I get emailed a lot asking for advice from up-and-coming artists. Here's a recent response. Take it all with a grain of salt, though, as I'm an ant fart in the wind. I am no authority, but have been around a few years and have learned some stuff. Looking at it now, I should really stick to this advice myself, as I don't always do, and get kicked in the head as a result.
- Have a focus. Know exactly what kind of commercial art you want to do, whether it's storyboards, comics, character design, etc. Having a focus helps so you don't waste your valuable time. That being said, if you want to be a comics artist for instance, work on comics, everyday, independently or with collaborators. I estimate I did over a thousand comic pages on my own before I started actually getting paid to do it.
- Have an overall vision for your future supported by smaller, achievable goals. My larger vision/goal was simply to support myself financially with my art. I would set little goals along the way, like completing a comic on my own by such a date, putting merch together in time for and having a table at a particular convention on particular date, etc.
- Have an art blog you consistently update. Blogger/Blogspot is a great resource. Befriend other art bloggers and ask to trade links to drive traffic to your own blog. A lot of artists opt to do this rather than have a website. Chris Wahl is a great example. Click here to see
- Register your name as a domain. Godaddy
is the most affordable place to do this. It only costs $11.99 a year to register. DO THIS NOW, BEFORE SOMEONE STEALS IT.
- Be prepared to do a lot of free shit. Don't expect to land a good paying job right away. It may take a long time, years in fact. Doing free stuff helps build experience as well as your portfolio. You will have to pay your dues, cut your teeth, etc. You'll get compensated for your donated time later, trust me. Just be sure the free stuff is fun to work on. That way you will stay inspired and do your best work, and won't get bored. If you are doing free stuff, though, make sure it is beneficial to do so. I still do rock posters for free, but somewhere on every poster is my website url. Thousands of these posters go up around town, but they are advertisements for myself just as much as they are for the shows. I get work from these posters from time to time. If you collaborate on something with someone, like on a comic for instance, make sure you are at least a 50/50 partner. Even if it never makes any money, you still own a piece of it outright.
If you're wanting to do comics, it will be an uphill slog, to say the least. This is a shrinking, dying medium. You have to two of the following three qualities to be successful, and even then there are no guarantees: 1) super genial/friendly/gregarious/fucking charming, 2) super fast, or 3) super awesome talented. Again, there still is no guarantee. I wish I had two of these qualities myself.
- Pain = success. You need to value success over your own health, sleep and sanity. I've been getting 3-4 hours of sleep a night for over two years to keep the wheels on the machine greased and moving. Discomfort and desperation helps fuel success. I know guys fresh out of school that have it too comfortable to be successful. They have a nice room at their folk's house, a little cash in their pocket, no real pressure to find a job, and this comfort reduces their ambition. There's no proverbial fire under their ass to do something. I had a shitty day job for ten years and would work on my art career at night. This discomfort, pain, dissatisfaction and discontentment fueled my otherworldly desperation for professional success. I don't know your situation, but getting a day job and moving into your a place with some roomates is some of the best advice I can give.
- Don't get into a relationship anytime soon. Relationships are a vacuum of time and will delay your goal. If you are young, which I assume you are, there is plenty of time for relationships later.
- Do art every day. If you haven't done any sort of art on a given day, sacrifice some sleep and spend some time working on something. Artistic ability is a muscle you must constantly be working.
- Don't be looking for a job for right now/today. Things often work a glacial speed. Always be networking and trying to set up a job for a year from now. Cultivating contacts and nurturing professional relationships is the name of the game.
- Lastly, no matter how busy you might be, no matter how much freelance work you might have, no matter how overextended/overcommitted you might be, always, ALWAYS be burning the midnight oil looking for the next gig. If you don't have a shitload of irons in the fire at all times, you will get screwed. This especially applies in a full-time artist scenario. You will always need to be working on a lot of things at once, 90% of which might be pro bono stuff, such as pitches, for you next job. Almost everything will fall through for some reason or another, so it's best to be working an infinite number of angles at ALL times.