From time to time I receive interesting emails from newbie designers or illustrators, who are trying to open up this complex industry for themselves, but they don’t know where to start; they ask for my help and of course, I do my best to help them. It occurred to me that maybe, if I publish those emails, everybody could benefit from them and clear those doubts.
So now we are going to start this new section
I’ll start with Evangelina’s case, beautiful name by the way. Eva is argentine but resides in the USA and wants to dedicate herself to the world of illustration, but she has lots of doubts and prejudices that I’ll try to clear out; at least orient her to walk her first steps. Here are the most interesting parts of that email:
I live in USA (I’m from Argentina) and I have wrote to many people with my heart in my hands, but not one of those people have found it in their hearts the willingness to help me. I think it is because they fear that I’ll get really good and that I might “steal” their customers if they told me their “secret recipe”, but…
Let’s start with the good news, you live in the USA; this will give you lots of opportunities that you wouldn’t have in Argentina; you are also optimistic and you really want to make progress. So you speak English and you’re eager, congratulations! You have the minimum requisites to start this difficult career.
Now the bad news
It’s not good to expect any help from people, don’t take me wrong, there will be lots of people who will be willing to help you altruistically, but that’s not the norm; it’s due to lack of time or energy rather than because they are evil. That’s why you have to keep in mind that every single triumph or failure you get will depend 99% in you, outside help is always welcome, but don’t count on it.
Forget about “secret recipes”, nobody will teach them to you because they simply don’t exist. The secret recipe is HARD WORK during a long period of time, applied to multiple fields: marketing, interpersonal communication, technical and practical knowledge… Also keep in mind that what has value for me might not have any value for your; you will have to find your own path.
This is a nice digital painting by Evangelina.
I am a completely “new” newbie. And I would like to start working as a freelancer. I have skills (no degree, though)…
Before venturing into freelance, I would recommend that you try to work for a design agency first; take it as a contact-making experience. I personally worked part time (4 hours a day) for 6 months at a local agency; the salary was really bad and those were the worst months of my working life, but working there cleared out lots of questions and I learnt a lot.
You don’t necessarily need to have formal training to be good at what you do; it might be harder that way, so you need to compensate your lack of formal training with willingness and a great portfolio. I recommend that you read a post I recently wrote about the advantages of self training vs. formal.
… but I believe I can create quality art.
This is your main weakness, design has an artistic aspect in it, but it’s not art; it has a function, its rules and a specific goal, while art doesn’t. Clients don’t pay you to recreate YOUR vision of the world; they pay you to recreate THEIR vision of the world for a targeted audience.
In other words, the artist creates without restrictions; the designer or illustrator on request has to adhere to some rules. So:
- Do you want to be an artist or you want to design/illustrate on request?
- Do you want to be economically stable and create with restrictions, or unstable (at least until you reach to the top), but with the ability to create freely?
If you want to be an artist I’m afraid I can’t help you; if you want to work by request, then keep reading
Very nice, but does it have a market?.
I plan to do lots of things, but I have to prepare my website and my portfolio first, I haven’t done it yet.
Having a plan is the first goal, so write down a list of tasks, organize them by priority level and get them done.
Like I said on the previous point you are confusing concepts, your portfolio is very artistic, there is no commercial intention, so you are going to have to radically change the direction of your work. A few pieces of advice to shift your portfolio to possible clients:
- Work at least 8 hours a day until you reach a quality product. If you don’t have a quality product then nobody will buy it.
- You already have a portfolio on Deviantart. The next step is to publish your own website.
- Choose your strength and look for its possible commercial use. If your strengths are landscapes, then instead of making traditionalist paintings, why don’t you get into the world of video games or films as concept artist? If you like portraits, why don’t you make caricatures on request?
- Discover reference artists inside your field and study them. What makes them different? Why are they so good? What kind of portfolio do they have? Who does it target? Try to discover their marketing plan.
- Make a list of potential clients and put yourself in their shoes. If you were a client, what kind of portfolio would you like to see? What type of work pieces would you be interested in?
- Don’t forget about the minimum requisites to work on the internet: English, PayPal and lots of promotion.
- Keep working at least 8 hours a day until you reach a quality product. If you don’t have a quality product then nobody will buy it.
What if a potential customer sees my portfolio and likes it? They call me and ask me, “What are your rates? How much would you charge us?” … What should my answer be? Probably what is preventing me from making any money right now is the fear of not knowing what to say to a potential customer.
Think about the fact that every single one of us have gone through this and we have learnt from our mistakes; believe in yourself even when things go wrong, think that you have just discovered a way of NOT doing things, if you make mistakes lots of times, then you will have a beautiful catalog of mistakes that you shouldn’t repeat.
Be honest, tell the customer that you don’t have the experience but you are eager to do the right thing, ask them how much they are willing to invest.
Be realistic and don’t expect to get paid a fortune, sometimes they might not even pay you, take it as a semi-paid training session. With time, if you do things right, you will get paid according to your skill.
Concept artist Feng Zhu. This have a market.
I have done my research online to see how other people do it, but most artists don’t advertise their rates; they encourage their audience to contact them by e-mail or phone!
Designers with a lot of demand don’t usually publish their rates because it minimizes their negotiation margins. They calculate their overhead, based on their clients’ capacity and their needs; I recommend that you read this post about the pros and cons of publishing your rates. Needless to say that to reach this level you still have a long way to go, don’t worry too much about that for now.
A few final considerations
Well Eva, first of all thank you for allowing me to share your worries, I’m sure that you have helped lots of people. I hope I haven’t been too hard on you and that my words have been helpful to you, if you have any doubts just leave me a comment.
Finally, I would like to encourage you to keep working, it won’t be easy, there will be moments in which you will feel like crying, you will get disappointed or depressed and you will think that you are going nowhere … but don’t ever stop, keep going with passion and energy, because finding your path is just a matter of time. One day you’ll go to sleep with a smile on your face and you will understand that you are living your dream.
And when you get famous, don’t forget about us
How about you, are you also lost?
If you are a newbie designer and have doubts, contact me and I’ll do my best to clear them out for you; I’ll publish the most interesting emails in this section.