Friday, October 31, 2014

Learning to Juggle

-By Howard Lyon

For the last few years, I have been branching out in both subject and market.  I have continued to illustrate, painting for Magic: the Gathering and other clients in the fantasy/sci-fi market but have also started to do some religious work and am also preparing work for galleries.  It has been a challenge.  This article isn't about religious painting or fantasy illustration, but about working and promoting yourself in two very different genres.

Initially, I kept my religious work and illustration work on two different sites, but this last year I launched a new site where they sit side by side.  I still have separate stores and blogs, but it is hard to miss.

Some days I am relieved to have my hands in multiple markets.  I enjoy the creative variation as well as the opportunity to diversify financially.  I have broadened my market and opened up new opportunities that might not have ever been presented otherwise.

Ashcloud Phoenix - Magic: the Gathering
Then at other times I worry that I am diluting my "brand", softening the impact I could potentially make in either market.  There is only so much time in a day and the fact is, I am doing half as much illustration work and I could do twice as much gallery/fine art if that were my sole focus.

The truth is, I have never been happier.  I have come to the point that I don't sweat what might be for what is (most days).  As long as I am improving, working hard and smart, I find this work to be increasingly gratifying.

Feed My Sheep - 11 x 14 oil on panel
I have often heard the advice to pick something and go after it 100%.  I can't disagree with that but what if you have a drive to do comics and gallery work or children's book illustration and horror?  I can only speak to my own experiences so that if you are considering engaging in what might be seemingly divorced markets you might do so with a little less trepidation.

Here are the benefits/insights I have found:
  • When I switch from one kind of work to the other, I come back each time with a renewed and increased energy.
  • My audience has doubled over the last few years.  Google Analytics has given me good insight into how my audience has changed and what they come to my site for.  On and average day traffic is nearly a 50/50 split between my religious work and fantasy work.  
  • Producing work consistently for a market is key to keeping it moving forward.  Regular releases help to keep your audience engaged even when there is less work coming out.
  • The two markets I have been producing work for have offsetting seasons.  I focus a little more on promoting my illustration in the spring and summer and my religious work in the fall and winter.  If you should work in a couple markets, that might be something to consider.

Master the Way - Magic: the Gathering

Here are some challenges:
  • I sometimes feel that I have to sacrifice one opportunity for another.  That being said, when I was solely doing contract work, I felt that way all the time.  
  • Some customers have expressed concern or disdain at my spectrum of work, from both sides.  I suppose there is a further risk of not being taken seriously by some as long as I have a foot in both markets.  
  • There is an added measure of stress.  I can't pin it down exactly, but there are more things to juggle.  Even if I did the exact same amount of work, with two markets to feed and grow it is more hectic.
  • I keep more inventory on hand as far as prints go, so that I can ship quickly.  This requires ongoing investment that is greater than when I was fulfilling one audience.
  • My social media relationship... "it's complicated."  Building your social media presence takes time and regular effort.  If you want to keep your social media separate, it can take a lot more time.

King of Kings - 36" x 48" oil on linen
If you are currently working happily in one field, but want to dip your toes in another area of work I offer this advice.  Be patient.  Connect with artists working in that market and ask for advice with shows and marketing.  Schedule time each week to do research/promotion and stick to it.  Accept that this is a compromise.  Prepare to work a little harder at first.  Enjoy every day you get to work as an artists, whatever it is you paint/draw/sculpt/create.

I can't say that I will always split my time between these two fields.  The road I think I am on seems to change as I traverse it.  Check back with me in 50 years and I will let you know how things worked out.

For fun, here is a time-lapse of my Feed My Sheep piece.

And to balance that out, some gifs showing the progression of a couple Magic cards.
Master the Way
Warden of the Eye
Thanks for giving this post a read.  I would love to read your thoughts and experience in the comments!
Howard Lyon
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Happy Halloween!


  1. This is amazing Howard! Thanks so much for sharing the process gifs- is there anywhere we can see them and pause the playback. I love seeing how the masters work in step by steps- you make it look so easy! Maybe that's a reflection of a clear process, followed well?
    I'm inspired by the apparent absence of "noodling around" here. Both sides of your canvas are beautiful :)

    1. Thanks! I posted the individual frames on my page. They look better than in the gif too since they aren't reduced to 256 colors. Here is a link:

      Thanks for the reply and Happy Halloween!

  2. These paintings are just wonderful, I love both the fantasy and the religious, but I am afraid that Jesus will hit me with that stick he is carrying. Just my weirdness I guess.

    1. Thank you! And yes, watch out for the stick, though a wizard with a staff might be as likely to hit you with it. ;)

  3. I think you are thriving in both fields because your work is Excellent, full stop.

  4. One thing that helps: Paint like Howard Lyon!!

    1. Well that is good because I have tried to paint like other people and it didn't work out. ;)

  5. Absolutely great post Howard. Just what i needed to hear today.Thank you!

    1. Excellent! Thanks for giving it a read.

  6. Thanks for this. I have many diametrically opposed types of work, and I've always felt like I should pick one and stick to it. But I LIKE being so diverse. Glad to know I'm not alone.

    1. Thanks dark, I hope it works for you too!

  7. Do you find that there is less of a cultural bias against illustration in the fine art community these days? I feel like galleries are more accepting of fantasy themes than they were 20 years ago. I think there's a new generation of art buyers out there who grew up with fantasy all around them and are more receptive to it as a legitimate subject for fine art.

  8. Excellent website you have here but I was wanting to know if you knew of any user discussion forums that cover the same topics discussed in this article? I’d really love to be a part of group where I can get responses from other experienced individuals that share the same interest. If you have any suggestions, please let me know.Thanks a lot!
    Paints Nepal


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