Information concerning general artwork.

3D rendering, design, media, and technology news.

I have a few tips and advice that is applicable to most people running their businesses, freelancers, professional photographers, and artists alike. I thought I’d put it down in writing as I think it would help everyone benefit from developing better working philosophies, strategies, and standards.

Giving Discounts.

I woke-up from a much needed power-nap a couple of hours ago. A history show on Benjamin Franklin was on the television. It so happened to have landed with perfect timing on something I’ve been thinking about recently. A professor went on to say:

“Franklin worked really long hours. He would wake up early to make certain a job was done. He also produced a quality product. But he made sure people knew that he was working long hours.”

The key here is that he made sure people knew. Franklin was a master at marketing. He produced a great product but he didn’t hesitate to let someone know what efforts he put into that product.

This is a similar lesson I learned a long time ago when I first started out. In the beginning, I started out by giving my clients very low prices. I just assumed that they would recognize these low prices and would continue to work with me based on those figures. It turned out to be a completely wrong assumption. Clients would come back with even more changes and it eventually started to wear on me. They didn’t recognize the discount. The problem lies in the fact that you shouldn’t expect a client to be a “mind reader.” If you discount your work, you have to make it known to your client that you are going to give them a break – whether it’s a first time thing, because of the sheer bulk of products you are producing, or because they’ve been a steady and consistent client in the past. One way or another, you have to make it known that you are giving them a break.

Putting in Extra Hours.

If it comes down to extra hours, you may not charge them additionally (I call this “out of courtesy”), but this falls into the same situation. Start getting into the habit of documenting those extra hours you’ve put into your projects. If it ever comes down to extra changes or unreasonable demands that puts other projects into jeopardy, you can pull out your fact sheets and tell them how much extra work you’ve put into their project. If you don’t let them know, then don’t expect them to recognize your extra efforts.

On Keeping Busy (or keeping the ball rolling.)

Every time I call one of my friends, he is constantly busy. You almost have to schedule a time to talk with him. Yes, he happens to produce some kick-ass highly-stylized pieces that are in constant demand, but there’s never a shortage of work for him. The first impression that comes to mind is, “this guy is really good.”

On the other hand, my work in some ways is probably at the higher-end of the photorealism spectrum. They’re not always the best artistic pieces (compared to someone who spends a whole month on one picture) having often been limited by budgets, changes, and time – but all things considered, I think my live projects often turn out very good. In times where it was slow, if a client called up and asked what my schedule looked like, I would tell them frankly that “things were a little bit slow right now.” From an outsider’s perspective, how do you think that is perceived?

Now, I am in no means advocating lying here. I never have. I think when you lie, you are treading on dangerous and unethical territory. But if you are busy, then feel free to make it known. Learn to use this to your advantage. It shows that people are coming to you for work and that others value the work that you do. When you say to someone that you have to schedule time for them, not only does that limit the more exotic requests for changes (and they can get quite demanding), but it also puts you in a position of saying, “hey, if you want to work together then great. I’d be happy to help you out but there’s other clients currently waiting in line. If you put down a retainer and I’ll get back to you on this date.”

It’s similar to passing by a restaurant that has a line going around the corner while your looking for something to eat. You have to stop, scratch your head and think to yourself, “now why is there a huge freakin’ line going down the street?” If you’re an odd-ball like me, you might say “there’s no way I’m going to wait in that line.” But if you continue to pass by that place from week to week, chances are that one day you’ll catch yourself checking it out.

Time is Money (and sanity, and health.)

There – I said it. I hate that statement but it is completely true. When you’ve been busting your butt for two weeks straight, working 16 hour days and weekends – the last thing you want is for additional changes to come through the door. Sometimes you do need time to decompress and get motivated again. Perhaps it’s a walk in the park with your dog, spending time with relatives, spending time with your children, going out for a night on the town – whatever. We are not built like robots. The fact is that you need to build in time for yourself. However, when you’re running a business you also have an obligation to your clients. If you don’t charge for the extra time you put into your services, then not only are you doing a disservice to other fellow artists by undercutting them, but you’re also doing a huge disservice to yourself. Your free time is your free time and if a client is going to occupy that space, you need to make it known that you may charge for any extra hours that you will put into a project. In this way, not only are unreasonable changes (and I say unreasonable simply because most people don’t know how much effort goes into them) are kept to a minimum, but you’re able to keep your motivation and health in somewhat proper balance.

To Sum Things Up.

I hope that some of this advice is useful to my readers. Perhaps a lot of what I said about “valuing one’s own work” is common sense, but at least it may provide some positive reinforcement. I don’t know what a business school or a MBA teaches people, but these lessons are what I’ve come to learn from being in the field and watching other successful people run their practices. When setting-up your own company or freelance business, the best thing to do is to look towards other people who have charted that same territory before you and are doing well. This also applies to other facets in life whether it is love, family, socializing, or finances. Learn from your own mistakes, but also learn from other people’s mistakes that are a few steps ahead of your own. And last but not least, it is not a sign of weakness to recognize when you don’t know all of the answers.

A professor of sociology at Harvard once said to me over a game of chess:

“I may not be the smartest person here, but the one thing that got me to this position in life is that when someone would approach me with a question – if I didn’t know the answer, I’d tell them, ‘I don’t know the answer to that question, but let me get back to you on that.”

Words of wisdom from one of the top professors in this country, let alone the world. And I didn’t have to pay tuition for that single moment of education. All of his life summed up in under 30 seconds. I don’t know to this day if he was alluding to my game of chess (I was getting my butt handed to me), or if he was just making a general statement. If I ever do figure out what he was implying, I’ll be sure to get back to you on that.

3D rendering, design, media, and technology news.

I’ve said it a few times in other posts – I’ve been slammed with work recently and there doesn’t seem to be any stopping the onslaught. They’re not the huge, multiple rendering and animation projects that I had a couple years back. They don’t pay nearly as handsomely, but they’re small and there’s tons of them. It’s the busiest I’ve ever been in all of the years I’ve been doing this. Combine that with personal items (grocery shopping, phone calls, etc.) and things get crazy.

When my architectural work starts moving, it usually means a few things. First and foremost, consumer confidence is on the rise. People feel like they can spend once again in order to move buildings, rent spaces, and renovate. Development and real estate of course ties directly into the economy and employment. I’m one of the first people to feel that level of optimism amongst people and business sectors, and it usually trickles down to other facets of people’s lives. I’m also one of the first people to feel it when things go sour.

My current schedule for the week looks like this:

  1. Bistro interior modeling, lighting, and renderings.
  2. Bistro exterior changes.
  3. A residential modeling and rendering project.
  4. A library rendering with changes.
  5. An exterior development of an office building.
  6. Changes for a board game development company.
  7. Possibly starting up again on a house for Saudi Arabian royalty (one year delay.)
  8. First time court appearance for a client that flat-out refused to pay then decided to use my work on the front page of his website. I hate to air “dirty laundry”, but that will take a few hours and has taken quite some time to assemble all the facts, emails, renderings, and contracts together. Again, in all the years I’ve been working with some of the biggest clients, I have never had this happen to me.
  9. Creating another website (optional but needed eventually.)
  10. Finish prepping some models for sale (optional but needed eventually.)
  11. Updating the LunarStudio website (optional but needed eventually.)
  12. Creating some marketing brochures (optional but needed eventually.)
  13. Brush up on some Render Element pass techniques.
  14. Sending out some images for a photography website.
  15. Visiting my brother and sister-in-law because they just had a new baby earlier today.
  16. A meeting.

There’s also a few other items in talks:

  1. 8 renderings for a bathroom manufacturing company.
  2. A catalog cover of a boardroom for a company that specializes in modular walls.
  3. Taking 360 virtual reality photographs of a salon located in Boston.
  4. A beach location residence.
  5. A concept of a retail property.

This doesn’t include any other jobs which I may get called up on or may come through. I also have other personal projects which are waiting on the sidelines. Almost each one of those items above typically includes micro-items (wall colors, lighting fixtures, chairs, sofas, tables, etc.) that one has to keep good track of. As you could probably tell from that list, my head is about to completely explode. We’re looking at 16 hour days, 7 days a week for quite some time to come…

3D rendering, design, media, and technology news.

I had a wonderful phone chat with Jeff Stikeman the other day. He took the time out of a very busy week for him to talk and for which I am very grateful. He is a very talented architectural illustrator and architect with close to 20 years of industry experience. We discussed some of the pros and cons to our practices. His work encompasses phases that range from more sketchy types of illustration work to more finalized, illustrative renderings. My work on the other hand tends to lean towards the more photorealistic end of the spectrum. In essence, some of those differences appeals to different types of projects and clients and often serves different purposes.

Jeff has had a significant base of architects and firms to have built his practice upon. A lot of his sources come from word of mouth. That, and the fact that he employs a very high standard of quality, efficiency, and creativity to his work speaks volumes in of itself. He appears to have no shortage of clients – and I hope and firmly believe that will continue well into the future. The aesthetic quality of his work is excellent. If you have a chance, please take a moment to view his websites at:

http://www.jeffstikeman.com

http://jeffstikeman.wordpress.com

As for myself and Lunarstudio, I didn’t have anyone to turn to when I first started out. I literally started from scratch and had to fight to get Lunarstudio started and noticed. That’s not to say that this is any “better” – by no means do I think it is – and in some ways really wish I was in his position instead.

In order to land my first few clients, I spent a solid month on the phone – cold-calling local architects and developers and seeing if anyone needed any work done. Now please keep in mind, I don’t really have much of a sales background and telephone experience either and that proved to be an added challenge. Out of the 200 odd phone calls that I made that month (not including emails and follow-up), I only had one return from a developer and that happened to have been a fairly large client. That project alone gave me a huge jump-start in business. From then on, I was able to use that one single project as a base to launch all my other projects.

But still till this day, my work is not a constant flow of projects. I don’t always have the luxury of being able to essentially, “pick and choose.” I have times where I am very busy and times where the work is completely still. I’d much rather be in a position to have work constantly flowing through the door. It’s starting to look like Lunarstudio and I might eventually get to that point, but many years later it is still proving to be somewhat challenging. Marketing art-related services in general is a very tricky subject.

Jeff accurately described my approach to marketing Lunarstudio as “casting a wide net.” I tend to throw my work out on to the web (through my website) and not rely on word of mouth alone. I put a lot of emphasis on my website’s search engine rankings and Internet visibility. While I get a lot of inquiries and hits, a good percentage of them turn out to be less substantial than I’d like them to be. On the other hand, I do get a lot of different inquiries – everything from large scale, city-sized project inquiries to logo creation and dairy farms out in Wisconsin. The varying projects I get approached with can keep you on your toes, but sometimes I spend more time responding to people and job applications than doing the actual work itself. Lunarstudio has a lot of exposure, but the quality (financially-speaking) of returns on being marketing mostly through the Internet seems to be watered-down.

In a nutshell, we both had very different approaches to starting out.

Free 3D World Magazine sIBL & HDR sets.
Free 3D World Magazine sIBL & HDR sets.

Free 3D World Magazine sIBL & HDR sets.

I had submitted a few sIBL files from my website, www.hdrsource.com for inclusion in an upcoming 3D World Magazine issue. At first, they were supposed to be released on DVD this month, but I was informed a few weeks ago that they have postponed until the next issue. If you use sIBL or are interested in using it, be sure to check the issue out. It’s a free, $45 USD value packed into an informative magazine!

3D rendering, design, media, and technology news.

Some day, people will look back to the early 21st century and think to themselves, “what an innovative and chaotic time of humanity to have lived in.” They will see our movies, commercials, music, blogs, papers, excitement, happiness, violence, wars, and suffering like no other generation which came before us. The digital age of world-wide communication came about – reporting events in foreign languages in near-instantaneous “real time.” They will see us as a generation of little patience – constantly wanting more with each passing second and not stopping to look around at what we have done to this world. They will look in amazement, but also remark at how awkward society’s growing pains came about.

The first decade was like no other. They could directly see the impact a few greedy people had on the entire world. It was a global economic depression that was caused primarily by an unregulated banking system – knowingly letting people who were at risk to buy the homes of their dreams. And when the bankers realized that they weren’t going to be paid back, they passed the risk to smaller banks who didn’t realize the severity of the entire problem. This was coupled with two wars, rising oil prices, and the outsourcing of jobs through faster telecommunications. The people at the end of the decade were living on the edge of  what the next day may or may not have brought. It was completely unsustainable to have continued in that direction.

What they had is a drain on the system. The money went to the top and never came back down. And if the paper trail did go anywhere, it often lead straight to the Middle East, China, and India. The baron tycoons and corporate monopolies took to their advantage the means to blindside governments and officials – none of the policy-makers cared so much as long as their own families weren’t suffering and they were forging ahead. But the almighty dollar mattered most – and these tycoons felt that if they could get their work done in foreign, disparate countries, then they could safely pad their bottom line at a substantial profit.

What they didn’t realize is that this was a house of cards waiting to fall down.

I just received word today that a colleague and major competitor known throughout the world had to shut its doors this week. On Friday, they had to let everyone go. While some might view a competitor having to close shop as an opportunity, I view it more with a bit of sadness and concern. The fact is that competition is healthy to a degree. This company helped inspire my own work and wanted me to better myself. They constantly pushed me in the right direction in order to get ahead.

It brings me little happiness to see these colleagues out of work. They are people within the 3D community that I’ve come to known over the years, almost like friends that I’ve had in real life. And it’s especially worrisome when they are considered to be one of the best teams of artists in the world.

In part, we can blame the housing market calamity for bringing us this mess. The truth is that this was only the tinder, and the catalyst was rising oil prices. People suddenly found themselves out of work, and uncertainty started to set in. The companies that were left over started to send their jobs overseas in mass because they could save money in order to stay afloat. The problem with outsourcing is that it is a temporary bandage on a much larger issue. If all of the money is traveling outward, then who is left on the inside to be buying what is produced?

Globalization is a funny thing. In some ways, it brings peace and order to those poorer countries. It opens up communication. It opens up freedom. However, as the financial balance starts to tip in their favor, the people left over on the inside have much less to work with. In the long-run, it brings about a more stabilized world. In the interim, it destabilizes it and causes panic. As to how long that destabilization lasts, it’s simply a guess for now until either the balance evens out which could last years, or Western governments step-in and put caps through tariffs or taxes on jobs flowing outward. Right now, we have a bathtub full of water, and someone just pulled the drain while we were still sitting in it.

This issue of outsourcing isn’t just limited to my field of architectural renderings. It’s happening to almost every creative field.

I’ve talked with several printers recently. Most of them were telling me that they were struggling through layoffs. Their main complaint was that their larger print jobs were suddenly getting shipped off to China to be printed. In order to stay competitive, let alone stay in business, these printers had to follow suit and lay off some of their staff in order to compete with the rock-bottom prices being offered by the Chinese.

As for publishing itself, I worked for Scholastic and Pearson Publishing as a freelancer for a number of years. Towards the end of my publishing career, we were packing books up into PDFs, and sending those books over to China to be printed out. As if the printers in this country didn’t have enough competition locally to worry about.

The same thing is happening to architects and engineers. They’re finding their plans and drawings being shipped off to other countries. People that spent 6+ years in school to learn a fairly sophisticated trade are suddenly finding the rug pulled out from underneath them. Sure, the quality may not be 100% of what would be produced here, but in some cases what is produced overseas might reach 85% of that quality. Most people also couldn’t argue with those prices being offered.

And if that isn’t enough, it’s happening to other creative fields as well as manufacturing.

Even other fields that were considered to be more secure are feeling the tightening of the belt/noose. Because finances have been so tight, instead of hiring a skilled electrician or a plumber, people are turning to people that are new to this country (some legal and some not) to get their jobs done instead. If a homeowner has to make a decision between spending $100/hour or $10/hour for someone that could probably do somewhat of a comparable job, who do you think most people will turn to? So this balance has been severely upset, and it has trickled down to other facets in life and even fields that on the outside, might appear unrelated.

This is a much different world than the 80s and 90s when people complained that the Japanese were taking over the automobile industry, and that the Detroit-based manufacturing jobs were being shipped to Mexico. Today is a time of instant communication. You can simply press a button and hit send and the job gets sent overseas. Jobs can be literally lost within a matter of seconds. We’re not talking about heavy equipment and parts being shipped (although they are), but more scientific and intellectual pursuits as well. Plus, you don’t “need” to have that insider source any longer to have that “secret” economic advantage. All it takes is a little bit of homework and research on any search engine to find out who could manufacture or create your product for less.

So, I feel it is very important for people and business owners to consider the ramifications of sending their jobs overseas. It may work as a temporary fix, but shortly thereafter, you will erode your base of support.

Outsourcing, while having some positive effects, also has some negative consequences. In my field of art, I am constantly seeing this. A few of the things I’ve encountered are:

  1. Miscommunication leading to inferior products.
  2. Miscommunication leading to longer than usual production times.
  3. Miscommunication leading to increased costs due to an increase in production times.
  4. Target dates and deadlines being missed.
  5. Target dates and deadlines being missed due to time-zone differences.
  6. Increased costs locally due to time-zone differences.
  7. Inferior products.
  8. Copyright infringement.
  9. Patent infringement.
  10. Product theft.
  11. Foreign companies using other people’s work illegally to pass off as their own.
  12. Stolen money which is nearly impossible to recover.
  13. Loss of local jobs.
  14. Loss of local, skilled-jobs.
  15. Loss of business as a result of business policies.
  16. Supporting “sweatshop” types of conditions.
  17. Supporting child labor conditions.
  18. Supporting corrupt government officials and ties.

It’s simple (and irresponsible) for most business owners to turn a blind eye to these problems. The policing isn’t there and our governments can’t step in to monitor every situation. It’s almost as if “you don’t see it, then there must not be a problem” mentality. Well, that is a very reckless position of fellow business owners to take when all you are doing is concerning yourself with the bottom dollar. As far as I’m concerned, taking that position makes you just as guilty enacting those injustices.

I had an architect write me the other day for a project. In his email, he wrote:

“I am trying to source a US firm that is competitive with the foreign rendering firms.”

I immediately picked up the phone and called him saying, “you have to be kidding me. There’s no way I can compete with a $300 rendering. This is very difficult work and if I have to spend an entire week or two working on this – how do you expect me to live on $300? I need to make at least $2,000 a week minimum as a business owner by the time you factor in business expenses and taxes. You have to give me a break…”

He started apologizing and said, “I’m sorry. But everyone seems to know that you can get renderings for those prices. The same thing is happening to architecture too. I don’t feel good about it one bit. But that’s what the developer asked me for.”

I replied, “well, I think you need to educate him.”

As for whether or not that happens, I think the likelihood of that happening is slim to none. Unfortunately, people are afraid to “bite the hand that feeds them.” If he really wanted to do us all a favor, he could send the developer this article – which I will gladly forward to him.

Ultimately, you have to weigh the positives and negatives of supporting the people closer to home – and if it keeps going down this path, then we won’t have much of a home to speak of. I know where my consciousness sits – but where does yours?