character sketch

9 STEPS TO GETTING COMMERCIAL ART JOBS: things every young artist should know.



9 steps to get an art job in media.

Hey, you’ve decided to become a professional commercial artist!  Here are the steps to getting work, in their correct order:


1) KNOW WHAT YOU WANT TO DO.  That seems obvious, but many new artists aren’t really clear on what it is they are aiming at.  It’s a natural problem, but you have to narrow down to exactly the job you want to do.  Do research on the subject you are interested in and what kind of jobs are available in the field. If you love to sketch robots and spacecraft, you might want to look into any game company who produces work in a similar genre and style.  If you like drawing trolls and goblins, do some serious checking into studios known for scary orcs.  Work with what you already like to do.  Forcing yourself to go into a field whose work or style is not like yours can be torture.


If you want to do more than one thing, such as painting concept art and character sculpture, that’s possible, but you will need to make separate portfolios for each area.  Don't combine them, because it just confuses people.  They will assume that you are combining two different areas of work because you’re not really good enough at either of them.


2) MAKE A PORTFOLIO OF 5 - 10 PIECES.  You have to work on at least 5-10 pieces, so that the potential employer can really judge a person's ability, range and consistency.  Create work that looks as though it could have come out of that studio.  They are not only looking at the quality of the work, but gauging how well you might fit in their organization.  Do NOT present just one piece for professional critique; it's not enough.  They will assume that you can consistently produce work that’s about 80% as good as your best piece.


3) MAKE YOUR WORK EASILY AVAILABLE ONLINE.  This is the place you will steer people that you apply to.  A personal site is best, of course, but you can use any decent image-sharing site. Insta, Flickr and Tumblr all work fine, but a site known for professional work in your field should be your hangout. If you did background paintings, CG character sculpture and the like, you’d probably choose ArtStation.  Make sure your album is clean and contains only what needs to be in it, which is the above-mentioned 5 or 6 portfolio pieces.  No pictures of your dog should be included.  DO NOT send work as email attachments when following up on contacts: that just clogs their inbox, and chances are it will be deleted without ever being looked at.  Every professional artist is busy, just like you are, so respect their time and be courteous.


4) CHOOSE 3 TARGET COMPANIES that you think you might like to be involved with.  Find out about them online.  Select any real company that you like - there are so many of them. Pick smaller companies also, NOT just the well-known and popular ones.  Looking at the body and quality of their art work, ask yourself: does your work suit the standard and style of their current house artists?  Be honest with yourself on this score. 


5) GO THROUGH THE ORDINARY HIRING CHANNELS.  That's what they're there for.  Don't try to backdoor this process by badgering a friend in the business to ‘get you in’; it's considered very bad form.  Check their site, and find "Job Opportunities" and/or "Careers with Studio XYZ". See what kind of positions they offer and read the description carefully.  Search also via their presence on Twitter or Facebook or LinkedIn.  Befriend them, 'like' their page, and communicate with anyone involved.  It also helps to find out about the companies' art teams, such as how many artists are involved in a game or film production. You may also be able to search individual names and search for them as well.


6) WHEN YOU APPLY, SEND THEM A PLEASANT NOTE, EXPLAIN WHAT YOU'RE AFTER, AND KEEP IT SHORT.  INCLUDE THE LINK TO YOUR MATERIAL.  E-mail them your portfolio link with letter explaining your intention, such as: 'seeking a position as a creature sculptor'. If you are also looking for critique. you can say so (ask NICELY), and tell them that you would like to get to the professional level in a year, or a couple of years.  Ask them what you need to improve on to reach that level.


If they are kind enough to write back with critiques or suggestions, focus hard on what is pointed out and improve those specific points.  This is where the rubber meets the road, and you find out for real whether you can respond positively to critique, as a professional commercial artist needs to do.  (See notes below.)


7) IF YOU GET ZERO RESPONSE, RETOOL YOUR MATERIALS AND TRY AGAIN.  If you send your portfolio to three companies and get no response within a week, start doing more research and try the same approach with more companies on your list. There are hundreds of them to pick from. 


If you are good, you will find out soon, because some will respond with critique. If you approach ten or fifteen companies and still get NO RESPONSE, then stop for now.  You have found out that you need to step up your game before you try again.


8) BUILD A BETTER PORTFOLIO in the next three to six months. Again, pick only five to ten best pieces. If you received critique from any company, you should pay close attention to that critique.  Focus hard on what is pointed out and improve those specific points. 


No responses at all?  Accept the defeat for now and use that as fuel to produce new and BETTER work. Stop asking mom, dad and your friends to praise your art; you're at a stage now where you need professional critique.  Your efforts to improve should not be happening as a result of encouragement from random friends; your drive to succeed should be coming from within.


9) REPEAT.  (AND OFTEN THIS IS THE HARDEST PART.) If you have suitable art skills (meaning you’re what they call 'talented') and also have decent people skills, then responses and offers will eventually be forthcoming.  You will be asked to interview, both online and in person for your next job.  You want to become part of that interview process, because it will lead to individual gigs, followed perhaps by a full-time offer.


This 9-point list is geared for people who want to work in animation, character design, fabrication, concept art, advertising and the like, but it’s broadly true for any kind of  commercial illustrative art work.  For comic book people: you can get editors to review your portfolio at any big convention. You will have to find out details from that particular convention (San Diego Comic-Con or NYC or local shows). And if you are good, the editor will give you contact e-mail or cards for you to submit more sample pages on the spot. If you get no nibbles, try again next convention.


-- and if you're still not ready for prime time, the road can still go on. You can find forums or online communities that have lots of professional artists in it (, Post your art online in the forum - you can sometimes get critique within minutes that way. And if you are becoming a good artist, you can become known thru that community.  Try working on individual commissions, such as fan art, to begin making money with your abilities.  But in any case, keep working – remember that you're doing what you love.  If you are getting better, the right jobs will eventually find you.


Good luck!




a note about professional critiques:


If you are not really serious about being a professional, you don't really need a critique.  You can just skip this.

Keep in mind when you ask for critique what are you really looking for.  Some young artists are simply looking for praise for their talent, because that’s what’s gotten them into school in the first place, and maybe being patted on the back has actually gotten them through school.  Are you just looking for that validation, or are you really looking for what to do next to improve the work, or for ways to make your work more salable?

If you thrive on peoples' praise, then you are in the wrong profession.  Seriously. 

Fans may give praise, but they don’t necessarily pay you. 

Employers don’t generally give praise.  Their positive feedback consists of paying you for your work, and then offering you another gig, if they have it. 

Constructive criticism is not meant to pat you on the back, but to gently point out flaws.  It won't necessarily be a pleasant experience.


A professional receives daily critiques on their work.   A best-case critique scenario will sound something like this: "Well, you need to change this, extend that, and maybe reduce the saturation”. A not-so-best-case scenario will sound more like this, if they’re trying to be nice to you: "Ah, this doesn't really fit our direction.  Thank you for your time.  Why don't you get back to us when you pull together your next portfolio?"

So, not to be mean about it, but we artists have to get used to people in the art business giving us their honest opinions.  A solid professional constructive critique from someone who understands the business is better than any praise, because it will point you in the direction of your personal goals.   It will ultimately make you a better commercial artist.





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Artist from the Rose City of Emerald Oregon.


Writing about skills necessary for understanding storyboarding, film grammar, and drawing skills. And stuff.

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