid in the Philippines. In any case, it would be hard to imagine that I might drop off the map suddenly in the middle of a project.
Another thing going for me was the fact that I've worked in marketing for about a decade. It think it's the thing that most people who might be considering going down this path are missing. If you don't know how to reach the people who are your potential customers it's going to be hard to be successful. I also have other useful skills... like some web design and my photography. Both are pretty much crucial for this.
So back to my fears. The one I was the most concerned with was success. There's nothing worse than your love of something turning to hate. Having done some commission work in the past I know that there are times when it can be very unrewarding. Like, painting a lot of things you don't care about. Or having to paint them in a way that you strongly disagree with. I decided that I wasn't going to be afraid to turn down projects that I knew that I wouldn't enjoy since I knew that I wouldn't be able to do well with those projects and it would sour my enthusiasm. That's mostly worked out. I've also been lucky that I can mostly steer projects into directions that work to my strengths and interests.
So over the past year and a half or so this commission painting thing has been pretty crucial in making sure that I could get the bills paid every month. My store opened a second location in August of last year which meant that I was now doing that full time in addition to painting miniatures. This has meant that my days off over the past year can be counted on less than two hands. Had I known that it would be taking up all of my free time when I got started I would have assumed that by now I would be hating life and not wanting to paint anymore. The truth is that this past year has been pretty amazing for me. I've never been this focused on my painting and I can see a drastic difference in my work. I still love doing it. So much so that I still find time to squeeze in my own personal projects.
I hit something of a milestone this month. Up until now the money from miniature painting was mandatory in order to get all of my bills paid. A couple of larger bills went away this month which has taken away some of the financial desperation that I'd been feeling. The cool thing is that the miniature painting made that possible. I'm not a the point where the money is still a good thing to be bringing in but I don't have to feel like everything has to get done TODAY in order to make sure that things all work out on the 1st and 15th. This doesn't mean that I'm going to stop doing commission work. I've decided that I really love doing it and I'm going to keep doing it. It does mean that I'm going to try to find a few more days off this year and maybe even try to do a little more gaming! We'll see.