I was recently emailed by a high school student looking to work in the art industry in the future as an illustrator. She asked me some really insightful questions that I felt generated a lot of advice that I was willing to share. I decided to post these answers to the interview she sent me, in hopes that it might help others who are contemplating a creative career as well or working in the industry already.
1. What characteristics must you possess for leaders in the industry to like you? Do you think these traits will continue to stay for the future generation?
Consistently perform well with every job you’re given. Strive to maintain high standards with your work no matter what the circumstances are. As a freelancer you will constantly be challenged with new assignments, each one with different criteria and requirements from the last. You will need to learn how to adapt quickly and think of creative solutions to each unique situation. Illustration often demands quick turnarounds so it is important to think fast and work efficiently. Your ability to problem solve with your own unique way of thinking is what will set you apart from others in the industry. Illustration is like having curve balls constantly thrown at you and being able to hit them back every single time. Not every of single one of them will result in a home run, but if you can consistently adapt to whatever you’re dealt with, clients will definitely be drawn to you.
Most importantly, in order to succeed as a financially stable illustrator you will require patience, tenacity and above all discipline. It is a very difficult career to get into and may take many years to become fully established. It is very easy to waver and give up especially during ‘dry spells’ or when watching your friends receive work while you might not be feeling any progress whatsoever. Stay positive no matter what. Never give be inclined to give up just because ‘things aren’t happening fast enough’. This is advice that has been constantly said time and time again so I definitely believe it has a place in the future as well. Yet despite it being mentioned to the point of it sounding cliché, it is actually very difficult to put into practice. Many people possess the talent but lack the resolve and discipline to transform their potential into a fully-fledged career.
2. Are artists in high demand right now? What industry needs them the most?
Animation and gaming are always constantly looking for artists to join their creative teams. UI/UX design is also a job field that has opened up a huge demand for creative individuals in recent years. Art direction is another possible area to look into. Many illustrators who freelance may also turn to art direction as a career, transferring their experience from making art to using their knowledge to help produce it instead. Having experience in graphic design will be essential however if you are looking to pursue art direction. It is important to possess many skills to broaden not only your capabilities as an illustrator, but also the range of potential job markets you can enter. You will find that you will most likely have to draw your income from many different sources when working as a creative professional. Be proficient in as many design programs and mediums possible and it will definitely help improve your chances. Ultimately try to choose a field that you would like to work in that suits your interests. But if you are looking to find work soon and start earning money, then I would suggest that those areas are probably good places to explore.
3. How do you see this artist demand changing for the next generation?
I believe there will always be a demand for illustration, however it will take shape in different forms and mediums in the future. Animated gifs and motion graphics are recent examples of how I see illustration starting to change. Currently the world of illustration feels drastically dependent on the world of editorial publication, as it is predominantly where most of our client base comes from. Print media is also trying to survive as the world is starting to evolve into a paperless age. A lack in the budget to fund the publication will also leave less to spare when it comes to paying the artists. There are often times when illustrators will have to settle for less than desirable pay for the sake of not losing a job assignment. Hopefully this will change as magazines move to online publishing platforms leading to better working budgets and thus higher pay. It is also nice to see illustration being used in non-editorial environments such as Google with their occasional Doodle headers and I hope other companies will be encouraged to do the same.
I would love to see more outlets for where illustration can be used in the future and more importantly pay the wages it deserves. Disappointingly enough there are just too many incidents with clients who are unfamiliar with commissioning art, will also underestimate the amount of time and effort that is required to create the piece they are looking for. Clients that lack this kind of understanding will have high demands with unrealistic timeframes and offer very poor or inadequate compensation in return. I hope that if there is a rising demand for illustration, these gaps in understanding will hopefully be resolved by explaining to clients why we should be given the compensation that we respectfully deserve. The internet has encouraged too many audiences that intellectual property can easily be obtained for free and without permission, which devalues the creative industry altogether.
4. How do you deal with rude clients or ones with contrasting ideas to your own?
Be patient and remain calm. Always maintain a professional attitude no matter what kind of client you’re dealing with. Take the time to think carefully before you respond. Responding to negative energy with more negative energy will only make the situation worse. Communicate your thoughts in a way that doesn’t ‘attack’ your client but also don’t shy away from standing your ground if the situation calls for it. Try to make an effort to see where the client is coming from. It may help you understand why they might be behaving so negatively towards your performance. Is it possible that your own ego might be making the job suffer? Reflect on yourself and see whether there are certain ideas you may be willing to let go in order to let the job run smoothly or if the client’s input may have some interesting points that are worth exploring. Try to keep an open mind and be flexible with the feedback you receive. The number one thing when working with any client regardless of their behaviour is reaching a compromise.
5. How do you handle creativity blocks?
Start working! The longer period of non-action you take the more likely it will be difficult for you to exit it. Jog your block by introducing new material into your brain. Nowadays with the internet there is an infinite supply of images that can help stimulate your creativity. Whenever I start a project I often just go to Google Images or Pintrest and just look at whatever first comes to mind. By looking at images, usually I can build upon what I see and generate new ideas from new information. Try to let these ideas snowball and let little thoughts lead to new ideas that create new ideas and so forth. Always keep an open mind about where you can find inspiration.
6. How do you handle multiple projects at once?
Keep a calendar! Good scheduling habits is something you should definitely get into. Always be aware of your timeline of upcoming deadlines and plan in advance. Again, illustration is all about how quickly you can adapt to any situation. Unforeseen circumstances happen all the time, like perhaps suddenly receiving a rush job that is due in a few hours for instance, but also be in the middle of a project that is already underway. Be aware of what you can realistically accomplish and avoid making too many promises you can’t keep. Don’t be afraid of turning down assignments if you are already preoccupied at the moment with a busy schedule. The worst-case scenario is taking on more than you can handle and delivering unsatisfactory results because you were too strapped for time. If you anticipate that you need more time for an assignment, be honest and contact your art director in advance to negotiate for an extension. However try to make your best effort to keep to original schedule as much as possible. Your ADs are also under pressure waiting for your piece to come in and adding it to their magazine during a stressful production week.
Personally I find making a list, arranging it by priority, and completing each task one by one to be more efficient and less panic inducing than trying to juggle too many things at once. Over-multitasking can easily lead to mismanagement, making you feel overwhelmed and slowing down your overall progress altogether. While you’re working on your current task, think ahead by planning out the steps on how you will tackle the next one. Visualize your goals! This will help you save time when you reach the next item on your list. Always aim to work efficiently and look for shortcuts on how to reduce the number of steps it takes to finish things.
7. Do you think it’s better to take initiative and give new suggestions to your boss, or to stick with whatever they give you? What are the positive outcomes of this?
Art directors will often approach you with jobs where they will already have some form of ‘vision’ in mind of what kind of image they are looking to create. It is up to the illustrator to take these prompts or ‘direction’ and combine it with their own unique way of thinking to come up with a concept that fits the feel of the piece. Sometimes there is a lot of creative freedom being offered to you, and other times there isn’t. Ultimately your goal with any assignment is to create a piece that your client will be happy to use to represent their publication. Remember that your finished piece reflects not only your reputation but more importantly your client’s image in front of their customer base. Therefore always be open to any input offered by the art director especially when a revision is requested and try to find ways to work with their suggestions instead of rejecting them right away. My general advice is to avoid bumping heads with an art director and attempt to take their ideas and meld them with yours. Avoid letting your ego or stubborn pride get in the way of what could be a better solution to your work if you find a way to give it a chance. Be flexible! An art assignment is all about collaboration and reaching a happy compromise between you and your client. If you disagree with their point of view or think you can offer a better solution, feel free to share your ideas but be receptive to their thinking as well. An art director will always be interested in hearing your thoughts in response to theirs. Leaving a positive impact on your client will help lead to more work in the future and it is in your favour to please them. Keep in mind that your art director is merely trying to do their job properly by making sure that the artist stays on track instead of straying too far from what is being asked.
Also, don’t feel ‘tied down’ to the ideas they offer either. Although the client will provide the overall feel they are looking for, their suggestions are often meant to be taken as starting points to help the artist come up with better ideas. The art director is more often interested in seeing what YOU will come up with the given circumstances rather than telling you exactly what to do. However there may be a time when you and your client may not see eye-to-eye on a concept whatsoever, despite the numerous attempts you’ve tried, and the best course of action (especially if time is running out) is to let it go. Don’t let the job become more trouble than what it’s worth. At this point complete the assignment as quickly and smoothly as possible by giving the client exactly what they’re asking for. Let it be that one piece that doesn’t make it on to your portfolio if you aren’t happy with the results and walk away with the experience of knowing how to handle the situation better next time. Worst-case scenario, the client will kill the assignment (hopefully giving you a portion of the original fee) after realizing you were not a good fit for the job after all.
8. Why did you choose to go with this pathway and choose a more creative career in the art industry?
I chose illustration because I wanted to work for myself and I wanted to make a living from making art. At the time when I graduated from art high school I was unsure of which path to take in the arts until I stumbled upon the ‘Illustration’ program on the OCAD University website. I saw illustration as an area of the industry that also had the potential to branch into other creative fields more easily than starting off from a different path, and therefore give me more options to work with in the future. But in truth, no matter which starting point you choose, if you truly have an interest in another field afterwards (which is entirely possible), there is no reason why you can’t switch over and try something else. Everything is within the realm of possibility. Just go with the flow and try everything you want to try.
9. Do you have any general advice to future generations in this industry?
Stay curious, have a lot of interests, and be a worldly person. Create art for a living but don’t forget to create art for yourself! Don’t get lost in what is truly important. Fame may seem glamorous but it is often short lived. Prioritize your financial stability first. Have some dream projects you want to create and make them happen when you’re still young! As you get older you will have trouble finding both the time and energy to work on them. Also never ever be afraid to fail. Failure humbles you, teaches you invaluable life lessons, and fuels your desire to succeed. Take time to look at and appreciate the work created by your peers and fellow artists! Don’t let your mind succumb to petty thoughts like envy or attention-seeking desire. Art has more purpose than granting you fame. Use it to create something that will leave a positive impact on the world.