Many artists work hard and try to get there their work out there, hoping to break into the illustration world and then...nothing happens. No clients offering work. No e-mails. No phone calls. And they wonder why no one wants to hire them.
We offer our perspective on why you might not be getting hired (yet), and then go into great detail on strategies and give practical advice on overcoming that hurdle and really standing out.
-what might be missing in your work, and how to not miss the mark
-how to give yourself a self-audit and honestly judge your work, using Will’s 9-Square approach
-discovering specific principles to improve from looking at your heroes work
-why you should be copying and absorbing masters’ work
-getting feedback from a professional and creating a feedback loop
-the need for interest and storytelling in your work
-how to handle critique and the proper attitude to have
-how to be a more interesting person
All that and much more!
MY ART IS GREAT, WHY WON’T ANYONE HIRE ME?
Will got a really long letter from an artist who felt that they had done everything they were supposed to, they felt that their work was great, and they were frustrated that they still weren’t getting work.
Jake and Will looked over this artist’s work and felt that the work was pretty good but not great. It was missing the style that fit the market that the artist wanted to go into. The style didn’t match the genre. You can’t do characters that look like they belong in World of Warcraft for a children's book.
Often, it’s not that you can’t draw or paint, but that you are missing the mark on where you need to go. Your style isn’t hitting the mark with what you want to go into. Your style needs to match the intended audience.
WORK ON YOUR CRAFT
Sometimes we feel that when we can render something nice, we have arrived, and we feel really good about ourselves. While that’s a great start, and an important step, this is really “fool’s gold.” There is a lot more to good illustration than just drawing well, and making things look 3-dimensional.
You never “arrive.” There is always an area to further grow or to better master.
Never convince yourself that there is nowhere else to grow.
There is a difference between drawing well, and creating a very engaging product.
The first step in getting professional work is to work on your craft, develop good drawing skills, good perspective, shadows, and light and color.
After mastering your craft, the second step is discretion. To not over render things, to not add too many highlights. You need to learn what to leave out. You need to learn what to illustrate and add. The artistry is figuring out what to put down, and what to leave out.
CONDUCT A SELF-AUDIT
You need a combination of a self audit, and a professional audit.
You need to conduct a Self-Audit, as outlined below:
You need go through this honestly, it will take some time.
- Study the published things in the realm that you want to go in, and have the “right heroes”
- Pick 8 top illustrators, who are getting their work published, by the big publishers, i.e. Harper Collins, Random House, Scholastic, etc.
- Make a 9 Square grid. Put your best piece in the middle and surround it with a piece from those 8 illustrators that you admire
- Identify what you like about it. Don’t just say, “I love this!”, you need to verbalize specific things that you love about their work, create a specific list, and write it down. These are the things that you need to work on incorporating into your work.
- Hang the list by your desk in order to remember these principles and to try to incorporate them.
See Bart Forbes.
When you have an image that you really like, really analyze it, and dissect it. Don’t just say, “I like this image” and then move on. Really dissect it and look for specific things that are working well for you. Ask yourself, “What am I responding to?”
COPY, COPY, COPY
Many people have the attitude of: “I don’t want to look at other people’s work because I want to be original, I don’t want to copy.”
There is a false idea about originality that says you shouldn’t look at others people’s work, or that you shouldn’t copy or take inspiration from them.
Jake still looks at others work for inspiration. All great artists do.
You really don’t need to make it as hard as you’re making it! You say it comes from within, but really it comes from without and you process it and make it your own thing. Find the right artists to look at and let them flow through you. There is no way you can perfectly copy all things all the time, at some point you’re gonna mix something with something else, and with a little bit of yourself and a little bit of this other person, and you’re gonna find your own style that fits into this world that you want to get into.
When you are at the level that you want to be at, then find the right people for your work. I.e. Landscape painters will find the right gallery, not a children’s book publisher.
Do you know anyone who is going through med school? What is their total work hours per week? Basically, if you are in med school and are doing well, you pretty much have zero life, and have tons of focus, attention to detail, etc. And if you do well in school, you pretty much have a good job waiting for you with a good salary.
Illustration is every bit as hard, to develop a unique style and a product to beat out other artists for jobs, and there is not a guaranteed job waiting for you. You should be treating it like you’re in med school.
You won’t get paid to learn and do research. You need to find the motivation within. No one will tell you everything you need to do. You need to make a schedule yourself and be self motivated.
After you develop the skills it becomes more and more about making an interesting image, something that people grab onto. Extra element of storytelling, interest. The idea behind it. Am I bringing something new to this subject matter, some new idea, some kind of unique viewpoint, or perspective?
See Chris Applehans.
ADD INTEREST TO YOUR LIFE
There is nothing interesting there? It may be because you aren’t an interesting person.
But you can become more interesting, you need to have a rich life outside of art. Art is just a way to express the interestingness that’s inherently inside of you.
If your work’s not interesting: go out and do something, talk to somebody, travel, go to the other side of town. You need to fill your creative bank account. You have gotta have creative capital. If you’re dry and empty, your just gonna have dry and empty work.
The lazy man doesn’t get too far, the perpetually busy man doesn’t get much farther.
Some people are just drawing, drawing, drawing, without much thought.
Stop, what kind of images am I making? Is there something better or more interesting that I should be creating. Don’t just draw and draw without any direction, you need to be more deliberate.
You can’t just exhale, you need to inhale.
To summarize: If you're not getting work:
- Audit yourself, audit your work, evaluate your work based on others.
- Work on craft, do master studies, copy.
- Add interest to your life.
- Find an outside source who can give you some honest critique and create a feedback loop (get feedback, improve it, then get more feedback again.)
You have to work towards getting your skin thick enough to beg for a really honest critique. A pat on the back is not a critique.
4 Step Process to Evaluate If You are Really Good
People naturally gravitate towards your work. People put up work, people naturally are drawn to it. Online, people naturally gather around it. Mom, or significant other doesn’t count.
People start seeing work and recommending you for something or to others.
You’re gonna start to win things: contests, scholarships, free classes, etc.
People will start paying you.
WHY SHOULD I COPY?
Top art schools have there students create master copies. It’s a proven exercise.
Create a master copy, the more exact the better.
Then do a new original piece as if you were that artist. When you get stuck, look back at their work and try to figure out how they might solve the problem. What would ______ do?
Keep a copy sketchbook, this is a sketchbook that you can just throw away when your done. That’s it, don’t need to show it to anyone.
The most valuable thing from doing these master copies is what happens in your brain and your muscle memory. The most valuable thing is inside you.
When kids start to learn to play piano, the teachers don’t say, “Alright, just make a piece of music, just write whatever you want!” The kids start by playing other peoples music and learning to sight read other people music.
The same is with martial arts, and with sports. They teach you moves. They teach you what the greats before did.
Jake was working on an illustration of Santa’s sleigh being pulled by a bunch of different animals. He got an honest critique from Skottie Young, and Skottie told him that it looked like the stock image version of what Jake was trying to do.
So Jake went to Pinterest and started looking up cartoon animals, made a Pinterest board with cartoon animals and saw, “oh this is how you would do a killer whale… oh this is how you would do a llama… I wouldn’t have thought to do that..” Then took a little bit of this guy, and then took a little bit of what they did in this drawing, etc, and mashed it together and made it his own. But really it was from absorbing from all of those different artists.
There are pinnacle and milestone pieces where you have breakthroughs. Eventually you get to where you can focus a lot more on the creative and imaginative side of things because you don’t have to worry so much about how to actually create it.
Eventually you’ll get to where you don’t have so much hurt from something not working out. You need to learn to not take it personally, or take an emotional hit; to be able to I don’t mind looking at something and saying, “Ahh, that’s not working out” and then you go back without taking an emotional hit, and say, “you know I can make this better.”
Sometimes you will ask, “Why am I not impressed with what I just did? If you yourself aren’t kind of impressed, then no one else will be. You should be stoked, not trying to convince yourself, “uh, it’s good, it’s good..”
There are times where Jake has worked on a piece for a few hours and then had to scrap it because it just wasn’t up to par.
You need to get to the point where if your dog chewed up your piece, that you don’t mind because you know you can create it again or maybe even do something better.
A WORD TO THE PROS
If there is a professional illustrator out there, or close to professional who has great work and you are saying, “I’ve done this guys.” Then maybe your problem isn’t your craft, but your network. If you don’t know people in the field you want to go in, then you need to find mentors, get your work out there online, and up your game.
Current Projects (What are you working on?):
Jake: Skyheart, finishing things up there.
Will: Reading Book, about a bunny that out foxes a wolf. About to start the sequel to Bonnepart Falls Apart.
Lee: Writing a children’s book about natural disasters, and just came up with a dummy, and is learning a lot.
- Jake Parker, mrjakeparker.com | Instagram: @jakeparker
- Will Terry, willterry.com | Instagram: @willterryart
- Lee White, leewhiteillustration.com | Instagram: @leewhiteillo
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Podcast production and editing by Aaron Dowd.
Show notes by Tanner Garlick.
About the Show
Illustrators Will Terry, Lee White, and Jake Parker talk about illustration, how to do it, how to make a living at it, and how to make an impact in the world with your art.
3 Point Perspective: The Illustration Podcast
My Art is Great, Why Won't Anyone Hire Me?
Apr 30, 2018