A few days ago I finished reading a book called Your Biz Your Way by Judith Morgan. It’s a great book, full of Judith’s wisdom from running small businesses and coaching others for many years.
Judith has invited readers of her book to write a blog post about running their business their way. She will then write a blog post in response.
Here is my blog post: My Biz My Way.
My business is Richard Pettitt Art. I started the business in September 2014 with the intention of selling pet portraits, mainly of dogs. I knew there was a market for them because friends (and friends of friends, and colleagues) had seen my drawings of dogs on Facebook, and then asked me to draw their dogs. “How much?” they asked.
How much? I’ve no idea! But being paid to draw is good, right? So work it out.
So I worked it out, and charged far too little, and spent way too long making them, and it wasn’t profitable at all, especially as I was renting a workspace above my brother-in-law’s motorbike workshop. But I was being paid to draw, and I had a studio, and I thought that was cool, so I carried on.
I created a website, ordered business cards, hired stalls at craft fairs, paid for example portraits to be framed, advertised in the local press… I made a go of it, basically, in the way that I thought businesses worked.
I even posted flyers through letterboxes. Bad idea, by the way. It was good exercise, but I don’t think I made a single sale from it.
Things came to a head. I wasn’t happy. I had tried tweaking my offer: pencil drawings only, one size only, longer deadlines... But it still wasn’t right. It didn’t feel right. What was wrong?
I joined Judith Morgan's coaching group, Small Business Big Magic, and discussed it with Judith and her other clients. Questions were asked.
One of the questions was, Why am I drawing dogs?
The answer was that somebody had asked me to. A dog trainer had seen some cartoons I’d drawn, liked them, and asked me to draw cartoons for her business. I said yes.
In order to draw cartoon dogs, I decided to draw some dogs in a realistic style first. So I did, and shared them on Facebook. It was those drawings that sparked requests for dog portraits. And I’d gone along with them. Because they asked. Because I was flattered. Because they offered money.
I didn’t draw dogs because I wanted to draw dogs. That was the problem. Even though I was self-employed, I was essentially doing what other people wanted me to do. It was just another job.
So I stopped drawing dogs. Completely. It was hard to do because my whole business was based on dog portraits. There were dogs on my business cards, dogs on my website, dogs all over my social media pages... I was the dog portrait guy! People carried on asking me to draw dogs long after I stopped. I said no.
I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew it wasn’t dog portraits. I mean, I didn’t even like dogs that much. I was more of a cat person really.
What was I going to do? I needed to try things out. So I bought a book called The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, which had been recommended to me, and followed the 12-week course. I experimented with my art, and explored my feelings about it.
What emerged was a love for cartoons and comics and making people laugh. I love that. I have always loved that. I had drawn cartoons and comics as a kid, I’d doodled in greetings cards my whole life, and the first thing I’d drawn after quitting teaching (that’s another story) was cartoons for a set of greetings cards.
Cartoons and comics was what I loved, and by God, that was what I was going to do.
But would I make any money from it? Would I be any good at it? People weren’t asking me to draw cartoons, although I’d sold a few caricatures.
I knew one thing; I didn’t want to do commissions. Not for a while, anyway. I didn’t want people ordering something and then waiting for me to draw it. That killed all the excitement in me about making art. I preferred to create for the sake of creating, and then show people and surprise them. I love surprising people. I wanted to make first, sell second. That’s how I wanted my business to run. I mean, other artists were doing that all the time; painting something, then selling it. Why couldn’t I? The answer is, I could!
I realised that I could do whatever I wanted to in my business, because it’s MY business. It’s MY time, MY effort, MY life. It doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks. I needed to do something that I cared enough about to make me look forward to my day of work. Otherwise, what was the point of being self-employed?
I don’t need to have a studio to be a real artist.
I don’t need to work in a business park to be a real business.
I don’t need to have business cards or a fancy website or go to local chamber of commerce meetings (honestly, I’d considered it) to be taken seriously.
I could just make the best cartoons and comics I can, share them online, make people happy (make ME happy) and at some point make money by selling zines or books or cards or something along those lines.
I wasn’t going to worry about it; I was going to trust that opportunities to make money would appear.
Speaking of money – and I don’t like to talk about money a lot; that’s one of the issues I’m working on – I was only able to stop making money from my business for a while because I have a part-time job working with children with special needs. Also, my rent was low, I changed to working at home (my brother-in-law reclaimed the studio to store motorcycle parts – a blessing in disguise), and I don’t have any children or pets to feed. What was stopping me, apart from me?
The new Richard Pettitt Art, version 2.0., produced cartoons about the news. I scoured newspapers and websites for inspiration, drew cartoons, and shared them on social media. The response was great. I thought about submitting cartoons to newspapers, and wondered if I could become a staff cartoonist.
But there was a problem: it meant absorbing myself in the news. And news is mostly bad news; disasters, scandals, death, fear. I don’t know how journalists keep their peckers up, but for me, it got a bit much. Especially in 2016 when the world was being turned upside down by referendums and elections. Plus, the cartoons I was drawing had a shelf life. Within a few days, they were out of date. And, most significantly, I didn’t feel like a political cartoonist. I’m capable of satire, sure, but I don’t want to be cruel or offensive; I’m a nice guy. So I knew that I couldn't commit to being a political cartoonist 100%.
I changed direction again.
Would I ever decide what my business is and stick with it? Was I destined to become the “slippery eel of infinite variety” that Judith warned me about?
What I was attracted to at this time was comic strips, or webcomics as they’re called online. Brilliant ones such as Poorly Drawn Lines, The Awkward Yeti and Sarah’s Scribbles. Fun, relatable comics that readers follow week in, week out. They reminded me of comics I loved as a kid: Calvin ‘n’ Hobbes, Peanuts, Dennis the Menace, and so on.
Maybe I could draw a comic strip. One with recurring characters, and stories that don’t go out of date. Comics that could be enjoyed again and again, and in different ways.
Yes! I felt excited about that. I felt enthusiastic and full of ideas and, what’s more, I knew that I could do it, and do it well.
I wouldn’t be great at it, not at first, but I could learn as I go, and get better. And I would love it enough to keep going for years, even if it only entertained me and a few friends. Even if it never made me a single penny, I would still enjoy doing it.
Of course, I intended to make money from it too. Somehow. But that would be a bonus.
I know that thinking like this isn’t how most businesses work. But I’m not like most businesses. I’m a one-man show, and money is not my priority; creativity is. So I’d better start with that. Besides, I believe that when you’re not focusing solely on money, you can create something wonderful that attracts money anyway. That’s what I hear. That’s what I hope.
The first comic strip that I created is called Oojo and Bink. It’s about an alien prince called Oojo who flees his home planet with his closest aide, Bink, and seeks exile on planet Earth.
It sounds bonkers, I’m sure, and I had massive doubts about making it and showing it to people. I wasn’t aware of any webcomics with aliens in them, and the majority of webcomics appeared to be autobiographical. But Oojo and Bink had been in my imagination a long time (since I was at secondary school), and they were begging to be brought to life. Besides, Oojo and Bink isn’t really about aliens; it’s about two very different people living together. I figured a lot of people could relate to that!
So I trusted my instinct and started the comic strip. At the time of writing I’ve drawn 41 episodes, and I’ve been publishing them on my website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The readership is growing steadily, and I’m looking into sharing them on a comics website such as Webtoons or Go Comics to grow it further. Some readers have already suggested I do this.
And wouldn’t you know it, other readers have asked me how they can pay me for what I do. So I’m setting up a Patreon page for them to give me a little bit of money on a regular basis. It’s the start of an income for Richard Pettitt Art version 3.0.
That, at last, feels right.
I hope you have enjoyed reading about how I came to run my business my way. I was invited to write it by Judith Morgan, author of Your Biz Your Way, and she has written a response to it here: https://judithmorgan.com/blogfest-2-richard-pettitt/
Richard Pettitt, cartoonist.