As I read through my back log of comics, thanks to the DCU New 52, I was looking at the artwork of a few of these books and was marveling at some of the detail the artists put in some of these pages in so little time as, I’m sure, there production schedule allows. Those thoughts lead me to thinking about what it was like for me as I tried to break into professional art.
Mind you, I am not anywhere on the level of some of these guys drawing comics today in terms of illustration skill, but I have managed to fill the past 15 or so years of my career as a professional artist in one fashion or another. My primary skill set has fallen in the general graphic design realm with some illustration work thrown in, fairly standard skills for anyone in the business today. Putting my resume aside, let’s talk about what it takes to actually break into the art business as a professional.
In my opinion, and experience, there is only two things a person needs to possess to break into the art business (or any business to be honest). Those two things are courage and will. That’s it.
I remember, as a teenager and young adult, reading anything I could get my hands on about how to become a professional designer, artist, illustrator, comic book artists or whatever and a lot of what were in many of those books have stuck with me over the decades. But almost everyone of the books or articles or anything I’ve ever read on the subject of making a living as an artist has always gone way over the top in terms what it takes to “make it”. I’ve since read, just recently, that a lot of people giving advice to younger upstarts often do it in a way that it discourages these new upstarts, it keeps them from becoming the new competition, because the art business is pretty much nothing but a competition.
I’d read books that would tell me stuff like, “you need to learn to draw everything, trees, cars, cats, dogs, people, clothes, hair, kids, buildings, clouds, dirt, mold, debris and anything else you have to use your imagination to come up with just to get into the comic book business.” Although this is great advice, you do need to know how to draw as much as possible, I think it discourages right off the bat. It’s like reading instructions for building a cabinet that are poorly written, “First open the box and layout all the contents, next find plank A with exterior B side C facing you, place widget A1 into side C opening 2 and affix resin to properly secure the widget.” Really all they could say is, “Put the widget into the hole in plank A” and that would be PLENTY to get the ball rolling, but if the instructions are overly complicated it discourages you from even starting the project. So it goes with giving advice to people wanting to know how to break into the art business.
In this day age, so many of us are on such a level playing field that only two things really do make or break it for us, courage and will. Someone wanting to break into art today needs to have the confidence in themselves to be the one to step up to the plate and tell everyone they meet that they know that they can do the job, after that you need the drive to get the job done. The art business is not easy, no matter the field you go into or if you work for yourself. The art business is very, very hard. Almost daily you will be faced with people and experiences that will serve to undermine your Will to be in the business, but the art business is also very satisfying.
So, only two things needed to get into art as a living, Courage and Will, outside of that you can pretty much put it all together for yourself. Of course courage and will won’t be everything, you’ll need the talent and skills that it takes to be an artist and if you just can’t get that up to professional level then the market will give you plenty of notice on that, but without courage and will you’re never gonna find out if you have what it takes. So, if you’re wanting to “break in” then make as much art as you can, put a portfolio online and start telling people that hire artists that you have what it takes to do the job and if they give you the chance to do it then you better damn well do it, or at least finish it, or there may never be a second chance. Good luck and have fun!