So gather 'round my children-who-better-be-over-18-for-this,
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.