What is the biggest challenge and frustration you face Advancing your career?
I was asked this question recently by a professional artist who is doing some research on the subject, and I wanted to explain my answer from my own perspective in several steps. Hopefully some of you can find this informative enough to think about your own situation and goals of becoming a professional artist in the entertainment industry. Enjoy!
When it comes to advancing my career as a freelance artist, my biggest challenge or frustration would have to be being the right candidate for the right job. Here’s the explanation broken down into segments of why I derived on this answer.
Too many hands in the pot:
As a freelancer, I don’t have as much industry experience compared to some professional artists. With the popularity of concept art and illustration for games and film growing, we also have to add all the young and eager artists who are paying to learn the same thing. Now this should not be as troubling because I’ve been preparing myself with a few skills overtime, but now we have more artists flooding the market which in turn makes some companies/studios not care as much about hiring at a certain rate, and we also have the young inexperienced artists who want the exposure so much that are willing to work for less. When we add the incredible amount of artists worldwide, we get into how much money can we pay an artist vs. how much money do we get in return. Again, it boils down to experience and your ability to market yourself as a professional artist.
Tools of the trade:
When we talk about learning a software to create the next best and coolest looking thing in the shortest amount of time, concept artists are huge into this. A while back it was Photoshop. Then we got into photobashing, 3D, Keyshot style rendering, and recently, VR painting. Now this shouldn’t matter because all of these are just tools, but in some way it does as studios and clients want to play with the same toys and features setting the trend for the next generation of games, films, shows, or advertisements. Some artists argue that it all comes down to the knowledge you have with design fundamentals. I agree in a big way, but I also know that when you stop learning a tool and stick to your old school way of designing, you can fall behind rather quickly. Unless you’re one of the greats, which seems to find more rarity nowadays, learning a tool will give you an extra edge. If we go back to the first point, you have a vast amount of artists who are also learning these things in order to compete for the same jobs.
Now, I mentioned before that I didn’t have as much experience as some professional artists who are competing for the same jobs. I have a rather high bar set for myself, as any artist should, and for me it has been important to start working with higher level studios/companies, skipping smaller gigs. In order to combat this, I’ve taken more of a back seat to improve my skills in order to compete at a higher level. When trying to find these higher level jobs, I now run through the trouble of having the skills, but not the experience of working in a studio or with a range of clients. We start the catch 22 argument with you need the experience to work. A way to bypass this could happen by living closer or having more access to smaller studios/companies willing to hire a more inexperience artist in order to coach and propel them to the next level. I also need to add the having the right experience with making and knowing how to handle contracts with clients/studios. This is so important that not knowing how to do it right can have undesirable effects with your work and brand as an artist. There is also the competition against your own teachers and heroes. When you want to play with the big boys, you also have to able to handle yourself against them. This means knowing how to do the right designs quickly and effectively. When you have to compete at the rate of speed of your own heroes and teachers while making things look good and fresh, it can be daunting and frustrating.
In an age where communication is so easy to have worldwide, finding a job as a concept artist is easier than ever. For some, having the media presence is a little harder so living in a good location where more jobs are available is key. The challenge I face is finding the right kind of jobs that can be flexible and are willing to accept me as a freelance artist working remotely. I’ve had a few issues where my location created a bit of a problem in landing a job. Again, we can go back to the experience you have as an artist. I have a good friend of mine who is very experienced as a designer on what he does, that he doesn’t need to worry about working on-location. He does tell me that the company wants him to move to their location (the company is in a different state). Living in the right place can definitely affect your chances of finding more opportunities in this industry. Since this is a bit of an issue for me, I have to resort to another challenging topic.
How easy is it for me to pack up and go anywhere in order to work on a project? When you have a mortgage, wife, kid, and pets, it can be a little more difficult to plan. Even having to leave your family for contract gigs can be a little hard to take. It seems to be the norm that companies like to hire artists for shorter periods of time in order to test them out and see if they could work well with the rest of the creative team. It’s also a good way to hire someone without having to pay extra benefits. As a business that needs to make money I completely understand, but as an artist having to sacrifice time and money for the greater good, it definitely makes you think about a specific job.
So, I have some experience, I’ve learned some tools, but I don’t live in the right place. In order to get around it, marketing seems to be a really good way for competing in the industry. This can be a little tricky as some artists aren’t really trained with business in mind (me included). I’ve had to learn a few things over the years, some as hard lessons. So what’s the challenge? I have to make sure to sell myself as a product to as many venues as I can in order to have the right amount of exposure to find the right kinds of jobs. This requires me to be in tuned with social media and create a presence. I have to make sure that all of my work is synced with each other on every gallery site I join. I have to keep in mind to write my contact information on every work I put out in case it falls into a producer or director’s eyesight. I also have to keep my resume at hand for anyone wanting to see my credentials. I’ve been told my other artists that a resume doesn’t mean a thing in this business, but I would have to differ when it comes to experience and previously worked clients. Business cards also have to be printed so I can have them ready for any situation. My portfolio website needs to be designed so it captures the viewer right away in the least amount of time. Networking is a big thing when it comes to marketing. If you’re not networking with the right people, you may miss some opportunities. Travelling to conventions is also part of getting the right exposure. There’s more to it, but we’ll keep it for another discussion.
Good old time. I would almost want to name this the number one thing that challenges me and frustrates me on a daily basis. It is definitely a big one. Having to do everything and still have time to relax with friends and family is not easy, and even though it’s pretty much a norm with artists who always strive to stay on edge, it doesn’t make up for the fact that you need an escape to recharge your creative juices. Now, I love art and it is easy for me to forget that there are things around me when I focus on a project, but it can be frustrating when you want to spend time with family and friends while still finding a good amount of time for resting and sleeping. When I was younger, not married, and without a kid, it wasn’t much of an issue. Doing this for too long can also affect your health. This is when time management becomes ever more important. I know people that do it all the time and say they’re fine with 3-4 hours of sleep. I just don’t see the benefit of overworking yourself especially when the goal of a lot of artists is to create their own work and having the time to relax more, without worrying about what the studio/client needs.
Game and Film Industry:
As much as I love what I do as an artist, and I wouldn’t see myself doing any other career path, some of the frustration does originate from industry practices. Well established artists don’t have to worry about this so much, but I don’t think there is anyone who wouldn’t agree with me when it comes to the way the industry, studios, and clients handle business. Again, businesses are out to make a profit on a product. If they don’t do it well, there won’t be a successful product to sell to the public. The problem is the way it is done in relation to artists. I know for this issue to become resolved, there would need to be a huge movement that as of now, I don’t see happening. Job security also deals with this issue. It’s known that in this field you may have to bounce around from studios or clients, with the occasional layoffs. Going back to the experience, this is why it’s also important to become useful to the company, even more than what your job description requires.
I do hope this doesn’t sound like a bad rant as I do love the things that come out of the industry. It was seeing and watching movies and games that opened my eyes into this career path. I do hope to become very successful as a concept artist and illustrator and one day create my own IP that would be seen by lots of people. We’re at an age where it is very possible to do and create wonderful things. At the moment though, my focus is on having the right product to sell to studios/clients that will get me the right job. It is very challenging as art can be very subjective and at times very frustrating trying to come up with the best sales pitch that will get you the most views with the right people.
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