Good Advice

I was at a bit of a loss this morning for what to talk about. Perhaps it's the migraine I've got brewing in my head, being overworked at the office, or the chaos of the coming holiday season. Whatever the reason, I was roaoming through my emails and happened across an old email I had recieved from John Stanko. John is an artist, and educator. I've known John for many years and have watched his work develop over the years. We kept passing each other at IlluxCon, and I was sad that I never made the time to sit down and chat with him, he's a great guy. Luckily, in one of our trips sailing past each other (as I was dashing off to yet another round of portfolio reviews) John handed me his latest portfolio book. It was a joy to see his latest batch of work. Of course, I recognized a large number of the pieces since they came from D&D, but there were a number of pieces that were new to my eye. It was really nice to see his work mature even further, and become more cohesive. Why do I bring this up? Not just to have a big lovefest over John, but to set the stage for the email that I'd like to share. John was sharing some thoughts on the subject of what info might be useful to an artists...from an artists point of view. It's short and to the point, and has some nice kernels in it. I hope that it means something to you. "We have all read Jon's posts about how to get his attention from his perspective. All of which is great advice. I would like to offer a different take… one from an Illustrator's point of view. Keep in mind I am not a big star, nor do I have all the answers, but I have been blessed to work with fantastic ADs at WoTC such as Jon, Jeremy, Richard, Kate, Keven, and Mari. 

These are just a couple of things that have stuck with me over the last few years and my hope is this post gives you some things to think about when it comes to your career, especially to those who are just starting out. 1. Be honest about your work to yourself. All the advice from Ads is to be super confident when showing them your work, and rightly so. Remember though that needs to end when you close your book. In other words when you are alone in your studio with no one to impress, really look closely at what you have made, and ask yourself how could it be better. Then create a road map on how to get there. Compare and contrast your work with others that are doing what you want to do and try to figure out what makes their work better. Is it better references? Different color palette? Better drawings? Etc. The key is not to buy into your own BS when you are trying to get better. 2. Decide what it is you want to do. One thing that has been eye opening for me over the past 5 years has been the difference between all the venues in fantasy coloring pages. Decide if you want to do, then create a portfolio targeted for that field. Is it concept art, finish illustration, gaming, book covers, etc? No matter what don't have a "shot gun" approach to your book. 3. Face time and be cool. Jon has covered all sorts of email techniques, web page designs, how often to send postcards etc. but nothing has the power of actually meeting the AD you want to work for. I have found face time is critical to making those first few breaks into the industry. Every time an AD gives me a job, they are betting their reputation on my work and sometimes even their job. So ask yourself if you were an AD would you bet your career on a couple of cool postcards and a quarterly email? Probably not. That's not to say you will have met every AD you work with in person, but chances are the AD has a friend or another artist they have worked with that has met you if you get work from them. Where do you met ADs and other artists? Cons and workshops are the best from what I have found. 4. Don't get jealous. If someone is more successful than you are then they are doing something better than you, and sometimes it's not just illustration.

When I first got out of college I gave a half hearted try to break into fantasy illustration. At the time I thought drawing was illustration. Since I could draw pretty good, I couldn't figure out why I wasn't getting work. After I matured I learned that the field of illustration is a lot more complex than simply drawing and at times more than illustrating. So you might be a "better" illustrator than someone else but if they are getting the work then they are doing something else better than you are. Don't get jealous or bitter, just ask yourself what are they doing different / better than you and try to add that to your game. And keep in mind sometimes getting work is just good ole fashion luck… being at the right place at the right time. 5. Once you get the work remember everyone is trying to help you. We all have times when we get frustrated with restrictions or revision. The key is to remember that every one involved in your approval process is trying to help you make the best art possible for the product. Don't see it as a hindrance rather see it as a blessing. Think about it, they are paying you and giving you free advice on how to make your work better. 6. Finally once it's published… you are part of a team. Remember that even as a freelancer you represent that company that hired you. In other words when I go to a Con, I see my self as an ambassador (to a degree) for DnD and all the other companies I create art for. I am always aware that when I am talking to a fan or an aspiring artist I am representing myself but also my client. So don't be arrogant and don't be a jerk".