Getting Paid for Your Art: The Challenges (and Rewards) of Creating Art Across Disciplines, Media, and Technology

If you get paid to do something, you’re a professional.


‚ÄãIt sounds like the punchline to a dirty joke or something scrolled across a bad motivational poster. But it’s also a discussion point when it comes to art. Where do you draw that line between creating because you love to create – and using your talent to pay the bills?

As the Chair of the Saskatchewan Interactive Media Association I have been in contact with professional artists across the province, whose particular craft lives on the emerging frontier of the digital realm. Traditional forms of art – drawing, painting, sculpting, composing, writing and so many more – are all blending with new technology and evolving at an incredible pace. The question of ‘what is art?’ is now being asked by artists, consumers, enthusiasts and entrepreneurs alike.

3-D Printing, digital scanning, AI composition – everything about traditional creation is being challenged, and it can leave artists wondering what the next major disruption in the industry will mean for their craft. The way we monetize and explore art is changing, the way we experience reality is being augmented digitally and the way we protect our Intellectual Property, Trademarks and Copyrights in the global market is becoming more specialized and more important.

And so more and more artists are doing what so many artists have always done – balancing the creation and sharing of their creations with the realities of commercializing their work to allow them the freedom to create as they see fit.  The rapid changes brought on by technology represent both a challenge, and an opportunity – depending on how you approach them.

Personally, I have explored different paths to balancing creation and commercialization. For instance, I wrote a children’s book. You can (and should!) check out Go Play Outside!, which was illustrated by the very talented Saskatchewan artist, Josh Burns. In a caffeine fuelled haze I wrote the book several years ago as a personal challenge. After months of revision I decided it was ready for the world to read and I started looking for an illustrator. Being a stubborn and self-sufficient sort, I did some cursory research, not certain where to start to get published. I didn’t know the process or where to learn, so I hit Google and found an American Self-Publishing firm that made a lot of great promises and had an excellent website. Once I found a friend who could provide the art, I set out to bring my creation to life. The process was incredibly satisfying. Josh was able to take my words and turn them into images that were exactly what I had envisioned. He sketched the characters and scenery in pencil, and made the very minor changes as reviewed them. He turned his pencil sketches into colour illustrations with watercolour paint – and then he used a large format scanner at a high resolution to create digital copies of the images. He was able to finalize things and prepare them for delivery to our publisher with the Adobe Photoshop suite. With a mix of Microsoft Word, traditional pen and paintbrush and Adobe Photoshop, we had our book.

I like to tell people I have an International Seller. Not best seller – but there are copies in several countries around the world thanks to a supportive and far-flung network of family and friends. I wouldn’t recommend the self-publishing route if you are seeking fame and fortune. As fun as it has been to have a published book, shipping books from the United States has proven cost prohibitive (to put it nicely.) However, while the route I chose did NOT give me nationwide book tours or the backing of a major publishing house – the self-published route DID mean I didn’t end up with 10,000 unsold books in my basement.

So there have been some pluses and minuses in publishing my children’s book.
But hey… Now I’m a professional author.

Following the launch of Go Play Outside! I decided to try my hand at video game publishing. Collaborating with the multi-disciplinary Josh Burns again, we began the process of creating a simple (ha!) continuous runner style game for mobile phones. This project has not seen the finish line yet – but it has given us a look at the very different world of Video Game Publishing in Saskatchewan.

Saskatchewan has a major player on the world stage of video game publishing living in Saskatoon. Noodlecake Studios got their start with the game Stick Man Golf, and since then has evolved from a game builder, to a game publisher – and they have made major strides towards making Saskatchewan a launch point for mobile games. They were kind enough to offer insight and advice on our game, giving us some badly needed direction towards finishing the project. This is a great example of the collaborative atmosphere found in the Saskatchewan Tech sector.

My experience with self-publishing a print book had left me no doubt that I wanted the backing of a video game publishing company when the time to launch came. There are – literally – millions of games competing for market share, and having a successful publishing company help you navigate entry to market would be invaluable.

I look forward to being able to say I am a professional video game producer. I intend to shamelessly take a portion of the credit for Josh’s hard work. He created the 3d aspects of the game with Blender – an open source software. This worked along with other visual aspects of the game created using the Adobe Suite. The game itself runs on the Unity platform. We’ve had the challenge of developing a game in an industry that changes incredibly rapidly. We’re creating this art with an end goal that is a moving target.

Writing. Painting. Sculpting. Programming. Dancing.

Technology is changing every aspect of our lives at an increasing pace.

Some changes make it easier than ever to access funding, information, support.
Others disrupt industries so quickly that technology outpaces legislation creating opportunity and risk. Still other technologies offer new ways of creating that challenges the very question of what  art is, and can make fundamentalist artists very uncomfortable.

But these tools need to be looked at in precisely that manner –  as tools. We can use emerging technology to reach new audiences, engage new markets and create new works of art in ways only limited by the imagination of the artists. And it may just make it easier for more people to make a living practising their craft while staying true to themselves.

Written by Paul Burch.