My Story So Far
I'm Kaia! I go by Talia or Tallewellyn Comics in the business space and I have been a freelance artist since December 2021 when we held our university Christmas Fair as part of our second year project. While this was only a short time ago I have been on a steady path down the road of freelance work ever since. I have done a variety of things to head into the working world and below I intend to display every step I have taken so far and every step I intend to take along the next year as I prepare to head from university into the working world.
I've been Course Rep for all 3 years of this course and while I'd like to brag that it's because I'm clearly the favourite I think it owes some merit to my ability to bring ideas between my course mates and the lecturers. I work in the realm of getting things done and getting them done in a quick and orderly manner. When something goes wrong on the course I seem to be the first and only to always bridge that gap between the lecturers and the students. This became especially important in the first year where everything was online due to Covid and a lot of people were too shy to approach the lecturers. My most recent example would be every student simultaneously getting an email about their essay hand-in being overdue when it was clearly not. I did panic too but I emailed that module leader and got confirmation that it was a system error, then reporting back to the course mates.
I've also made appearances at the open days and I have talked to potential students about the future they could seek with the course which is always rewarding as I get to gush about the things I have gotten up to even with the traditional student experience being dampened by Covid (Not that I would've partaken anyway as a notorious introvert until exactly the time arises to talk with customers or fellow nerds) the open days gave me a chance to bring new people into the course that helped me gain more personal confidence.
Now that I have been part of a successful Kickstarter as well myself and my teammate have agreed to do a talk for the second years to help educate the younger years of people trying to do the same thing as us.
Freelance Comic Artist Work
In January 2022 I started work on a personal comic: Tempus Clade Issue #1 which has been a big point of pride ever since it properly released. Unfortunately it's taken me until January 2023 to get anywhere past page 8 on Issue #2.
Over the course of Early 2022 I attended a few smaller conventions in anticipation for the big university project of our second year: MCM London... the biggest convention in England... nothing big or anything. The smaller conventions I attended were the Stoke Craft and Flea and Stoke Con Trent to hopefully somehow prepare myself for tabling at MCM. The smaller cons helped me learn how long I take to set up and how I like my table set up to look.
I finished two comics in time for MCM London May 2022: Tempus Clade Issue #1 and our group project Solomon's Seal. The university took us to the event as a test run to see if freelancing was of interest to any of us. The idea was to spend around 7 hours at the table across the 3 day event to give people adequate time to relax... I spent over 14 hours behind the table and I don't regret a second of it. I already knew I had a passion for tabling after having attended the smaller conventions and I decided to sign up for Megacon Manchester in August to try out my hand at tabling a full weekend mostly on my own. I also attended some other small cons over the summer of 2022 such as Long Rest Geeky Market, Stoke Con Trent (Actually in Stoke this time) and I have now held a table at Forbidden Planet Hanley a couple of times.
My business has increased quite exponentially since last year as I received a grant of £1000 from the Denise Coates Foundation through the university. This helped in paying for comic printing for MCM London and has funded some of my other product expenses as well as opportunities to attend other conventions I otherwise couldn't have afforded so soon. I'm still keeping that money up now with my business fund at around £300, my business in finally on the rise which should hopefully get me back to the £1000 mark again by the end of next year.
I have made over £1000 this year that has immediately gone back into paying for new conventions and has also meant I had to sign up for HMRC to file taxes which is undoubtedly the less interesting part of the whole ordeal. This does mean I am a registered UK business now though which is its own form of excitement.
I am booked in for another 3 conventions in the upcoming year:
Larpcon of Magic
Most of the larger conventions cost around £150 - £200 for the tables which I am usually able to cover. I mostly attend the larger conventions for exposure.
We're currently in the off-season of conventions which means it's the time to be signing up for new events. I have applied for MCM London which I won't know the status of until March and I am waiting for the applications for the other MCM events to open so I can also attempt to get a table at them too.
I would normally be signed on for a lot of other smaller events around Stoke too but with it being the off-season there aren't any currently open.
From the amount of events I have attended in Stoke, the regulars of the places are starting to recognise me, I have had various comments now of people who have recognised my items or my comics either from having purchased one themselves or seeing one on someone else they know.
One of my proudest moments has been someone coming across my table and saying "I think I've seen that on my workmate's desk!" which is something I imagine I'll remember forever. It's good to know my stories are distracting enough to be read in the workplace.
While my table design has always included the same base elements, I've made some progression on my presentation from starting to now.
My primary changes have been the increase in products and the way I display them.
I started creating badges so I purchased a wooden tray which gives customers easy access to them.
I also bought a nice open display for my stickers which I have since had to stop using as it no longer fits all of
my designs on it. I changed the tablecloth to fit in non Christmas settings and I angled for a more natural fantasy style which seems effective at drawing in the kind of customers I'm after. There's a typical divide in conventions between Fantasy artists, Horror Artists and Pastel Artists which I have noticed. This fits nicely into the demographics at conventions and I've become quite adept at figuring out which people walking past are likely to enjoy my content so I know who I'm better pushing a sale with and who will not be interested. More importantly, from my table design, most people know whether or not they'll like my products.
I like to keep up a design of nature and fantasy using a lot of false plant life and wooden displays which appeal to me and naturally appeal to my customers too. My wire crates are also one of my favoured parts of my display which I may have to change if I don't learn to drive soon as they are very heavy and inconvenient to carry on the train.
I used to attend conventions as a cosplayer long before I was a seller and I think it's given me a lot of useful insight about being on the other side of the table. I know more about the way my customers are thinking, what they're willing to spend money on and how much they would spend. I sometimes go back to attending, usually at MCM Birmingham November which is near my birthday and I can easily say it's far stranger being on the buyer's side of the table now.
I also often attend conventions with my friend Daisy who is incredibly eager to talk about my products and we now often work on projects together so we have a lot of shared products which means we're both well practiced in pitching our stories together.
I make stickers, badges, art prints and comics, the comics being the most expensive of those to produce.
I use Mixam to print my comics and their current rates see me buying my comics for around £325 for 150 comics which currently puts the price at £2.16 per comic where it used to cost me £1.70 for the same order. This means I now have to increase my comic sale price from £3.50 to £4.
I make my stickers myself with my Cricut Explore 3 which was a gift so I don't have to actually consider the business implications of its cost which is around £300
The same can be said for my badge maker which was also a gift that would normally cost me £70.
The consistent cost comes with the materials I use with these items
The badge creator kits cost around £94 for 1000 sets and I sell my badges for £1 each
The stickers are around £0.04 to make each and I sell them for £1 each as well
My art prints cost around £0.40 to make and I sell them for £3 each
I run a promotion that you can get 7 mix-and-match stickers or badges for £5
My smartest business tactic has been designing badge and sticker packs
these contain 7 stickers or badges for £5 which then has
customers only picking up one item in comparison to 7 if they want a full set of stickers.
There seems to be some simple psychology behind it that means people don't feel like
they're spending as much if they're picking up one item even though they're spending
the same regardless.
All of my work is currently original and I try not to delve into fanart too much which means I have a slower increase in followers but the followers I do get are ones interested in my original work.
In the off-season it is also prime time to be working on new products which is exactly my intention.
I am looking at designing a new set of 7 tabletop themed badges as it is currently one of the most popular topics
in the nerd community. I am also looking at finally finishing Tempus Clade Issue #2 as I have now been asked for it a variety of times at conventions which is flattering but stressful.
I also intend to outsource a lot more of my work as it will take off a lot of the stress of making my products myself. I have looked through various sites such as AwesomeMerch and StickerMule which currently both have awful reviews from other people in the industry so I will continue to make my own stickers, as I have a Cricut Machine which cuts them out neatly for me and a badge maker that is far cheaper than outsourcing. This makes my Sticker cost around 4p per sticker and 8p per badge and I sell both at around £1 each
My dad works at a print house based in Crewe where I am now going to source my art prints as the paper thickness is better than anything I can put through my printer. It also costs around the same at 40p a print which I then sell for £3 at conventions.
I also intend to branch out with the types of merchandise I make using Indigo Promotions or Zap! Creatives who have both been heavily recommended to me.
Social Media Work
I go by Tallewellyn Comics on Social Media and I have around 220 followers on Instagram and 98 on Facebook. The platforms also give me a decent idea of my demographics.
The area demographic mostly reflects that of my local area where I frequently attend conventions as well as the locations of my friends and family which is to be expected.
I was surprised myself to see the demographic of gender for my products to be so even
I don't create any intentionally gendered items so I'm pleased that reflects in my demographic chart.
I have also joined a lot of social media pages of other artists and sellers who are able to give me insightful tips on the industry such as which conventions to avoid, which outsourcers are good and what couriers they recommend for online sales. That community has helped me more than I can say and most of my knowledge has come from them.
I attempt to post frequently on Instagram and Facebook which is made easier by Meta Business Suite which is designed by Facebook's parent company to make my life easier when it comes to posting on both platforms. I can schedule posts in advance so I don't have to worry about hovering over my computer at 10am to get things posted at the right time.
In the new year it's my intention to improve my posts as I haven't seen much growth on either platform. It is unfortunately very difficult to do as there is never much clarity about social media algorithms and what they want. On Instagram there seems to be a clear push for reels but then there is also rumour about the platform returning to pushing pictures again.
The same can be said for my Etsy which has proven to be very quiet. in the new year it is my intention to take better photographs of my work and work on my marketing skills to really attempt to drive my business forward.
Being a freelance business owner requires a lot of things, you have to be an artist, a marketer, a producer, a seller, a photographer, an editor and many more things. It is very multifaceted but very rewarding for those who do go through it all as at the end of the day you get to directly talk with your customers and see the happiness they can get from your work.
The best part of this job for me is the conventions, I have people come to my table and see my stickers and respond with "Oh my god, frogs!!" or the people who directly look at you and say "You're incredibly talented" it's a wonderful experience and it makes the hard work I do throughout the rest of the year absolutely worth it.
Part Time Scenic Painter?
One of my further-out jobs, I took on a job to paint the scenery at the Rugeley Rose Theatre for their Christmas performance of Cinderella. I was given some of the most brightly coloured paints I had ever seen and set off about trying to paint the scenery as requested.
Admittedly I wasn't happy with the end product but that may have been to do with my personal bias against the provided colours. Those who commissioned me seemed more than happy with the end product and gave me a lift back to the train station so I didn't have to walk in the dark, that can at least suggest they didn't dislike it that much!
I learned to use Adobe Premiere Pro and Tyranobuilder. I spent over 170 hours on the latter program during the course of one of my Minor project which has taught me the valuable lesson that I really want to use another program which has lead me to Naninovel which I intend to use next.
Over the course of my minor project I also learned how to use Adobe Premiere Pro for editing the cutscenes which has been a very useful tool.
Based on some of the industry jobs I have researched, I should also get an adequate understanding of Photoshop, even if Clip Studio is my go-to program. It's my intention to use Linkedin Learning while we still have access to it as students so I can get a hang of using the Adobe platforms.
For the minor project we also learned to use Kickstarter for a digital release and next semester I would like to do another Kickstarter for the physical release of a comic to see how it differs from a digital release.
Learning to use Kickstarter was one of the biggest challenges of this semester. Daisy and I worked together on the project and I was mostly in charge of the Kickstarter, we made the cover image together and set a goal of £200. I arranged the different contribution tiers and what rewards backers could receive and since completion I have arranged and sent out the backer surveys and I will be sending the rewards to the backers when they are complete.
We opened the Kickstarter to the public on the 3rd December and we were fully funded on the first day.
As you can see we made almost £700 by the end of the Kickstarter with 34 backers.
The money so far is allocated like this:
£72 went towards joining the Steamworks Partnership Program which allows us to release a game on Steam, this allows us to release a singular game on Steam and upon making $1000 from the game on the platform, we will get that £72 back in credit to release another game.
£60 went to a voice actress for the game to do opening credit narrations and epilogue narrations
£170 went to end-credit music for the game
£12 went to the Visual Novel Builder we used
£62 went to a better Visual Novel Builder that we will use in the future
£33.75 went to the Kickstarter processing fees
This racks up to around £409.75
That leaves us with around 265.25
Splitting that between both me and Daisy sees us get around £132.62 each for our own contribution to the game.
My hobby work fits really nicely into my freelance work as I'm always surrounded by the same type of people I sell to. I play RPGs both tabletop and live action, sometimes I attend cons as a cosplayer and I enjoy miniature painting or video games when I'm not spending all of my hours on some project or another.
Being a part of these communities, I'm consistently involved with the type of people I'm selling to which means I can always keep on top of trends and see what people in the convention scene are looking for. It is also a fairly frequent source of income with commissions.
A huge part of becoming a freelance artist has been trying to learn a good work-play balance. Something I am still learning. I have spent most of my time since last January working on some project or another, even during the time I had Covid, once I recovered from the initial headache on the first day I was right back to working again, I even found myself answering work emails about new tables while sat at my 21st Birthday meal. Learning to relax and take time off when I need it is one of the harder parts of the work which is amusing to me as it seems like a direct opposite to my high school life where it was all play and no work. It is absolutely my new goal to find a better work-life balance and take more time for my hobbies and friendships.
Monday and Tuesday are our D&D nights, my main time off a week, I get to sit around a table and weave stories together with characters we created.
Being involved in a lot of roleplay games also gives me a huge amount of inspiration for my art and most of my best art pieces come out of my favourite moments in the games we play because they are always such explosive and huge moments of emotion between players.
Making these pieces week by week helps me make more emotive pieces as they are characters I have played and have a strong connection to. Most of my practice before university was while I was drawing segments of the D&D game we played over lockdown in 2020 which then incidentally became my first personal comic
Looking To The Future
I have been searching down the career path and found I'd like to work somewhere such as Monzo Bank as one of their customer service employees, my sister is already employed there and is treated incredibly well by them. I already have a lot of customer service experience from working freelance behind tables and as we enter our final semester I will be making an attempt to apply during their next recruitment drive.
The benefit to working there is that I can work remotely, I will get plenty of chance to continue my freelance work and still have a steady income stream. The jobs there recommend previous experience in call centres but it isn't required as they provide training.
If I can work remotely then I can live anywhere I'd like and I would preferably like to remain nearby to Stoke where I have already built a customer base. I've looked into places such as Derby which is very nearby to one of my favourite Live Action Roleplay games as well. I'd ideally be looking for a 2 bedroom house so I could have an office space for remote work and a separate room to sleep in. Many houses of that description in Derby are around the £600-800pcm and working in customer service in Monzo would pay around £23,500 a year at the lower end of their pay seeing as I have no experience. If this was my only job, that would put my take-home income at around £1667 a month and depending on my partner's income, that should make the rent cost doable with electricity bills in the UK sitting at an average of £65 a month and the average water bill being around £34 a month and council tax sitting at around £125 a month that's a monthly cost of around £1025 for one of the nicer 2 bedroom houses in Derby which leaves me with just over £600 a month if I was paying alone. Some higher estimates for my other costs are £200 for Food and around £100 for Wifi which would be required for remote working. I'm sure there's parts of that I'm missing still but that covers my basics.
Working at Monzo would also come with its own benefits as they provide all of the tech I would require, there are 24 days holiday plus bank holidays a year with an extra month of unpaid leave as well as a sabbatical scheme that allows 4 year employees to get 3 months of paid leave. You also get health insurance, a learning budget of £1000 a year a 4% pension scheme and a variety of family-based paid leave such as maternity pay which isn't particularly of interest to me as I would prefer to remain childless.
The other benefit to working for a bank is that I can also learn more about the financial side of running my own business on the side.
My next business step will be applying for Quickbooks to get my taxes more in order now I am over a certain income. I want to improve my business flow more instead of adopting a "let it happen" attitude. I want to get a wider range of products and a few more expensive products to truly increase my income as well as properly setting up my Etsy to a point I am happier with as currently I don't have many orders through it.
Another of the potential branching steps would see me signing up to release games on the Nintendo Switch as an indie developer which is something I am working towards now I am more adept with making visual novels. It is something I will not be doing until we have had our Steam Release of Fort Valen. After that it is something I would like to work on.
I want to continue with my freelance work in the future, my business is currently still in its early stages and I want to see where I can carry it to in the coming years. I plan on doing this as my side work until someday it will hopefully be able to become a full-time thing.