Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Five or So Questions with John Sheldon on (un)Common Adventure Gallery

Tell me about the (un)Common Adventures Gallery. What has you excited about it?

The (un)Common Adventure Gallery is a collection of free-to-publish* genre illustrations I've started with funding through Patreon. Right now I'm doing all the illustrations, but I hope to reach a level where I'm making enough on each of my pieces that I can afford to hire other illustrators to add more variety and subject matter to the gallery. I'm really excited to have an ongoing project that helps me focus on my illustration efforts, that allows me to get direct input from my supporters on what they want to see from me, and that will eventually let me hire some of my favorite illustrators from the indie RPG scene.

*Using the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license.

What do you think makes you uniquely suited to this project, especially hiring other artists as well as doing illustration?

I love a broad variety of genres in illustration, and I love experimenting with different media and different styles of illustration (though I have certain sensibilities that always manage to bleed through). My time as the senior editor and producer of a daily TV newscast gave me a lot of experience working with other creative people and helping to integrate their work into a cohesive final product. Basically, I want this project to be a place where I can exercise many aspects of my own creativity, a place where I can help showcase the great work other people are doing, and a place where both happen in a coordinated way.

What motivated you to go Creative Commons?

I felt that releasing the art with a Creative Commons license would be a better deal for me and for the people in the communities I engage. Tons of people from game designers to authors and publishers find that they need art for their projects, and lots of the people I interact with don't have much of a budget for their total project (let alone to pay an illustrator to make custom pieces for everything they want). So, using the most permissive Creative Commons license lets them grab something to use as a placeholder, and if they can't find something better or can't afford something custom, they can still go to press or do a commercial release with the work they've designed around.

The Creative Commons Attribution license works for me on two levels. First, I happen to have a job that pays my bills. I'm not relying on the illustration work to keep the lights on or to put food in my belly, so I don't currently have to worry about what I could charge in the future for licensing these works. I'd be drawing anyway, and since what I'm drawing comes strictly from my own imagination I have little expectation of a financial return on it. The CC-A license lets a lot more people use it and feel comfortable sharing it, and means that I can show off the full size, high resolution versions of my art without distracting watermarks and without worrying that someone will steal it.

The second way the CC-A license works for me is related to that last point and feeds back into the reason I chose Patreon for this project. The more people that can see my work (in they way I intend it to be seen), the greater the size of my potential audience. As the audience grows, the number of people who might pitch in to fund my work grows. So, the CC-A license also works as a marketing tool for me by letting the full illustrations be my ads (which, of course, only works because I don't need the money to feed myself).

How do you think the Patreon model will help you meet your goals?

Patreon helps keep me motivated to do some good, fun art in the absence of other specific motivations. I find that without a school project or a paying contract, I end up with a whole lot of half-finished illustrations and semi-complete drawings. With just a little bit of money on the line, like enough to go see a movie or get a nice meal, I suddenly have a lot more motivation to work on those personal projects. Patreon also lets me interact with the people who back me so I can be sure to work on stuff that interests them, too. The payment model is also great because it is results-oriented. If I don't put out an illustration, nobody gets charged. If I put something out and nobody likes it, they can withdraw their pledges before getting charged.

Beyond that, the 'stretch goal' features of Patreon let people know what they'll get when each of the works I produce nets more money. For this project, a lot of those goals involve hiring other illustrators to create CC-A licensed art for the gallery.

What are you looking for when it comes to hiring future artists?

I'll be looking for three things when it comes time to commission work from other artists. First, I have to like their work. Luckily, this isn't too much of a limiting factor as I have broad taste in illustration. Second, their art style should be different from mine. One of the primary goals of commissioning other illustrators is to get a larger variety of work in the gallery, and the creative briefs I develop for the commissions (with help from my Patrons) will help me aim for different content and styles than I have been able to produce. Finally, I will be looking for people from different backgrounds than mine.

The reason that last part is important to me is in part because I am so tremendously privileged that I don't have to rely on this work to put food on my table. If I can put money in the hands of an artist who really needs it (and pay them a full, professional rate rather than the bargain rates they might otherwise bid just to get any work at all), it will be making a bigger difference than it would if it went to another illustrator in shoes like mine (comfortable ones that I could replace if I needed to).

What's the next project for your Patreon, as of this interview (early May)?

I showed some concepts to my backers on Patreon, and the community-level Patrons have selected an illustration tentatively titled Cherry Blossom Knight. I've already shot the photo reference for it (which some of the Patrons can see), and I'm headed to media testing now (picking what media to work in, e.g., colored pencil or watercolor). From there I'll proceed to different drawing and rendering steps, all of which I'll be documenting for my supporters with photos, time-lapse videos, and scans. I hope to have the final illustration done in early June.

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