Monthly Archives: August 2010

How you see yourself

Recently I went to GenCon, the best 4 days in gaming! It’s a total nerd-fest of gamers, and is a lot of fun. I went for the fun, but also to help out my friend Marc Scheff who had his first booth in Artist Alley. With us was Jeff and Caroline Himmelman, and Aaron Miller.

I sat there amongst all these awesome fantasy art illustrators. I was a little apprehensive at first. But that didn’t stop me from talking to them. Marc, Jeff and Aaron all introduced me as their friend and as fellow illustrator.

More then anything, that meant a lot. I’ve been calling myself an illustrator for the past two years, with confidence. No, I’m not fully supporting myself yet doing just illustrations. That’s probably several years off. It’s actually how I see myself these days.

When I got to meet other artists and talk with them, I was able to talk with them on the same level, a professional illustrator, and all that goes with being an illustrator, getting work, where to look for work, how to deal with clients. When you are a commercial illustrator, there are lots of area that are common, regardless of what kind of illustration you do. And I was able to say, I do editorial illustration and that was cool with everyone, there wasn’t any sense of “oh your not a fantasy illustrator…”

I gave out several copies of Kool Aid Gets Fired, and got a really great response towards it. Saturday, I got a text from fellow cartoonist Monica Gallagher, saying “Dude, I’m in a comic book store right now and this guy is totally gushing over Kool Aid!”. Then about a hour later, and email from someone that picked up Kool Aid from Midtown comics, telling me how much he enjoyed it (and how sad it was at the same time).

I left GenCon feeling really energized, and I wasn’t even there to promote myself or get work, though I did leave my comic with several art directors. You never know when a game company does a silly game and needs whimsical illustrations.

It also reinforced that being an illustrator is something you have to pursue actively. Marc was there to get his work seen, and hopefully sell some prints, which he did. For a first GenCon, I think he did pretty well. He got great reactions from people to his art. In particular to his animal prints. Sales are always great, but sometimes feedback is better, even though it doesn’t have any bankable value. Feedback guides you to make better choices.

Marc got to talk to lots of art directors, getting direction and possibly some work. We both got to talk shop with each other, and other artists, and it felt great. Actually it felt amazing to be honest. For me the moment that stood out most was one night (I can’t remember which night), before going to sleep. Marc, Aaron and I shared a room. It was late and we were just sitting around talking, and it wasn’t about art, just guys sitting around being guys (I’ll spare the guy talk details). But under that we shared the bond of having the same struggle and goals.

While a lot of the time was socializing, hanging out, watching Marc take his first nerd steps (He’s totally into Magic, the card game, thanks to Jeremy Jarvis), it was still networking.

Now, here is a list of the awesome artists that I got to meet and talk to besides the ones mentioned above.

Chris Seaman, check out his new book, inkBloom with the talented Jim Pavelec.

The Mohrbachers, Ania and Pete. They traded a very nice print for a signed copy of Kool Aid.

John Stanko, Eric Deschamps, Paul (the Prof) Herbet, Chris Burdett (rawr, I’m a monster!) and Grant Cooley were just some of the many artists there, but I actually got to talk to them the most.

While sitting at Marc’s table, I did some drawings, so here is a couple of them.

Kool Aid Goes to GenCon

Rascal Pile up at the dice bins

Starting out, Portfolios

When I started out trying to make money off my talents, I was very unprepared and lacked a whole world of knowledge. I’ve learned so much in the short time I’ve been in New York, and most importantly having networked with other illustrators.

So I feel I have to pass that information on when others starting out ask for it. I try and tell them what I would have needed to know when I was starting out.

Make one. Really. Any way you can. The simple fact is that people are hired based on what they have done. Even the best art director is looking for some one that can already create the art they want.

A portfolio contains completed successful pieces. I think the key words are completed and successful. The project should clearly be finished. Not a sketch or missing elements. And it should be successful. It doesn’t have to be something you did for pay, only that it works as a final piece.

For years I never had an organized portfolio. If anyone came to me asking to see it, I would have to scramble to get something together. And I would always have to put in pieces that were not complete or that I wasn’t entirely happy with. And I’m sure it came across. I’m sure it also stopped me from getting work.

All the illustrations I did for Son of Kool Aid were done for myself. Each one is complete and successful. I feel I can show any one of them as part of my portfolio and feel it stands up on it’s own. They never fail to get a good reaction from people when I show them.

When you finish a piece, consider if it’s portfolio worthy or not. A piece might be successful and just what the client wanted, but it might not always be something you want to show to other prospective clients. I do a lot of maps for a boating magazine, to show the different locations of places one might visit in the area. I don’t put them in my portfolio because they don’t represent what I am as an artists. I’m not embarrassed or anything, they just don’t work as portfolio pieces.

I’ve got what I call my general portfolio, that I show for people coming to see what I can do. I then have other pieces that are my second wave. All of these are as good as anything in my general portfolio. If a potential client wants to see more, I know I can show them more, and not worry it doesn’t measure up.

Or if someone asks me to send examples of work, I can customize what I want to show them. Perhaps they use more painterly illustrations. Maybe they like simpler drawings.

This doesn’t mean you need hundreds of pieces. But around 15 would be a good start. If you don’t have those, Get to work. One idea is to take illustrated work, and ask yourself how you would have handled the illustration.

Get feedback. And accept it. If someone says you have some weak pieces, find out which ones, and why they seem weak. I suggest finding other artists or art directors. Your friends will probably just feed your ego over giving you honest feedback. And don’t be discouraged. Once I had an illustrator who I really liked suggest that I would make a better designer then illustrator. It hurt, but I didn’t take it to heart.

Feedback should guide you to making better choices, but not change your direction.