3rd Thursday Q and A: How did they get their start as artists?

  • Fantastic thread, makes me want to go back and watch all the SVS classes again and level up! I need to refresh my portfolio again. Perspective is still my arch nemesis, must tackle it!

    And I love the idea of you guys doing the 3rd Thursday about the children's book market etc. That would be great!

  • I'd like to see that discussion take place. For me, I need help deciphering between "saleable" and "trendy", in terms of style. I want to be saleable, but I'm not interested in following fleeting trends.

  • @Rapteev That is a valid point. You have to be current and "in style" enough to get work, but still "unique" enough to be yourself. So how much do you follow a trend? Who knows? But one thing is certain, if the work you are doing falls out of favor, you are in trouble. Case in point is people that paint realistically and want to do children's books. There was some of that work around for illustrators in the late 80's and early 90's, but you hardly ever see it now. If you have a realistic style, you will struggle to get work in that particular area. That doesn't mean there isn't an area for that, it just might not be kids books.

    It goes back to what I was saying before. We have a product. If the "trend" dictates a change, you need to figure out what that change means to you and if you are willing or want to do it. Many people were copying Brad Holland's work when he was popular. And they were getting work by copying brad holland (although not many were as good as he was). So what happened when that look fell out of favor? Some probably changed styles and tried to stay current, others probably stopped getting work. Neither is right or wrong, but my point is that artists need to actually be aware there is a market at all. You know how many conversations I hear illustrators having about the market they are trying to break into? NONE. I have never heard someone talk about the market when discussing their work. I have never heard them analyze the competition and evaluate why these people are getting work. NEVER. I have never heard someone talking about how their work is going to fit into the current marketplace. We never actually talk about the people who are BUYING THE WORK. There is no other business that works this way. So we are at the mercy of a shifting market that we don't ever really even talk about.

    Kind of odd don't you think?

  • @Lee-White It is odd, and I feel like it's a product of attempting to keep art separate from commercialism, which is a nice idea, but not very practical. I think there's a tendency to treat therapeutic art and art work as synonymous concepts, and they're not. I remember being frustrated enough with my college course to quit, because I'd broach the subject of saleability and was regularly met with responses to the tune of "Don't change your art for the purposes of being marketable; paint from the heart and someone, somewhere will love it." Which would be wonderful advice for anyone who doesn't need to concern themselves with, well, eating. I'm sure someone, somewhere would love it, but the question is, will they pay for it? Because if not, then you're in the realms of art therapy, and not art work. An important distinction, I think.

  • Agree that this is a great thread! @Jake-Parker's tough but encouraging post is full of great ideas - it would make a great video for Jake's YouTube feed too...

    I'd second the idea of doing a 3rd Thursday on the children's book market. The un-sexy way of talking about your art as a product, and where/how it might fit in. Why is it sort-of a 'sin' in art to change what you're doing to get more work/get paid more? (this is why I worry a bit, about the path I'm taking)

    Thinking a little more broadly, surely there are many different overlapping markets (children's books, licensing, gallery art, surface patterns, product creation etc) - it would be really interesting to hear Will, Lee and Jake's take on that...and how artists might approach their career when exploring various markets.... to get an idea of the geography of the children's book market, and other areas that link closely to that...so we can work out what are the best paths to try..

    I'm also thinking about how many successful artists I follow seem to overlap two or several areas, eg. Etsy shops/Society 6/licensing, character design for studios, childrens' books, gallery art shows, Kickstarter projects...so they typically have their own unique and recognisable style but they also are able to tailor it for the unique demands of each sphere/each project, so it looks saleable wherever you see it.

  • @Lee-White if following trends is a must, how does someone set a new trend, such as Brad Hollands? Not trying to counter your argument, because I know you are correct, I just have wondered how it is that one might have freedom to do something different in the first place.

  • @Eric-Castleman It's a fine balance on how to start a trend. Typically trends are stared by being slightly ahead of a curve. If you are too far ahead, no one will want you becasue you are too much of a risk. If you are too far behind a trend or just copying something (which feels inauthentic) then no one will want you because you are passe. So it's hitting that sweet spot. YOu want to bring energy to the work and really like it. Chasing styles without reallly liking a style will never work. So you have to look at work that is being bought and ask yourself "what about this work is good?" "Why are people buying it?" Then, once you have those answers, you make the art that you need to make without copying someone elses style too much. Again, ideally this happens naturally and it just seems like you are getting work. What we are talking about here though is what happens when you aren't getting work? Then it all becomes much more deliberate in practice.

  • One more thing to keep in mind is that there is a LOT of work out there right now that is wonderfully diverse and is being published. Game companies are always hiring, Art Fairs are everywhere. So the thing might not be to chase the right style, but to chase the right market. Finding an audience who wants to buy your work is the only ingredient you need to be successful. That is a very important point to remember.

  • Lots of great thoughts here! I like this thread 🙂

    Jake's advice reminded me, one of the greatest things I did before I stuck with any kind of "style" (and I'm still exploring how I work) is when I had a student job illustrating online courses. Most of the other people with the job had a more or less consistent "style" already that they would use for each project. My supervisor was amazingly patient with me though, because for each project she gave me I tried a different "style"--I'm sure she was always wondering what I would come up with THIS time :-). For one course, I did my best to imitate Eric Carle's work. For another, Al Hirshfeld. I did a course imitating the style of the Secret of Kells movie. I did one that was supposed to look like Greek Pottery. Another that was supposed to look like a linocut print. Another imitating Japanese Woodblock prints.

    As I said, I didn't see the people around me doing this so much, but it was AMAZINGLY helpful to me. I also feel more grounded, so to speak, in the "style" I've been working in lately, because I've tried lots of things.

  • Yes, this could be.a topic for one or even more Third Thursdays. I totally agree with @Lee-White´s point about artists not talking nearly enough about "markets". In particular about what constitutes a saleable style in a particular market at a particular moment. I understand this is a shifty topic, but it is done in photography (anyone familiar with Getty´s "Visual Trends" yearly webinar?) so why not do something like that for illustration? My impression, though, is that the market itself is very confusing. I tried going to a bookshop or a library and looking at all children books, but I am not any wiser about what "sells" in terms of art. I have seen anything represented, from very basic, to super-graphic, to naive-painterly, to cartoony, to realistic, in every possible variation. Yes, you can usually pick out very old-fashioned styles, but the separation is more in decades or even longer periods. In design, you can easily spot what is "modern" and what is "old-fashioned" even after only a couple of years of exposure to design work. In Children Illustration I would not be able to do that, even after reading children books for over 10 years.If you layer on top of that the differences between the US market and the rest of the world (which are considerable), i admit defeat. In the end, I learned more about "what sells" from two conversations with my agent than from 4 years of art school and countless hours in bookshops (though her categorical statements sometimes feel more like her personal opinion than anything else).