The City of Shanghai

I was having a discussion, recently, with a fine artist, here in Shanghai, about making a life from your own work. The idea that seemed to interest both of us was gaining the ability to earn one's living by their own hand, their own skill, and use one's time to do exactly what one wants to do. I actually know people who do this, some even in forms of art one would never expect could make such a life possible. I myself have done it. This makes me ask the question, what would you be willing to give up to make such a dream a reality?

The artist I was talking to does oil paintings and exhibits them in local galleries for potential sale. This is apparently a very difficult prospect and one can go a long time without making any money. He seems to have little interest in commercial art, and he shouldn't need to have such an interest. The question here is about doing what one really wants to do, after all.

I know an artist who does reproduction Greek and Roman pottery. From my background, I couldn't begin to understand how such a line of work could result in a living, but it does. One reason is because the artist was willing to make sacrifices to make such a living possible. I am not talking about living like a pauper, certainly not forever. I am talking about making sacrifices to gain the time needed to build your name. Having done so, this pottery artist not only has loyal clients who buy her work, but was even commissioned to produce pieces for a couple of recent huge budget fantasy movies. Her sacrifices early on netted a tremendous gain in the long run. Would you do that?

So what about me? Those who have followed me at this site since its inception (it's been ten years now! Can You believe that?!) will know that I have done exactly what this article speaks of on more than one occasion. I began, pushed into it by my layoff from Westwood Studios actually, with selling the DVDs of my original, independent, 3D, cel shaded, anime movies, Understanding Chaos and Shadowskin from this website. Compared to working in a large game company, the income represented a drastic cut, but it was, or at least could have been, a living. I hadn't yet learned how to make the necessary sacrifices. I was still wasting money in the same fashion I did as a single guy, with no debt, and with a huge salary from a large game company.

I am, of course, older and wiser now. As the saying goes, if I knew then what I know now I could have made that early run build into something great. We live and learn, right? I followed up with some freelance and then the original manga works for TOKYOPOP, which was still living mostly by my own hand and power, but not exactly doing what I wanted to do. In 2005, I returned to the world of full time employment in a studio, this time a Hollywood studio doing film VFX work.

Working in the studios lasted about 3 years, but luckily, in this case, about halfway through, I really began to build up my website, name and products, teaching how to make your own anime movie, with creations like Anigen, The Ultimate Model Bundle and others. When the writer's strike hit and the major decline in production, and thus jobs, hit, my site was already going again. Of course, it wasn't going well enough to live in an expensive city like L.A. This raised the question, how far would you be willing to go to make this work? For me, the answer was about 10,000 miles.

An old friend of mine had retired early from the company where he worked with a small pension. He also rented out the house he had in the U.S. His monthly income would barely cover the rent in the place I was staying in L.A., but he was living an amazing life of adventure in SE Asia. Most importantly, he didn't need to work, ever. Granted, he used his spare time mostly for World of Warcraft, but I saw different possibilities in what he had done. I began to really look into this. I found more stories, even one of a guy who began doing freelance online, for what might be considered peanuts in California, but it got him out of the rat race and over to Asia where he was happily living a dream life. I won't dare tell you what he started out with. Anyway, this had me convinced.

When the writer's strike hit, I had two choices. I could step into the unknown or stay where I was in California, where I knew exactly what was going to happen, and where I would be in the next five years. I chose to step into the unknown. I sold everything I had, got a laptop, and got on a plane. I made plenty of mistakes, to be sure, and I ran into some rough patches here and there, but in the three years since that decision, I have also been around The Philippines, Korea, and Japan, with no job, doing my own thing, making my own anime and teaching you how to make your own anime movies, and having total freedom. The point is I did it. The question is how was I able to do it?

Well, back to my discussion with the fine artist in Shanghai. Shanghai is by no means a cheap city to live in. It really is not that different from L.A. and some parts can be even more expensive. Basically, it is not the place to do this. Believe it or not, there are places in the Philippines where one could really live on as little as $300 per month, if one is willing to make sacrifices. I am not talking about the room being $300. I mean all life. It can be done, and there are actually places even cheaper. The adventurous soul may find locations in India or Thailand where a life can be created for less. The goal to keep in mind, though, is that the purpose of such a measure is to build your name, build your website or other means of bringing in income by your own power. You have all your time to yourself and your work, not someone else's.

After spending months in such a place, I had built my website to where it was making as much as $3000 USD per month. That would be enough to live in most places in the US. The problem is, though, I needed time to get there. This time I would not have had were I spending all my days working for someone else while in the US. Only through the freedom gained by this choice, and having every single hour of my days mine to use as I chose, to create my own anime movies, could I build my site up to that point.

So the fine artist asked me why I didn't stay there and continue to do that? Well, that is another story. Maybe I'll write a book.

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