Monday, March 21, 2011

So Ya Wanna Be An Art Intern!

I just got to hire my first intern for my department at work a few weeks ago! That was exciting! However, going through the slush of blah artists made it less exciting, but dealing with the people that couldn't follow instructions was infuriating.
I made very straightforward instructions: give me your resume', five of your best art samples, a link to your website, and send it to my specific e-mail address. People couldn't even follow those instructions. I'd get two samples of art instead of five, they'd go check out our website, and instead of the e-mails coming directly to me, as instructed, they'd just sent it through the company, meaning my boss would get inundated by e-mails HE didn't want to deal with (that's why he hired me!) and even when I said I was looking for local artists, I'd still get the random e-mail from Spain, asking if it's okay if he/she would apply.
So, in an attempt to REALLY CLARIFY what potential art applicants should and shouldn't do, here's a quick, concise list for any aspiring artist to follow. (Psst! A lot of these rules apply to ANY job applicant, too, so don't bail it you're not the artsy kind!)

RULE 1: I'M NOT LOOKING TO HIRE A COPYING MACHINE. Oh, look, here's several pictures in your portfolio that are either a few filters on a professional photo or just you duplicating a well-shot photo of a current celebrity! Know how much I care about that? Not at all. I'm looking for ORIGINAL CONTENT. I want to hire you as an artist to create art out of your head, not copy a pre-made photograph. If that's what I wanted, I'd just buy the stock photo.

RULE 2: DON'T JUST DO THE BARE MINIMUM. You can tell what assignments a class gets when you see a million of the same thing in the student portfolios from the same college. With 3-D at my old college, it was that old-fashioned Mr. Munch robotic penny bank for modeling, and then the standard bouncing ball and walk cycle for animations. With illustration, it was the acrylic animal eye and watercolor face portraits that was in EVERY portfolio. Obviously, if all you're turning in is what you were assigned to do for a grade, you're not showing that you have much ambition or imagination. So why would I expect you to give me either if I hired you?

RULE 3: FOLLOW INSTRUCTIONS. If I ask for a cover letter, a resume, a link to a website, five of your best illustrations, and a specific e-mail to send applications to, you better do every damn step EXACTLY how I told you to! If you can't get those instructions right, trying to teach you the complexities and intricacies of how our company is run is just going to annihilate you! Or worse--waste a lot of my spare time trying to hold your hand through the process. P.S. Have another person read your cover letter if spelling isn't your strong suit. If you can't expend the extra energy to spell-check or proof your own cover letter, the employer's going to interpret that you don't care enough to get the job.

RULE 4: BASIC ART PRINCIPLES. Don't send me half-finished artwork! Don't send me art that clearly isn't applicable to what we do! If you include a figure drawing, finish the hands, feet, and face! Unfinished art always sends the wrong message to the art director.

RULE 5: WALK THE WALK. Don't act like you know a program or are familiar with a process that you're not. Eventually you'll be put to task on this thing you don't know, and if it's on a tight deadline and you don't deliver, you've pretty much given yourself your own termination notice. Downplay your ignorance, but emphasize your ENTHUSIASM to learn more! Honesty is always the best policy, and if you show a basic knowledge of the principles, it might just be enough to encourage a boss to give you a chance.

RULE 6: DON'T CALL US, WE'LL CALL YOU. Did you send your contact information via e-mail, on the cover letter, and include it on the resume? Was the e-mail bounced back to you? If yes to the first question, and no to the second, okay, assume we've got your information and art. Don't e-mail me right after, asking if I got your stuff. Follow-ups can get REALLY annoying if you're a busy art director. Obviously, you get an interview, sure, do a follow-up. But silence from the company is usually the best critique you can get about the applicability of the art you submitted. NOTE: It doesn't necessarily mean you're a BAD artist, but perhaps that what you submitted doesn't fit the need of what we currently are looking for.

RULE 7: THE JOB INTERVIEW DOESN'T END WHEN YOU'RE PICKED. If you're hired as an intern, it's basically a litmus test to see if you're a good fit. Hiring an intern means, "Hey, we're willing to give you a shot here, professionally, for cheap, and perhaps if things work out, we MIGHT give you full-time employment!" So don't act like you can relax. The real test starts, the minute you start working there. Be punctual. Be respectful. Get to know people. Get those people to like who you are. But most importantly, work your ASS off. Interns are hired to do menial tasks that higher more experienced labor A) Doesn't WANT to do, and B) are way too knowledgeable on other aspects of the company to do such a menial task. As an intern given the petty jobs, MAKE SURE YOU DO THEM RIGHT. And with a smile on your face! If you can't get the coffee order right, or scan things properly, or put files in the correct folder, how will they ever trust you with larger responsibilities on a giant team project? In addition, if you mope and complain about every task I give you, what makes you think I'll be eager to continue collaborating with you? I know it seems like a common sense philosophy, but I've seen many a person dig their own grave with just their attitude, alone, when it came to getting a full-time position. I will gladly take a more personable yet less talented team player under my wing than a more talented prick. People are already complex and demanding enough. Please don't complicate that for any one!

So those are the big rules. I'm sure I'll add to this as I think of other things. But it's the big strokes, and if you follow these rules, you'll probably at least have a better head-start than most applicants do. Good luck, and most importantly, keep on drawing!!!!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Promotional Postcard, and the Hustle

The biggest weaknesses that most artists have? Two big ones stick out to me: the lack of self-promotion and no ability to hustle (aka negotiate).
A lot of artists have this amazing contradiction going within them--they're COMPLETELY self-absorbed in their work, but have no urge to try to promote themselves. It seems if you're THAT into yourself, you'd be telling THE WORLD about it, but not the case, with most artists.
I don't know if this is because artists have no idea how to even START promoting themselves, or if that's just energy they'd prefer to waste on doing artwork. Well, I'm here to tell you, when you're a fledgling artist, you've got more TIME than money, and in all honesty, you need to spend about 50% hustling/promoting and 50% doing art. I know that's a horrifically discouraging ratio to any artist, but in all honesty, ANY new business would be spending about that same ratio of time on actual trade and promotion. One cannot create within a vaccuum! Same goes for promotions, too! You need to beat the pavement, shake hands, make phone calls, send e-mails! Nobody gets "discovered", I don't give a shit WHAT you hear! You put yourself out there to EVERYBODY, and then about 1% of those people you promote yourself to will give you work.
Which brings me to my latest promotional effort, a new promotional postcard! Here it is:

The alligator in the center of the composition has given me a TON of work, so I figured I might as well give him some reptilian friends, and see if this gets me more enjoyable work! As much as I pride myself on diversity of style, I definitely gravitate more towards cartoony.

So, the Hustle, the second Achilles Heel of artists, and other workers, in general. I'm convinced that most people just accept the first wage thrown at them when it's offered to them at a job interview. Same thing applies to people that get a freelance offer. They simply say "yes" or even let themselves get talked down on price. Well, I can tell you, from personal experience, you need to REVERSE that approach. Even if they don't budge on price, get them to budge on other things, like the amount of finished material you receive from them as promotional materials, paying for room and board if you're on location working for them, per diem, etc.
With my postcards, the printer was raving about my cartoony cards, and then mentioned that she wanted to redo her bland flamingo on her logo. A week later, I needed more postcards than what I initially bought (500), so I made a work-for-product deal: Print me out another 100 postcards, give me an I.O.U. for the other 400, and I'll render that flamingo for you that you've been craving for. Well, here it is:

She's THRILLED with it, and has become a strong advocate of what I do for the last few weeks, sending me phone calls from her business! So, it just goes to show: you can print postcards 'til the cows come home--your reputation and networking ability is what REALLY gets you work!