November 19, 2013

Students @ Work with Betsy Peterschmidt

By Britt Gettys
Photos Courtesy of Britt Gettys and Betsy Peterschmidt 

Betsy Peterschmidt at her NYCC booth.
“Name: Betsy Peterschmidt.  Major: Illustration.  Year: Senior… That depresses me,” jokes Betsy Peterschmidt.  Situated at her Artist Alley booth at New York Comic Con (NYCC), surrounded by a myriad of cosplayers and comic-enthusiasts, all checking out the numerous prints and mini comic books Betsy’s selling, it’s hard to picture the quirky illustrators as actually being unenthused about graduation.  Or, perhaps Betsy has just found a productive way of channeling her nerves.  After all, she’s come to NYCC with the goal of securing her occupation as an illustrator, before graduating.  She’s a working girl with a working plan of action.  

“I’m promoting myself, and it’s been a great experience,” she says.  “I was here last year too, but this year has been more wild.  I’ve been able to get up from the booth more, now that I have Kevin, my booth babe,” she jokes, gesturing towards her boyfriend and collaborator.  “I’ve been going up to the show floor, trying to make friends, networking with Simon and Schuster and Dark Horse.  I'm interning at Green Willow books, an imprint of Harper Collins, and Sylvie Le Floch, the art director I'm working with there is here today, so I’ve been hanging with her too, meeting some very sweet, nice people.”

While she’s able to get up and go around the Con more this year, she still spends the majority of her time working at her booth.  Yet, it’s not boring for Betsy.  She’s constantly engaging herself with people passing by, stopping cosplayers to take their photos (notables being a Hipster Pocahontas, and a Jedi Mulan). “I get so annoyed with people who are trying too hard to sell their work,” she says.  “I want to engage with people, let them know that I know they’re here, looking at my work, but not try too hard to make a sale.  I don’t want to pressure people to buy things or sign up for a commission.”

It’s a strategy that works well for Betsy.  Minutes after Jedi Mullan walks by, she’s back to talk with Betsy more, this time asking for a water colored commission of her Jedi Mulan character.

“It’ll be done in 45 minutes,” Betsy tells the girl with a smile, already pulling out her watercolor pad and paints.
“Thanks!,” says Jedi Mullan.  “Your work is flawless!”

"Look at all this sweet art!"
Selling small commissions in house is a common thing in the NYCC artist alley, and one Betsy excels at.  “I’ve been mostly doing commissions here,” she says, gesturing towards the list of clients she’s taken on over the Con weekend.  “I make sure to give myself some buffer space though, because I’ll also mingle with people as I work.”

Aside from commissions, Betsy is selling a variety of her other works, including fantasy art prints, and pages from her ongoing web-comic, "Boys With Wings".  “Boys With Wings" is a story geared towards middle school students,” Betsy explains.  “The main character is ten, and the story is all about these kids learning to fly metaphorically.  Basically what happens is this one girl, Amelia, ends up missing, but she’s found by these two twin boys, and the three of them work together to fly Amelia home.  The three of them all share this deep passion for flight, gliders, and the story may be about getting her back home, but it’s ultimately about rising from failure.”

Watercolor prints, by Betsy,
for sale at her booth.
A majority of Betsy’s work focuses on this theme of personal encouragement.  Her other web-comic, "Symbiotic Neurotic", is a collaboration between her and her boyfriend Kevin Zych (pictured above).  The work features the two of them, depicted as animals, and tells stories of their adventures in New York.  “A lot of the stories in the comic are true,” Betsy says.  “But it’s more of a project that’s just for fun, it’s Kevin and I making fun of our neurotic selves as we both try to make art in NY.”  While the comic strip may be a project designed to help Betsy and Kevin unwind and remember not to take things too seriously, it’s no less successful than her other work.  In fact, the printed booklets of the comic-strip Betsy brought with her to NYCC all sold out, including the prototype.  

“There's a lot I'm still learning, being in school, so a lot of these projects are a way to encourage myself, and I think that’s why they’re all about rising up above challenge,” Betsy says.  A lot of these challenges, for Betsy, come from being a student, but also working freelance, and having to negotiate those two roles.  “I recently reached the realization that school has become second to my freelance work.  Not so much to the point that I’ve been failing classes, but normally I’d do an assignment or my homework right away.  Lately I’ve been pushing those things back, instead working on commissions.  Because this commission is due on Friday, and that assignment is due Monday, I’m going to prioritize the freelance work.”    

The decision to make freelance a priority has greatly paid off for Betsy.  Recently she illustrated a book cover for fantasy author, Diana Wyne Jones.  Before the book cover, she’d mostly done a lot of pet portraits for people in Minnesota, her state of origin.  Since then she’s branched out and worked on Kickstarter projects and children’s books illustrations.  Over the course of adding various projects to her resume, Betsy says she’s learned a lot about how to negotiate with clients, and more importantly, when to turn down a commission.  
Failure, By Betsy Peterschmidt

“Last spring someone from The Walking Dead messaged me, asking if I would do a graphic novel for them.  But I wouldn’t be paid by them, I’d only receive royalties.  And with the way royalties work, you really don’t get paid a lot unless it’s a New York Times Best Seller.  I told them I’d need to be paid upfront, and that I’d love to work with them on other things, and they didn’t call me back.  People will grind you for more work and less money like that, and slowly, over time, you learn how to deal with those people and how to determine what’s best for you.  A forty-five page graphic novel?  That takes time, and if it didn’t sell it’d be a flop.  That wouldn’t be the best decision for me.”

When asked if she had any other advice for current students, and artists, Betsy simply said, “Don’t wait.  Just start doing it now.  Go to conferences, get advice from mentors, family, friends.  I’m hearing it everywhere, don’t wait for the prince charming of the illustration world to come along.  You have to make it happen.  And don’t think you’re not good enough.  That’s just withholding your work from the world, and that’s sad.  Everyone has a voice.”

Betsy’s final message: “Greatness is not measured by how much success you have, but rather, how you rise from failure.”

Interviewed by Britt Gettys October 13, 2013

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