Four not-so-starving artists on making art and making a living

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Digital Reporters

Ask any kid what they want to be when they grow up and you’ll likely get the same parent-approved answers—doctor, lawyer, engineer. But for a lot of kids, their idea of a fulfilling life is one wielding paint brushes and squeezing paint tubes.

The stereotype of the “starving artist” creeps in early. A passion for painting gets downplayed into a hobby. Parents, concerned for their children’s financial security, push them towards those same career paths—doctor, lawyer, engineer. Society-at-large is generally lukewarm towards the idea of arts as a means to make a living.

But the myth of the starving artist is truly just that—a myth.

As art and pop culture conventions become more prevalent, artists and convention-goers are getting more opportunities to meet each other and break the stereotype that you can’t create art and make a living at the same time.

At Komiket, a comics and art convention that took place over Oct. 13 and 14 at The Elements in Centris, Quezon City, we found and profiled four artists who proved that a non-traditional job can be both financially and personally fulfilling.

Marcela Suller (IG: @marcella_suller)

Number of years as a professional artist: Three years
Current work: Full-time artist
Background:
Marcella took up Political Science at Ateneo de Manila University, following her parents plan for her to be a lawyer. After graduation, Marcela interned at an art studio where she received formal training.




What made you pursue art?
“That’s always been my dream ever since I was a kid,” Marcelo said, describing a childhood spent reading illustrated books. “[But] I grew up in the province and it wasn’t normal to become an artist as your profession before.”

So when she went down to Manila for college from her hometown in La Union, it was to study political science, a path to becoming a lawyer.

During her years at Ateneo, Instagram had started to become the platform of choice for local artists looking to share their works. Marcela said that seeing so many others making a living off of their art inspired her to revisit her childhood dream.

After graduating in 2014, Marcela interned in an art studio to hone her natural talents before jumping headlong into her new career.

“I tried to do realistic illustrations but I only got frustrated because I couldn’t exactly draw the person so I just did it stylized,” Marcela said. “I made it cute. I was also inspired by children’s book illustrations and things I saw on Instagram.”

As the industry and fanbases grew with the help of conventions and events like Komiket, Marcela said that the money she made off of her art commissions had begun surpassing her salary as a graphic designer at the small ad agency she worked at. Seeing this, her parents eventually gave in and supported her career as an artist.

Unlike most artists featured at conventions, Marcela doesn’t do commission-based art as a side-hustle. Her steady stream of income comes from consignment deals with arts-and-crafts stores in malls to carry her work.

What’s the hardest part of being in the industry?
Just like her shift from political science to fine arts, the beginning was always the hardest.

“At first, there weren’t any stores [that carried art merchandise] yet,” she said. “There weren’t that many craft and art stores in malls and the bazaars were rare back in 2015. So what I earned wasn’t regular every month.”

“But now that there are more cons and there are more stores that cater to artists, what I earn is more regular,” she said.

Marcela said she’s attended dozens of conventions over the last three years, and it’s done a lot to further her career. There she got to meet other professional artists she only knew about through Instagram and get tips from fellow artists to improve her art.

What would you say to budding artists hoping to enter the industry?
“At the start, you might get disappointed because you’re not meeting your target goal. It’s really going to take time,” she said. “In my first year, it didn’t work, so I needed a day job. In my second year, I still had a day job but I also included my art. Once I got more skills, there, I managed to go full time on my business.”

According to Marcela, attending art events and finding a circle of fellow artist friends are essential to furthering your career.  

“In college, I didn’t know any artists. It was such an out-of-this-world concept that you can live off pins and stickers,” Marcela said. “It’s much better if there’s an art community that you’re a member of.”

Moreen Guese (IG: @moyeedoll)

Number of years as a professional artist: Six years
Current work: Full-time advertising art director and freelance artist
Background:
Moreen was born to a family of artists, with both parents being Fine Arts graduates from UST. She was exposed to graphic design at a very young age, growing up with an advertising agency for a family business.

What made you pursue art?
Aside from the family business, Moreen comes from a background in the theater. “My entire life, I’ve been surrounded by really creative people,” she said. “Individuals from so many different types of art like performance art, visual arts.”

What’s the hardest part of being in the industry?
Moreen finds self-doubt to be the greatest hindrance to making art, particularly when it comes to confidence in one’s art style. “It’s always a challenge to stand out in an industry that has so many talented people.” Moreen said.

What would you say to budding artists hoping to enter the industry?
Moreen believes in creating art that stays true to oneself. “Don’t adjust your art style because you think that there’s a certain benta (selling point) to it,” she said. “If you do it for you, eventually, people will love it because it’s you. You put your heart and soul into the artworks that you’ve created. So that’s the most important thing.”

Gabriel Garcia (IG: @gabbytrocious)

Number of years as a professional artist: Five years
Current work: Art Director for an ad agency while freelancing as a comics artist
Background:
Gab, or Fluffi, came from a family of artists. He took up fine arts in college, majoring in painting at UST.

What made you pursue art?
Gab points to cartoons and his uncle, a caricature artist, as his inspirations. Today, Gab does a myriad of commission-based work: branding, graphic design, illustration, motion graphics, and even art direction.

Having recently started making comics, Gab said that his inspiration his art style — “not really manga, not really western”—was Bryan O’Malley, the creator of international hit Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.

What’s the hardest part of being in the industry?
Gab said that it was surprisingly easy for him to break into the local comics industry. Initially pushed by his officemates, Gab said that he fell in love with the medium after attending a convention and experiencing the industry first-hand.

“People are very supporting [in the comics industry] and as for the freelancing, it was hard at first because it was very difficult to find clients who can pay my rate. But once the word got out [it got easier],” he said.

Past the initial growing pains of getting exposure, Gab says the continuing struggles of being a freelance artist are largely the same as those of someone working in advertising: difficult clients.

“It’s currently still happening, I have a client who has a long back-and-forth process with their bosses,” he said. “It’s been three months now and I still have the problem.”

What would you say to budding artists hoping to enter the industry?
“It also takes patience to listen to a client’s dumb revisions,” he said. “It takes patience to learn new crafts like Illustrator, Photoshop. It takes patience to learn anatomy. It really needs patience for everything.”

“Just persevere,” he said. “Don’t give up. Keep on practicing because it gets better as long as you keep doing your craft. Don’t stop doing, it keep getting better.”

Misato Wakatsuki (IG: @misamisatoto)

Number of years as a professional artist: Three years
Current work: Full-time artist
Background:
Misato started out as a freelance artist, leveraging her formal training as an art major from Adventist University of the Philippines. Pressure from friends to find corporate work led her to a communications job at an educational institution. She lasted one year before realizing it just wasn’t for her. She’s been a full-time artist ever since.

What made you pursue art?
As a child, Misato had no idea how to draw. In fact, she admitted to constantly bugging her talented classmates for drawings. After some playful mocking from her classmates about her persistence and lack of talent, Misato’s competitive spirit kicked in.

Umabot dun sa point na the whole vacation between Grade 5 and Grade 6, nagdo-drawing lang ako, hanggang sa umabot na lang sa point na it became a habit, then nagulat na lang ako, lifestyle ko na siya.” (It came to a point where I was just drawing during the whole vacation between Grade 5 and Grade 6, then it became a habit, then I was surprised that it had become my lifestyle.)”

What challenges do you face in the industry?
Misato acknowledges that the harsh reality of freelancing entails self-discipline and the right attitude, especially because you have to wear many hats. More than just being a creative, you’re an entrepreneur managing a startup of one.

Ikaw ang PR, ikaw ang HR, ikaw ang audit… so hindi lang siya yung simpleng ‘Kunin niyo ‘ko as an artist.’ Rather, it’s a lot of tasks combined in one field.” (“You’re PR, you’re HR, you’re the auditor… so it’s not as simple as saying, ‘Hire me as your artist.’ Rather, it’s a lot of tasks combined in one field.)”

What would you say to budding artists hoping to enter the industry?
Misato insists that your price as an artist should always be right, especially if you want to avoid burning out. “Kasi eventually, sige, sugod ka lang, [pero] hindi mo alam na mas mahal pala puwede mong i-presyo sa gawa mo… Dun magsisimula yung mabuburnout ka. Kasi parang ang laki ng effort na ginagawa mo pero napaka-low ng return. Yun yung unang factor na makakawala ng passion.”

(“Because okay, you can go full speed ahead, but you may not know that you can charge higher for your work… That’s where burnout starts. It’s like you put so much effort but get such a low return. That’s the first factor in losing your passion.”)