Listen to the episode:
Cartoonist and graphic recorder Lisa Frühbeis has made bold moves that have led to an incredibly rapid career trajectory in the last few years, starting with pitching a comic strip to a newspaper straight out of school…and then parlaying the end of that strip into a book deal, and then much more.
But Lisa isn’t bold because she’s free from fear. Far from it. Although she long felt a strong pull to become a professional artist, she was held back by an intense fear of the financial instability that comes along with that path.
What helped her overcome that fear and do the thing?
Lisa learned to use some strategic tools, not to stuff down and ignore her feelings and needs, but rather to leverage them to make decisions in the full confidence that she’s doing the right thing.
And those deeply-rooted decisions are what make it possible for Lisa to, for example, renegotiate a with an international cultural agency to support her dream personal project.
What are these amazing tools?
Negotiation, a weighted priority matrix (?! Hang tight: We explain all), and…
Lisa’s story reveals that the secret to taking big leaps and inventing new paths to success isn’t freezing your soul and becoming an art-making automaton, but on the contrary, using passion, inspiration, and even negative emotions as guides and anchors to what really matters, and what to do next.
More from the episode…
- “I was scared to do art. My mother is a single mother and she always reminded me that it’s very important, especially as woman, to be able to make money.” – How Lisa found her artistic voice and overcame her scarcity mindset.
- Why does Lisa believe “envy is underrated” and what did paying attention to what she envied reveal about her career path?
- Instead of saying yes to unfulfilling work, Lisa explains how she uses a decision matrix to chose projects that honor her values.
- Lisa defines her criteria for accepting new projects, and explains how knowing your values can make you a more confident negotiator.
- “I was always feeling like I was playing chess, but not knowing what the rules were” — Why Lisa believes learning to negotiate is the best financial investment any artist can make.
- How did Lisa convince a powerful cultural institute to adopt her passion project?
- The prestigious award Lisa’s project almost didn’t qualify for and the importance of being persistent.
- Lisa shares an epiphany that transformed her career: “The only thing she has that you don’t have is courage.”
More from Lisa Frühbeis:
Lisa Frühbeis is a comic artist and author. Her first book, the feminist comic strip collection “Busengewunder”, appeared at Carlsen Bonnier in 2020 and won several awards. Her current webcomic “a fraction of time”, about a single mother who works in the creative field, is available on tapas. She also teaches illustration at university and works as a graphic recorder (live drawing of word-image protocols) for sustainable companies. Lisa has been a voluntary board member of many associations, including the German Illustrators’ Association, which she also represented as the German representative in the European umbrella organization EIF.
Connect with Lisa Frühbeis
Lisa’s guest post on our blog: How to stop trying to do it all — 5 steps to choose the best project (and chuck the rest)
Click here to read the transcript
Ep 006 – Envy as a virtue: How to turn your greenest eyed demon into a tool for success, with Lisa Frühbeis
Lisa Frühbeis:in retrospect it looks like, yeah, sure, this one thing led to another, but you never know and you just have to believe in this and this is hard, but it’s also cool when it works.
And then other things will come. You never know what, but there will be things happening.
Jessica Abel: What does it take to become a successful writer or artist?
There are some destructive myths out there about what a creative career is supposed to look like.
And we’re kept in our lane by the undermining belief that, as artists, we’re somehow incapable of building autonomous, sustainable careers– if we choose the work that’s closest to our hearts.
So we’re going to tear down those myths and get the truth by going to the source:
Incredible professional creatives who’ve followed every path but the expected one to success on their own terms.
I’m cartoonist, author, and coach for creatives, Jessica Abel.
And this is the Autonomous Creative.
Jessica: My guest today is cartoonist and graphic recorder. Lisa Fruhbeis.
I wanted to have Lisa on the show today because I’ve had a backstage view on a truly incredible series of successes over the last 18 months. And while her accomplishments have been amazing to watch from the outside. Anyone who looks can see that part.
What I wanted to share with you is how she’s made all this happen behind the scenes.
Because Lisa is an alum of the creative focus workshop, and she’s a member of the Autonomous Creative Collective. And she shared with us every dilemma and decision she’s made.
And there have been many, because doing cool stuff opens the floodgates to more cool stuff.
Lisa has grappled with the many options using inventive methods, deep curiosity, and dogged persistence, and been rewarded with things like getting paid to draw her dream project. And finding an international book agent who brought three offers to the table.
What’s most striking about all this is that it doesn’t come out of becoming a comics making machine. Quite the contrary. The more Lisa has learned to use her passions and even negative feelings as information that can guide her choices, the better she’s done.
Let’s get into it with Lisa Fruhbeis right after this.
Jessica Abel: What does it really take to make it as a creative? This is the burning question that’s driven me for– forever, really. I used to have to try to ferret out the answers one by one, when I got a chance to hang out with a fellow artist or writer. And when I judged it safe enough to ask that delicate question we’re all dying to know the answer to: how do you make it work?
Every guest I’ve interviewed so far has mentioned this. One of the secrets to how they’ve gotten as far as they have is that they’ve asked every creative pro they met, every chance they got asking the question often enough is a game changer.
We learn so much each time. Starting with the fact that, whatever we thought was working for that person? We were probably wrong.
We each imagine the other person has some kind of secret and that they’ve made the leap over the giant chasm between beginner and pro and feel safe on the other side. And inevitably, neither person feels that way at all and is amazed to realize that from the outside, they seem to have it all figured out.
I’m pulling that seemingly taboo conversation out of the shadows on the show. It’s also the conversation we take further every day inside the community of Authentic Visibility.
Authentic Visibility is our group coaching program designed to help dedicated creatives who are very reasonably wary of marketing and promotion into powerful advocates for their vision and their work, setting the stage for huge career growth and a major role in the larger cultural conversation.
Got a major project dropping soon, and you’re determined not to let it founder? Get the support you need to create a reasonable promotion plan that aligns with your goals and fits your life.
Don’t know how to talk about your work without squirming? You’ll practice and refine your messaging in a safe, supportive space inside Authentic Visibility.
Hate or fear social media, and dunno what else to do? There are lots of options, and you can workshop solutions that suit you and your approach with your peers.
You can learn all about Authentic Visibility and get a sense of my teaching philosophy in a free 90 minute class, specifically for creatives called “how to get people wildly obsessed with your work ” and in it, you’ll get a headstart on developing clear, compelling language for sharing your work with your audience so that they get it and they want more.
If you want your work to make its mark in the world, check out the free wildly obsessed class and supercharge your ability to connect with new fans in just 90 minutes.
Go to Jessica abel.com/wildly and join the free class now.
That’s Jessica abel.com/wildly.
Okay, let’s start the show.
What was your path? How did you end up doing a comic for a newspaper and all those kinds of things?
Lisa Frühbeis: Well, I studied graphic design in South Germany and I was always very drawn to storytelling and drawing images, but I, for a number of reason, chose animation in my undergraduate program, which was cool because I will learn a lot about storytelling. A lot of it was self-taught, but it was the space to dig into the material.
But I just wasn’t a very good animator. I was way too impatient and I also didn’t have the eye for movement studies. So I threw it away completely.
The back then Lisa would just say, you know, screw it all.
And I thought I go into film school and I landed on… I don’t know how it’s called in English, but this, this, the waiting list, place one. Is Yeah. I got into waiting lists place one. But no one gave up their seats.
And then I had just inscribed myself into the master’s program of my university, which was with a philosopher, and I had a lot of freedom out of not knowing what, what to do else. It was the best decision ever. Because then for two and a half years, I could just look for what I wanted to do.
And I came up with a project about sketchbooks, which have been a passion project early on. I remember when I submitted my portfolio to my university, they said the sketchbook was actually the best thing about it.
And, I just did sketchbooks drawings and studies for two and a half years, which was amazing. And I could just look for my own artistic voice without any pressure. And I wouldn’t have done it without the freedom for sure. Or this particular movement.
And afterwards, I mustered up the courage to go into illustration, even though I was always very, very scared to do art. I remember people telling me again and again also when I tried to sign up for art school, uh, for a film school, sorry, but also before to go into the academy which here is the really artsy thing.
Jessica Abel: So like the art school, the big art academy is what
Lisa Frühbeis: you’re talking about.
Yes, and we have, uh, a high school system that is for a little bit elder people than in the US, for practical stuff, like graphic design, where you get a diploma.
And I always said, no. I was scared to do art. My mother is a single mother, and she always reminded me that it’s very important, especially as woman, to be able to make money.
And she was in a lot of artistic circles where people were financially struggling and I also saw those dangers of course, which are real. Right.
You say you were scared and I mean, I believe you obviously, but it seems like you were still constantly teetering on the edge of becoming a professional artist. I mean, you went to animation school, which is becoming an artist. But you were afraid to get a diploma in graphic design. You do a masters essentially in sketch booking. Which sounds awesome by the way, but you were afraid to go to the academy of art.
So I guess my question is how did you get over your resistance and end up a cartoonist of all things when anything in art felt so risky?
Lisa Frühbeis: After I had graduated, I started to do illustration, which was cool because it was, I hadn’t done any studies in illustration and was self-taught.
But after two years I become very sad. I wasn’t satisfied at all. And it was hard to admit it to myself because it was something that other people would, would envy me about.
Jessica Abel: Yeah I
Lisa Frühbeis: was a student, finished, and already making things work with illustration.
And then with the help of a therapist, and also with the help of a lot of workshops, I found out that I really liked comics, which was nice.
So you’re experimenting with all these things. Uh, but how do you pinpoint that this is what you’re actually going to commit to?
Lisa Frühbeis:My compass was who I would envy?
And if I would envy someone, then I would be checking, okay well why would I envy them? And it would either be because they were working autonomously. Or because they were doing great art. And also because they were storytellers
Jessica Abel: So interesting. I love that. That when you envy people, instead of just sitting around and stewing in it, you’re like, hmm, why? This, this is Lisa. This is the Lisa I know. This is the Lisa I recognize. That you’re like, hmm, what’s behind that? Now I can pursue the thing.
Lisa Frühbeis:Envy is– I think it’s underrated because it’s one of the seven sins, but we have two words for envy and one is to, to not like that someone has the success we have, Missgunst, we call it. So where we don’t want them to succeed. But the other thing is that I want it, right. I want something. That’s also part of being envious.
Jessica Abel: What’s that word?
Lisa Frühbeis: Neid. But Neid is also one of the Seven Sins and I think they got the wrong word. They got the word that will be interesting.
Jessica Abel: Well, it is a translation…
Lisa Frühbeis: Yes. It’s from Hebrew, right.
I was getting critical of myself when I started envying a friend of mine who came from China to Germany without support of her parents, without financial support in Germany, she had no network. She was one year below me in your university and she was doing the most beautiful comics and great storytelling.
And then she had a contract with a publisher in Germany and I started getting envious of her.
And I thought, oh my God, this is ridiculous, pathetic. You, Lisa, have all the privileges.
Only thing that she has that you don’t have is courage. She does it. And that really changed the way I was approaching things.
And I thought, okay, just try.
I was so afraid of failure, but I also was waiting for someone to call me or to help me or whatever.
And I thought, okay, I’ll Just start doing things.
in the comic workshop, everything clicked. I love doing it. I like the people around me. I liked the teachers.
And one of the teachers actually became a mentor, Barbara Yelin, , and also a good friend now, which is so cool. And she encouraged me to get into comics. And I started doing a web comic, a little autobiographically inspired. Barbara had, she had this comic before me in the newspaper. So when she was super pregnant and she said, okay, I can’t do the last episode. She suggested me for one episode to fill in for her. And I sent my portfolio with my whole web comic saying, “take me.”
And she lay in a good word for me too, which probably helped. But they took me. And it appeared that they had been looking for a female voice, a political voice all the time. So it made it a little more political, and it became for two years my comic output.
Which was great because all the other people were well-known in the scene and I didn’t have nothing but this little web comic and one workshop. That was amazing.
And I did all the mistakes during publishing in a newspaper, which is scary because when you publish a book, at least in Germany, who reads it 3000 people, 5,000? But a newspaper that’s 100,000 people.
And still every month you just have to do it, whatever is in your life, which helpful.
That was good. But after two years all the newspaper comics were canceled from the magazine. That was sad. So not only me, but I was the last one to get published, to get into the team, which was sad because I think it’s important to have those pre-publishers. and I would have loved to have more diverse people on this board.
So then what happened next? How did your canceled newspaper strip become a book?
Lisa Frühbeis: I was writing to the publishers who were interested saying, it’s not the total amount I was planning on, but I would be open to drawing some extra episodes for a book. and that worked.
Jessica Abel: that was the book that you were publishing
Lisa Frühbeis: That was the first, yeah. Last May. Exactly.
And then into COVID I was drawing three weeks and it was locked down. I was still drawing three weeks, and then they send it to the to print. It was the story of the book.
So it was ups and downs. And of course at many points, it looked like it wouldn’t work.
But having the book out opened so many doors for me, and I think it was really worth it, even though it was of course exhausting many times. But also thrilling at times and empowering and fun, I think. Fun is often underrated, but
Jessica Abel: Agreed. Yeah. Well, and just having a book going through the process of publishing, it’s just a very, it’s a very different, you know, you’d been doing it in the newspaper, you understood what all of those things were, and then you doing it in the in the publishing world as well, and all of those things start to open other doors, which is what produces all of these offers.
Lisa Frühbeis: Yes. And was also the thing I would never believe.
In the beginning, I always said I can do a web comic, but it won’t lead to anything. I was very, very, doubtful of everything people would say. I said, no, it doesn’t work.
And the main limiting thing is that I said no to it because that made sure it wouldn’t happen, right?
Jessica Abel: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. I mean, this, this thing that, that, I say all the time, other people say all the time, that you have to finish the thing and put it out, even if you aren’t, it’s not perfect, you’re not necessarily completely happy with it. You have to do it and publish it if possible as part of the process of getting to the next thing. That you can’t just hang in this one spot, you have to keep moving.
Lisa Frühbeis:And of course, in retrospect it looks like, yeah, sure, this one thing led to another, but you never know and you just have to believe in this and this is hard, but it’s also cool when it works. And I think every risk I took, even though, before I was so scared.There’s other risks I took that I, where I didn’t care about the outcome so much, and then it just naturally led to other things. But then I was just, yeah, cool. Right. But because I was so anxious to become a published author. Or anxious, but also it was important to me, I was reluctant to do the things and the steps necessary in the beginning.
But as my friend who had nothing, but just did it, taught me, it’s, it’s the only solution. Do it.
And then other things will come. You never know what, but there will be things happening.
Jessica Abel: Awesome. That is perfect. So how does graphic recording come into the mix? And for listeners who aren’t clear on this, graphic recording is where you offer a service to interpret live events like talks or conferences in visual form, standing up there, live, using illustration and infographics. And, you know, so at this point, your publishing career is rolling along, but I know at the same time you were doing a lot more live events as well.
Lisa Frühbeis:For me, graphic recording, I wanted to say this too, was always a vehicle of having one day that is well paid because it’s such a unique work. And then having time as, uh, the exchange.
So I had worked the year before, a lot, to have this time, but now that I have it. What to put in there, right? Which is number one on the priority list?
And of course, I thought I can do everything! And had all my project listed up. And I there’s this one tool that really helped me.
Because this fear of not having enough money when I do art is big in me. So I thought, okay, I know that I want to do something, but I also want the financial stability.
And I had this heart project. That was a project that was really dear to me that I had been working on for some time, but I had the doubts if this would be okay to do.
Jessica Abel: Okay because of the financial stability piece. So to be clear here, you had gotten a payment from your publisher for this book and you knew you were okay for a period of time. Financially, you were like, I’m all right for right now?
Lisa Frühbeis: Uh, rather for the graphic recording, not for the publisher.
Butbut I wasn’t sure, of course, for the money situation, I wouldn’t know how long this project would take. I wasn’t sure if I could do it. And I think it was the fear ofbeing able to pull it off altogether. And if there will be a complete failure and then I had wasted half a year and financially disaster, blah, blah, blah.
It was a lot of fears. It wasn’t reality, you
Right because you hadn’t started yet, or you started in your mind, or in notes or whatever, but you hadn’t actually started to do the thing. And this is a graphic novel project that was going to take you a large chunk of time. And that feeling of like wasting time on something like this is so interesting, right?
Because you, this is, as you’ve said, this is a project you’ve been thinking about for years and want to do for years. How can it possibly be a waste of time to do it, even if it doesn’t financially pay off?
And yet there’s this sense of like, well, what else could I have been doing, the opportunity cost of like, what else could I have been doing during that time that would have given me, you know, financial stability or moved my career ahead or whatever else.
Now, in the end, spoiler alert, it worked out fine.
But, um, the, the, that moment at the beginning, when you’re like, should I put my, myself into this is so interesting. That moment of like, can I trust that I’m going to be able to pull this off somehow? And that’s where you were at at that point with this project,
Lisa Frühbeis: Absolutely. If you look at it now, it just looks like I had it all figured out, but I was doubting everything. I would have to write it completely on myself because it was a narrative.
Or that at that moment, I hadn’t even chosen that yet, but it was my heart project. Right. And I knew this, uh project, I would like to do eventually, at some point of time. I would need a lot of skills for it that I hadn’t yet at that moment. I had to teach them to myself before.
Then I won an award for my first book, which was relaxed in a way, but also made the pressure stronger. I will be under observance of some groups that I didn’t know who it was, you know?
Jessica Abel: Right. You would have more attention naturally on your next project because this project had some recognition.
Lisa Frühbeis: Or at least in my imagination, it was like that.
Jessica Abel: Well, in reality, no? I mean, isn’t like, I think this is one of the things that people don’t take into consideration when they are saying yes to projects and doing projects, is that when the projects exist in the world, things happen as a result of that. And what’s going to happen specifically, you can’t know until you get there.
But this comic that got published is from a newspaper. So you were already getting seen and known for that work, from the newspaper.
And then it gets published. You win an award, and people are coming to you for, and thinking of you for work that’s related to the work that you were doing then, because they were seeing it. And it was sparking ideas in their mind of what you’re about.
So again, the kind of client work you get tends to be like information based, probably because you’re known as a graphic recorder and they know that you can do that thing. And so if you wanted to do really fantastical, like children’s illustration, nobody’s thinking of you for that. And you could create a situation in which they would, but once you put stuff out there, the world comes back with ideas.
They’re like, oh, I thought of this for you. I thought of that for you. And then you’re in the situation that you’re constantly in of like, how do I say no to all this stuff?
Lisa Frühbeis: Oh yeah. We can talk about that later, but doing three things at a time, when all three work, then you have to say no triple time, you know,
Jessica Abel: Right.
This episode of the Autonomous Creative is brought to you by Authentic Visibility. I work with a lot of committed mid-career creatives who struggled to get their work seen.
It feels crappy to put so much love and effort into making something, but when you introduce it in the real world, there’s a whole lot of nothing, as far as reaction. It’s truly awful.
And they’re not looking for attention because they’re, egomania. Art and creative work in general, exists to communicate some set of ideas or thoughts or emotions from you from inside your head to inside someone else’s head in as intact form as possible.
When you release your project and it goes up like a brilliant bunch of balloons disappearing into the clear blue sky with no one around to see or care, nevermind to pick their own balloon, to take home and treasure.
But the truth is most creatives in their natural state are frankly pretty terrible at telling anyone why they should care about the work.
Why should someone show up to get a pretty balloon?
It’s not their fault though.
It’s how we teach people to create their best work by digging deep inside ourselves, to come up with wonderful, original new ideas. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
The problem is that’s where the process typically ends. Creating, not communicating.
Virtually all the training and practice of making creative work focuses on the first half of the core mission of communication, getting those ideas out of your head and into some actual form that people can see. But that’s missing half the picture.
As a creative, it’s your job to build the whole complete connection to build a bridge for the audience that they can use to easily cross over and understand the value of your work to them.
And this kind of clarity and audience focused language, doesn’t come easy to creatives.
And that’s why I put together a free class specifically for creatives, ridiculously named how to get people wildly obsessed with your work.
And in it, I teach the key technique to flip your perspective 180 degrees, and start to use your audience’s point of view to inform how you share your work so that they’ll get it.
I also introduce our awesome program, Authentic Visibility, the audience growth program designed to turn highly skeptical and frankly marketing sensitive creatives into powerful advocates for their vision and their work, setting the stage for huge career growth and a major role in the larger cultural conversation.
So if you want your work to make its mark in the world, check out the free wildly obsessed class and supercharge your ability to connect with new fans in just 90 minutes. Go to Jessica abel.com/wildly and join the free class now.
That’s J E S S I C A A B E L.com/wildly.
Now let’s get back to the interview.
Jessica Abel: Okay. So you’re an alum of the creative focus workshop. And when all of this was going on, you were using this one tool we have, the idea inventory and one goal process to try to decide. What to focus on next, because you had this huge, huge list of possibilities.
And you showed up in the Autonomous Creative Collective and you were pushing back really hard because the results you were getting weren’t making sense to you. They weren’t lining up with what you, in your gut kind of knew was right. Or maybe just what you want it to be right.
And I’m gonna let you tell this because you took the process. So next level that I asked you to write about it in my blog, and I’ll be sure to link that in the show notes, but can you talk about how the process of organizing this massive list of possible projects kind of produced an amazing new opportunity for you.
Lisa Frühbeis: I learned in the course about this decision matrix, which lets you add an infinite number of criteria by which you give points. And the criteria you have to choose as well. Which is what is important to me for choosing projects.Which sounds weird to many people who maybe are driven by their emotions and just really know what to do. But to me, I had all these, projects anddidn’t really know on which criteria to choose.
Jessica Abel: Right. So that’s the key piece. Is that the way I teach this using essentially points to grade different ideas. So once you make this idea inventory, then I have four main criteria that I give. Ones most people have to think about. And then I’m like, and there’s others probably, that are yours, but you took this so much further than most people do, which I love.
So the way I teach it is like you have to give sort of grades one through five or whatever, to different projects. You add them up and something should kind of rise to the top. You should see what actually means more to you or would make more of a difference to you this way.
You did that, and a bunch of stuff was at the top where it was like, mm-mm no. These are not actually resonating with me. The thing I want to be doing is like three or four lines down, and I really want to do this thing. So what is happening here to flip these things and what it came down to, and this is what you’re just referring to is defining your criteria.
So it’s not just that you had to give points and stuff. You had to decide what you’re giving points on. And what were some of the criteria that you added to your decision matrix?
Lisa Frühbeis: Yeah, it’s fun. Right? Because I obviously had this itch of, I want to do something else. I should have been a little more, uh, awake at that moment, but I needed confirmation.Strategic confirmation at the moment. And I realized that there’s just not enough criteria for me to judge on. And there weren’t, you have to find, you have spent a lot of time on finding those criteria
Jessica Abel: What’s important to you.
Lisa Frühbeis: Yes, which is super interesting, but it takes some time and well, the three I added that were the most important, I think, was artistic growth
Lisa Frühbeis:learning because it’s so much fun to me.
If I,If I have power myself. So can I decide on my own? Who decides for me? Am I in charge?
Jessica Abel: Autonomy.
Yeah, I was just listening. We’re working on producing the Tom Hart episode for the podcast right now, that we actually recorded, almost a year ago. And that’s what he talked about as like his primary criteria and for like success in his life is freedom. Is he free to make the work in an idealistic way, in a sense, have control over the work that he’s doing.
And he talked too, and I think you talk about this a lot too, of the flexibility required. You have to, first of all, believe that this is worth doing. That, as you said, you needed strategic confirmation. You knew what you wanted to do, but you need the strategic confirmation that this was actually the right decision for you.
And then you had to take that even further. But then also at the same time, you still have to be thinking about how are we going to support this and all those other kinds of things. So, so what happened then once you, once you had identified that autonomy, you know, your freedom to do that, what you want to be doing. Your passion for the project, your love of the project, learning growth, like artistic growth.
These were criteria that were incredibly important to you and needed to have an equal weight with like, is this going to make money?
Lisa Frühbeis: Yes. And there’s also this method of giving criteria, um, more and less weight. And I gave money less weight to force myself, to look into the other criteria more. And artistic growth, actually, I had learning right? But then my mentor, Barbara Yelin, and who’s also comic artist, I had a long call with her and she said, Lisa, you’re doing really cool artistic paintings and not to use it would be such a shame.
So I put in artistic growth and it flipped, everything. Flipped the whole table.
And then finally I had my, my passion project on top.
Okay. So you get what you want in terms of the list, it’s on top, but how does that then translate into actually making it happen?
Lisa Frühbeis: I think I plan in like, two months. And then when I have to do this and that too. And then I did a realistic project planning, but still with all the other projects in.
Jessica Abel: Like on a calendar. Like is actually what happens when, and you’d realistically laid it out and said, here’s what to do here. Here’s what I have to do here. And what happened?
Lisa Frühbeis: I knew that even if I would be doing one or two pages a day, if I count in 80 or 60 pages, it would take me three or four months. And I put everything in, into the calendar. It was really simple.
It was just one month, one project. And I could have only the projects, right. And it was ridiculously crammed it, it was so good. I did that because in my headI was telling myself, yes, yes, it will work. You can cheat yourself. It’s amazing.
But when I looked at it, I realized it’s going to be impossible, and I probably won’t have anything finished at all.
And then I had to start kicking things out and saying no. And it was hard, but it was also necessary. I think that was groundbreaking for the project to work.
And then also that was cool because, I wrote about that in the article that you have on your homepage too. There was two projects on the and I really wanted to do them both.
Right. And then you kick into Lisa strategy mode. And try to figure out what the heck you’re going to do Cause you don’t want to abandon either one of them. So what happened next?
Lisa Frühbeis: One was my passion project and the other was a new request that I’d gotten via email from a cultural institution in Germany. They wanted to collaborate with me on a web comic.
And it was a feminist project, female artists, cool institution. And I was really psyched to do this. But, then I had two passion projects on the top.
And I looked at it very long and I have this reluctance of saying no, and suddenly they kind of in my head merged together. if I say yes to both, maybe they can be one.
Jessica Abel: so you had the cultural institute and you had your own passion project. You propose to do your passion project for them. For their, the use that they needed, and then you had to be brave and pitch that to them. Like, how about this fabulous idea? What do you think? And you didn’t know what was going to happen.
Lisa Frühbeis: I wrote a concept for them and looked– this is super important– what they want, and if the two things merge. And they did.
Jessica Abel: And when they came back, there were several steps of negotiation here. And negotiation is another big piece of the story for me. Is that over and over again, you’ve gone to people, you’ve realized how much you can negotiate, how much is negotiable. That, when people come to you with a concept and say, here’s what I want from you. You can come back and say, I like this part about it, but this part doesn’t work for me. I can do this in six months. I can do this for this amount of money. I can do this with these collaborators.
And thinking, as you say, very carefully about what will serve the other party. Like how can you be helping them achieve their goals is key to that. Because then you’re not coming into it just like, hey me, me, me, me, me.
You are presenting things in such a way that they’re going to, they see that you’re being thoughtful. They see that you are addressing their needs and they will be more likely to say yes to what you need. And it’s happened over and over again. I’ve seen that, you know, over and over again, that you’ve come back to big clients, you’ve come back to the same cultural institute
Lisa Frühbeis: so with that in the background, and this is why I’m, I was getting back to this.
It gave me a structure that obviously was necessary when I was doing the project planning. They needed me to do project planning and then I could implement it into my calendar and see that it, it could only be one project.
Jessica Abel: Right and then you had basically invented for yourself a way to be paid for this and an external motivator. All the things you had when you were at the newspaper.
So brief, brief version of the story is, what, why don’t you tell us what happened? So you went to this cultural institute and you pitched your idea. What happened?
Lisa Frühbeis: They agreed. We went on the look for female artists to join. We were two from Germany, two from Korea. It was a Goethe Institut, Korea. And we started having workshops and we started writing, story-boarding drawings. So we’re four voices now.
Jessica Abel: So these are each they’re each doing their own. There’s four women each doing their own comic for
Lisa Frühbeis: It’s an anthology. It’s an anthology. And we were in loose contact on zoom, but. we had this workshop phase, which was cool, which was a thing I proposed that we would talk about things that would interest us.
The overall theme was the role of women in society. So we talked about patriarchy and aspects of feminism. And so in that phase, we were very close.
Jessica Abel: And then so again, to get back to negotiation there’s a whole other thing where you’re going to be bringing this book into print at some point, and you’re trying to figure out when that can happen and submitting it for awards.
What was the story with that?
Lisa Frühbeis: There’s a huge award in Germany. It’s the biggest paid award in Germany that pays a big sum to one winner, but also to nine short lists awardees, a little sum. And there is not many awards in Germany that pay for comics, so this is the one thing everyone prepares for.
submission is only allowed if the comic wouldn’t be published for another year in the future. Which is hard because you have to be at a certain point already advanced so they can judge the comic, but it mustn’t be as fully drawn so that you already have a contract for it.
It’s a bit of an annoying situation.
And I thought being published didn’t mean web, stupidly enough. And I prepared a PDF of texts and images. And I went over and over it again and again with people. And then I submitted it and they said, well, if you’re publishing in September– I had written it in there somewhere, as a web comic, please either don’t, or shift it back to November, because this is where the jury is meeting, and then later we will know more. And I wrote an email to the Goethe-Institut and said, is this possible?
And there were some misunderstandingsSo at some point I just the award committee and said I have to publish in September. But hey, I wrote this in German. It’s translated to English. Maybe this won’t count. And they
Jessica Abel:said, yes.
Lisa Frühbeis:Which was to me super cool.
And I wouldn’t have thought about it, but I didn’t accept the no. And just try for looking for more and more solutions. This time actually helped.
And I think negotiation is exactly this: to know what you want and then to present what you want, but also ask what the other side wants and see if it merges.
Jessica Abel: Yeah, well, also in this case, it’s about not giving up because you given up at any number of the stops along the way. You could have stopped and gone like, oh, well, I guess that was wasted time. But you kept coming back and saying like, well, what about this? Well, what about this? Can we find another way to work this out?
And in the end, got a yes. And you were willing to step on some toes to do that. And have people be a little annoyed. And I think that’s, that’s really important. It’s like all the no’s and all of the pushing back and creating space for that autonomy means being willing to deal with people being not a hundred percent thrilled with you.
Lisa Frühbeis: And it can also mean to say, “I’m sorry ” afterwards, but to still have tried.
I learned negotiation– this is the cool thing about me working for for business clients before I was doing art. So while I was doing a lot of business jobs like graphic recording, I really had to learn how to negotiate well.
I was always feeling like I was playing chess, but not knowing what the rules were. But I was playing with someone who knew the rules really well, because this is what they’re trained for, right, in business. They either studied it or they have someone who does it.
AndI took workshops in negotiation because I realized the better I negotiate in business, the more time I then have for art. For me was always this.
I can do two jobs, mediocre paid, or I can do one job really well paid and then I have time. This was the real currency for me. So, I invested money into negotiation. I think it’s the best thing any- I heard your first podcast episode and everything that’s in there is brilliant.
Jessica Abel: Alexander Chee?
Lisa Frühbeis:Yes. AndI think this is the best thing any artist could invest in is negotiation.
And negotiation has a bad reputation because it makes you think about what you want, and then in a way, advertise for that. You have to say, I can do this and this and this really well. And this is what I want. And I’m worth it. And a lot of times artists are scared to either think about it, you know what they can do well, or say it. To say, I can do this well is often considered to be a show off and to be a show off artist is something nobody likes to do, but it doesn’t have to be show off. You can just be sure of the things you can do. I think there’s a difference.
Jessica Abel: Of course there’s a difference, but it’s that feeling that, we’re not allowed to talk about that or to be sure of that. And it looks, it sort of looks wrong. You know, It’s also a thing that women are socialized not to do is to stand in your power in that way.
That’s what negotiation requires, is you stand in your power and that you present yourself as an individual human being, just one person who does their own stuff and their own studio, stand on equal terms with a corporate, or with the Goethe-Institut, which is like this huge, you know, world spanning cultural institute.
Stand there and look them in the eyes and say, you want something? I want something. Let’s talk. That is very gonads-y, shall I say. It’s a thing that you have to, you know, really kind of boost yourself up to do. Because it really takes, it takes confidence in the moment. It doesn’t have to be all time confidence. You have to be able to do it in the moment, and a lot of times when I’ve done negotiation, it’s like, there’s this kind of adrenaline pre-game where I’m like, okay, I’m going to say this. And then I say the thing, and once I’ve set it as out, there’s no taking it back.
And then I can go. Then I can make the thing happen, but it’s like, I plan out specifically what I’m going to say and what I want to ask for.
And what you’re talking about here goes back to this decision matrix about your projects, knowing what’s important to you. Knowing what you want. You have to know.
Lisa Frühbeis: Absolutely. It’s connected.A good negotiation requires good preparation.
It Doesn’t mean that you have to be always confident person, but with preparation, you’ll make yourself know what you want and make yourself confident in the requirements you state. Right.
And just knowing that the partner normally also wants something from you helps.
Cause you’re the person doing a service or a piece of art in the end. So of course it’s
Jessica Abel: equal.
Right. I was listening to another podcast over the weekend and the person was talking about some similar things in terms of creating boundaries around her work and working with clients and how she was going to, you know, maintain those boundaries and things. And the interviewer was saying, you know, the thing is what you do, nobody does what you do.
And in this case, it was very true. She was her gift wrapper for famous people. But it’s like what you do is amazing, you’re a unicorn, and so they can’t go anywhere else. You were the only one who can do this thing. And that’s true of artists too. Even if there are other graphic recorders, you’re the graphic recorder who they want, who they’re talking to. Even if there are other people who can draw comic books, you’re the one whose portfolios in front of them that they’re interested in.
So understanding that does give you that equality with the other party, no matter how many, you know, legal entities they have structuring their whatever it is. When in that moment of negotiation, you are equal parties.
Lisa Frühbeis: to the legal entities you can negotiate, because often –this is my, uh, what happened to me, but I also know it from other artists. They send you a contract and see if you’re even looking at it. Like this, little game. And I’m opening it and seeing, okay, here I know that they can’t do this. This is illegal. And here they just check if I see it, you know, if I see the line that is really disadvantage to, to myself.
And then I just can write an email saying, okay, please put out off the contracts number, this, this, this, this, and this.
Jessica Abel: And they can say, no. They can say, no, I really, we need that. But if that’s,
Lisa Frühbeis: Usually they don’t. Because they, they know that it’s not the best contract themselves.
Jessica Abel: Right. But I mean, working with publishers, I’ve often had a situation where they’re asking for international rights, for example. They want foreign rights. And some publishers actually have agents who are going out and selling those foreign rights. And others just ask for them so they can have them, you know, cause they are like, well, what if I need them one day?
So, you know, there’s different negotiations with different parties where sometimes it’s like, no, no, no. We have a really active foreign rights department and we want to be selling the rights to this, and we’re going to pay extra for those rights. Totally cool. That’s fine. But that’s, that’s a place where you can negotiate if you know that it’s there. So it’s not just…
Lisa Frühbeis: It can be a conversation.
Jessica Abel: Yeah, it’s a conversation, but you pushing back, they don’t go like, oh, red flag. We’re outta here.
Lisa Frühbeis: Absolutely.
They say, okay, this is a professional who knows what they’re doing.
I think every time I’ve negotiated well, I gained more respect. In stating what I want, it was always the opposite of the fear of what would
Jessica Abel: happen.
Yes. Exactly. Exactly. Thank you for saying that. . And a good place to leave this. I love it. Lisa, where can we find out more about your work?
Lisa Frühbeis: I’m on Instagram under lisa.earlybite, which is a pun translation from my name Frühbeis. And my comic is on Tapas and it’s called A Fraction of Time.
Jessica Abel: Great. Thanks so much. Thank you for being here today. It’s been fantastic to get to know more about you and your career and I look forward to the continuation.
Lisa Frühbeis: having me. This was fun.
Thank you so much for joining us today for the Autonomous Creative.
Our show is produced by Matt Madden. Our production coordinator is Lousine Boyakhandjyan, and our production assistant is Rhiannon Sunday. Music is by Matt Madden. And I’m your host, Jessica Abel.
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