Eliott discusses what it takes to getting your foot in the door as a self-taught concept artist.

Q My name is Carl and I’m a senior illustration major at a loss for how to get a foot in the door. I am not sure how to start taking the next step into the field, and I have no experience networking. I would like to continue pursuing a professional education (ideally in a trade school as you said), but I don’t think I can make that happen financially right now. I’ve been exploring my other options – largely online courses from independent artists like Chris Oatley or CubeBrush.  Would you say this route is viable in your personal opinion, or at the very least a good practice to use in the meantime while saving up for a more advanced education?  Do you also think it’s possible to catch up with those who have been working towards this for much longer?

A The short answer is: Until you have mastered your craft and your artwork is on the same quality as professionals, you will have a hard time “getting your foot in the door.” Your competition are professionals currently working in the industry (not your peers in school). So, what do you do? I wrote an article on CGChannel.com, discussing some of this, and it might be a good read for you. Check out: 10-questions-to-ask-before-you-apply-for-your-first-art-job/

And, yes, get your education however you can and soak it all up. There are tons of free resources you can start with (see the resources page) and paid ones that will take you even further. These will hold you over for a while, but at some point you will likely need more structure and direct guidance.

At that time, it’s worth reevaluating your finances to see what’s possible. If going to a trade school is still out of the picture, then consider mentorships where you can get direct feedback on your work from working professionals.

If that is still unobtainable, then you can always join forums, and art groups on social media that specialize in feedback and critiques. That will at least get you some feedback, but always take it with a grain of salt, since you don’t know who’s offering it (Is it a professional or a student? – there’s a big difference there).
Playing “Catch up” is a dangerous game that if you aren’t careful, will lead you down a dark hole since there will always be artists better (and worse) than you.  Change your thinking to: “Will my work ever be good enough to support me as a professional artists?”…  The answer’s usually is: “With enough time and patience, yes.” But, the caveat here is that you need to HONESTLY determine if being a concept artist will still be worth it to you if it takes 10 years to get there. If the answer is “No”, then you should probably find another career and keep art as a hobby.
If I were you, I’d  consider writing to self taught concept artists to ask their opinion on this subject. Dan Luvisi and Darek Zabrocki are two super talented artists that I can think of – do some research and find others.
Remember: as long as you are learning, (even if it’s on your own) then you are heading in the right direction. There are no guarantees in art nor is there an easy button – To get better takes time and determination. Seriously. If you prioritize being a professional artist above all else, then it might happen sooner for you. If, however life gets in the way, then it might take longer for you to get where you want to be

Best of luck

Want to help us grow our resources section? If a resource has helped you greatly please e-mail it to me or any suggestions 
to: me@eliottlillyart.com. I will be keeping this list updated as I discover new entries. Thank you--