Archive for the ‘business’ Category

Educating Your Clients About the Creative Process

Thomas James

Thomas James

Thomas James is an Illustrator who has worked with The New York Times, WIRED, Pentagram, Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, and many others. You can see his portfolio at thomasjamesillustration.com.
Thomas James

ideawork

Throughout your Illustration career, it is likely that you will be contracted by clients who have never worked with a creative professional before. Therefore it is important to be able to shed some light on the creative process. In fact, even when working with those who know how to work with an Illustrator, it is a valuable practice to educate them about your own personal process. As stated in the introduction, it always helps when everyone knows what is expected of them, as well as how the project might unfold.

How Do You Describe Your Creative Process?

A great way to do this right off the bat is at the point of your initial contact, which is often through your portfolio website. For more about this, read my article on the importance of including a Process page on your site.

In addition to this, I find value in outlining my approach when I first speak with them on the phone or via email. This lays the groundwork for the project and helps to instill confidence in the clients who are less familiar with how to proceed. Naturally, your personal style will dictate the way you tackle a given project, but in general it helps to explain such things as how you will gather information and produce concept art, as well as how your client might approach the revision process.

As a further measure, I like to reinforce this knowledge at each stage or milestone to make sure everyone stays on the same page.

Explaining Concept Art

In the beginning stages of a project, most Illustrators produce conceptual sketches that far from resemble the finished product, and this can be difficult for some clients to comprehend. After all, they’re paying you for something that doesn’t yet exist, and the quality of concept art is generally inferior to what they will eventually receive.

Therefore, it’s important to explain the way that they should look at the first work that you produce. Try to encourage them to look at the basic ideas that are being represented in the drawings, instead of the level of detail or rendering of form (or lack thereof). You may find yourself holding their hand much more through this stage, but doing your best to make your intentions clear from the start, and reminding them that the quality of work that they hired you for is still just around the corner, will help them to take the leap of faith necessary to see the bigger picture.

When you make the effort to educate your clients about the ways to interpret the initial concept art, you will decrease the amount of frustration that comes from an unsatisfactory response, or a request to improve small details in particular parts of the drawing that aren’t ready for that level of attention.

One way to get this point across might be to show the progressing stages from a previous project. This can help your client to see how your ideas develop over time, eventually surfacing as a compelling work of art.

Paving the Road

I encourage you to consider doing this extra work early on, as it will help your client to understand you and communicate with you about their needs. Anything you do to smooth the road ahead can be seen as an investment in a successful outcome that exceeds the expectations of your clients and makes your job more rewarding along the way.

Posted by Thomas James on 11/02/15 under business
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The Importance of Personal Projects

Thomas James

Thomas James

Thomas James is an Illustrator who has worked with The New York Times, WIRED, Pentagram, Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, and many others. You can see his portfolio at thomasjamesillustration.com.
Thomas James

altaweb

(Illustration by Thomas James)

Are you working on any of your own personal art projects, or just giving all your energy away to your clients?

If you’re like many Illustrators, chances are you’re not making personal work a priority, and your creative self-expression and freedom is being sacrificed for the sake of running your business. This is understandable, because the demands of a career in freelance Illustration or Design require a seemingly endless supply of time and effort, leaving you with little to keep for yourself. The thing is, neglecting to work on your own projects can have a negative impact on your creativity, your inspiration, and even the quality of your work. The good news is that it’s never too late to start, or restart, your own personal projects and tap into the following benefits of creating art for art’s sake.

Freedom of Expression

Pursuit of Creative Vision

Personal and Artistic Growth

Inspired Work for Your Portfolio

Alternative Source of Income

Development of Skills and Techniques

Exploration of New Ideas

Remember the days before you were a “professional artist”? You probably enjoyed all of the benefits listed above, and more. Isn’t that what made you want to create art for a living. The challenge now is to hold on to all of these rewards while working to please your clients and executing the daily tasks of running a freelance career. If you can manage to set aside the time to focus on your own personal Illustration projects, you will be a more inspired, productive, and satisfied artist.

Posted by Thomas James on 10/26/15 under business
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Increase Your Productivity By Having a Ritual

Thomas James

Thomas James

Thomas James is an Illustrator who has worked with The New York Times, WIRED, Pentagram, Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, and many others. You can see his portfolio at thomasjamesillustration.com.
Thomas James

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Illustration by Laura Callaghan

When I first left my full time job 7 years ago, I suddenly felt like a city mouse set loose out in the countryside. Time seemed to pass slowly at first, but then it got quicker and quicker. I had lots of opportunities for fresh air – but I found that often locked myself in, concentrating on work instead. More often than not, my hours were longer than a 9 to 5.

Freedom was stifling.

My timetable was turned upside down. Where before I could tell what I would wake up, it now felt like I could do whatever I want, whenever I want. And it started to weigh down on me. But wait, having freedom is great right? People come up to me and say things like “Oh wow, that’s so cool, I’d love to work for myself, like you, so that I won’t have a schedule to follow.” Except that it’s not like that at all. It was debilitating.

Weird things start to happen when you get too much of anything. In this particular case, I suddenly had a lot of time freed up, so that I could concentrate on freelance work and on my website; instead of having an alarm wake me up at 8.15 every morning (after many snooze buttons prior) and cursing the traffic under my breath each time I set off to work. I felt odd. Almost in a surreal way. As though time was this continuous line that ran without stopping or pause, and I was just a mere beat that time skipped over.

I woke up at odd hours, and slept even later than when I was employed full-time. Instead of dressing up and showering to go to work, I found myself lounging around in my pajamas and having extended breakfast while skimming over the newspaper (contents of which I wasn’t really interested in anyway). Hours could pass. And then it would be lunch, followed by a TV show that I missed. And pretty soon it was time for dinner. Where did the time go?

After a few weeks of this unstructured schedule, I found myself in a rut. My productivity plummeted instead of what I thought it would do – that I’d be super crazy productive and churn out lots to show. Alas, to my dismay, it wasn’t true at all. I couldn’t think straight – I felt like there’s a haze hanging over my head and weighing my entire being down. My work suffered. My happiness level went way down. I’d get irritable and defensive when anyone asked about my day. I’d get jealous of other people who had colleagues – my companion at home were two dogs who got to take a lot of naps during the day and wasn’t particularly interested in engaging in a two-way conversation with me, dog language or no.

I craved for something but I didn’t know what. And it was driving me nuts. I was a mice left out in the field too long and instead of thriving, I craved for a cage instead. A semblance of order. Walls too, so that I could figure out where I fit in the whole picture.

So I whipped out that alarm clock again, and set a time everyday for waking up. I took a shower. Dressed up a little. Put on make up. After that, it was straight to the table for a quick breakfast. An hour later, work began. No ifs or buts about it – non-stop working for an hour at which I could not surf the internet, read or watch anything non-related to work. And it felt good.

I felt a sense of purpose. I felt that I was in control of my situation. I found that when I focused my energy and attention towards a project I could get things done quicker and more creatively than when I dawdled around, aimless and listless. I went in search of inspiration, instead of waiting for inspiration to strike me like a proverbial bolt of lightning. I took constant, but shorter breaks in between, and felt my mind filled with ideas even when I did stop. I read a lot more, offline and online; I was ravenous for information and devoured everything in sight so that I could sort through things and find patterns and connect the dots. I organized like mad. I exercised regularly, and was able to set up a system where I could just stop my work and head down for dinner, and continue right back to where I stopped before.

I found that when I had a system in place, I didn’t have to worry about a lot of things. Having a schedule freed up my energy and time, so instead of spending them thinking “what’s next?”, I went on autopilot mode for the things that didn’t matter. My brain suddenly got a lot more room to think up new things instead of feeling guilty or having to keep track of things all the time. Go brain!

I wasn’t caged up, but I felt better. Instead of putting up permanent walls, I put up a chain link fence just so I can know where my boundaries are. I could peer out and see what’s out there, and I could also peer in to see if what I’m doing works. I had a structure. I had a ritual. I had a plan.

Year after year, the distance between me and the boundary that I set up in my mind grew. And after 7 years, the distance between me and that chain link fence is so vast that I don’t know where it began and where it ended. I’m not sure if there’s even a boundary anymore.

Freedom never felt so good.

=========

If you’re just starting out as a freelance illustrator or artist, here’s how you can start your very own ritual:

Wake up at a certain time every morning

Set that alarm clock for the same time, every night before you go to bed and no snoozing when it’s time to get up! This sets the day with a tone that means business – getting out of bed takes incredible effort, especially if you don’t have a place to physically report to work everyday.

Dress with pride

Pyjamas are comfortable. And yet they don’t make you feel as though you can conquer the world. Take a shower. Put some lipstick on if you like to. And take pride in how you look – it affects your work and mentally prepares you for tackling tasks for the day; even if you’re not leaving the house! 

Eat, and eat well

Don’t just grab a cold roll from the fridge – make sure you eat properly to refuel, because you are what you eat! My lunch hour is an hour where I can unwind and relax a little, so I like to plan it in advance so when the clock strikes one, I’ll sit back to read the latest Time magazine, or indulge in a little Mindy’s Project while I eat. I generally avoid snacks in between meals – I like to focus on my work so it’s 3 square meals a day!

Schedule time out

Go out for a run, or take your pet for a walk – it’s important to step away from your desk at certain points of the day. The danger of being a freelancer is that you’re almost always glued to your desk for 14 hours straight, which can quickly lead to burnout. Schedule time out often so that you can see things with fresh eyes.

Aim for a cut-off time, and end it with a ritual

Some people stop working completely at 6. Sometimes I stop work for dinner, before continuing again until 9pm. But I try my best to not work past 10, because I’d be waking up the next day again to do work anyway. So I walk my dogs with my husband after dinner, which often signals the end of my workday. For you it could be a hot bath, dinner, ice cream, or even supper – the point is to have something to look forward to that will physically and mentally signify that you’ve done the best for the day.

Amy Ng blogs at Pikaland, a popular stop for illustration lovers, students and artists who are looking for answers on how to find a balance between art, creativity and commerce.

Posted by Thomas James on 10/21/15 under artists,business,freelance
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Creating Your Promotional Strategy as an Artist

Thomas James

Thomas James

Thomas James is an Illustrator who has worked with The New York Times, WIRED, Pentagram, Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, and many others. You can see his portfolio at thomasjamesillustration.com.
Thomas James

bells_web2

Do you have a Promotional Strategy?

Promotion plays a major role in the success of your freelance business. In fact, you may find yourself spending more time on this task than any other, even creating art. After all, if you don’t continually find new clients, you won’t have anything to Illustrate aside from your own personal projects, which means you won’t be able to pay your bills.

In order to get the most out of your marketing efforts, it’s important to create a strategy that you’ll follow in the days ahead. That way you can simply execute your plan rather than reinvent your approach again and again.

Here are some common steps involved in a basic promotional strategy that you can consider applying to your own business:

Build a mailing list.

If you’re aiming for a specific market, make sure you’re promoting yourself to the people who work in that field and only show the type of work that fits their needs. To do this, you’ll need to build a targeted mailing list of relevant contacts.

Create and send your marketing materials.

Design promotional items such as business cards, postcards, e-mail newsletter templates, etc. It’s a good idea to try a combination of direct mailings and email marketing to see which methods work best for you.

Announce your arrival.

Immediately send out your promotional materials to establish contact and introduce yourself to your target audience.

Promote on a schedule.

Don’t make the common mistake of sending out one promotional mailer or email and then sit back and wait until somebody contacts you. Keep your marketing efforts on a regular schedule while being careful to not send updates too frequently. Somewhere between every 60 to 90 days is a commonly accepted frequency.

Manage your mailing list.

Add to your list of contacts as you find new potential clients and check the information regularly to be sure that it’s up to date.

Use social networking.

Seek out and introduce yourself to the artists and Art Directors in your target market. Build real relationships with people and become a part of the larger Illustration community.

Making it Work for You

How you apply these concepts to your own business will depend on your budget, your personality, and your available time. If you follow these guidelines when promoting your business, you will have a much better chance of being noticed and remembered amongst a growing sea of Illustrators who are trying to make their mark in the industry.

What’s your promotional strategy?

Posted by Thomas James on 10/19/15 under business
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7 Tips on Getting Your First Illustration Project

Thomas James

Thomas James

Thomas James is an Illustrator who has worked with The New York Times, WIRED, Pentagram, Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, and many others. You can see his portfolio at thomasjamesillustration.com.
Thomas James

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Illustration by Catherine LePage

I have a lot of students who are graduating sidle up and ask me – very sheepishly – about how they could get their first freelance clients. They were told to create a snazzy portfolio, and to create works that would fill said portfolio up, but they didn’t know what to do beyond compiling their best work and sending them off to prospective clients and employers. What happened was a lot of waiting, rejection and a fear of hopelessness that followed. 

In my experience, a lot of first-time commissions come from word of mouth. When I first got started, I made sure to put the word out there that I was freelancing, and that if anyone needed a hand they can give me a call (or contact me via email.) But besides that, I find that being proactive about finding freelance work goes a long way – especially when you realize that those connections might take 2-3 years to fully materialize. It’s what has happened in my situation, and for many others too.

So here are few things that you can do right now:

1. Tell as many people as you can about what you do.

Spread the word that you’re freelancing around, to family, friends, even the neighbours. You may find at first that this will land you some pretty weird jobs and questions – stuff like “can you teach my kid how to draw?” It’s totally up to you to take it on, or not. I always say that it’s no harm at all, especially when you have nothing better to do – so why not flex your creative muscles and do your best – even if it’s something that you whipped up for the neighbourhood kindergarten?

2. Get your portfolio on different websites

The thing with illustration and art is that it’s hard to be found visually. And what that means is that people don’t go to Google, type in a few strings of words that describe what you do, and then be able to see your artwork among other artists (well the famous ones do, but only because they’ve built up a really big following!) So the next best thing is to put your work up in front of people who are already looking. And that means in places where they go to look. Places like Behance and Dribble. On Instagram (with the appropriate hashtags – not one made up by you!)

The caveat is that it might take some time for others to notice you, especially with all the great work out there; but it pays to be persistent. There might be a few art directors and clients who might be checking you out on those websites, but the timing is not right just yet.

3. Don’t just hang out with your illustration buddies from college or uni – make an effort!

Spread your wings out a little and go to where you’ve never been before! There is more to you than just your ability to draw – what other stuff do you like doing? What’s your other hobbies? Do you love reading? Join a book club! Do you love cooking? Join a community cook-out! The more people you reach out to that’s outside of your normal comfort zones, the better your chances of making new connections, which will ultimately help spread your name far and wide.

4. Constantly add new work to your portfolio

Slapping on a couple of pictures from your school days or previous college assignment does not mean that your portfolio is complete! Unless your work back then was really good, or it showcased what you are capable of right now, I’d suggest to leave it out. First impressions mean a lot, and if what you’re putting out there can only illicit a “meh”, it’s time for you to think of self-initiated projects that you can add to your portfolio. That’s right – there is no client involved (unless it’s imaginary, in which case it’s totally fine), no cheque waiting for you at the other end, and no assurance that it will amount to anything – not just yet. Do your best, take pride in your work and pick up that pencil because you want to better yourself, not just because there’s someone on the other end counting on you to do so.

5. Send an email to your favorite blogger

Back in the day, I get a lot of emails from graduating students and illustrators who were just starting out. And if their work catches my eye, I post it up on the Pikaland blog (though I rarely do this anymore because better platforms exist for that these days – Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, etc.) What I found out was that other blogs were checking out my blog to get news on the latest talent, and they picked up these artists too and featured them in their blog and magazines, which then helped these emerging artists gain a lot more buzz. So it couldn’t help to try – especially if you can identify with the audience of the blogger, and it’s a place where your work wouldn’t look out of place. Here’s a tip: don’t just aim for the big blogs – go for smaller, niche blogs too!

6. Be super nice to everyone and anyone

You’d think that being nice to people was a natural instinct – but sadly it isn’t! I’ve met my fair share of nasty and rude folks, but they’re thankfully far and few in-between. What I’m talking about is going above minding your P’s (please) and Q’s (thank you). Be genuinely interested in other people – listening to them, asking them helpful questions, thanking them for their time, etc – if you think that these gestures are unnecessary in the days of 140 character tweets, think again. If anything, it only serves to show how attentive you are, especially when others aren’t doing it.

7. Do your research

Look at artists who are in the same stylistic vein as yourself- see if they have a client list and see what companies or publications they have worked with. If their client list if full of, say, family and children’s magazines, you may get the hint that those markets would appreciate your work, too. Or you may be surprised to find that they are doing well in a market you never considered, and that can lead you to discover a bunch of potential clients that were previously off your radar. (This great advice is from Lauren Lowen!)

And there you have it! These are the things that I’ve personally done to get my name out there – and they’re virtually painless. All it takes is a bit of effort in the beginning, but when you’ve got your ball rolling, you’ll be able to see results very soon.

Good luck folks!

Amy Ng blogs at Pikaland, a popular stop for illustration lovers, students and artists who are looking for answers on how to find a balance between art, creativity and commerce.

Posted by Thomas James on 10/13/15 under artists,business,illustration
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How to Make the Most of the Online Art Community

Thomas James

Thomas James

Thomas James is an Illustrator who has worked with The New York Times, WIRED, Pentagram, Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, and many others. You can see his portfolio at thomasjamesillustration.com.
Thomas James

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In today’s world, artists have incredible opportunities to connect with the outside world.

Because of social networking, creative professionals have access to a whole host of platforms to interact with their peers, promote their work, and find resources and inspiration to help their businesses grow. No matter what your entry point is to the online art community, the multitude of networks connect to form a larger web of artists who help and inspire each other on a daily basis.

If you’ve spent any amount of time networking with your fellow artists, then you may have already discovered something that every artist should know if they want to make the most of the online art community:

You get as much out of it as you put into it.

This one simple statement applies to so many things in life, and social networking is no exception. The amount that you participate in any social group dictates how much you interact with everyone else, and how much they interact with you. Commenting on blogs, connecting with artists through social networking, and creating your own content, makes you a part of the community, rather than just an observer. If you’ve ever wanted to cross that bridge, all you need to do is start.

However, quantity is just one part of the equation.

The quality of your participation plays an even more important role in your ability to benefit from the community. No amount of social networking will do much good if you only interact on a superficial level or relentlessly promote yourself to unwilling bystanders. Many people still make this mistake, and it only serves to add noise to the community.

What’s the best way to participate?

There are 3 simple things that everyone can, and should, do to make the most of the online art community.

1. Share

Take the time to help those in need, or simply pass on useful links or information so that others may benefit from it as well. The more we all do this, the more we will add to the amount of resources and answers to be found online.

2. Listen

Pay attention to what your fellow artists have to say, and help them to spread the word. This is how relationships are truly created online, and how great things are found by more people.

3. Invite

If you find a group or network that inspires you to join the conversation, don’t keep it a secret. Tell every person that you think would benefit from it, and thereby add to the size and quality of the community.

These simple steps will help you to make connections and enhance your life, but don’t take my word for it. Try it for yourself, and see if it helps you to have a more rewarding interaction with your fellow artists. I know that many of you have come to this conclusion already.

If you believe in the power of community and want to help to make it even stronger, then please pass this post along to your friends.

 

Posted by Thomas James on 10/12/15 under business,resources,tutorial / how-to
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Email Marketing vs. Print Promotion for Artists

Thomas James

Thomas James

Thomas James is an Illustrator who has worked with The New York Times, WIRED, Pentagram, Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, and many others. You can see his portfolio at thomasjamesillustration.com.
Thomas James

silenced If you’re like most Illustrators, then you probably ask the following question from time to time:

 

“Which is more effective? Email or print promotion?”

 

Obviously, you want to spend your time and efforts on the marketing strategies that will yield the most amount of work for the lowest cost and the least amount of effort. The thing is, all Art Directors are different in the ways that they like to receive submissions from artists, so there’s never going to be one universal answer to the question above. This means that it’s a good idea to promote yourself in a variety of ways while paying close attention to what works best for each particular client. In addition, it can be helpful to tailor your marketing strategy to fit your particular business.

To help you consider how much time and energy you’d like to devote to email vs. print promotion, here is a look at the pros and cons of each approach:

– EMAIL –

Pros

Low Cost – While crafting effective email promos and sending them to your contact list does take some time to do properly, this will always be the low-cost option, as opposed to the money you’ll need to spend on postcards and other print promotions.

Direct Link – One of the best parts about email marketing is that you can include a direct hyperlink to your portfolio website, where an Art Director can browse your work, learn more about you, and find the contact info that you’ve hopefully made easy to find.

Simplicity – Sending emails has likely become one of the most intuitive activities in your daily life, so sending more shouldn’t be a problem. You won’t need to agonize over which image from your portfolio to include in the email since you can instead send an Art Director to your entire portfolio.

Cons

Spam Filters – There will always be a chance that your email will get caught up in your recipient’s spam filter, which means they’ll never see it. Your chances of making it past the spam police are greater if you include less links and attachments in your email and don’t use punctuation such as exclamation points in the headline or body of text.

Risk of Annoyance – Even if you make it past the built in spam blocker, everyone has there own personal spam filter in their brains. It’s a well-known fact that some Art Directors simply don’t like seeing their email folder filled with submissions from artists, and therefore perceive it as spam and delete it without ever opening it.

AD Effort – Assuming an Art Director is open to email promotions, you are still requiring them to take the action of reading it and clicking on a link to your site before they ever get to see your work. This might seem like a minor thing, but keep in mind that Art Directors are busy people, and you’re not the only Illustrator sending them an email.

– PRINT-

Pros Instant Visual – Probably the best part about sending a postcard or other form of print promotion is that when an Art Director receives it, they see your artwork right away, without having to take action or visit your website. As with any approach to marketing, you only have a brief moment to grab the attention of your audience, so why not use that time to put your work in front of their eyes?

Keepsake – If you impress an Art Director with your work, there’s always a chance that they will keep your print promo, and even put it up in their office if they really like it. If you’re lucky enough to inspire an AD in this way, they’re more likely to remember you when that next project comes around.

Cons

Cost – Obviously, there is some element of expense when it comes to printing and sending your physical mailers, so you’ll need to consider the effect that this will have on your bottom line, while weighing its potential for bringing in new work.

Time – Unlike email promotions, there is more time involved in designing, addressing, and mailing your print promotions.

Slush Pile – Art Directors usually receive print promos just about every day, which means that yours will be somewhere in a stack of those sent by many of your fellow Illustrators. While this is also true with email marketing, it’s important to remember this when designing your postcards.

No Direct Link – Even though you are showing the Art Director a sample(s) of your work, and hopefully your contact info, they’ll still need to take action to visit your online portfolio or learn more about you. Without the direct link that is included in an email, they’ll have to like your print promo enough to take further action. … After looking over the list of pros and cons above you may be feeling even more confused about which approach to take, but hopefully I’ve helped to outline some things that you’ll need to consider when creating your promotional strategy. As I stated earlier, every Art Director and every artist works differently, so I highly recommend trying a combination of print and email marketing, while paying attention to what works best for you. Also, some publications and other businesses list Submission Guidelines on their websites, so it’s always a good idea to try and figure out the best way to contact them.

Posted by Thomas James on 10/05/15 under business
1 Comment

Using Self-Assigned Projects to Build Your Illustration Portfolio

Thomas James

Thomas James

Thomas James is an Illustrator who has worked with The New York Times, WIRED, Pentagram, Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, and many others. You can see his portfolio at thomasjamesillustration.com.
Thomas James

wailuku_web1

Are you looking for an inspiring and effective way to build up your Illustration portfolio with the type of work that you’d like to be hired to create?

Illustration Friday founder Penelope Dullaghan often speaks about her success with using what she called Self-Assignments to boost creativity, have fun, and create new work. The basic idea was to commission herself to produce a new Illustration based on a certain topic, working method, or other set of criteria.

In fact, Penelope later used another creative technique that grew into the Illustration Friday you know and love!

I’ve often used a similar approach to build upon the body of work in my own portfolio. In short, I’ve been “hiring” myself for projects as a way of creating new work that both expresses my creative vision and shows potential clients what I might contribute to their next project. As a result, I’ve been producing work at a faster rate and targeting my portfolio to the types of clients I’d like to work for (as seen in the example above).

Focusing Your Efforts

Most artists already create personal work on a regular basis, but it is often done in a much more casual way than is being described here. By “assigning” specific projects to yourself, you can focus your energy on the type of artwork that is much more relevant to real-world applications. This will increase the likelihood that your latest piece will be strong enough to include in your portfolio, and make more of an impression on Art Directors and other potential clients.

Be Your Own Art Director

One of the major things that sets this way of working apart from more casual personal projects is that you are taking on the roles of both Art Director and Illustrator. By assigning projects to yourself with clear directions, limitations, and deadlines you can simulate the type of scenario that you would find yourself in if you were actually commissioned by a client. The benefit of this is that you will often end up with a higher quality of work than if you were simply left to your own devices.

Target Your Market

Another great reason to consider using self-assigned projects to build your portfolio is that it allows you to create the type of work that you would like to be hired for. For example, if your dream project is to work on book covers, assign yourself book covers. If you want to work in the editorial market, assign yourself editorial projects based on the latest news items. This method can be used for whatever your target market might be.

Define Yourself

Basically, anything you can do to make yourself more attractive to your target market, and show your potential clients how you would interpret a certain project, will help to set you apart from the growing crowd of Illustrators out there. Even if an Art Director generally likes your work, you will be even better off if you can help to show them what types of projects you should be commissioned for.

In addition, you’re likely to have much more fun and find endless inspiration by assigning projects to yourself based on the type of work that you’d like to create.

Posted by Thomas James on 09/28/15 under business
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How to Approach Art Directors Without Being Annoying

Thomas James

Thomas James

Thomas James is an Illustrator who has worked with The New York Times, WIRED, Pentagram, Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, and many others. You can see his portfolio at thomasjamesillustration.com.
Thomas James

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Art Directors are busy people.

This should come as no surprise, because Illustrators are busy too.

Obviously, part of your job as a creative professional is to put your work in front of the right people and hopefully inspire them to hire you for their next project. As with anything, there are both right and wrong ways to do this.

If you’re not careful, you run the risk of annoying Art Directors and burning bridges forever.

Here’s a look at 5 things to consider when approaching Art Directors and other potential clients:

1. Target Your Audience

The absolute first step you should take is to narrow your contact list to the Art Directors who are actually looking for the type of work that you do. You’ll only be wasting their time, and yours, if you are soliciting clients who have no interest in hiring you.

Examine the work that they’ve done in the past and consider whether your work or approach fits within that scope.

Having some knowledge of an Art Director’s work is obviously a good practice anyways when building your mailing list, but it’s also the best way to make a good first impression.

2. Find Out How They Want to Be Contacted

Every Art Director is different in the ways that they prefer to be contacted and the ways that they prefer to seek out new Illustrators.

Some publications and other organizations post ‘Submission Guidelines’ on their websites, as well as in resources like the Artist’s and Graphic Designer’s Market.

If this information isn’t readily available, be sure to ask this question in your initial contact. If they are open to further contact, they’re likely to appreciate the gesture and let you know the best way to keep in touch.

3. Start a Dialogue

Remember that an often overlooked element of marketing is building relationships.

That’s why it’s so important to try and make a ‘human’ connection with Art Directors, Editors, and other potential clients. Social networking, online forums, and industry blogs are making this easier every day.

Participating in conversations will help you to build memorable bonds with your target audience.

4. Don’t Sell Too Hard

Rather than coming on too strong like an overbearing salesperson, keep things simple by telling the Art Director about yourself, showing some of your work or linking to your website, maybe asking a question or two, and leaving it there.

They may not respond on the first contact, but they’ll probably turn their back on you forever if they feel unwanted pressure.

5. Don’t Overdo It

As stated earlier, Art Directors are busy people, just like you are.

Imagine if you got an email every week from someone wanting to sell you something. It’s pretty annoying isn’t it? And, it probably makes you never want to do business with them, no matter how wonderful their products or services are.

Instead, send semi-regular (perhaps 60-90 days), relevant updates on your work to stay on their radar, while being very careful to not overstep the boundaries.

Posted by Thomas James on 09/21/15 under business
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Which of Your Illustrations Should You Remove from Your Portfolio?

Thomas James

Thomas James

Thomas James is an Illustrator who has worked with The New York Times, WIRED, Pentagram, Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, and many others. You can see his portfolio at thomasjamesillustration.com.
Thomas James

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Illustration by Thomas James

Deciding which Illustrations to include in your portfolio, or more importantly which ones to remove, is probably one of the most difficult, emotionally-charged decisions you’ll need to make on a regular basis as a freelance Illustrator.

I mean, come on, they’re your babies. You worked so hard on them. You cared.

In a softer, gentler world perhaps you might be able to make this decision on purely sentimental grounds. However, the fact is that your portfolio should be a lean, mean, Art Director-inspiring machine. That’s why it’s essential to make the tough choices necessary to show off only your most impressive work, and the work that communicates the things that you do best.

Is there an Illustration that makes you wince?

Is there one that immediately stands out? And not in a good way?

I challenge you to remove it right now and see if that improves the overall quality of your portfolio.

It might be difficult, It might hurt, but you can always put it back later.

Remember that your portfolio is not there to give you comfort, or share all your past experiments. You can use your blog for that. Your portfolio is there to get you work, so make it do the heavy lifting.

Anything that doesn’t belong is only holding you back.

After you’ve read this, I encourage you to go to your website right now and pick one Illustration to remove for one day. Tomorrow, go back to your website and look at your portfolio with fresh eyes, and even imagine that you’re viewing your work for the first time as an Art Director.

Is it an improvement? Then do it again. Once you’ve reached the point where taking things away hurts rather than helps, then you’re one step closer to having a tightly-packaged gallery of the best that you have to offer.

I’ve just done this myself, and it’s something that I practice on a regular basis. In fact, I ended up removing 3 images, rather than just 1, because they all needed to be ejected for the same reasons.

Are you up to the challenge?

Posted by Thomas James on 09/14/15 under business
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