Can I make a living?

I see a lot of threads in comic book groups, and other art groups where people are asked what their page rates are or commissions,etc. the same discussions also in the sculpting for 3dprinting groups…🤔
Artists generally look at something they have drawn or made and wonder “how much can I charge for this?”—and feel almost apologetic about asking for money 😅

If you look at it from a different perspective (probably more like a businessman would, if deciding what he has to price it to stay in business…) then you would look at your costs of living first, and a reasonable number that you could live on, and divide that number by the amount of art that you can, or do produce in a year. —if you look at it from that direction, then you may quickly realize that you haven’t even been making minimum wage 😅! Which is probably why most artists are “starving” (or at least keep a lot of ramen in the pantry…)

I sculpt models that I 3dprint , and thought that I could make money selling the STL files for other people to print also…A lot of other artists are also trying to make a living doing this (and several that I know do quite well at it… )
But looking at how much time I generally spend on a sculpture, I really take at least a week from start to finish. And since I can’t actually work at it non-stop, and have to also LIVE, and do other tasks around the house, and not forget that there is the printing,painting, photography, social media, quotes,etc that eat up your time!😅—sustainably, I can sculpt something new every 2weeks, or 2 per month…

So that is only 24 models in a year… But to survive (cost of living) is a a minimum $30,000 per year [if we were to use the $15/hr, $600/week basis]…And honestly, that is just barely enough to survive…
A better number to use (and closer to a median for a 3D designer) would be $60,000/year as a goal. 🤔

If I’m only able to sculpt 2 models a month, then I have to somehow sell that work for $5,000 to make the sustainable income… This is not something that I’ve been doing, and I haven’t even really stopped to look at it and realized that I was not pricing my work to support my costs of living. I suspect that I’m not the only artist who has made this error ….

So to “make a living” as a sculptor, I have to sell that sculpture:

  1. To a single person, as in the case of a commission, or a single artwork, for $2,500
  2. Sell a limited edition of sculptures (eg. An edition of 5 sculptures, 3dprinted and hand-painted, for $500 each)
  3. Sell the STL file for $10 to 250 people, or $5 to 500 people, or $1 to 2,500 people….

I haven’t been doing anything like this. 😟

I do have an hourly rate that I use when quoting 3D design work, which IS sustainable (as a freelancer a good rule of thumb is to charge 3 times what you would be paid for the same job as an hourly employee ), but When I ventured into sculpting models and miniatures for 3dprinting I didn’t do any analysis of this…I just put up my Patreon page like everyone else and hoped to see enough subscribers to make it somehow work! This is the “magical thinking” that I have been guilty of, regarding my art….

And to make matters worse (for me personally), I feel very vested in the things that I create. ..My whole identity is wrapped up in it…so that if you like my art, then you must like me 😀! And if you don’t like my art, then you don’t like me 😭!

So if I have a Patreon that only brings in $500/month (and I do 🙄) I emotionally feel like what I do has no value…and I have no value 😢….No wonder I’m depressed!

Hand-Painted 3D Printed Figurines

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I know that there is a market for mass-produced collectible statues, and I know that there is a market for resin-cast “garage kit” sculptures.  As I have been 3D printing the past few years, the quality of those prints has increased to a point where they are as good or better than what can be reproduced through casting. So, is there a market for 3D printed statues?

I hand-painted this print of “Tusk” to showcase the model, because I have the .stl file available for sale on Cults3D for $5.

But what if you don’t want to print and paint the model? You would just like a cool statue, hand-painted by the artist who sculpted it!  That seems like an work of art, right?

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I put this Statue of “Tusk” on eBay for auction, to get an idea of how it might sell. It had 15 people bid on it and sold for $60.

So that makes me think there might be a market. What I will need to do is print out about 10, so that I can paint them as a group. Then sell as a limited edition!

PuzzleLock Playsets

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In February, I debuted the PuzzleLock Caves and PuzzleLock Dungeon at Con Nooga in Chattanooga. The response was very good, so tomorrow we are launching a Kickstarter to fund the creation of more PuzzleLock playsets!

These playsets are 28mm scale terrain for tabletop role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons. They help create an immersive gaming experience. They are printed on a $200 home 3D printer, and I printed the entire dungeon on a $20 roll of filament!

Unlike other systems, PuzzleLock doesn’t require any clips or magnets. It goes together like a jigsaw puzzle!

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The Caves are 100mm point to point and about 35mm tall. The sides of the hexagons are 50.8mm (2″) and can connect to any other PuzzleLock playset.

The PuzzleLock Caves are available NOW at Cults3D:
https://cults3d.com/en/3d-model/game/puzzlelock-caves

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The Dungeon set includes a “stair jack” for placing minis on the steps, and also a couple of “grid-painting” jigs for gamers who prefer a 1″ grid on their tiles.
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The dungeon tiles are 50.8mm ( 2″) square, and about 35mm tall. They work with all other PuzzleLock Tiles.

Dungeons are available NOW
on Cults3D:
https://cults3d.com/en/3d-model/game/puzzlelock-dungeon

All of the PuzzleLock playsets are delivered as .STL files, which are 3D models that can be printed on a home 3D Printer.

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The Kickstarter was 857% funded! Stretchgoals for Traps & Secret Doors and Sewers & Undercity were unlocked and will be available on Cults3D after they are sent to backers.

Dark Lead Sketchbook

I have been keeping a series of sketchbook/journals for over 30 years now. These are kept on those thick black hardbound sketchbooks that you see in art supply stores. The kind that have acid free archival paper that is supposed to last for years and years…. I went through the collected books and scanned and cleaned up the drawings. Some pages were a little smudged from years of friends thumbing through them. I’m glad that I took the time, since even on archival paper these drawings might eventually be lost to time…. I hope that you will enjoy this uncensored collection of drawings and that you will enjoy this chance to explore a little bit of my imagination… over 200 pages of pencil and pen and ink drawings–Fairies, goblins, fantasy characters. Some of the work is explicit, so keep on the top shelf.

http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/Zandoriacover

Puzzle-Lock

After working on my Caves project, I started thinking about all of the different “locking” options that are being used to connect the terrain tiles on the tabletop. I had an idea of interlocking the tiles with a jigsaw puzzle connection, which would be identical on every side. That would allow you to lift a tile from the table and replace it with a “trap” tile or “secret door” tile without disturbing the rest of the dungeon!

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I started with a standard 2″ tile (50.8mm), and started working out the geometry for different polygons: 4-sided, 6-sided, 3-sided, etc. to allow the most flexibility for laying out a dungeon…

Regarding scale, I wanted  the walls shorter than the standard 2″ height, because terrain blocking line of sight for the miniatures was one of the complaints that I read in the Facebook group (3D Printing for Gaming Terrain).  I decided to design the walls about 32mm tall, which would be about 8′ tall at 28mm scale. This should leave enough height to detail the terrain, but give greater visibility to the miniatures.

Another thing that I noticed when I looked at other terrain systems, was that the details and the “dungeon dressing” of many props was not at a consistent scale. For 28mm miniatures, the scale is supposedly 6′ from the soles of the feet to the top of the head (for a human sized miniature). That scale (1:56) is 4.17mm per scale foot.

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Using this as a guide for my measurements, I hope that this terrain will look better with the 28mm miniatures that players are using for D&D, Pathfinder or similar RPG.

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The Caves system that I already designed, also works well with a puzzle-lock. And since the hexagon is designed with 2″ sides, the caverns will easily work with the dungeon tiles.

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The puzzle-lock system should work with any type of tabletop terrain tile, such as sewers, burrows, etc.  My plan is to finish up my own set of puzzle-lock .STL terrain files, and then launch a Kickstarter campaign to sell it.  Part of the set will be the basic puzzle-lock shapes, which can be used to adapt existing terrain .STL files to this system using Meshmixer! So if you have already purchased .STL terrain for your game, you will be able to modify it.

I would also like to make the shapes available to other designers, so that they can offer a puzzle-lock version of their 3D printable terrain.

PuzzleLock Caves are now a part of the Caves terrain set available on DriveThruRPG:

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Cave Drider

One of the strengths of 3D printing is the ability to create shapes that cannot be manufactured with traditional methods like injection-molding.  I want  to try and create miniatures that take advantage of this, rather than cut up the model as if it were going to be molded.

Since my last project was 3D printable Caves for tabletop gaming, I decided to create some miniatures to populate those caverns, and to design them for small SLA printers like Anycubic Photon and Sparkmaker to take advantage of the amazing level of detail that they can reproduce.

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Photo Dec 20, 5 20 43 AMThe “Drider” is a creature familiar to players of Dungeons & Dragons or Pathfinder. It is part dark elf and part spider.  Driders are often portrayed as a “spider centaur” with the upper body very human (or elf), but I decided that my cave driders were especially cursed–even their faces transformed into a spider!

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I have 3 different weapon poses, and also a Dead Drider option–so that the Dungeon Master can switch out miniatures rather than tipping over the dead monsters.

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This Bundle of STL files is available for only $10 at Cults3D

A different approach to digital painting

When I started working on a graphic novel about TAR of Zandoria, I experimented with a few techniques in digital painting that I studied. For many comics, colorists start by “flatting”. This is basically filling in all of the color areas of a line drawing, then rendering shadows, highlights, etc above that color layer.

During my experiments with all of the various blending modes between layers in digital painting, I got an idea that probably has its roots in my years with CG animation and rendering. If I start with 50% gray on a layer set to hard light, it has zero effect on the color on the layer beneath it. But on that grayscale layer, when I draw with black and white ( and darker and lighter shades of gray), whatever is darker than neutral gray will multiply with the color beneath it, and whatever is lighter than gray will lighten the color beneath it.

The grayscale drawing can then control all of the values and lighting, combining with a color painting beneath it which controls the diffuse color everything. This is not the same thing as just painting on a layer set to “color” above a grayscale painting. If you were using that approach, you will find it difficult to control tints and shades of color, because the color blending mode is only using the hue information to color the values beneath it. With this new approach, you can just paint the object colors in their flat pure color and the hard light layer will render the correct shading in hightlights and shadows. When drawing, it helps me to think of of the objects form, not the final look.

Here is a stage by stage example, starting with just a rough layout. I have brought in my lettering from Pages and moved it into position.

My “pencil” drawing in blue gets more refined. This is on a separate layer that will be hidden later. It doesn’t need to be in blue, of course, since this is all digital. (This is just a nod to the past, when you would do layout in non-repro blue, and then ink with black. The blue pencil would be invisible to the process camera…)

On a new layer I start my “ink” drawing. This line layer is basically the contours of the drawing. I’m actually using a digital brush that simulates vine charcoal, rather than a pen. (just a preference for the “look”). This layer is set to “multiply” and will darken everything beneath it.

Beneath the line layer, I fill in all of the objects with 50% gray using a solid brush. And then lock the alpha transparency (this keeps me inside the lines, without having to think about it). I then start laying in the shading and cast shadows with a darker gray. I switch to a light gray to render the sunlit side of the objects. And lastly, I will draw with pure black and pure white to hit the deepest shadows and the specular highlights.

Now that I’m ready to paint the color, I make a selection based on the alpha of my last layer and fill a new layer with a dull brown, and lock the transparency. I do this so that I can paint the characters only, and then paint the sky separately on a layer beneath. The alpha lock saves time so I don’t have to keep making selections to keep from painting outside the lines.

I’ve made a custom palette, where I’ve saved color swatches of the different colors of the characters clothing, and gear to save time and to keep the color consistent page to page. Using a solid airbrush, I paint in all of the colors. Looking at a reference photo I sampled some colors from the sky, and loosely painted the sky background behind all of the other elements.

After I’m done with the color painting, I finish up the balloons with a black pen and fill them with white. This is done on a layer between the lettering and the rest of the artwork. Likewise, the panel borders are drawn above the art (in this case with a block charcoal brush)

I showed some of this to a local group of friends who are also working on their own comics, and since the layers and blending modes were a bit mysterious to them, I thought it would be a good subject for a tutorial…

This art was all done in Procreate on my iPad, but the technique would apply the same in all digital paint programs like Photoshop.

If this was interesting, and you would like to keep up with what I’m working on, please signup to my email list!

Caves of Chaos

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Artwork from “The Keep on the Borderlands” by TSR Games

When I first played Dungeons & Dragons as a teenager,  the first adventure was the Keep on the Borderlands. The monsters were in an area of the map called The Caves of Chaos! I have a lot of great memories of those years, so when I started thinking about designing some 3D printable terrain for table-top gaming I naturally started think of those caves….

There are a number of kickstarted companies that are selling .STL files for 3D printing. I realized when I started checking them out, that the gaming community has eagerly adopted this technology, and there might be an opportunity for me in this area.

Before 3D printing, a company called Dwarven Forge was already making a very high-quality hand-sculpted and hand-cast resin terrain for gaming, but it is very expensive. What I noticed right away about the designs from these newer companies is that they were basically copying the designs of Dwarven Forge– The tiles were all 2″ squares, about a half inch thick, in all sorts of configurations to help you layout your dungeon.

However 3D printed PLA plastic is a lot lighter than Dwarvenite resin… So the 3D printed pieces have to be clipped or glued together so they don’t get scattered all over the table. I felt that the designers had failed to approach the problem from scratch with the strengths of 3D printing in mind. On top of that, the Caverns and caves were all rectangular and ugly….

I decided that I would start from scratch. One of the strengths of 3D printing is the ability to create complicated shapes that would be difficult or impossible to create through traditional manufacturing.  I wanted to build complete pieces that were ready to paint and play, with no assembly.  Instead of squares, I started with a hexagon and began to calculate the number of possible passageways that could come in and out of a 6-sided tile.

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The biggest tile that I can print on my Printrbot is 6″, though that is pretty small compared to a lot of FDM printers, which would be big enough to not get knocked over during play. Since it doesn’t have to attach to the other tiles for stability, That gives you the freedom to rotate the tiles and quickly reconfigure the game map.  Because the 3D print is starting from the ground, and there is no need for the additional structure to clip tiles together, I decided to make the floor 1/8″ thick–thick enough to be sturdy, but not wasting plastic.

I kept the 2″ standard for the openings of the passages, and the 2″ overall height (taller than that interferes with visibility of the miniatures).

My wife and I visited Cumberland Caverns in McMinnville Tennessee, which is the largest cave complex in our state, for some inspiration.

Once I was back home in the studio, I opened ZBrush and created a template for the tiles, ensuring that I could make all of the tiles mate up perfectly when printed.

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I ended up creating 22 Hex tiles, which could create and endless cavern across the tabletop. The tiles print with no support, and require no assembly.

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Here is just a quick sample of the types of cavern layouts you can create:

Once I had the pieces sculpted, I decimated the models to create a high-resolution polygon mesh, and exported the .STL files.

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Edit: I have gone back an added some Cave Entrances as well as Hex rings with OpenLOCK and Magnetic connection (because people kept asking for it), and an OpenLOCK compatible dungeon entrance so that you can connect these Caves to the rest of your dungeon:

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If you are a gamer, and would like to print your own endless caverns and caves, you can get the set of .STL files here:

On MyMiniFactory:
https://www.myminifactory.com/object/3d-print-caves-77276

On Cults3D:
https://cults3d.com/en/3d-model/game/caves

On DriveThruRPG:
https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/232472/Caves

On RenderHub:
https://www.renderhub.com/zandoria/caves

The Hot Mess

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I was setting up a Matter Control Touch to run my Printrbot Simple Metal so that I don’t have to have my computer connected to it, and I had to give my printer a nickname. I named it  “The Hot Mess”.

The reality of 3D printing is that for every really cool awesome print that I can’t wait to show everyone, there seems to be half a dozen failed prints and wads of PLA spaghetti…
I guess that’s why it so exciting when it turns out nice.