Two weeks ago I was at a coffee shop with my two younger daughters. I glanced at my Twitter stream and saw that Lilla Rogers has a book out.
I knew about Lilla Rogers because she’s the illustration agent for two long-time bloggers whose careers I've followed from way back: Jennifer Judd-McGee and Lisa Congdon. And Lilla is a friend of my friend, Mimi Kirchner. When I saw the title of Lilla’s book, I Just Like To Make Things: Learn the Secrets to Making Money While Staying Passionate About Your Art and Craft, I headed over to Amazon 1-click and placed an order.
As I’m sure you know if you’ve been reading my blog for a while, I’m keenly interested in the intersection of art and business (my Softies For Sale series was all about making money from making toys) and I knew Lilla Rogers would be an incredible fountain of information on how to make a living as an artist.
Lilla is an illustrator and painter who began an art agency, Lilla Rogers Studio, when she became a mother. She describes the shift this way,
“The intense focus required to make a piece of art for a client on deadline became more stressful with a baby. The idea of being an agent was intriguing: I would be able to start and stop what I was working on more easily, and I would be able to spend more time with my baby. I would be able to help others. I would be able to make a living in a new way. I wanted to go from acting to directing.”
I love this part of her story. It’s the path of a woman, a mother, an artist and an entrepreneur. It’s a story that I can relate to personally.
And she’s written an incredible book. I have no intention of becoming an illustrator, nor am I looking to work with an agent any time soon, but I am keenly interested in making marketable art. I want and need to make art that sells. And my bet is that you do, too. Here Lilla tells you how. Her advice is down-to-earth. She’s encouraging, but she’s clearly got high standards and thinks that you should have them, too. What I admire most of all, though, is that she’s honest. There are no secrets, or there aren’t any more. Lilla tells them to us.
“If you think of the life of your career as having fifty birds, what would they be? Let’s let them equal fifty meaningful events or highlights in your career. They are out there, but like your birds, you just don’t know what they are yet…This book is going to help you find some of those birds.” Yes, please! I’m a huge fan of actively seeking out those birds instead of waiting for them to choose you. I will take any advice I can get that will help me to find them. I need to work on my birds.
The title of Chapter 1 is so important: “People Buy Your Joy.” This could not be more true. And it drills down to the essence of Lilla’s thesis. As she says, “There is an easy answer to how to make more money, and I’m going to tell you! Make your work great. In any field, the better you are at your work, the more you can give; the more you can give, the more people want what you have, and the more money you can make.”
At the same time, she encourages us to be okay with where we are, even if we are not yet experts. “As an art agent, working with so many artists over the years, I have found that every stage has its joys. Enjoy every stage. Enjoy being a beginner.” Yes! Being new to something when others are already experts can make us feel defeated when we’ve only just begun. This book encourages us to develop our own styles, our unique voices, and to become our own, unique kind of expert.
When evaluating a new pieces of art Lilla says, “Every square inch of the piece should be of the same high quality. If you look from corner to corner to corner to corner, the whole piece should have the same level of professionalism throughout.” High standards, my friends.
Lilla has created various exercises in this book that may seem light-hearted at first glance, but are designed to help us pay attention and analyze our reactions to figure out where our passions lay. I think it’s easy to deceive ourselves into thinking that we should pursue a particular path (maybe we’ve been told that that’s where the money is or that’s what we’re good at), when actually we’d much rather pursue another.
There are interviews with art directors from all different sectors of the marketplace. Lilla asks them what advice they’d give to artists aspiring to license their work. I took the words of Sue Schlabach, the art director of Wild Apple Graphics (in the Wall Décor market) especially to heart. She says,
“If you don’t succeed the first time…submit again. Some of our most successful artists submitted to us several times before it was a good fit. Also know that if you aren’t selected, it isn’t a referendum on your talent – it just may be that your art doesn’t fit our current needs. Another reason to submit again!”
This piece of advice was a serious revelation to me. As you know, I licensed work to Simplicity over the summer (the pattern envelope will hit stores in May). I was invited to submit again in the fall and did so, but nothing was accepted. To me this meant that they were no longer interested in me. I was pretty devastated. But five minutes after reading this interview I submitted fresh work from my portfolio and yesterday I received news that Simplicity is licensing a new set of patterns from me for early spring 2014. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I would never had resubmitted if I hadn’t read Lilla’s book. I needed an insider’s perspective in order to understand how the industry worked.
If you make art and you’d like to make a living from it, get Lilla Rogers new book, I Just Like To Make Things. It’s fantastic. And on a side note, if there's a book that you love, take a moment to leave a review on Amazon. It's so easy and it has a huge influence on prospective buyers. Here's my Amazon review of Lilla's book.
The link above is an affiliate link. I bought this book myself and was not asked to review it
nor was I compensated in any way.