How to Make Money with Blender : Getting Started

In this 4-part series, I'll be talking about the ways you can start using Blender to earn some spare pocket change. 

If you are like me, you have probably dreamt of someday, somehow being able to make a living using Blender 3D. Because I am fortunate enough to be able to pay my bills using Blender and surrounded by people who do the same, I want to shed some light on the various paths you can follow to start making money using Blender today. 

Is it a Good Idea?

To begin with, is this a smart choice at all? Since you are reading this, it is safe to assume that Blender is your passion - and at CG Cookie, we are big believers in following them and turning them into careers. After all, that is how our humble training company got started! The odds are, doing something you love will be easier, produce better results and allow you to have more fun along the way. But there is more to it than just turning a hobby into a revenue stream. Architectural visualization, 3D print, product prototyping, research and design, virtual reality (think Oculus Rift!), special effects in entertainment - 3D is here to stay and so is the need for people who can create all of the above. There has never been more need for people who can create 3D models and animations to give shape and form to ideas. At the same time, Blender has become established as a serious alternative to commercial 3D software packages. Companies and studios are switching to Blender. Universities use Blender in their courses. Movies are being created in Blender. NASA is using Blender. Clearly, the time to get started and turn Blender into a business is now. So what can you do to get your foot in the door and get your favorite hobby to grow your bank account?

First, Learn Blender

That was pretty obvious, right? Like everything in life, you really can't start making money using Blender if you aren't well versed in it. This is the single biggest hurdle you have to get over to start making money. And let's be clear: I'm not talking about watching a few tutorials or buying a book. I'm talking about putting in thousands of hours of learning, trying and failing. There is no magic bullet and no secret workflow that artists use as a shortcut. If they are good, it means they've put in their time, tried, failed, tried again, and probably failed again before finally getting to a point where they can create seemingly amazing art at will. If you are serious about making a living using Blender, you have to be serious about learning Blender. While this is intimidating, the fact that you are reading this means that you have probably made the first step already. Now just keep walking! Do you think you are at the point where you can create great artwork and you want to start putting what you've learned to use? Awesome, but before we get to that...

Stop and Learn More.

In Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers, Gladwell repeatedly mentions the "10,000-Hour Rule", claiming that the key to achieving world-class expertise in any skill is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing the correct way, for a total of around 10,000 hours.

“In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours.” ― Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers: The Story of Success

My point here is not for you to actually punch a clock for 10,000 hours until you start to try and use Blender professionally. However, I've seen too many artists assess their skill level way above what it actually is. Ask for feedback and be open to criticism; it's the only way to grow. And never, ever stop learning. In his book Rich Habits - The Daily Success Habits of Wealthy Individuals, Tom Corley identified continuous, daily learning as one of the key activities that all successful people share. We are fortunate to live in a time where learning is easier than ever before in history. Take advantage of the endless resources at your disposal! Watch tutorials, read articles, participate in workshops, practice new techniques tirelessly. Make it a habit to spend at least 1 hour a day on your personal development and on perfecting your skills, no excuses. Speaking of habits, did you know habit forming is one of the most powerful techniques for achieving your goals?

Are you Ready?

So you think you've learned enough? Or are you not sure? There's no doubt that truly assessing your skills and level is a difficult thing to do - hell, allowing other people to evaluate your skills can be tough! I've worked as a professional artist for over 15 years of my life and while I'm well-versed in the rejection of my ideas, skills and art, it still sucks when someone crushes my work. And believe me, it does happen. However, if you can get past the hurt and focus on what other people are saying about your art, take it in and learn from it, you are going to become that much better of an artist. The easiest way to find out where your talent level is, is to ask a more experienced artist to critique your work. Andrew Price has been a big proponent of this for years and he's spot on:

Post your artwork with the phrase, “I want to improve my skills as an artist so please give your honest feedback! Don’t worry about hurting my feelings :)” ― Andrew Price

While posting your work in the Blender Community is a great idea, I think we can all agree that there's a certain level of fanboyism that happens between Blender artist. So branch out, post your work on sites that scare you because of the caliber of work on them. Sites like ArtStation, Polycount and CGSociety, to name a few, are full of amazing artists. Have them critique your work and then be open to what they say. Constructive criticism is worthless if you don't take it to heart. 

Remove the Training Wheels 

At some point, you have to strap that helmet on a little tighter and take the plunge. The best thing you can do is be honest with yourself: have you put in the time and effort to learn, asked artists better than yourself for their honest feedback, listened to them and learned from their input? Does your gut tell you that you're ready? If the answer is yes, let's move on to the next step...

Create a Portfolio

Yep, you will definitely need one. This doesn't have to be an overly complicated, fancy endeavor. The main thing is that your portfolio is updated regularly with your work and that it is relevant to the type of work you are trying to get. So if you want to create car models - better make sure you have at least one car model in your portfolio! There's a huge amount of info on how to create a good portfolio. In my eyes, there are two essential things to keep in mind:

It has to be easy for you to update What good is a portfolio if the last time you updated it was a year ago, or even 3 months ago? Pick a platform that works for you and is easy for you to keep current. A few examples of services that you can use for a portfolio with a low entry barrier are Tumblr, CG Cookie, Sketchfab, Behance and Dribbble.

Show your work A lot of artists overthink their portfolio. They think it needs to be clever, witty, different. While that's great, don't get stuck on that. The #1 thing your portfolio should do is showcase your work. That's it. As someone who has hired many freelancers before, I don't want to have to dig through your site to find your work, I want it front and center, big and beautiful.

For great tips on portfolio creation from an industry insider, read CG Cookie interview with Mike Rossie from Volition Games or check out what Chris McFall says about making the perfect showreel.

In part 2 of the series we'll look at where to find a job, in part 3 we talk about how to create training materials and in part 4 we discuss Selling Assets and Addons.