It used to be a common joke in Hollywood that every actor would say, “But what I really want to do is direct.” And I used to wonder… why not just go direct? The thought that one had to be an actor of some note and merit before one could transition into an entirely different profession with its own unique skill set always baffled me.
But I know a lot of people — far more than I would have guessed — who are making their living in some job or profession that doesn’t inspire or fulfill them. People who are working in cubicles and office jobs and factories. Folks who make decent money, have health benefits, a 401K, vacation time. But inside, there’s something missing.
Maybe you know the feeling.
Hi. I’m Frank Fradella, and I’m a creative professional. In my day-to-day life, I make my living as a video producer, shooting and editing videos for small businesses in Austin, Texas. To be honest, video production is a lot of fun. I get to meet all kinds of different people in all sorts of industries. My favorite part of my job is helping people get their message out there.
But what I really want to do is be a concept artist.
Video production was my compromise. I can’t work in an office. I’ve tried. I’m just genetically unemployable. I need to work in some creative capacity, but — despite signing a six-book deal back in 2000 — my desires to be a full-time novelist never materialized. In fact, it was the release of my first novel — Valley of Shadows — that caused me to learn how to shoot, direct and edit for film and video. So when my day job as an art director went away back in 2005, I picked up my camera and said, “It’s you and me, kid.” I’ve made living through video production in one form or another ever since.
But what I really wanted to be is a concept artist.
My desire to be an artist is my earliest memory. Growing up in the 1970s to parents who had no foot in that world, I heard what I imagine a lot of kids have heard, “Art is a nice hobby, but it’s not a career. Get a real job and you can draw on the weekends.”
But now, as an adult, I’ve had the occasion to meet and become friends with a lot of people who make their living from their art. Fine artists, comic book artists, concept artists. And I see that it is possible. It’s not easy, but nobody who runs their own small business has it easy. Every time I see their work and think, “That could have been me. I could have been a professional artist. I could have been a contender! If only it wasn’t for my stupid parents…!”
And then you have to stop. You have to. Because it’s not their fault. You left home at 17 and whatever has happened between then and now is all on you, my friends. I’m not a concept artist today for one very simple reason: Fear.
Fear that I’m too old to get started.
Fear that I won’t be good enough to compete in today’s market.
Fear that I’ll be met with negativity and ridicule for doing something so impractical.
Fear that my wife will be resistant to a career change.
Fear that my kids will starve if I fail.
That’s a lot of pressure. I’m the sole provider for a wife, three kids and a dog. Oh… and me. That’s six mouths to feed and my track record running a business hasn’t always been stellar. I started a language company last year that failed in a pretty spectacular way. (Remember that scene in The Mummy Returns when the golden pyramid of Ahm Shere collapses in a whirlwind of destruction and doom? It was like that, but with more office supplies.)
But I can say that all my failures have taught me the right way (or the “more right” way) through trial and error and the process of elimination. I’ve come to realize that the creative professionals I know who are out there killing it are the ones who place equal emphasis on both words: Creative. Professional.
It’s not enough to know about frame rates and color temperatures and export codecs and prime lenses. A video producer has to understand market trends and needs to help their clients close more business. I only make money when I help other people get what they need. That’s true in any industry. You can only stay in business so long as what you’re offering is of value to other people.
It’s embarrassing to admit, but I’ve really only become a businessman in the past 18 months. Prior to that, I had a business… yes. But it had no strategy behind it beyond just taking cash for whatever someone was willing to pay me for. And that’s not a business strategy. That’s panhandling.
So, why am I writing this? Because I saw that meme one time too many; the quote from George Eliot who said, “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” I get angry every time I see that quote because it’s easy to say that and incredibly hard to do.
Hard. But not impossible. Not even improbable, really.
For the past few weeks I’ve been mulling this around and talking to some close friends and what I’ve arrived at is this: Somebody needs to prove or disprove this annoying meme once and for all!
Okay, that’s only half true. The other half is that I think Eliot’s words annoy me because they’re reminding me of what I already know to be true. That it’s not too late. If I wanted to play professional basketball, I might be out of luck, but art? Certainly all that matters there is the quality of your work and how well you can meet your deadlines; how much value you can be to your client.
That’s why I’m coming forward. To invite a small, select group of passionate, driven people to join me.
More importantly, could I generate enough revenue as an artist to leave my current profession behind? Could I be a businessman who provided art? And I think now, finally, after decades of wishing for it, I think I’ve learned enough about things that are not art to be a professional artist.
I made the decision the other day that I was going to do this because I finally realized Eliot’s words aren’t a binary proposition. Nobody’s saying you have to quit your job today and be a horse jockey tomorrow. Nobody is asking you to be reckless or irresponsible. What’s more, nobody says you have to do it alone.
That’s why I’m coming forward. To invite a small, select group of passionate, driven people to join me. To lend support and accountability. To share resources and strategies. To lock eyes on the horizon and take those steps together.
I have a plan. For the first few months, almost none of that plan involves doing any actual art. There’s so much foundation for your future business that needs to be laid before you can even begin trying that starting now would be like launching a tall ship out of the harbor while leaving your sails on shore.
Does any of this resonate with you? Do you have some passion that has gone too-long unfulfilled? Perhaps you’ll be one of the few. You don’t need to join me to do this. It’s all out there waiting for you. But I’m looking to put together a group of perhaps six people who will become the core group for the journey. If you’d like to be considered, please take a moment and fill out the form here.
I’m Frank Fradella and I’m working toward becoming a professional concept artist. Please subscribe to this blog or Like the Facebook page for regular updates on my journey!