Wednesday, October 1, 2014


Hello! Today I wanted to talk about entitlement. I get a lot of messages regarding standard starting rates for freelance artists. Some people say you have to make 'x' amount of dollars for 'x' amount of time spent on work. This is a weird issue I think everyone seems to have when they begin doing art with the intention of making a livable wage. So, I'll talk about what I've learned and why I don't believe anybody owes you anything when you start out.

I started freelancing 8 years ago on my parent's computer, in our living room,  when I was 19. Fortunately for me I had the option to ease into working with some comfort which I am very thankful for. But by no means was I riding their coattails to make ends meet. Everyday I was studying and working, in the beginning this meant 1-3 hours of fundamental studies in the morning followed by 12-14 hours of personal paintings to hopefully push myself to a new skill level. I updated my work on all of the online forums to spread my portfolio around and talked to everyone I could to hopefully glean some helpful info that would open up doors for me as I tried to turn my hobby into a career.

With this kind of schedule it can be easy to think that because you're working very hard that somebody owes you some kind of compensation. But no, that is not the case, learning to create artwork that people will actually pay out of pocket for is not easy and it shouldn't be. Something that is this rewarding personally and potentially financially should be very difficult. Personal success is worth earning through hard work. That being said, it took a long long time for me to start earning money, let me tell you about my first job.

After having worked for a good 6-7 months with the above schedule I finally got my first job through the 'artists looking for work' section on This was designing monsters for a really small personal project a guy was working on in his spare time. This job was to be done via paypal transactions and I would be compensated $20 per image, one of which taking upwards of 16 or so hours. I created around 15 pieces for him, I was paid $300 total not subtracting paypal fees. But although this was tiny, it was huge for me. Somebody actually wanted my work.

It took me around another 6-7 months to get what I thought would be my "big break". A company, or so I thought, was going to be starting in Peoria, Illinois and I was to be the concept artist for their games. At the time I had been working for this client online and had done quite a bit of work, all for around $75-$300 per piece(I was making more finally!), so I trusted everything would work out as it had with the commissions. With the hopes of the company opening, I moved out to Peoria with no savings with my then girlfriend to start my real career! The company never moved forward.

Now I was stuck in Illinois with no money to speak of and a 12 month lease on an apartment w/no guaranteed job, especially at the skill level I was at at the time. This was my big 'oh shit' moment. We had no car, no money and no jobs really between us, except for the very low paying work I was getting. I got desperate and started focusing on learning how to get my name out there more. I ended up taking on every single job I was offered, some paid $50, some paid $100-$300, but all of them(around 8-9 different clients with multiple pieces a month) took sleepless nights. I ended up saving enough money to leave after staying three months.

I learned a really valuable lesson during that time. What I learned was that if I added real pressure to the equation, I could exceed what I thought I could achieve with my time and output. This lead to a move to Littleton, New Hampshire, where I rented a place for $675/month. With that rent it was easy enough to focus on morning studies followed by working all day. But to add the pressure I bought a brand new car that I absolutely couldn't afford. I knew that if I had to do it, then I would make the payments happen somehow. This lead to me learning about time management and delving even more so into marketing.

After a year of this the apartment began to feel comfortable, which lead to a new apartment that was $1000/month in the mountains with no distractions. My ex couldn't really deal with the 'Shining-esque' solitude and I think I went a little insane as well haha. What I needed was motivation to keep pushing even in the weird hermit atmosphere. This lead to the formation of the 'Crimson Daggers'. I made a decision to stick to a schedule of waking up everyday at 8am and streaming live for 1-3 hours so I could study art and learn how to stop being afraid of failing in front of groups(not an intended outcome, but I'm very grateful for that).

During that whole time period I never got to take many days off, would usually just take birthdays and christmas off with no money for vacations or anything like that. While I was doing Crimson Daggers I began to get client work and I found out sadly that this meant I would be owed money. The days of instant money via paypal and personal clients were over. Now was the real test of working and being owed cash for potential months. I had to borrow money from friends, sometimes driving 6 hours just to go back to my parents and back for what small amount they could actually offer. It was super stressful to have to juggle work and be working while knowing I just wasn't getting paid anything. But again, you just have to keep going and studying.

So, eventually things work out, I get consistent work with Wizards of the Coast(thank you guys) and life gets a little easier. I could finally afford to move to civilization! Off to Boston, the most expensive place ever, or at least most expensive place I've lived haha. Rent there was $1550/month and it quickly became apparent that Wizards might not cut it. I was heavily into books about business and I don't really know exactly where I gleaned this, but I got stuck on the idea that if all I ever did was the work I was offered then I would not exceed that position. I needed to create work that I was very passionate about and that I felt would get eyes on me and potentially to higher profile jobs.

TMNT fanart! I decided to do a series of 15 portraits from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in order to push myself beyond what I thought I could accomplish. There were no deadlines but I wanted to do one a week. They took around 6 months to complete and they bought me my ticket onto all of the blogs I had ever dreamed of being promoted on. Which ended up leading to tons of great opportunities that I would never have dreamed were possible for me. Of course, this all lead to working even harder and it just keeps going.

At this point in my career things seem to kind of plateau once in awhile, but instead of buying something to pressure myself or adding risk, I just start a new style or pursue a new avenue of art. But it keeps on going and I absolutely love doing it for that reason. In the beginning you think you're owed something and that you're headed to some kind of destination where you'll make 'x' amount of money for 'x' amount of hours. But really, you do it because the entire journey through all the 'oh shit' moments and all of the stress helps you grow and appreciate everything you've accomplished and it grounds you in reality when you approach the next challenge. You know what it takes and you know you'll have to work harder than you think you can for it.

I know my story isn't this super inspiring against all odds tale, tons of people have had it and have it a thousand times worse than I ever did. But I just wanted to touch on exactly what I went through to getting where I am now. I'm not owed anything today and I wasn't owed anything when I started. You earn everything you get and if you're lucky enough maybe you'll make a career out of it. But that all depends on what you focus on, the work and love for the journey or why you're not getting what you think you deserve right now.

Anyway, hope that wasn't too huge of a post. And again, I don't think my words are gospel and I'm a huge dummy.



Mike Lawler said...

Thanks for posting this Dave, it's a nice dose of reality and I wish I had seen this article a year ago.

Artezo said...

you fucking roooock meeeen, thnks 4 sharing. Your Paintings and your are a motivation for anyone :D

Ryan said...

Woah, interesting to know it all really "started" with those TMNT pics..
Just do what's popular man and you'll fly.. pick Game of Thrones or Guardians of the Galaxy. baby Groot! anything that everyone is obsessed with "in the moment" do that and you'll be shared across image websites from here to kingdom come.

D2G said...

Thanks for sharing man, great to hear the experience and shows how much work a person can push themselves to. Inspiring. Bought your Bog Witch tutorial recently so it's been good to watch someone of your skill draw and constantly reassess.

Best of luck for the future, then again you don't need much luck when you are good (and fucking hard working)

Nate Peyton said...

Great post, Dave. Gotta admit, I'm right in the middle of "expecting x amount of dollars", myself. And when the crap hits the fan (for a few weeks now) it always comes back to why I paint in the first place. Looking forward to more posts, man.

Riley said...

Great post, Dave. Been following you since you started Crimson Daggers and I've really benefited from your talks with Dan. My biggest struggle is that I've been given a full-time half-hearted art job in my hometown and it's made me very comfortable. I'm still wondering when the art career is gonna kick off even though I show up to work each day and make art. Thanks for the words, you're an inspiring dude!

Tsn said...

Kind of strange, Im somewhere in the beginnings and I was always struggling with dealing with payments, now I see that my attitude is bad. I have to work harder, Thanks Dave.

Dez Schwartz said...

This was such a great post!!! I think I needed to hear it. Not so much because I feel that I'm owed anything but just because I feel like I'm not sure what the destination is with it. Now I feel better that I don't actually have to put a pinpoint on that. :)

Thank you so much for sharing your experience & keep making your amazing art! x

Luke Harrington said...

Good read, man! Best of luck to you. Keep lighting those rims!


Unknown said...

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Extraordinary post, Dave. Gotta concede, I'm right trying to "expecting x measure of dollars", myself. Also, when the poop hits the fan (for half a month now) it generally returns to why I paint in any case. Anticipating more posts, man.

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