For a while now I have been keeping an anti-collection. A Pinterest board filled with works in which I spotted glaring faults. A collection of images that because of their mistakes, inspire me. It’s time every creative starts doing this.
Do the opposite
I get it, looking up to your favourite artists/creators/artworks/products … is easy and something we all love. They are so good they just DEMAND your attention and affection. But I’m writing to make you consider also doing the opposite. Because rarely do you ever learn from great things.
What happens when you take something broken or bad and fix it? Take all of the mistakes out of it… it becomes good. But where do you find those mistakes in the first place? You’ll definitely make a few blunders of your own but unless you plan on making each and every single mistake yourself – which might take a long time – you’ll have to look outside.
Learn from mistakes other people have made. It’s free, both from embarrassment and financially. Here’s how:
It all began when I started prepping for my kickstarter campaign and had to settle on a style for the campaign video. The idea of quality being mostly defined the lack of mistakes, faults or short comings had been permeating in my thoughts for a while. With this mindset I began doing my homework, analysing other kickstarter campaigns, checking all their video’s and keeping notes specifically on what I disliked about it.
That list ranged from bad accents to slow cuts to over- or under-lit scenes. I wrote down anything that made me click away or say no to the product or project. With this list and ONLY these negative remarks to avoid did I embark on creating my own kickstarter video.
Viral It Goes
To say it was a success would be an understatement. I initially uploaded it to facebook. Normally my video’s would get about 200 views even though my page had about 900 likes at the time. So I put 20€ ad budget behind it so it was able to reach my entire audience and perhaps some more. The video eventually reached over 500.000 views in a four day span with several other facebook pages downloading and re-uploading it, cutting me out of the loop. Where the video got another estimated 100.000 to 150.000 views, it was hard to keep track of which pages got a hold of it and ran with it. Later, I uploaded the same video to Youtube as a backup for future reference. It gathered another 1.2 million views over 2 years, resulting in plenty of sales for my project.
Quality is the lack of mistakes
This is a technique I fall back to not only when I’m preparing a project but also in the creative process itself. Every time I’m creating something I pass a point where I’ve built my foundation and transition into a phase of working out all the kinks, cleaning up the mess I made. It’s the 20% of the work that drives the 80% of the result. It is what takes it from okay to good and eventually to great.
Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed it, please leave a comment down below.
A mural painted for the city of Antwerp, during an event called Tizarte. With the hombres from Treepack as caretakers of the project.
Personally one of my favourite murals. I LOVE how the flesh tones in the two most left figures have turned out. I re-iterated those tones over and over again, focussing on making smooth transitions which is not easy when working with fast drying acrylic based wall-paint. Especially in the summer.
started shortly after the release of the first TINYPINK, in a period where I felt my ego inflate and was witnessing the effects of it on my inner thoughts and feelings. Since then the project evolved from a singular statement to a deeper self-exploration. I find it difficult to write about what these pieces mean to me because on one hand I’m not yet good at gallery-speak and I also don’t want to spoil the works for the audience. Whenever I ask someone what they think of my work before they’ve heard my concept behind it, they always come up with different explanations that I never thought about! It would be unfair of me to spoil those revelations or cancel them out with my own “true” statements because they are not the only explanation for the piece.
But just as in music, I believe the audience can make a choice and perhaps after having made their own motivations for a piece they can still learn the creator’s reasoning behind it and appreciate both.
The whole series is extremely self-centered. Not on me as an artist but on the human experience as an individual. First born out of the competitive spirit to be better than others, to be successful, to ride it out ’till the bitter end,… a large number of side-effects arise. Because of a singular focus on the individual’s finish line, we lose sight of what’s beside us. That’s why the background is this piece is a bland, monotone grey. Or why the first piece features the word BLIND vaguely incorporated in the background. Our loved ones, friends, family, nature, even our own well-being fall to the wayside in a relentless striving for a better individual, whether that be financial, skill-wise or other.
I had thoughts of suicide when I was a heavily bullied teenager, even contemplating suicide is something no living being should ever experience. I grew out of it as an adult and overcame it, mainly because I had a loving family surrounding me. The suicides of Chester Bennington and Anthony Bourdain brought those memories into a new perspective. Both successful, rich and highly regarded in their respective fields. Both reached goals I aspire to. Yet they did what they did and it makes me wonder what will be waiting for me when I myself reach those goals. It’s not just because of these single instances, many people followed a similar path.
Even in this miniature rise in my short career I notice signs many notable musicians, actors and artists talk about. Starting out, my biggest goal was to survive for which I needed money. Now, just purely getting money is no longer a motivator. I do high-paying jobs begrudgingly without any real reason. I find a lot of joy and love in the jobs that lose me money. When I got into contact with some of my idols for the first time I was awestruck, now I see them as peers, normal people trying their very best. Fans went from great flattery to people who without knowing you put you on a pedestal while you’re own self-image is anything but great. But I still want to chase the money and I love being recognised for my work. I’m still very competitive when it comes to making pieces, having love for all artist old and new but I want to out-perform them all up on the walls,… These habits don’t fit a mature well-developed person but I don’t want to shake them off just yet.
It’s a struggle to grow out of this modus operandi that I’ve become accustomed to and that struggle is what this series signifies for me, wanting to let go of old ideals, trying to broaden our worldview but not immediately being able to.
In this blog post I show you how I built a successful kickstarter campaign. It will contain personal anecdotes (in red), graphs, insights and tactics used. If you enjoyed it, please leave a comment or feel free to email me. Enjoy!
“Holy shit dude, check this I’m already at 20K views! When I left home it was barely 10K which is crazy by itself!” I scream like a little girl and raise both arms excitingly in the air as I demand the attention of a friend sitting next to me. The views I’m talking about are those on a video in which I present a passion project of mine. The video was uploaded only a few hours before, I have put €20 behind it to make sure I reach all 910 people that have liked my facebook page in the past and a few of their friends if I’m lucky.
The project mentioned is the TINYPINK stencil cap, an attachment that fits onto an aerosol can and allows the user to spray really thin lines, the target audience are spray paint artists like myself. The idea for having an attachment that produces really thin lines exists already for a number of years within that community but a good execution is lacking. With my interest in product design, a college degree in 3D-design and a notion of 3D-printing technology I took the original idea and improved on it. In this post I will lay out all the steps that I took in preparation of and during the Kickstarter for this project. (This does not include RnD, the viral video can be found HERE).
Building the campaign
Building a Kickstarter campaign isn’t that hard (you can find mine here), you fill out a few forms, add some rewards and write detailed copy that explains your product and add some quality pictures that help in clarifying details. I go for a straight forward, no-BS approach and keep the rewards simple, 2 small goals of €5 and €10 for casual supporters, several goals varying only in the number of products people want to pre-order and 2 additional rewards for those who want more (one was a limited art print, the other one a mural).
Doing a standard Kickstarter video, featuring the creators talking about the conceptualisation and execution of the idea with a mellow indie-rock song playing in the background, feels wrong for some reason so I decide to do some research. I look at roughly 10 campaign video’s in order to learn what makes some campaigns extremely successful and others DOA (dead on arrival).
This is a very crucial step, which I never saw advised in any articles I had read so far. I partly credit the (still ongoing) success of the video to this small step.
I go through the video’s and take note of all the things that irritate me. Not the things I like but the things that make me cringe, very important difference! My general mindset at this point is that quality consists not of the things you do well but the things you don’t screw up. I take inspiration from one specific campaign, the Tidashi titanium mini knife.
In their campaign video they showcase the creator going through the process of making the product from start to finish, a mellow guitar soundtrack plays in the background, you can hear all the grinding and machines working but a voice-over explaining what is going on, is absent. Instead they use subtitles to showcase the product’s properties. It is a revelation to see that a voice-over is not necessary for a clear video, in this case it makes it better! I am insecure about my english pronunciation (it’s my second language) and seeing someone pull it off without talking is a relief and confirmation that I can do it too. That is the point at which I compile a list of all the product’s USPs and how I want to frame them. Later on, I go out and shoot the footage. I record a voice-over with my iPhone just to make sure it’s no good.
I upload the video with a small promotional budget (€20) behind it, I anticipate to get roughly 4-5K views since most un-promoted video’s of mine get 1K views. After this, there isn’t much of a plan besides putting up some images of the product with additional info, some promotional budget behind it and the hope of getting some press coverage out of the handful of magazines and blogs that I have contacted. (In the end none of them wrote anything about the project.)
What do you do, when shit hits the fan?
It is two days later and the initial video has reached over 300K views, I receive an email from one of my favourite artists, showing their interest in my product. My facebook inbox is already RIP. This thing has become viral and I stand in front of a crucial decision, launch now or wait until the announced date. There is already a Thunderclap campaign running with a handful of influential people on it, set to go off on the planned launch date. I remind myself that I started out doing this just for me, that I have nothing to lose and just want to see how far I can take this (I also consulted with a business savy friend who I asked whether or not I should launch the campaign right now, whose only reply was “Now.”). I launch the campaign and message everyone back and tell them where to get it. The next few days I spend emailing and messaging all kinds of people, trying to get them to support the campaign.
Funny side note: most people assume that whoever they talk to online, speaks their language as well, I know a bit of Dutch, French, English and German but the video got at least 200K of its views in Mexico causing my inbox to be flooded with Spanish messages written in a slang google translate couldn’t handle.
I learn that after the 1 minute mark, already 66% of the audience has stopped watching and only 23% made the effort to click on the video to turn the audio on (which is disabled at first). With this info, not doing a voice over turns out to be a great decision! It also tells me that putting the url at the end of the video is a bad idea since only 3% reaches it, for the next couple of video’s I put all the information at the beginning.
The kickstarter itself
I need a total of 12K in order to start production and am willing to put in 4K of my own money. Some people might ask for 8K in their campaign and keep their 4K aside. I think it’s a better idea to ask for 12K on the campaign and put in 4K myself (through my parents’ credit card, you can’t support your own campaign with your own credit card) with the risk of losing between 5-10% of that amount in fees to payment processors and Kickstarter. The idea is that it will help me get over that important hump of 50% quicker and boost confidence in the project.
The attempt at boosting confidence works, for the 2 following days backing increases slightly. After this, it is a dreadful long road of continually trying to get some attention back towards the campaign. My main tool of attack is facebook, specifically facebook sponsored posts. Here is a list of all sponsored posts I placed during the campaign.
The very first post on the bottom of the list is the first mention I made of the existence of the project, notice the low engagement. 20-4 is the day the video went viral (which in total, received 4,4K likes, 615 reactions and 4,5K shares), I decided to keep on boosting it up to almost €200 but even with such a big budget behind it (for a bootstrapped project), you can see that it only makes up a fraction of the total amount of impressions (the dark orange part of the bar being the views received by sponsoring).
I continue with image posts but notice they are not engaging enough. I post 2 more video’s demonstrating the cap’s capabilities since the first video only showed it for a few seconds. The video’s are posted on 3-5 and 13-5 and are time-lapses of me re-creating iconic artworks on a A4 paper with nothing but spray cans and my cap. They don’t have a big impact when I post them but perform extremely well when shared by pages with a large audience. Since they don’t perform well on my own page, I stop paying for them, ending at about €5 each. Links: Mona Lisa and Van Gogh
The original video teaches me that a majority of my audience comes from South America, specifically Mexico. Not only the stats but also the comments and my messages are filled with Spanish people sharing their opinion. Which might be caused by an influential artist/friend of mine, who has a big audience throughout Southern America, shared my project on facebook. His name is Bue The Warrior, 21K likes on FB.
On 16-5 I post a re-edited version of the original viral video twice, each time with different targeting. One for the European and North American market, the other one for all the Spanish speaking countries, they seem to get an equal amount of views, 512,6K and 409,5K respectively but if you calculate views per Euro spent, the EU/USA gets 5,126 views per Euro and the Spanish one 8,19 per Euro. Which in the next two days brings the campaign from a 3 day stagnant plateau at 86% to 92% and 95% another two days later.
On 20-5youtuber SIVE uploads a review of my product(I had sent him a prototype 2 weeks prior), which is extremely positive despite my fear of him tearing the idea to bits and pieces. His video reaches 5K views in a day or two and helps me push the campaign over the finish line in just the last few hours.
Other publicity includes one interview done with verynearlyalmost.com, a closely watched street-art news website. Which is triggered when the artist MyDogSighs posts my project on his facebook, grabbing the attention of an editor at the aforementioned website. Up until the interview, I’m unaware that this artist has posted anything about my project. The interview has no noticeable effect on the campaign but it does seem to give me credibility, people who at the beginning disregarded the project are now coming back around to congratulate me on how wonderful it is.
After the successful end of the campaign I set up a shopify webshop in order to provide other payment options for the people who didn’t have access to a credit card. At this moment the shop has generated another 2.5K in revenue without any advertising, purely driven by the initial video that is also uploaded on youtube where it now has gathered 70K+ views without ever being posted or shared anywhere, I just put it there as a backup but apparently it took off by itself.
Addendum: The youtube video mentioned above has as of Jan 2020 reached 1.2M views.
“Listen, we need to talk. Promise me you won’t get mad…” I close my eyes and let my head hang. I knew this was coming. I just didn’t expect the guillotine to fall as quickly as it did.
So recently my life changed. For better or worse, I have to deal with it.
I don’t hate change. Change is good. It brings new things. It’s just that I don’t like saying goodbye to something good.
Maybe the worst part is not knowing when you will feel this good again. I think life moves in these A and B cycles, good times and bad times. Cliché, I know. But it seems to fit. It is what my short adult life has taught me so far.
At certain periods in my life, I feel like I belong. This is the right place and the right time for me to be here. Like my last years in high school, my college education, my first girlfriend, becoming a freelancer,… All periods of my life upon which I look back with joy and happiness. But also a tad of sadness. For I know that I can’t go back and relive those periods again.
I can look at pictures, diaries or something to bring back the memories but it’s not the same thing.
It never is.
On the other side of the spectrum there are the B-cycles. The aftermath of whatever event caused the previous A-round to go bust. I’m picking up the pieces and figuring out where I have to go from here. It feels like cleaning up my personal space. I like it. It helps when I feel depressed or unmotivated. It’s something I got from Jason Mraz. He left me the notion that your living area reflects the way you think. If your thoughts are all over the place, your space will be cluttered and vice versa. I like to believe that cleaning up helps me clear my head.
This B round, is the part that predominantly sucks. Or used to. I have seen and done some amazing things so far and have been through less pleasant experiences as well. Each time I got found a way in or out.
Whenever I was up, I eventually went down and later on, back up again. Considering this to be a fact of life, the B rounds go from a depressing period to a time of self-reflection, contemplation and chill’laxed waiting.
Like a Rocky movie, you prepare for the next A round that’s coming along.
My brother is studying in Tromsø, Norway for the better half of the year. He surprised everyone when he first announced it. He had never been gone from home any longer than 5 days.
So my dad and I went to visit him, it was my dad’s first time flying a plane although he had worked at the airport for several years earlier in his life. It was fun being taking the lead for once.
My experience of Tromsø doesn’t really match what I had expected it to be. I was looking forward to a small town, secluded from the world, dark nights with lots of stars against the world’s ceiling and bright northern light.
In reality, the Norwegian people never switch their lights off! Electricity is (almost?) free and it seems as if they’re scared of the dark. Every street, every house, every room is lit twentyfourseven! Even at 3a.m. everything is bright at day. Making star spotting hard.
It wasn’t a small town either, the settlement spans an entire island and the coats of neighbouring islands. I’d guess it’s almost as large as the centre of Bruxelles. Oh, walking everywhere is a bad idea. The roads are covered in ice. Unless you’ve got pins underneath your shoes, don’t even attempt it. There is hardly any structure in their roads anyway, take the bus.
Nevertheless, I’ve had a great experience! Our last evening in the middle of the woods at a campfire (on ice) is one each of us will never forget.
Remember the popular tv-shows Miami Ink and LA Ink, that caused a mayor spike in the amount of people wanting to be tattoo artists or at least get a tattoo apprenticeship? Yea, I was one of those people. At age 19 I saw those shows and thought “Man, that’s so cool! I wish I could draw all day for a living.”
(This article uses a mix of red and black text. This is to make things easier. Black text is the storyline, whereas the red text is a rational insight into the events of the story itself. Let me know if this bothers or excites you in the comments below. – I took the idea out of a book called ‘Expect Resistance‘ by CrimethInc.)
Ever since seeing TV shows like Miami Ink and LA Ink, I wanted to be a tattoo artist. I knew I wanted to do something with art but I hadn’t got a clue on how to make a living out of it. Luckily, reality tv showed me the way! Those shows made becoming a tattoo artist seem like a valid career path. I had finally found my purpose, I was going to become a tattoo apprentice!
I had no clue how to get started. I just asked.
In the summer of 2010 I was in Berlin at Marko Djurdjevic’s MADE Art Symposium (check out the after movie, ‘Draw or Die’, It’s good. Link – 37min.) Among many talented artists on the line up there was Shawn Barber. He had brought his girlfriend Kim Saigh with him, one of the artists in L.A. Ink’s first seasons.
I asked her, ‘How do I become a tattoo artist?’ Being seemingly tired of getting frequently asked that question after having just quit the show, she replied with another question.
‘Do you have any tattoos?’
– ‘I haven’t, yet.’ ‘Well, you might want to get one first.’
She was totally sweet about it but I couldn’t help but feel like an ass. How could I be thinking I could become a tattoo artist without having at least one tattoo myself?
A month later I got my first tattoo and a lot more followed quickly. Each time I got tattoo’d I asked the artists questions about how they got started, where they’d learned it. Trying to get a grip on how all of it worked.
A dodgy industry.
By the time I got my fourth tattoo and started asking my usual questions, a breakthrough happened. The artist looked up and said “I can teach you if you want to.” I didn’t know how to answer. He smiled before continuing.
“Come back next week with some drawings and we’ll talk about it.” I went back, showed my work and helped around the shop a couple of times but never really got started on a tattoo apprenticeship. Before we could officially begin, he required me to sign a contract. The contract was clearly designed to tie me down with responsibilities, having me give up half of the money I would earn by tattooing, having to pay rent for working in the shop,… You could argue that those were reasonable requests since the established artist puts time and effort into training me, so it’s fair they want a financial return. The real problem was that there was no mention of his responsibilities. He was not required to help me or train me in any way. If I were to sign it and he didn’t follow up on his promises, I would have had no leg to stand on from a legal perspective and I would still be obligated to pay rent even if I didn’t work in the shop anymore. There was a way out of the contract though. In case I had signed it but wasn’t happy about how it turned out, I could pay a cash deposit of €20.000 and all would be forgotten.
I followed my gut feeling and backed out. Later on I heard from other tattoo artists that that one in particular was known as a con artist. He had conned many people in the past. Looking back I believe his huge Bentley might have been a clue.
It’s hard to say who or what can and cannot be trusted. That call is still up to you. My advice is that you run away from any contracts unless they want to employ and pay you. If the contract says you have to pay them, get out. If you’re young, don’t have a lot of cash or a steady job, this is not a burden you want.
Hustle and build relationships.
One bad experience richer, I continued my search. Going around the city I went into each tattoo shop I could find, showed my work and asked if I could apprentice. Most liked my portfolio but the amount of requests for tattoo apprenticeships they received was enormous. The spare time they had to possibly train one, was nonexistent.
A large part of their reason not to take anyone on is that this is still a business. Training someone to become your future competition is just not a good business strategy. Reality tv might have given people the impression that artists owe it to beginners to help them out and show them the rules of the tattoo game. Truth be told, I thought it was like that. In actual reality, people don’t owe you and don’t need you; especially if you’re a beginner.
I continued searching and ended up at a tattoo parlour in a nearby city. I had contacted the owner via facebook, got invited to swing by and when I did, I walked out with a commission. I had shown them my work, they immediately told me they had no room for an apprentice. They were already training someone but my background in digital design and experience in T-shirt printing had spiked their interest. The owner was always on the lookout for ways to make extra cash and saw an opportunity in selling T-shirts at the shop.
From that point on I frequently designed various things for them. The owner would call me and explain his idea. I would draw it out on my computer and once he approved the design, it got printed and sold. I never asked them my full price, almost worked for free. It was an opportunity to build a relationship with the shop and gain some favours. I still wanted them to teach me how to tattoo.
Getting a tattoo apprenticeship isn’t a matter of walking into as many shops as possible, hoping someone will take you on. Most artists that I’ve met shared the philosophy that a tattoo apprenticeship and thus the apprentice/mentor-relationship, should be based on mutual trust. (Not contracts.) As far as I know, tattoo artists don’t easily trust just anyone that walks through the door. It takes time to build it. Swinging by the shop every so often, saying hi, showing new sketches (aka showing that you work hard, are dedicated and can improve) helps. What gets you in the door the fastest is by helping them out with something they can’t do themselves, or maybe just not as well as you do. In my case it was my knowledge of new media and technology that helped me get a foot in the door.
As a guideline, finding a way to help fill their pockets or make their lives easier, is your best option. Tattoo artists love cash and as all humans, want things to be easy. If you can provide that without disturbing too much, they tend too keep you around. Keep in mind that tattoo artists get approached by an insane amount of people looking for a tattoo apprenticeship. Try to set yourself apart from the herd. Ask yourself, “What can I do, that no one else is doing?”
Know what you really want.
At the same time I had my own business going as a graffiti artist. My clients were split 50/50 in companies and average joe’s. Work was good but dealing with the average joe’s was a pain in the ass compared to my other clients, professionals who had specific demands. They knew what they wanted and how they wanted it. Working with them was clear and easy. Dealing with the average Joe’s on the other hand, was the complete opposite! It showed me that my life’s purpose wasn’t painting children’s bedroom walls with superheroes. Although I do still enjoy those jobs, I don’t want to be 40 and still have to depend on them.
It didn’t take long for the original apprentice to bail, leaving the shop with a workload it didn’t want to carry and no one to do it for them. With all the work I was doing for them at the time and the money they had to pay me (even at a greatly reduced rate, the amount was still big enough) it seemed like a better option for them to wipe the debt and apprentice me for free. So they offered me the apprenticeship. They knew me on a personal level, enjoyed working with me and saw quality in the work I produced. It was a logical step.
I was looking forward to this moment for years now. From having met Kim and Shawn as a hopeful teenager without any tattoos, urging me to get a couple. To going around dozens of shops showing my work and soliciting for an apprenticeship, it finally arrived. The one moment I had been waiting for, a legit chance at a tattoo apprentice ship. I declined.
Spending so much time in the tattoo shop and hanging out with the tattoo artists gave me a great insight into how a shop is run and what their daily lives are like. Many crazy stories get told and although amusing, they made becoming a tattoo apprentice seem less and less appealing to me. The only clients a tattoo artist has are your average joe’s, bikers, sailors, construction workers, etc…. Not that I look down on those people but most of them don’t have a clue about creative work, let alone tattooing and what makes or breaks a tattoo design. Handling them requires a great deal of patience, humor and social insight. All aspects of the human psyche that aren’t my strongest.
Ask yourself, “Is this what I really, really want? Or am I just following a glamorised dream?”
I explained that becoming a tattoo artist wasn’t what I wanted after all. My goal was (and still is) to work on bigger projects. I wouldn’t be able to be happy if I would tattoo people all day. It just isn’t cut out for me. The owner was disappointed but understood my choice. We maintained our relationship and I even got to help out in organising a international tattoo convention. Even if I didn’t choose to tattoo people, I did however get involved in the industry.