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About two weeks ago, I was looking for a good goat image to use in Etchstar‘s custom image engraving service. (A gift for a friend, if you were wondering.) Thumbing through Google’s image search, I learned an unsettling truth: many goats are ugly, and those unfortunate goats who aren’t, have ugly pictures taken of them.

Shoot, I thought, maybe I’ll have to get her something else. Or I might even have to draw an image myself.

It was just then that I stumbled across an adorable illustration. Perfect! Now, the practical ethics of tracing  over or drawing over a photo I found might be questionable (when does a derivative work become a work unto itself?), but if I was going to use someone else’s drawing, I knew I aught to ask them. No problem, since this is, after all, the Internet, home of copyfighters, open-source heros, and generally lots of people who are just happy to have someone paying attention to them (like me!). I shot off an e-mail as quickly as I found the “contact” page and went to bed, confident I could place my order in the morning.

Or not.

Instead, I had a sternly worded e-mail explaining to me that the artist had worked very hard and generally starved quite a while to get to the point where she could actually demand payment for her work, and now that she had, she wasn’t going to let people trample on her rights (I’m paraphrasing, of course – she was a little nicer then that actually).

Who exactly had I e-mailed? Back on her site, it wasn’t hard to figure out. Turns out she’s a cartoonist for the New Yorker. Well.

It turned out, there was a slight misunderstanding. She had thought I was Etchstar, asking to use her work (for free) to print and sell lots of engraved notebooks to other people. No small wonder why she said no to that. I would have too. When I explained the truth of the situation (I’m just some dude, making only one, and at no profit) she was more understanding. Ultimately, we worked out an arrangement very similar to the one under which I am showing you the goat below (that is to say, a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License).

An adorable goat, no?

An adorable goat, no?

Of course, I’m grateful that she let me use her work without compensation. She would have been entitled to ask for it, regardless of how I was using her image. Instead, though, she let me off with the promise that I would do what I could to let people know it was hers. Which is what I’m doing.

Her name is Carolita Johnson. You can look at more of her stuff here, buy some of it here, or follow her blog here. So go, look at her stuff, and buy something! Tell her Zack sent you. And thanks again, Carolita!

(A quick note to would be, er, “friendly borrowers”: The arrangement Carolita agreed to with me was a personal favor, and I can’t say she would do the same again with that or any other piece of her work. At most I can tell you that anything on her blog falls under the Creative Commons license above, unless she changes her mind in the future. So if you like her stuff, then buy it, and if you can’t buy it, ask. Politely. )

(Another quick note: I find this whole story pretty hilarious, because really, the internet is so packed with amateurs and hobbyist who would do anything to get linked, looked at, or lauded, that it’s bizarre to remember that anyone successful actually uses this inter-tubes thing. Good lesson for the future though: before you e-mail someone to beg off their work, take five seconds to scan their site and figure out who they are.)

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This post is to test the new networking tool I downloaded. If it works, you should be able to tell below.

If you blog with WordPress and want this tool, you can download it here.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to Ma.gnoliaAdd to TechnoratiAdd to FurlAdd to Newsvine

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Switching To Mac

Perhaps six months ago, my mom bought a Mac mini to replace a failing desktop we had. Since then, I’ve had a good opportunity to get accustomed to the new system, and I have a few comments on the switch.

First of all, that story about macs never freezing? Lie. True, it’s very rare for the entire operating system to freeze. Typically, only a single program will freeze, and it is actually possible to force it to quit (not usually true of my Windows platform). However, individual programs freeze all the time. True, this is probably more the mini part of the Mac mini, but it’s frustrating and difficult to deal with. Even Dell’s cheapest desktop can open BoingBoing without dying.

It doesn’t matter if their programs are nicer than Windows’, either. If you want to actually be able to do anything with your mac, you will need to buy Office.

Macs also do lots of things that I can only describe as annoying. The bouncing icons in the Dock? Obnoxious. The fact that clicking an icon in the Dock will open that program, but not close it? Weak. That it takes a special menu to select between different windows in the same program? Dumb.

And there is something that causes the Mac to keel over and refuse to be revived if it’s power supply is so much as lightly tapped by an errant foot, which no one can explain.

In short, I don’t see the big deal. I’ll stick with my sexy Alienware laptop.

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I started this blog about six weeks ago with the intent of making a go at being a professional blogger. That is to say, I wanted to pick a single topic to write about, to delivery quality material reliably, and to eventually attract enough readers to make money from this project.

As time has gone on, I’ve found the writing increasingly difficult. More and more, I’ve been drifting from general to the specific, noodling over little personal interests instead of broader topics that can apply to my audience. The gulf between the subjects I’ve been covering and the subject of “happiness in the 21st century” has gotten larger and larger. The things I find myself wanting to write about are not the things I said I was going to write about.

I’m rambling, a little.

The next two weeks are big for me, finishing off the semester’s projects and taking finals. So I’m taking a hiatus. In two weeks I’ll come back and let you know if I’m going to continue Step Lightly.

Thanks for understanding.

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When I switched to the art program, I did so with full knowledge that I might be dooming myself to life as a starving artist. I can live with that idea. For many people, though, the perceived lack of income is enough to keep them from pursuing their dreams. And it’s a reasonable enough fear. Lots of people want to be artists (meaning the market is flooded with work), which drops prices. Add to this that many works can be resold or mass produced, and the supply side of art gets even more crowded, mean, yes, lower prices. Toss in the generally subjective way the public choses which art to support, and the industry is a minefield.

Luckily, Kevin Kelly offers an alternative on his website. He calls his idea 1,000 True Fans. He suggests that the problem arises because everyone wants a blockbuster success, but that blockbuster success is typically short lived. This can be a good way to make a lot of money quickly, but not a long term plan for success. Instead, he suggests the key is to focus on your true fans.

A True Fan is defined as someone who will purchase anything and everything you produce. They will drive 200 miles to see you sing. They will buy the super deluxe re-issued hi-res box set of your stuff even though they have the low-res version. They have a Google Alert set for your name. They bookmark the eBay page where your out-of-print editions show up. They come to your openings. They have you sign their copies. They buy the t-shirt, and the mug, and the hat. They can’t wait till you issue your next work. They are true fans.

He assumes, I would say rather conservatively, that each true fan may reasonably spend about one days wages per year on your work (or about $100), if not more. With 1,000 such fans, you’re looking at $100,000, minus expenses and taxes. (I think he assumes, since you’re no longer aiming for blockbuster success, that you’re focused more on one-off or print-on-demand work, which lowers the cost). It’s easy to see how this could communicate into a living, perhaps even quite respectable, wage.

What I especially like about his thinking is that it changes the way artists relate to their fans. If you want blockbuster success, it’s all about bringing in as many people as possible, while cutting costs everywhere you can. Not so if you have a small group of true fans. Like Kevin says,

Pleasing a True Fan is pleasurable, and invigorating. It rewards the artist to remain true, to focus on the unique aspects of their work, the qualities that True Fans appreciate.

It becomes about producing quality work. There’s no pressure to “sell out,” to rush the next book/CD/show, to swindle fans into buying less-then-perfect work. You can directly relate to a 1,000 people (especially with the help of the internet).

I especially love the implications for the future of free samples. I know people (some near and dear to me) who think giving away anything as an artist is a waste. I’ve been told that, even though it would mean less up-front exposure, I should submit writing to magazines for printing, not post them on a blog for free. But people can’t be fans of yours unless they know you exist. If giving away one piece (a story, a song, what have you) starts fifty more people on their life-long love affair with your work, all the better, especially when you consider what a True Fan will do to spread the word.

Maybe I am overly optimistic to believe that. At the same time, I know many of my favorite artists are ones I learned about through free work. In addition, when I see an artist who makes a conscious effort to treat their fans properly, as people on whom their livelihoods depends and not consumers to be taken advantage of, it makes me want to support them. So I go out, and I buy the extra shirt, the CD, the poster, even if their material is available for free. It’s the sort of relationship that used to dominate every economy, and the sort of relationship I would like to engage in with you. (Which is why, while I’d love to be paid for my writing eventually, this blog is still free.)

Is this a better path for today’s artists to take? I think so. Printing-on-demand is getting cheaper and easier all the time. The internet isn’t going to start shrinking anytime soon. And it seems like this may be more rewarding, not only monetarily, but psychologically. Make your art, and find a small group of people who love you for it.

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