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Quitting Engineering to Pursue Art Full-Time

Pablo Azócar describes his transition from engineer to artist and tells us the insights he learned along the way.

Good morning, and welcome to another edition of the Stay Sketchy newsletter.

April showers may bring May flowers, but they also bring opportunties to stay in and work on growing your art business 🧑‍🎨.

This week we’ve got:

  • ⭐️ Pablo Azócar as our featured artist

  • 🤖 Some news from the pen plotter industry

  • 🚔 A story covering a “reverse” art heist

  • 📖 Some tips, tricks, and surveys

Pablo Azócar as Pavlovpulus - Visual Artist

Courtesy of Pablo Azócar

📸 Instagram: pavlovpulus

🌐 Website: pavlovpulus.com

Some artists create with pen.

Others create with clay.

And there are a few artists that create with… robots? Yes, robots.

In Santiago, Chile there’s an engineer, turned extreme sports photographer, turned visual artist that uses robots known as pen plotters to aid in the creation of his artwork. This artist’s name is Pablo Azócar.

If this sounds like one of those ads starring the Most Interesting Man in the World, you wouldn’t be far off.

Pablo began his adult life working as an engineer in Chile. Often times his work took him to breathtaking locations with beautiful landscapes that he couldn’t help but photograph.

Holidays took him to locations like New Zealand where he honed his skills with a camera while snowboarding - another passion of his. When an injury kept him from riding as much as he would’ve liked, his camera gave him a reason to stay on the slopes and capture the majesty of the mountains and skills of the snowboarders around him.

At a certain point, Pablo found he was more interested in shooting skateboarding sessions with local guys after work than he was about engineering work itself.

He knew that if he was ever going to live up to his full potential as a photographer & videographer, he wouldn’t be able to do it while also working full-time as an engineer.

So, he took a leap of faith and quit his day job.

The photography career that followed allowed Pablo to travel all over the world, work for major outdoor brands, and document extreme sports competitions for over 10 years… until a global pandemic hit.

The pandemic halted outdoor gatherings, including sports competitions, and drastically reduced the number of photography gigs that Pablo had made his specialty. Fortunately, Pablo had another interest of which he’d been slowly fanning the flames for several years.

As a kid, one of Pablo’s favorite toys was a Spirograph. He started thinking about Spirographs again around 2016, and the engineer in him wondered what it would be like to somehow attach a motor to this simple toy. This led him to build his own polargraph, which in turn, inspired him to eventually buy a pen plotter - a machine that can be fed data to create drawings on flat, 2D surfaces with pens, markers, and many other writing implements.

With the pandemic denying him opportunities to travel and photograph the events that he loved, Pablo took yet another leap of faith and decided to pursue art of a different kind as a new full-time job.

Much like an artist’s hand informs a paintbrush on what to paint, Pablo’s hands inform a pen plotter on what to draw.

Courtesy of Pablo Azócar

Out-of-the-box software, various plugins, and some basic programming skills aid artists, like Pablo, in converting digital drawings and low-resolution previews of complicated designs into pen-plotted masterpieces.

When designing his artwork, Pablo has to carefully consider every adjustment he makes to the code. He has to consider the materials he plans to use, how different colors may layer on top of one another, and even has to account for felt-tip pens losing their sharp point and growing fatter as the sometimes 48-hour drawing process runs its course. An immense amount of planning and monitoring goes into the creation of each piece.

Courtesy of Pablo Azócar

From the early days of the pandemic to now, Pablo has sold hundreds of unique pieces at art fairs in Chile as well as on the web through various online shops.

In the last year Pablo was lucky enough to have his interests come full circle.

In one of his posts on Instagram, he mentioned his love of cycling - one of the many sports he’s passionate about (not to mention one he photographed frequently in his previous career). A clothing designer for the cycling brand, Velocio, saw this and ended up reaching out to Pablo asking if he’d be interested in designing a pattern for a piece of clothing.

After many months of working together, Pablo and the folks at Velocio Aparrel produced a special edition cycling jersey for both men and women.

Looking forward, Pablo is excited for possiblities similar to the one he recently had with Velocio. He’s always tinkering and tries to split his time between producing more art and applying his art in some new experiment. He’s managed to take aspects of all his work and passions - from engineering, photography, extreme sports - and find ways to combine them in whatever his current artistic endeavors may be.

Courtesy of Pablo Azócar

Let’s break things down a bit to see exactly what worked for Pablo, and understand how he grew his Instagram following to over 245,000 people in just a few short years.

Just start.

Pablo first started selling art before he had made a website or had any significant following on Instagram.

He was passionate and excited about what he was creating, but he had also committed to going full-time as an artist and knew he couldn’t wait around for people to find and purchase his art organically.

Instead, he:

  • Listed his first 5 pieces on Big Cartel (and ended up getting his first sale almost immediately).

  • Asked local coffee shops and restaurants if he could hang art over some of their blank wall space.

  • Registered for several local art fairs (where he ended up getting most of his sales early on).

Pablo eventually found time to make his first website in between his second and third art fairs, but this was by no means perfect. He viewed this as a “Version 1,” and ultimately recreated an improved website sometime later using a different platform.

“Don’t wait to be perfect, because it’ll never be perfect.”

Pablo Azócar
You’re always selling, even if you don’t realize it.

At one of these art fairs, a customer spent some time looking over Pablo’s work but decided not to purchase anything. That night, the customer ended up reconsidering and bought one of his pieces online the very next day.

Even during slow days at art fairs when you get no sales, you still have an opportunity to promote yourself and have interactions with people who may decide to become your customers in the future.

Be prepared for this.

Have a website and Instagram (or other social media accounts) clearly visible at your booth or table. Consider generating a QR code for free that links to where customers can find you. Print it out and display it beside your artwork. That way, if you didn’t get as many customers as you would’ve liked, you may still have gained a few followers - some of which may buy from you in the days or weeks to come.

Remove as much friction from the buying process as possible.

As someone whose business is selling art, you should make purchasing your artwork as simple as possible.

Sounds obvious, right? But how many steps does it take for someone to buy your art once they find you on Instagram?

From Pablo’s Instagram account, it only takes 3 clicks to have an original piece of artwork sitting in your cart on his website. No typing required.

  • A click to open his website

  • A click to select a piece of art (read a description, see additional photos, etc.)

  • A click to “add to cart”

If your process takes longer than this, ask yourself if the extra steps are providing any additional value to your customers. If they don’t, consider simplifying things.

Aspire to reach the largest market you can.

In business theres a term called “Total Adressable Market,” or TAM. This is basically everyone in the world who could buy a product in a given category.

What’s the TAM for a product like fishing rods? Well, that would be everyone in the world who likes fishing. As of 2022, that’s anywhere from 220-700 million people according to nature.com. That’s a pretty good-sized market if you were looking to get into selling some sort of fishing gear.

The reason we mention this is because when Pablo first started selling his art online, he created all his posts strictly in Spanish - his native language.

Over time, he felt that this was limiting him, so he started making posts in both English and Spanish, and then eventually just English. Making this change led to a much larger following on Instagram and an increase in sales from people in countries around the globe since much of the world speaks, or understands, English.

This example of increasing one’s TAM as an artist can apply to more than just changing the language you post in (I’m sure most of you are posting in English already). Incorporating more niches into the subjects you draw or paint is one way to do this. Just be careful not to expand so far that your brand or style becomes unrecognizable to your original group of fans.

Obsess over quality.

… At least for the things that are in your control.

Whether Pablo is making original works, prints, cycling jerseys, Instagram posts, or websites, he always makes sure the qualtiy is as high as possible.

His pieces are made with the utmost care and attention. He uses high quality pens, inks, and paper. Each piece comes signed and embossed. His online store looks professional and provides a thorough description paired with numerous high-resolution photos for each piece. He spends hours filming and editing Instagram reels to produce eye-catching videos that make users stop scrolling and engage.

All these things improve the likelihood of a sale.

Pablo was careful to say, however, that artists shouldn’t get hung up on one errant line or paint stroke that the customer won’t likely have any issue with or notice anyway. Like most things, it’s a balance.

Courtesy of Pablo Azócar

  • Just get started. Start selling in the real world. Throw your first online store together. Don’t spend months building the blueprint for a 7-figure business before you finally flip the “on” switch and start selling.

  • When you’re not selling, you’re marketing. Use the slow days as opportunities to get your name out there.

  • Remove friction from buying. Make it as simple as possible for customers to buy your work.

  • Consider if you can reach a broader group of customers by making a particular change (i.e. post in a different language, incorporate new popular niches in your work, etc.)

  • Create a high quality product and shopping experience for your customers. Look at brands and artists you admire and see how they make their art & buying process feel professional.

Additional Tidbits
  • Pablo has often rejected the idea of accepting brand sponsorships from pen and marker companies even though this would increase his income in the short term. He’s done this because he doesn’t want to give up creative control of his process or how he creates content for his audience. Not to mention - many of these pens and drawing implements get pretty beat up, cut up, and generally abused during the creation of each original piece Pablo makes. Brands might not be a big fan of that.

  • If you’re getting hate, that’s a good sign.” Pablo said this in regard to comments on some of his Instagram posts. People sometimes leave comments arguing that what he’s doing isn’t “real” art. In the past, he used to engage with them and try to explain that this machine is just a tool, and without him guiding it, nothing happens. Now, he doesn’t get too involved. Often enough, other commenters leap to his defense and a large back & forth ensues. Pablo doesn’t mind. Afterall, it’s good for engagement and the Instagram algorithm.

  • The “satisfying” and “relaxation” niches on Instagram are huge, and Pablo has found he’s gained a lot of attention from those groups by posting certain types of reels that fall into those categories. Smooth time lapses synced with chill low-fi beats are something artists in any niche can recreate.

Pablo’s Tech Stack
  • Jumpseller - Online store for original pieces

  • Shopify - Online store for prints

Pen Plotters and a Shake-Up in the Pen Plotting World

Our featured artist, Pablo Azócar, creates his work using an AxiDraw pen plotter built by the company, Evil Mad Scientist.

Recently however, Evil Mad Scientist was acquired by Bantam Tools and no longer offers the AxiDraw series of products. The press release detailing the acquisition can be read here.

But don’t worry. If Pablo’s story inspired you to run out and buy a high-quality pen plotter, it looks like a new option is on the horizon.

Bantam Tools will be offering a new and improved plotter called the NextDraw (coming Spring 2024). It’s designed by the same folks from Evil Mad Scientist and offers increased speed & precision, an auto-homing feature, and many other improvements. A link on their website allows you to sign up for updates regarding their new product.

While the AxiDraw (soon to be NextDraw) is the most popular pen plotter on the market, other companies, like UUNA TEK, offer similar machines as well.

If you’d like to see more ways artists are using pen plotters to create artwork, check out the curated Instagram account, Pen Plot Art.

Why every artist NEEDS their own newsletter ✉️

The simplest step an artist can take to improve their sales is to create a mailing list.

That’s right. Not a huge following on Instagram or TikTok, but a modest - or even small - list of email addresses belonging to dedicated fans.

Why is this so valuable?

  1. Customer Retention. Don’t just get a sale then send that customer back into the marketplace maelstrom 🌀. Capture their email. Establish a longer term relationship with them. Build hype for upcoming projects. Sell to them again in the future! Maybe they’ll become a collector of your work 👀.

  2. Platform Independence. Don’t be beholden to the algorithms of Instagram, Etsy, Facebook… A mailing list is completely platform independent. You control the narrative, and if you decide to change the platform you use to send your newsletter, you can just export your entire mailing list and take it with you wherever you go. It’s yours forever 🤩.

  3. Cultivate Relationships. Use your newsletter to create long-form content for your fans. These folks love your work and might want to hear more about your process than what you squeezed into your latest Instagram caption. This can even lead to new business opportunites and partnerships down the road 🤝.

If you’re asking yourself where you can get started, look no further than this newsletter! Stay Sketchy is built on a dedicated newsletter platform called Beehiiv.

Beehiiv was created by the developers that made the Morning Brew newsletter into the media giant it is today (so they sorta know what they’re doing). It’s got a ton of tools that help you grow and better understand your audience.

The best part is that you can make your newsletter on Beehiiv for free - and not for a limited amount of time, but free forever.

If you DO, however, want to take advantage of one of their payed tiers that offer more features, the button below will give you 20% off your first 3 months with Beehiiv after a complimentary 30-day free trial.

Whether you want to send your newsletter weekly, monthly, quarterly, or even just a couple times per year, adding this one feature to your business might be the lowest-effort, highest-return change you ever make!

How NOT to Become a Successful Artist

… but kudos for trying.

Last week, a modern art museum in Munich, Germany fired one of its employees after the 51-year-old man attempted to secretly hang one of his own creations in an exhibit without anyone noticing.

The Pinakothek der Moderne Museum in Munich via Pexels

The man hoped that displaying his art there would earn him his first big artistic breakthrough. He has since been fired, banned from the museum, and police are currently investingating the matter.

The good news? They gave him his art back.

At least you can’t say he isn’t creative.

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