I’m going to be 100% honest with you all. While I genuinely love painting portraits at events, thi weekend was a bit of a wallop to my confidence. I painted 3 portraits all afternoon. This was one of them (it’s me if you can’t tell), the other was of The Beard who came to sit with me towards the end of the afternoon and the third was my only paying customer - a dog and their beautiful owner, which was actually AMAZING!
I’m happy to accept it was just a mix of bad luck and timing. I never ham up sales or experiences at events and each time I’ve been to one with my portraits it continues to get better so I am 100% positive it’s not the location or event itself. Football matches, Ice Hockey games and it being Bank Holiday meant that town was a lot more quiet in general, the closure of the cafe/bar next door also impacted footfall and everyone knows how tough the six week holidays are in general for sales (well at least that’s what I’ve heard from other small businesses anyway!) Excuses? Maybe. Genuine reasons for a slow day? I hope so.
Normally I wouldn’t let this get me down but when I started to think about everything, it sent my brain into another downward spiral of self-destroying anxiousness around my Sunshines and what I charge for them. This happens a lot with me and my brain, especially when lovely gentlemen (by the name of Mr Twatty McTwattson) are rude to your face about what you charge.
Anywho, I spent a little time wallowing and feeling a bit lost over the weekend but I remembered a blog post I wrote last year. It was to mark 10 years since I started drawing my signature style Sunshine Portraits, I’ve been doing this for over 10 years! I wrote all about their history; where they started, why I only draw eyes on faces, how they’ve developed and how I actually create them. I’ve come a LONG way and I’m still drawing them - I need to remember that. While I don’t plan to repeat what I wrote in that post, I would like to write a little more about my portraits again - I think it might help me with the crisis I’m currently having about them.
You may or may not have heard small business owners and fellow creatives talk about how hard pricing is - it’s true, it’s SO HARD and something I have struggled with over the years, especially when it comes to commissions and illustration work.
I am pretty confident now (finally, after umpteen years!) when it comes to pricing products like my jewellery and pins as I use a simple formula to tot up my material costs and time based on an hourly rate and do all the appropriate sums to make sure my wholesale and retail prices align fairly for everyone.
It seems to be working and it seems most people are happy - if they’re not for some reason it’s generally because they’re not my target customer and that’s OK.
However, when it comes to my Sunshine Commissions I wobble all over the place, all of the time (in my mind) with pricing. When I first started I used to draw these ‘cartoons’ for next to nothing. It was a hobby, I wasn’t running a business and I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t feel confident enough to charge people and at that point it was mainly just friends and family anyway.
As time went on, Hello Sunshine came to life as a proper business and more and more people (that I wasn’t already friends with or related to) were asking me for portraits of themselves, family, friends and pets - I bloody LOVED it! However I was also working myself silly with drawing, scanning, emailing, amending, fannying over numerous illustrations until stupid o’clock each night and when it came to looking over the money I was earning for the hours I was putting in, it wasn’t balancing out very well at all!
Over the years I have tinkered with process and pricing for my digital Sunshine Portraits and towards the end of last year I felt pretty confident with where I was. Some people would say I’m still not charging enough and maybe I’m not but in terms of workload, life balance and finances I feel like I’m in a good place for both me and my target customers - note the word target! I am more than happy to accept not everyone wants to buy my style of work or will be happy to pay what I charge. I mean, I’m not even my target customer and it took me a long time to learn and accept that.
All it takes is one too many ignored emails/quotes and one quiet event (and maybe that one ass-hat with his rude comment) for it to completely knock my confidence again and make me question what I’m doing and why I bother. Like I said earlier, I have this crisis more often than I care to admit but I don’t talk about it much. Mainly because I know I will soon get over it. Hearing some lovely feedback about a portrait someone has been given as a gift or getting an email enquiry about a potential new portrait, it soon puts the negative niggles to back of my mind until something else triggers the gremlins again. It’s a rollercoaster that I’m sure a lot of people are familiar with, it just takes a bit of practice to ride it and not lose your mind in the process!
After learning in a less-than-ideal way about work-life balance and what I need to charge for my time to keep this in check, I can now confidently say that I will not spend the hours needed for sleeping, eating, resting and enjoying life, by playing catch up with work that I’m not paying myself properly for. I did my time undercharging, undervaluing and overworking myself to a point where my mental health suffered and my hair fell out - I WILL NOT go back there … and I kinda like my hair right now.
My original Sunshine Portraits (the digitally finished ones) take quite a long time to produce and not everyone will appreciate the effort that goes into each one, not even I take the time to appreciate how much work I put in to them - hence me writing this to remind myself! I’m not just talking about the actual pencil and pen art-work bit but the admin involved too. If you work out the time spent emailing, collecting photographs, asking questions, scanning, photoshopping, tracing, vectorising, colouring, more emailing, (and then if you’re buying a print too) the printing, packaging and getting to/from the post office; you’ll be surprised how quickly it all adds up.
When you want to pay yourself a living wage and not be working 18 hour days, you need to pick a price to reflect that. Otherwise what’s the point in doing what you love for a living if you can’t take the time to enjoy life too?!
I realise that this might not make any sense if you don’t know how I create my Sunshines. So to give you a little insight into the process I use, from start to finish, here's what generally goes in to every digital portrait or commission:
ORDERING / ADMIN
First up I get to chat to lovely customers! Orders are placed or emails and quotes are arranged, then lots of photos and information about who and what I need to draw are sent over and discussed - this can sometimes take several days depending if you get all the info you need upfront.
I get my sketchbook, pencils (and a brew) ready and start drawing - my favourite bit! Drawing from photos can often be quite hard so I like to ask for a lot to look at whilst sketching and knowing a few things about the kind of person I'm drawing can also help a lot. It means I can capture more of their personality in the way they're standing/sitting or in the clothes they are wearing and even in the objects that surround them.
SCANNING & PHOTOSHOPPING
Once the sketch is complete I scan it all in. Depending on what's in the Sunshine, depends on how many pages I have to scan. I often draw backgrounds on one page, objects for hobbies and interests on another and the lovely people or pets on another page. When they're all scanned in I use photoshop to edit, tidy and layer them together.
A BIT MORE ADMIN & AMENDS
The completed sketch is emailed over and I request specific feedback for any amends that may need to be made. After a round of amends and a couple of emails, the sketch is approved and it's ready for the digital bit!
PEN, INK & MORE SCANNING
I print off the sketch in its finished form and outline the whole thing in my favourite ink pen. It's then scanned back in and tidied up again in Photoshop to leave a crisp black and white line drawing. I then open the pen version in Illustrator and trace around the outlines to create a super smooth, black and white vector.
Working back from photographs and emails I add colour, pattern and texture to the Sunshine. This is the bit where I often learn something new, whether it's creating a new pattern, learning about a new tool or just working out how to make grass look like grass or fur more furry with a simple texture.
MORE ADMIN & AMENDS
As with the sketch, the colour version is then sent to the customer for review and any colour changes are made at this stage. After a couple more emails the final Sunshine is signed off. YAY!
FINAL FILE & PRINT
Once everyone is happy, the final digital file is prepared and a high resolution jpg is sent on to the customer. An A4 print of the digital illustration can also be purchased so that will then be printed, packed and posted ready to be framed or gifted to the happy recipient.
VOILA! That is how I create my digital Sunshine portraits.
And before you ask, yes I have an iPad and pencil, yes I could speed this up a lot but I actually really dislike the end result when I use them for the whole process. I LOVE drawing with a pencil and paper - call me old fashioned but I don’t get the same joy or satisfaction using my iPad so I keep that for personal projects and capturing ideas - well I did before I smashed the screen on the damn thing.
WHAT ABOUT WATERCOLOURS?
The same admin time mentioned above needs to be considered with my custom watercolour portraits people want to buy online / order via email too. I’ve had people be rude and dismissive in response to quotes I’ve sent for watercolour pieces for a while now. They expect me to charge the exact same price as I do at events even though completing the work via email/post takes more than twice the time it does when they’re sat in front of me for only 10 minutes. I have to fit them in around my other work commitments whereas at an event you’re there, I paint you and you get your artwork on the spot - that’s it.
Even though I’ve been painting portraits at events for nearly 2 years now, the negative reaction from a select few ‘customers’ about the price difference is why I have only just felt brave enough to start listing watercolour portraits as an option on my website. After this weekend’s brain gremlin attack I very nearly didn’t list them at all!
TAKE THAT BRAIN GREMLINS.
Instead of giving in to my lack of confidence and nasty thoughts though I thought I’d crack on with listing my watercolour portraits and write this post. Not to moan, not to vent or rage but to remind myself how f*cking hard I work on each commission and how far I’ve come in the last 10 years of my doodling journey. When I look back at it all I think I am (and my work is) worth every penny and if some people don’t get that then it’s OK*.
*disclaimer: I might still have a mini break down about everything but overall it really is OK.
I genuinely LOVE every commission I get to work on and while I’m not churning out hundreds every week, I enjoy the balance of illustration commissions versus product based designing and making. More importantly, the pricing structure I have worked on allows me to earn a living where I can afford to keep the business going, I can still take time off and I can aim to live my best life (even if this may change now I have just plunged myself into masses of debt again to make my Sunshine Van dream come true!)
Writing this post has been very cathartic, I know I shouldn’t have to justify my prices to anyone, let alone myself but sometimes it helps. Thank you for reading and I hope what I’ve written about is in some way useful to you, whether you nod along in agreement, wildly disagree or it just made you stop and think.
If you would like any more information about my Portraits (digital or watercolour) please do feel free to get in touch. Same goes for if you have any questions or comments around what I’ve waffled about here - pricing is hard, earning a living being a creative bean is hard, but we’re all in it together and if my experiences and outlook on things can help others then I won’t apologise for these long-winded ramblings.
I promise the next post won’t be as intense… back to photos of far off places and adventure times!
And to all my wonderful, loyal customers; YOU ARE AMAZING! There’s nothing more joyful than creating individual pieces of art for happy people and I will be forever grateful to everyone who continues to support me in doing that. THANK YOU!
If you fancy a peek at the different styles of portrait I offer in the Sunshine Shop then follow the title links on the images below for a gander or if you don’t see what you’re after and want to chat, use the contact form HERE to get in touch for a quote!
DIGITAL SUNSHINE PORTRAITS & PRINTS
Read the original ‘Story behind the Sunshines blog post via the link below : http://jowant.blogspot.com/2017/03/the-story-behind-sunshines-its-longun.html