Saturday, August 11, 2012

You Don't Need Artschool (But It Sure Helps): The Value of Networking and Art Friends

I'm very lucky to have several groups of fantastic artist friends that I can draw support and inspiration from.   I have the friends I made while an undergraduate at the University of New Orleans, friends whose adventures and fantastic design sensibilities push me to expand my own boundaries.  I have the friends I've made here at SCAD, friends who encouraged me to start attending conventions and taught me the ropes of self publishing, and the friends I've met online, friends that live far away but are always a treat to see at conventions.  But you don't need art school, or even art classes, to make art friends.  You just need some ingenuity and perseverance, some art to back up all the talk, and a decent sense of humor.
All artists, particularly comic artists, need a network of friends and peers that they can rely on and trust.  When you're attending an art school, or even a school with an art program, its a lot easier to develop such a network, as you have classes with other artists.  A self taught artist needn't despair, however, as there are plenty of ways outside the classroom to develop a network of art friends, it just takes a little more effort. 

A network of artist friends can provide several important assets to a student artist, including: 

  • Support
  • Guidance
  • Professional Opportunities
  • General friendship/comaraderie

Support


There are going to be many times in your artistic life when your own reach isn't quite large enough.  Maybe you're trying to pay off a large pet bill by taking on additional commissions, or maybe you're trying to promote your graphic novel project via Kickstarter, but even after you're well established with a large fanbase of loyal fans, you'll still need a little extra help from your artist friends.   Not only do artist friends act as regular friends, throwing a few dollars into the pot to help you meet your goal, but they can provide a signal boost, asking their own friends and families to help you out.   Good artistic friends are willing to share their social network, giving you the occasional shout out on their Twitters, Tumblrs, blogs, and Facebooks.  This endorsement may convince buyers who were otherwise on the fence to take the plunge, and will definitely extend your reach far beyond your own circles.

Guidance

This is particularly important for a student artist.  Nobody is perfect, and sometimes we need a second pair of eyes (or a third, or a fourth) to help us find the flaws in our work that we'd otherwise miss.   A good art friend should be willing to provide useful critique and guidance, and this in turn helps us grow.  Critiques are not the only kind of guidance an art friend can offer, they can offer general advice, moral support, and pull you back down to earth should you get too big for your britches.   You can practice your pitches, get advice on tweaking your portfolio before an important review, and share art resources that help you both grow.





You may find that these sort of solicited honest critiques may be hard to come by on certain sites (specifically Deviantart), even from people you consider online friends.  When soliciting critiques, keep in mind the audience that frequents the sites you use, as well as the general tone of the conversation that occurs on the site.  A site with a younger audience that engages mostly in fandom banter probably isn't the best place to get a useful critique, but the advice given there shouldn't be entirely discarded.

Professional Opportunities


In comics, a big part of success involves who you know.  For an unknown artist, this can make the process of getting work difficult, as they don't actually know anyone.    The only remedy for this is persistence, both artistically and socially. 

Your art friends can provide a lot of artistic opportunities, ranging from simply passing on potential commission clients should their house style not fit the desired look, to recommending you as a penciler/writer/inker/letterer for their own or a friend of their's project. 

The internet can make getting discovered as easy as gaining the respect of  a online persona who's already won the hearts of thousands.  The right retweet or retumbl by the right person can bring in thousands of hits in a single day, and a push from the right person  can help your Kickstarter greatly exceed it's original goal.   Conversely, your online reputation can be horribly tarnished by cheating the wrong person, by having a nasty personality that shows in your online interactions, or by starting unnecessary rumors.  Anonymity is no excuse to be nasty either, as eventually that side will work its way into your everyday dealings.

By no means am I advocating soliciting friendship on the basis of popularity, nor am I a fan of wheedling  others for favors, but I don't recommend underestimating the power of a few friends in the right places.


Just as your friends are able to introduce new job opportunities and avenues for employment to you, you can return the favor.  A friendship is reciprocal, and this sort of relationship should be mutually beneficial.

General Friendship/Camaraderie


An art friend shouldn't be considered a friend just on the basis of their art, but on the basis of their personality and ability to actually be a friend worth having.  Art people are regular people beneath the graphite dust, and enjoy doing regular things (although their time is often much more limited).  Treat your art friendships like you would any other friendships, and value your art friends as much as you would any other friend, and you'll be rewarded for years to come.  


Don't be a bore and only talk about your work when conversing with your artist friends, ask them about their projects, their goals, and their plans.  Offer them what you would like for yourself- support, promotion, and aid when in need.  I've written before about using your influence to help others.  This is the perfect opportunity to do that.  When your friends grow, you reap rewards as well, as they're exposed to a larger art community.  As children, our parents told us that we were the company we kept, and this is particularly true in the art community, as you can be 'gifted by association'.

So How Do You Build Up This Network of Super Friends?


Interact with other artists!

But where?


In Person
  •  At conventions
  • At local events
  • Through your school
  • Through private clubs and organizations

Making friends with other artists in person is probably the best way of creating lasting friendships.  Many of us don't consider online friendships official until they've stood the test of an in-person meeting.  There are plenty of opportunities for a self guided artist to make friends, but it'll take breaking out of your shell.

When you attend conventions, strongly consider purchasing an Artist Alley table if you have anything to sell or to show.  Not only does this give you a home base for the duration of the convention, but it makes you approachable and lets others know that you're serious about your art.  Have a portfolio and business cards ready, and be ready to talk shop.   If you don't have an Artist Alley table, don't give up hope.   Peruse the Artist Alley and talk to people, ask questions, take business cards, and show them your stuff.  Bring minis or prints to trade or sell.  Buy things from people, and follow up after the convention online.  Many conventions have an after hours party held by the artists in the Artist Alley.  Ask around and attend it if you can.  Artists love flattery, so be lavish with your praise and humble when asking for advice.

Conventions aren't the only events held for artists.  Attend drink-n-draws, regular events held at a variety of locations, where artists can imbibe and sketch.  This is a fantastic networking opportunity, but I strongly recommend forgoing the liquor until you're familiar with this group, and remember, you should never feel pressured to drink.  You can also check Craigslist, local bulletin boards, and Meetup.com  for local opportunities, but remember to play it safe, and bring a trusted friend along for backup.  Look for art shows and gallery openings that interest you, and talk to people.   If there's a local art club, consider joining.

If you're still attending school, there's plenty of opportunity to meet other artists.  Many schools have an art  club, and quite a few have a comics or anime club.  Don't expect to like everyone you meet, but attend with an open mind and a desire to have fun.  Don't push your art onto other people, but once you've founded a repor with your clubmates, ask them for some feedback on your work.


 Online
  • Twitter
  • Tumblr
  • Deviantart
  • Blogs
  • Forums such as ConceptArt.org and Something Awful's Creative Convention

For many, online friendships are just as important as in-person friendships, and can lead to many amazing opportunities.   Same interest online friendships are may be easier to cultivate than in-person friendships, simply because there are so many websites and services that  cater to very specific interests.   Social networking is hugely important in developing not only a web presence (which can pay off later in sales) but also in finding friends who share your passion for art.   Join sites like Tumblr and Twitter and follow people who's work interest you, and engage them.  Be patient while waiting for a response, many artists are very busy and may not have time to reply to every Ask and Tweet. 

What if You're Not "There" Yet, Artistically?


It can be harder to make art friends if your art  isn't quite polished yet.   Pretty art opens many doors, but it isn't the end all be all.  You  may have trouble getting noticed on sites like Deviantart, your art doesn't get retumbled on Tumblr very often, and noone's following your Twitter based on the art you're posting.  So now what?

All good friendships are based on mutual respect, and many artists earn respect through their art.  This isn't the only way one can earn the respect of an artist, however.   Artists also respect persistence, and having a place to demonstrate your artistic will-power is a great start.  A process blog full of concept, sketches, and studies is a strong first step in winning the goodwill of your fellow artists.   Sharing useful information is another way to win some goodwill, be it via your Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, or blog, you'll soon be seen as a source of valuable information and as a resource for other artists.  Being a good person goes a long way as well.  You are not just the art you produce, and while you should strive to remain professional, showing enthusiasm, care,  and concern can go a long way if the feelings are genuine.   Hiding behind 'anonymous' when you give compliments and ask questions isn't going to help you build a reputation, and you probably shouldn't ask or say anything you'd be embarrassed for others to attribute to you.  Own your online reputation, and make sure that your given name as well as your online handle pull up the proper results when Googled.  Make sure you include your blog or website in the profiles of your various social networks, I'm very guilty of checking someone's profile and blog when they've added me on Twitter.  No blog often results in no add.

Be careful of who you solicit for critique both online and off.  We've all had crummy friends who use us and walk away when we have nothing left to give, and artists are no different a population.   Be careful of the immediately overly enthusiastic friend, of the drama-ful friend, of the friend who backbites or is two faced.  Beware the overly competitive friend, or the friend who always takes and never gives.  Don't become friends with someone just because they're a more skilled artist or are more popular, and don't desert your old art friends when your art has grown.  People aren't tubes of toothpaste, intended to be squeezed dry and thrown away.  Be the sort of friend you'd really like to have, and don't string people along. 

Be careful when providing unsolicited critique online, as many artists may take that as an attack, even if your intentions were good.  Critique online should come from a place of trust, and it takes time to get to that point with an artist you only know via the intertubes.

Try to build up a reputation of dedication, effort, and a desire for improvement.  Share things- tutorials, reviews, your process.  Ask and answer questions.  Update your social networks regularly, and be responsive and engaging with everyone, not just your established friends, and not just paying customers.  Don't get too discouraged if things don't pan out quickly, and don't become jealous if others are more successful than you, more popular than you, or better artists than you are. 

Sometimes it helps to disappear from the internet for awhile, if things become too intense.  If people make you miserable on a certain social network, mute, block, or remove them.  Just as you wouldn't keep crummy people around you in real life, you shouldn't populate your Twitter, Tumblr, or Facebook with awful people either.   Don't be catty about it, and if they ask, be honest but kind.

Dedicated with great affection to:
Sam, Travis, Dominoe, Joseph, Heidi, Sarah, Chris, Frankie, Cassie, Eric, Pat, Jose, and Asiazia

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