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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Carlos

Finding the Sweet Spot

Updated: Mar 25, 2019

Before joining Make Art That Sells, I worried about becoming a commercial artist. What does it mean to make work that is commercial and yet not lose my uniqueness in all of it?

The Magic of Color Grading

Just nearly a decade ago I used to be a colorist, for moving pictures and not the hair salon kind, and it’s a love-hate relationship. While I enjoyed the craft and the prestige of being a so-called magician in the dark room because that time not all of my clients knew how I am altering the colors on moving images, I loathed the fakeness of everything. I worked mostly on TV commercials that made me think otherwise about all the products being sold out there. Those glistening white teeth, shiny jet black or golden hair, the flawless pinky white skin of Asian women, the spotless white shirt and bold colors on freshly laundered clothes and the delectable and gorgeous plate of canned food on the table were all in the hands of the colorist. On the other hand that TVC was the kind of project that paid my salary and everybody else’s in our company.

There came a point when I thought I would kill myself if I had to grade another image shot entirely on green screen because apart from the money venturing and superficial aspects of commercial work, where’s the challenge? Where’s the art in it?

One time I commented to a film director who was complaining about the kind of work he has been getting in the recent years that he has become commercial. He half chortled. What’s wrong with being commercial anyway? It sells, hence the term.

A home décor product design proposal for Make Art That Sells Creating Collections for Home Décor course

Testing the Waters out in the Big Ocean

So I signed up for Make Art That Sells online course, to help me understand the business of commercial art and acquaint myself with the viable markets for an artist and by doing so expose myself to a bigger audience. There has never been a better time to be an artist, they constantly remind us. While I am working on the assignments, I can’t help but wonder if this is the right path for me. Truth is I didn't even know I would like designing for home décor. I am loving what I am learning and that is the whole point of education.

However if I look at the work being churned out by my colleagues, although great looking, at a glance when viewed in a grid type virtual gallery, they start to look all the same. I couldn’t even spot my own artwork! It’s like looking at a rack of pretty greeting cards. How do I stand out? Greeting cards say the same message but there is always one that delivers it, right? The goal now is to make that card that gets picked out of hundreds.

Got Style?

As an emerging artist, I don’t have a strong style yet and that bothered me because a lot of the successful contemporary artists have their own style. I see an image in Instagram or Pinterest and I would recognize the artist right away. It made me wonder if I want to succeed as an artist, is it necessary to have a distinctive style? Will a strong artistic style attract more followers and eventually patrons or clients?

But then I just started making art again after many years of being stale. The last painting on canvas I did was probably in 2010 and it was crap! Since I started working in the film industry, I could only produce one painting a year if at all. I didn’t develop any skill much less evolve a style. When I rebooted my creativity two years ago, I began with adult coloring books and eventually move onto different media just like climbing up the stairs. Sometimes I find myself rushing my art education and have to remind myself that I am just starting.

In the past year, I have become more ornate in my illustrations. Is this the direction to which I'm heading?

Know Thy Own Self

Below are the ten commandments I came up with to keep the “me” in creating commercial work as well as keeping myself sane while working on projects. In the many years of working as a professional, I have somehow developed this practice, which I can obviously apply to my art work.

1. Read the brief and absorb it.

2. Brainstorm and research within a time limit.

3. Respect your brain and others too: Ask yourself what are the things that you can identify with this assignment, also what are the pieces done by other people that you like and can relate to your idea? Be inspired but do not copy, or take bits and pieces from anything that you think might work with your idea and make a subtle collage in a single work.

4. Make studies aka “minis” in MATS speak also within a time frame. If you’re on a tight deadline, this is no time to experiment with new tools.

5. Pick your favorite medium.

6. Decide on a color palette and recreate it with your chosen medium.

7. Make the artwork.

8. It’s easy to get lost in the moment but check with your brain and the brief from time to time to see if you are still on track.

9. While you’re at it, take a break, preferably with a nice hot or cold beverage and bird watching, but not too long that you forget your task and your line of thought

10. Review your artwork and tweak when necessary and ask yourself: Do I like this? Am I having fun? And if it can’t be helped, ask people if they like it. Unless it’s confidential work, then don’t.

Bonus: Start all over if you have to.

That all being said, what I find most important is knowing myself. See point number 3. Before tackling a project, I already know more or less my tendencies, techniques and general approach as well as things that interest me. How do I incorporate these things into an artwork?

The Ten Commandments of a Commercial Artist

Be Kind

We should stop overthinking things and just do and see what happens. I don't know if this applies to everybody but I should definitely start trusting my instincts more when it comes to making art.

I cannot think of the imaginary pressure of succeeding right now. I must concentrate on creating. With perseverance and constant experimentation my style will probably eventually emerge and people may notice. Although perhaps I am like some artists who do not conform to a certain style because it just gets boring doing the same theme, using the same color palette and medium each time. Maybe I refuse to be pigeonholed to one genre, to one style. It helps when I do not define myself as a certain kind of an artist. I am somewhat restless and that restlessness and unpredictability in my work excites me. I realized that my best work (the ones that I really love and enjoy) were the ones that are not premeditated while those that I clearly envisioned in my head took me too long to finish.

Though I also cannot compare myself to what other artists have already achieved. What have I achieved? For all I know they also had the same struggles I am having now it’s just that they started much earlier and kept on going. Every great artist had their periods before finding their signature style (i.e. Picasso’s blue period, Klimt’s secession years, or Van Gogh’s black and white drawings) and like everyone else, we all have our timeline. There is no finish line because like art, what we do is never finished until we clean up our brushes.


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