Sunday, April 29, 2012

My entry for the Art Order "D&D Art Test Challenge"

Today is the deadline for the latest ArtOrder challenge, the "D&D Art Test". I have as I often do thrown my lot in. The result can be seen below:

I am really looking forward to seeing what all the other competing artists have come up with and which of the assignments they chose to go for. If you haven't heard of this challenge before you can find the details here.

This challenge is a big deal, as an artist who dreams of working for Wizards of the coast one day I really put in a high gear on this one and did a lot of reference research to create a Mongolian inspired town guard.

Personally I am very pleased with the colors and the textures. I didn't have time to do a step by step on this one but I do have the original sketch available.

I also did a male version of this character just for practice because I don't draw men very often. He turned out pretty ok, but I preferred the female guard personally.

Until next time,
Anita K. Olsen

Friday, April 27, 2012

The promotional brochures are finally here!

Hooray, my new brochures have fianlly arrived and well worth the money I think. The paper quality was a bit different from what I expected it to be, but I am pleasantly surprised to be honest. I expected a slightly thick and matte finish, but got a slightly thinner but lustre treated paper instead that make thhe brochures very light. The color difference was not very big either., slightly darker than on my screen but nothing that really mattered.

I can't wait to send these out to potential clients. I
hope these new brochures can be able to bump my business up a notch or two. All I need now are some nice envelopes.

As you can see my layout is a bit different than just your standard brochure, I'm very glad it worked out in print and that nothing got screwed up. I have the worst luck with printers, usually something always goes wrong, but then again all manner of technical equipment hates me. It's like I have a computer virus in my fingertips or sometimes.

Brochure exterior

Brochure interior

That's all for now, but as a last note please visit my official facebook page and like my business or leave a comment.
Until next time
Anita K. Olsen

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The importance of being prepared before starting a business!

So my last post was all about starting a small business. It was quite a long post with what I would call very basic and very general information, but useful nonetheless. It contained all the important points that I felt needed to be answered when I began thinking about starting my own business.

Now I want to continue down that road with some more specific advice.

The advice is as follows; Be prepared!

If you are dreaming about a business of your own you have to know exactly what it is you are going to do, what your strengths and weaknesses are, where the money is going to come from and what you should spend said money on. You need to be able to answer these questions because they will pop up at some point. Say you are at the bank applying for a loan so you can fund your business, and the consultant asks you what exactly your business intentions are and what you hope to achieve, and how much you think you will be able to earn on your business. What are you going to answer him or her?
Saying "I don't know" is a fool proof way of getting your application rejected. So you have to have a realistic plan, and some sort of plausible budget.This particular advice is based on personal experience and also one of the modules we had to complete during my time at the University of Wolverhampton. This specific module was called "Creative Industries" and consisted of attending lectures where creative professionals talked about their journey to becoming professionals, writing a SWOT Analysis, gathering contact information about potential clients, designing your own business logo and promotional postcard and putting together a professional portfolio. I think that the students prioritized this module very differently. Some just half-assed it and some went into it with fervor. Me I kind of fell into the middle of it to be honest. No don't get me wrong, I'm not one to be sloppy with my homework I work really hard, but I had some problems figuring out what the hell I was going to do. I always second guess myself and I have a huge problem with labeling myself as a person and as an illustrator. I don't know if that is a common problem among my fellow illustrators, but a little gut feeling tells me it might be (I intend to get back to this particular subject in a later post).

Getting back to the subject at hand, it is a very good idea to take the time to sit down and figure out as much as possible about your business before you actually start it. I finished the module, and I got a B, I was quite pleased with that, however that did not mean I was prepared for what lay ahead, if anything it gave me an idea about how much I didn't know about being a creative professional. Which in itself can helpful. Below you will find a small guide on how to prepare yourself for those tough questions that need answering.

1. Skills Audit
This one can be a fun one or a real mind bender. What are your specific artistic skills Are you handy with a pencil? Do you excel with a tablet in illustrator or photoshop? Are you apt at drawing realistic images or is your work more stylized? Are you good with time management or are you perhaps a real people person?Make a list of things that you are skilled at, this will help you to see where your real skills are, and maybe it will also help you to see what you should improve upon.

2. SWOT - analysis
What are your Strengths,Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats? Write four separate lists where you deatil what your strengths and weaknesses are as an illustrator, and what you perceive to be opportunities and threats in the market.

Two examples:

Because the world is facing an economic crisis there is the possibility that jobs can become scarce or that you may have to settle for jobs that don't necessarily pay too well. This is a "Threat".

There are many free ways of marketing yourself for free through blogs, forums, competitions and challenges. This is an "Opporunity".

3. Short, mid and long term plans?
What are your ambitions for the first year of business, the next 5 years, or the next 10 years? Do you know? Try to map out what it is you hope to achieve in the future. Remember to keep your ambitions achievable. I know we all secretly dream of world domination, but start small ok!

4. Write a business plan. What is the concept behind your illustration business?
1. A good business plan should consist of  a synopsis divided into a  short section with an introduction on your business idea, a section on who is actually behind the business (as a sole proprietor that is you). The last section is where you properly elaborate on what your business is going to be like and what you intend to do.

2. The next step is where you talk about the market. Where are you going to be situated, are you close to publishers or other potential clients or far away? In what market are you planning to work and how will that choice affect the business? Who are your clients hopefully going to be? Make a list of clients you would like to work for in the future. Don't be afraid to be specific, it's always good to know where your ambitions lie.   

3. What can you offer the clients that other illustrators can't? What sets you apart and why should a client choose to work with you? Answer these questions and also try to figure out who your competition is. Is it illustrators working in the same field as you, young illustrators or more experienced artists?

4. How do you intend to promote your business? A nice particular plan is probably to be preferred here. Try thinking out of the box, find clever but affordable ways to do it if you are low on cash.

5. Product and production. How is your illustrations going to be produced? Do you intend to work traditionally or more in the digital realm or both? Where will you work from, a home office or a studio? Will you offer print solutions or not? These are all important things to consider.

6. Budget. All companies need a budget even the small ones. Do some research on prices. What will you need to spend on hardware like computers and tablets? What will you spend on software like Painter or Photoshop and so on? How much will you have to put towards office furniture, paints, paper and other artistic necessities? How much do you think promoting your business will cost you? Once again be as detailed about it as you can. Try pushing your costs down to the bare minimum in the start as you propably need to save as much money as possible.

7. Financing. How are you going to acquire the funds to start your business? Will you take up a loan apply for government funding or are you simply going to try to build up your business as you go along with your own personal resources and the money you make on incoming jobs? This is important to know.

8. Finally, try to estimate how much you will be able to earn in the first year, this will be important as you pay taxes in advance when you run a business (at least in Norway you do).

5.Write a professioanl CV and a Cover letter
Try to make your CV a little creative, make some cool borders or use a special font or maybe try to use some of your artwork somewhere in it. Your CV should always contain your contact information, a list of your former education, previous jobs/projects and people your potential employer can contact for reference, interests and special skills or talents and some samples of your work. Your cover letter should be a short introduction of yourself and what kind of illustrating you do. Remember you are trying to sell yourself so use a professional language and put yourself in a good light (no lying though). A cover letter should have a letterhead/logo at the top and also your contact information.

This is the first page from on of my own Creative CV's. Each page has a different illustration worked in on the side.

6. Design a Business Logo/letterhead
Not as simple as it sounds. Finding your own personal logo can be hard as it is supposed to symbolize you and all you stand for as an illustrator. No pressure (right).

Here is an example of one of my first ideas for my letterhead, but I didn't feel like it expressed me enough.

So I went with this one instead after som experimentation:

7. Design one single illustration that you feel would best describe you and your business, this will be your postcard.
Pretty straight forward, and also possibly the most fun point in this whole preparation process. Try to make an image that showcases your unique talent or your personal style.

8. Collect contact information./Network
Gather as much info you can on potential clients be it publishers, game developers, magazines, merchandising companies etc. Trawl the internet for art directors names and contact information. These are the people who need to know that you exist, these are the people who decide whether or not your business will survive!

So, this was another long and serious post. I've spent quite some time on it to make it as informative and useful as possible, whilst maintaining an easy -to- read feel to it all.

Until next time
Anita K. Olsen

Sunday, April 22, 2012

How to start a small business - a small general guide for freelancers and sole proprietors

Today I want to talk a little bit about starting an illustration business, or really how to start a small business in general. Now of course the rules and regulations for starting a business will vary from country to country, and they will also differ depending on what kind of company you intend to start, but since I'm Norwegian I will be using the Norwegian system for reference.When it comes to the art business the most relevant form is freelancing or a sole proprietorship. In a lot of ways it's easier to just freelance, you don't have to be registered as a small company to work freelance, but a lot of freelancing artists do register their own sole proprietorships. Of course you don't have to be an illustrator to freelance, actors, photographers, musicians, consultants and translators all work in this field.

A lot you young artists may be wondering what the difference between freelancing and a sole proprietorship is, and I will try to give you a small clue. I am not an expert so I recommend looking up more information on the subject, but I will try to describe what the differences are.
In my opinion the two are intertwined, they are very alike but have a few differences. The main difference between a freelancer and someone running their own business is that the clients don't have to deduct taxes from your paycheck when you run a business, you are responsible for paying your own business tax and having your accounts in order. They will however deduct taxes from your fee if you just freelance. As a freelancer or a sole proprietor you are not really considered an employee you are as the name implies a hired gun for a given project and as such you are not entitled to the same benefits that regular employees are entitled to when working for a company. You are for example not entitled to holiday pay, pension or sick pay. Simplified this means that the state is responsible for your sick pay. You have to set up your own pension fund and the holiday pay has to come from your own pockets. I think some of the best advice out there is to make sure you and/or your business is properly insured. Yes it will cost you a bit of money, but it sure beats the alternative! A freelancer often does not make his or her sole living from illustration or photography or whatever. They tend to have a job on the side to make the wheels go round, as they often only work part time as freelancers.

Freelancer is a an English term referring to free lances, knigths and soldiers who fought for the highest bidder. That's pretty much what illustrators are, but with a pencil instead of a lance or sword :p (Drawing made by me: Anita K. Olsen Illustration).

The hard part is figuring out whether you should just freelance or if you should run your own sole proprietorship. A lot of people have some trouble figuring this out, but I found this "checklist" at a Norwegian site run by public organizations like the tax administration. If you can tick off several of the points below you should consider running a sole proprietorship instead of just freelancing.

- You have the use of your own office and you have several clients.
- You are responsible for the end result of the project.
- You are responsible for the economic assets.
- You get a project based fee instead of being paid  by the hour.
- You can hire in help for your projects at your own cost.
- You control your own free time and vacation time.

Helpful? Yes, I at least found it to be very helpful. So now that we have an idea of what kind of business we form we should choose or if you indeed should be registered as a company at all. What next? Now you have to do some research on your own. You have to figure out where you belong in the market. Do you belong in Fantasy and Sci-Fi or do you belong primarily in editorial art, should you focus on children's books or do you maybe belong in several ends of the market? Do you want to work internationally or not? Where do you plan on getting the funds for your business and how are you going to promote it? These are all very important factors to take into consideration, and there are probably several other key things to figure out that I have conveniently forgotten to mention here. Yeah, now that I've probably given you a headache and a tingle of fear and frustration in your stomach I'll be moving on to the pure mechanics of it all.

Once you have decided what form to actually start your business in and what it is you are going to do, then what?

1. You have to come up with a proper business name that complies with your countries rules and regulations.

2. You have to register your business with the proper authorities.

3. You need to apply for a bank loan or apply for some other type of financing (like government funding or scholarships etc.) unless you have your own funds to put towards getting your business up and running.

4. You have to get an accountant that can keep your finances organized unless you are capable of doing some of it yourself. I still recommend an accountant though. You also need to find a billing system that works for you and that also complies with the regulations of your country.

5. You need to acquire the equipment you need to run your business, be it software, hardware, artistic equipment and so on.

6. Get yourself out there! Send out promotional items. Attend book launches, go to cultural events. Buy advertising in news papers or on-line, write a blog, set up a proper website, you know all that stuff.

Now of course you don't necessarily have the possibility to do all of this at once. It might take a while before you get all your things in order. It's hard and frustrating work to set up a business. You have to do your own research, you have to do a lot of paperwork, work late nights and early mornings and give up a lot of your social life. If you're going to work in illustration and run your own business you really have to want it more than anything else. You are hereby warned, but don't be scared. It's quite rewarding when you get your first projects and a little bit of money starts coming in.

The bottom line however is this:  If you don't love it, don't do it!

Have any questions about the text? Anything that you found to be confusing or ill informed? or did you just plain like this post? Leave a comment and I'll do my best to get back to you.

Until next time
Anita K. Olsen

Friday, April 20, 2012

Brochure Design

I have been wanting to make something nice that I can send to clients or leave behind at conventions or portfolio viewings. I already have a postcard and some old business cards, but I feel like they are outdated, they don't represent me and my business in the best way possible. Besides, I also wanted something a little different and more exclusive looking than just a postcard.

So as you might have guessed I chose to go for a brochure (see design below). It gave me more room to play around with, room for practical information and a few examples of my work and a proper design. Usually a brochure would be made in a standing format, but I kind of like the idea of a lying(landscape) format, so my design differs a bit from what you would usually see. I will also have some new business cards printed up and maybe some new postcards. We'll just have to see what I can afford.

I want to show my potential customers that I have a cohesive business profile, that I am indeed a professional. That's why the design of my brochure matches my blog design and the coloring of my temporary website. It just seems more professional when things look like they belong together and like it was made by the same person.

The brochures are already in the mail and as soon as they arrive I will post the result on the blog. Now if I have inspired you in some mysterious way to print up some of your own promotional material here are a few on-line print companies that can help you along th way!
This company offers to print business cards, post cards, labels and stickers. A lot of companies do the same, but the nice thing about these guys is that they offer the option to print several different designs in the same print run so you don't have to blow all your money on one design if you don't want to. They are supposed to be affordable too so definitely worth a shot.
This is a norwegian site. They offer everything from t-shirts, banners, caps, mugs, business cards, note pads. Pretty much anything you could want. They are not that expensive unless you want your items delivered very quickly so order things in good time to save a bit of money. They offer free design templates or you can use your own images, they do charge for uploading your own images though, but right now they have a campaign going where the uploading is free.
If you really want to go over the top and don't mind spending a bit of money then this is the site for you. You can order professional quality books in full color with high end paper. Great for a portfolio or if you want an amazing leave behind for the clients you really want to impress.

for a more in-depth article on the leave behind/promotional item please visit this article written by Jon Schindehette over at the ArtOrder as it is a wonderful article on the subject and he knows what he is talking about.

Until next time
Anita K. Olsen

How to promote your illustration business?

I have been pondering how to promote my business quite a lot recently, because let's be honest without promotion there will be no jobs. I think a lot of us young, up and coming artists struggle with this. We are not business graduates, most of us have never studied economics or business management or anything remotely similar to it before we jump into the shark infested waters of the illustration business. So what the hell are we supposed to do once we have gotten ourselves into this position?

Message in a bottle. A fun and eye-catching way of promoting your business!(image found on google)

On paper the answer is easy and straightforward in some ways, but in reality it really isn't. There are countless ways of promoting your business both traditionally and in unconventional ways. Traditionally business cards and postcards seem to be the people's choice because it's usually cheap and they are easy to bring along with you or pop into a mailbox. More modern ways of promoting yourself is purchasing ads on-line or sending out e-mails to editors. A couple of years ago stickers seemed to be popping up everywhere promoting bands, artists or events, and I think that it may actually be a good way of promoting your stuff. Some people handcraft amazing give- aways like origami business cards, bookmarks, little booklets, flower seed packets and so on and so forth. Sometimes it may feel like you have to try to outdo all the artists around you just to get a clients attention. At least I often feel the pressure to do so. That doesn't work however. If you just set out to outdo others you'll usually end up with something that isn't quite you, something that doesn't really describe what you do. That's a horrible trap to fall into.

Origami ninja star business cards? Sure to be a killer at the office. (Image found at

I usually send out e-mails, it's my chosen weapon. I struggle with a bit of social awkwardness and anxiety at times and an e-mail is just so much easier on my nerves than a phone call or a personal meeting. Life isn't supposed to be easy though. Sending out e-mails doesn't always give results or answers at all and it's just plain stupid to rely on them as the only promotional item in your arsenal.
E-mails can often seem impersonal and effortless, and let's face it, most art directors must receive half a dozen e-mails every day from young hopefuls. So unless your art is super fantastically awesome you have to find some way to stand out in the crowd. That's the tricky part. I haven't tried ads yet or sending out postcards, or calling art directors to set up portfolio viewings because it has just been too damn scary, but that is about to change.
Over the next few months I will be sending out promotional material and buying on-line ads. I am going to see if it has any effect on my current work flow and I will be writing about my experiences on this blog. So stay tuned as I attempt to delve into the deep dark currents that is self - promotion.

A new and interesting design can really bring a brochure to life. (found at

If there is anything in particular you would like me to write about then please do leave a little comment or question, and I'll see what I can do about it.

Until next time
Anita K. Olsen

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Mighty Muggs

If any of my readers follow the ArtOrder blog, run and written by the fantabulous Jon Schindehette you might remember the recently finished Mighty Muggs challenge. The challenge was about designing a well known Dungeons & Dragons character/type on a Mighty Mugg figure. For those of you who have never seen one this is what a Mighty Mugg looks like:

I had decided to enter, but due to some family problems I wasn't able to finish my entry on time and had to miss out on it. Sad, but ah such is life. Anywhoot, I decided to finish my entry and post it her on my blog. I don't like letting a good effort go to waste and I was quite pleased with my concept as well.

So here you go guys, a sorceress inspired Mighty Mugg figure:

The plan was to paint most of her with acrylic paint. I was however planning to make her skirt out of shiny green organza. I was considering tulle but it's such a stiff material and it would be troublesome to work with. The decorations on her arms, outfit and hair was going to be green sequins. her hair I was planning to make from curly angel hair that you can buy in pretty much any craft store. Unfortunately that hair usually only comes in blonde colors so I would probably have to dye it or go online to find something in the right color.Not that it matters too much anymore, but I'm tempted to order the figure and make the sorceress anyway. We'll see :P

Until next time,
Anita K. Olsen

P.S. Don't forget to visit my online portfolio!