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breeden
ursulav

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I put some auctions up on Furbid yesterday, and thought "Hmm, I should plug these suckers over at LJ," and then I realized that if I did so, I should probably include some explanations, because these auctions are under a pen-name. Which is a story in itself.

So gather 'round my children-who-better-be-over-18-for-this, and I'll tell you the tale of my Great Nipple Experiment.

Almost exactly a year ago, I discovered Furbid. I put up some prints. And I discovered, as many an artist has before and since, that things didn't sell real great. If I flipped over to the Adult sections, however, some of the crappiest doodles I've ever seen were selling like hot cakes, particularly if the doodles had multiple forms of genitalia and were engaging in Hot Doodle On Scribble Action.

I have, as has been observed, a somewhat analytical turn of mind, and my ethics, while chiselled from adamant, are nevertheless few and far between, particularly if there's money to be had. I thought "Hmm. I should do some pin-ups and see if they sell." Then I thought "I don't want to weird out my usual viewers. And I really don't want creepy people stalking me because I'm a female drawing nekkid bunny women. And I don't want to get blacklisted from normal jobs for having a reputation for doing furry stuff, because I've heard all these horror stories. So let's set up an experiment and see if pin ups really do sell better, or if that's just a common myth."

So, to that end, I invented a pen name, "Caliban" which happened to be the last name of an RPG character I'd rather enjoyed and had some associations with animal-men through The Tempest anyhow. (Yes, yes, a few of you are probably going "Whoa! Wait a minute," and some of you knew already and probably the majority of you couldn't care less if I paint scenes of rhinos copulating in burning carwrecks laden with Mapplethorpe photos, but bear with me. I have an inflated sense of my own importance.) And I set out to see if A) sex really did sell and B) name recognition was at all important. I also set a few ground rules for myself--pin-ups were fine, but they had to be the sort of good-natured silliness you find in Vargas and Olivia. None of the fetishes that make me go "Holy crapmonkies! You gotta be kiddin'!" Mild cheesecake, no more. Definitely none of the flapping genital shots that resemble a gynecology chart gone awry. No dripping fluids. Nothing degrading. Absolutely no one wearing high heels for no reason, which is something that drives me nuts--heels are bloody uncomfortable, and I swear, nobody hangs out on a bed wearing nothing but a pair of red stiletto heels except in the fevered imaginations of teenage boys. In short, nothing that made me feel uncomfortable, or that I wouldn't hang on my wall. And second, I'd try to keep to a relatively unified style.

With most other people, you could go on the "Would I show this to my mother?" criteria, but my Mom is an artist too, and did an erotic art series once upon a time that was magnificently rendered and bogglingly well-composed and also way more explicit than anything I'd ever do, so the question doesn't even arise. She thinks phrases like "I'll call you back, I'm painting yak nipples," are pure comedy gold. Someday, I'll probably tell a therapist about all this, but really, the dead animals in the freezer for her series of still-life-with-roadkill was way more traumatic. There's nothing like unwrapping what you think is hamburger and discovering a late raccoon. But anyway, I digress.

A year later, I have learned a few interesting things, which I will now share, since I know a lot of my readership is in the same not-quite-starving-artist position I am, and may be wondering about whether or not erotica really does sell. First of all, on Furbid, sex sells waaaay better, even stuff as tame as mine, which is really just all cheesecake and very rarely has anything racier than toplessness. It may be as simple as exposure--adult stuff averages, literally, ten times more hits than non-adult, and of course, that means more potential buyers. At the one Con I've done so far, however, it was somewhat split--some people liked stuff without nipples for public display, some, like me, don't even register the nipple as a naughty bit anymore. (I'm assuming people are also more likely to buy erotica via the internet rather than having to walk up to the artist and say "Gimmee that one.) Far and away the top seller was a bunny with erotic Japanese ear tattoos. (I would like to say for the record that I love my life, and the fact that erotic Japanese ear tattooing is even a part of it cracks me up completely.) Of the top five sellers, four of 'em were pin-ups, however, which leads me to believe that yup, realism + nudity = sales. However, for anyone stacking a portfolio, I'd suggest a solid mix. Probably at least a third should be all-ages, for people who like your style but don't want to explain stuff in the living room to the relatives. In the final count, however, Caliban prints outsold Ursulas, both on-line and in person, by about three to one. (But Ursula still gets way more jobs. Muhahahah! God, I'm trying to compete with my own pen name. Therapy, here I come...)

Secondly, when it comes to furry, people buy by species. It barely matters what they're doing. The exception is probably foxes, because there's enough fox stuff that you can pick and choose.

Third, reports of people stalking pin-up artists are greatly exaggerated. And here I'd be all worried.

Fourth, while I probably could never get a job at Disney, I didn't want one anyway, and the majority of employers couldn't care less if you're buggering wildebeest in your spare time, so long as you get what they want done when they want it. I eventually stopped worrying about the seperation of identities--I keep the furry pin-ups on a seperate website, just to avoid worrying anyone who's browsing for my portfolio, but that's as far as I go. (Said website was actually featured on a portal-of-evil style site called "I Love Bacon" but even they said "The art's actually good, it's just all animals, which is weird." And that's a perfectly valid observation, and it netted me four thousand hits in two days, and a handful of commissions to boot, so I'm not complaining!)

Fifth, name recognition evidentally does not play a very big part if the art is relatively good--people were snapping up prints under the name Caliban despite the fact that nobody'd ever heard of it with as much or more fervor than they did stuff under my name, (which may just mean that nobody's heard of me, either) and commissions auctioned off on Furbid go for almost exactly the same price, within about a $20 variance, under either name. Realism sold okay, Art Nouveau sold a bit better, which squared more or less with what I had expected.

And in the end, it was, and is, fun. And I still put out art under the name Caliban occasionally, because I enjoy painting nudes and the style's fun--cheesecake has this delightful silly, lighthearted quality that I really enjoy--you don't have to come up with something Deep or Meaningful or whatever, and hell, sometimes that's whatcha want. And it sells. Hardcore porn may sell a lot better--I dunno--but someone else is gonna have to do that experiment...I got limits.

Whew. Quite a saga just to plug a coupla prints, huh? Oh, well, it was a fun little experiment anyway, and since I got a nice e-mail the other day from someone applauding a long ago defense of pin-ups as a perfectly valid art form, I felt like it. If someone wants to tell me it's not a valid art form, I could probably work up a pretty good rant about that for later in the week, too. *grin*

Various pin-up auctions

And hey, in case anyone wants to see the art in question, I keep a seperate gallery at Art of Caliban.


wow. somewhat a surprise but not a total shock. I did notice a similarity in painting styles and choices in color pallet. but with all of the similarities, I never made the connection between the too.

You know, I read the writing under the pictures so long ago, recognized your written style, verified it with your painting style, and it didn't even occur to me that "Caliban" was anything other than the name of your company.

I had read (again) Red Dragon not long before encountering your Painting of a Mole on her Cheek and the Blake-like reverberations struck me quite a bit.

Best wishes!

===|==============/ Level Head

The exception is probably foxes, because there's enough fox stuff that you can pick and choose.

Why is that, anyway?

Way back in the annals of time, I was very, very arguably part of furrydom -- I spent some time on a (not the) furry MUCK, but it was because I liked the people, not because I found it personally meaningful. At the time, I wondered what was up with the foxes, and though I've spent the years since then pointedly avoiding anything remotely furry (which is harder than it sounds. It's like alcoholism. And it would be a lot easier if you weren't so damn charming), it still bugs me. I would have expected wolves or the big cats to be in the lead, and they're right up there, but it's definitely foxes. Is it because of that song? And what's with the skunks? Is there some appeal I don't see to animals with more-charismatic relatives and a strong odor?

Three words: Disney's Robin Hood.

For a vast number of people, self included, that was one of their first exposures to really anthromorphic furries--not just "talking animal" stuff, like Bambi or Watership Down or isolated characters like Looney Tunes, but critters in vast number, wearin' clothes and appearing to have a culture, etc. I think it stuck. On t'other hand, I've never been in a furry MUCK, and pretty much all I know about furry is the art, so it's possible that there's another reason I'm unaware of.

The skunk thing, I've got no idea. I think there's a skunk comic or something that's kinda popular, or maybe it's Peppi L'Pew's fault, but I've bathed waaaay too many dogs in tomato juice to feel such a fondness myself.

I think I stumbled across the Caliban part of your site before...and I seem to remember recognizing it as your style, regardless of the name of the artist listed. Whoelse would do a pinup of a Naked Mole Rat?? ^_^

Whoelse would do a pinup of a Naked Mole Rat?? ^_^

Ha-HA! EXACTLY. XD I'm afraid I have to admit to knowing that it was you all along, Mrs. Vernon. Your style is distinctive, for one, but your barely-restrained sense of humor is even more so. The following paragraph made it official in my eyes:

Where to begin...Well. My name is Caliban--yes, it's a pen-name, but my stepfather, a wise man and talented artist, once told me that if I was going to do anything terribly silly, such as working for Hallmark, to do it under a pen-name so that my parents didn't have to disown me. I figure that furry erotica definitely qualified as silly (that's why I enjoy it), and I always rather liked the name, so here we are.

;>

Oh, and responding here out of lazy convenience, my Kachina spirit is not Ahola (although he too certainly would have been suitable for portrayal as a diurnal raptor--his mask even has a beak!) but rather Tawa Katsin'mana, a Sun Maiden. And thank you for the compliment; always means a lot coming from one's artistic role-models.

"A rose by any other name would still smell as sweet."

...Or in this case nekkid naked mole rats are still distinctly yours, even under another name ^_^

BTW, that chupacabra pin-up any relation to Subconscious Chupacabra? ;)

Oddly enough, that chupacabra pin-up came first! I did it in a fit of complete silliness one day, with the little goat doll, and then a month or so later, needing a form for the heroine for "Irrational Fears" I was groping around for ideas, and somehow hit upon a chupacabra. So I just kinda made a short 'n pudgy version of the pin-up, liked the look, and called it Chu.

You know, I've been considering taking up a pen name and attempting some adult art myself, mostly for the same reasons you did (possible tarnished reputation, etc.) I'm still debating, but your post was really helpful. Thanks for the insight.

If it helps your sense of confidence any, I'd naturally still respect you.

Useful research to have done, and having observed some of the superheroine pics over on the Ebay auctions to help a friend out one time, I agree some people will pay for any old doodles as long as they have sexy bits in.
Can't beleive I'd missed your Caliban stuff though, and having browsed happily thru the galleries I'd say that a reason Caliban does so well is because its all extremely high quality, some of your best work in fact, even if you've got your tongue in your cheek half the time. In fact, I'm just dropping you an email asking about ordering a print right now. Have you considered the fact that because you think of it as "cheesecake" and fun that you can let yourself go a bit more in terms of style, not exactly an "anything goes" sort of idea cos your main stuff is um, wide-ranging enough ::grin::, but maybe there's something happening there...? Or I'm rambling :)

I saw Caliban on VCL and said, hey! Must be a lesbian friend of Ursula's! X-D
There are quite a few people who do adult work under a pen name, though most deny it vociferously. :)

I've thought of doing pinups in the past, but every instinct of What Doesn't Sell tells me that the market for the abstracted, designy work of Egypt Urnash (or whatever name I might choose) would be very small.

Nicely done work as always, madamoiselle pr0nmonger. *grin*

Hey, I'd buy it! (Possibly just because the name Egypt Urnash is so damn cool...) On t'other hand, a potential market of one might not justify sinking into abstracted depravity...

I find your Caliban stuff to be very tasteful, and as excellent as any of your work.
But out of curiosity, I just went to Furbid to look it over. Ghaaa..ack! I can see why you would use a pen name with the place, there is some very weird s**t going on over there. Scaaaary!

three things sell on Furbid

(Anonymous)
I sell books on Furbid and there's three types I can always sell.

Sex. The weirder the better. I was amazed when someone bought this wretched thing that had snuff sex with were-piranhas. (Brian Hodge's "Nightlife", it had everything objectionable ever. It was like a car wreck. can't look away, can't put it down, it might get worse!) I feel uncomfortable having things like that in my shop where some kid might buy it. Yet the sticker on Nightlife said it originally came from Walmart... I don't think anyone at Walmart read it.

Foxes. Particuarly Kitsune. Generally a more narrowly focused fox thing would sell better than a generic fox. So a Kitsune, Br'er Fox, or Reynard would sell better than generic fox. In art that probably carries over to the different colors and species beyond generic red.

Christian stuff. Yes, there are in fact furry Christian books. Most of them are collections of Christian parables retold with animals, like in Martin Bell's Way of the Wolf. There's a few that are full book length parables, but there's less of those.

So the ultimate picture to pimp on Furbid?

Kitsune nun pinups. C'mon, you know you can see it in your head...


Re: three things sell on Furbid

That sounds like a challenge, Ursula ;^)

Maybe that could be the next monster Chu goes after? "Next to the closet, we find.... a naked arctic fox with a bible and a crusifix around her neck?"

I guess I'll be among the many (few?) who didn't make a connection between Caliban and Ursula Vernon...

The other day, after you had posted your new Irrational Fears, I thought to myself, "y'know.. that chupacabra reminds me of that one in that other person's gallery on her website.. hrm.. coincidence? Collaboration?"

Just my $ .02

Caliban? That was YOU?

I ran across your Caliban site months ago. I remember thinking "damn! this person's good!". Now that I know it's you I completely see the style symilarities. But I never made the connection before now. I feel so silly, like when there's some brain teaser puzzle that you can't figure out, but when someone tells you the answer it's like "well, Duh!"

But anyhow, I really do like that rabbit with the tatooed ear. Very nice :^)

"Kitsune nun pinups"??? I'm gonna have to watch a hog bein' slaughtered to get that out of my head...

Seriously, I've given some thought to the naughty bits myself. Chain maille lingerie sells for high prices. But I'd have to develop whole new styles, and buy expensive cutting equipment for smoother rings, and then I'd have to explain to people what the stuff on my coffee table is (I work on a felt pad on the coffee table in the living room)... and it's just not worth it. I just tell people, I don't do the naughty bits, you want a bikini, here's a URL. I'll stick with jewelry and armor, and stuff that you can fit people for with their clothes on.

I'd seen the Caliban stuff before, and since the URL was Caliban.metalandmagic.com, had thought it pretty obvious it was Ursula keeping her nipples on a separate site. Wait a minute, that last sentence... oh never mind. Not bad stuff, I wouldn't browse it at work, but have no problem browsing it at home where my wife looks over my shoulder. Although considering that she's an artist (mostly pencils these days), and we're Pagans, there's a different standard for our household than the mainstream. Whatever.

The spooge art on Furbid and other sites, however, I found to be way over the edge. I mean, seriously, some of it, if it was humans pictured, would be illegal... and some of it would put the participants in the hospital. And then so much is badly drawn, like the artist was working one-handed or something. But then I prefer my sex to be live and in person, not on paper or on the screen, so perhaps I'm not the best person to be making judgements on erotic art.

I dunno. I think I'll go back to making hanging candle lanterns out of steel and brass and shut up now.

I was surprised when I found that out, but you're definitely right. I have a friend who's sort of an odd duck - ex-marine, ex-armorer, current computer programming, pistol packing Christian dad who still makes armor in his spare time. So far his most profitable customers have been strippers. It's hilarious to listen to him talk about it - he gets excited about all his work, but he always feels compelled to remind me that that's *why* he's excited, not because it's gonna be a stripper's outfit.

I too went through the period of self-discovery that is Making Saucy Furry Art, and have come to mostly the same conclusions. Some of my wierder stuff isn't quite what I would hang on my wall, but it's definitely what I would buy. ;-) I think I tend more towards fetish stuff, but I'm not representing enough species, that's for sure, and I'm not well equipped to do large format prints yet (though that should change) I diddled with the idea of a screen name as well, then realized that Turbine already WAS my screen name, and people know me in the fandom by that anyhow.

And this all reminds me that I really need a website to promote furry work. Not enough hours in the day. x.x