Staying Informed in the Art Profession

A conversation with a fellow artist spurred me towards writing about this topic.  This particular friend was curious about entering a new field in art, in her case, concept art for video games.  She was really curious about it, but the idea of absorbing so much of the unknown concerning this entirely new field was stressful for her!

I can definitely relate!  I felt much the same way when I was first considering concept art as a career path before I went to college and again when I thought I might pick it up again as a career a couple of years ago.  I eventually turned back to illustration for a multitude of reasons (ie. not being able to relocate, not wanting to divide focus, etc.), but changing fields is something constantly on my mind.  As such, I always try to stay informed for my own personal career goals and because regardless of whether I will work in concept art or not, video game design and concept art remains something I highly enjoy.

So the question remains – How do you inform yourself before you enter a field and how do you STAY informed, once you work within that field?

Talk to Working Artists

For me, the learning process began by first talking to an artist I know who actually works in the business.  Talking to a working artist is the fastest way to separate the glamorous impression of the job from the realism of the job.  Concept artists, for example, face everything from difficult clients, corporate bureaucracy, long hours, low pay, and extremely high competition, to a lack of a guarantee that their project might even see the light of day, in some cases.

I’ve found my fellow artists to be some of the most friendly and pragmatic people I’ve ever met.  Most artists want to see other artists succeed, so never be afraid to ask!  They can also oftentimes provide you the honest feedback you need about your work that family members and friends might be too nice or simply uninformed to give you.

The Outside World

While the internet is great, sometimes escaping that warm fluorescent glow can provide you with more accurate and up to date information than the online world.  For instance, as an illustrator, I like to keep up with trends in book cover designs by going to the bookstore’s Fantasy and Sci-fi section and scoping out the competition. I take note of trends in art styles, popular subject matter, and the names of the publishing houses who publish books with covers that seem similar to my own design sensibilities.  My hope is that when I’m ready to market my book cover portfolio, I’ll have some viable targets to contact, rather than having a portfolio with no idea of where to send it.

The same can be said of concept artists for video games.  Go to game stores. See what the bestsellers are. See what new games are coming out.  Check out the trends and who is working with the kind of style and characters you particularly enjoy.  Chances are the developer of that game has a particular design sensibility that you would fit in with at some point.

Online Communities and Groups

With the internet at our fingertips, you can find so much information at online groups like CGhub, CGsociety, and ConceptArt.org.  Many of these sites have previously published articles about everyday practices in the industry that are invaluable primers for artists at an entry level.  ConceptArt.org and CGhub are especially useful places in that they cater to both digital and traditional artists, unlike CGsociety, which generally caters to digital artists.  All three of these sites have job listing areas, which is icing on the cake!  Another perk of all of these sites is that all of them host art challenges where you can get experience creating a piece of art, which can be handy if you’re not sure what to put in your portfolio.

Blogs

There are three blogs that I frequent moreso than others because they provide information relevant to me as a Sci-Fi/Fantasy and freelance artist.  They are:
Muddy Colors – A blog ran by a collective of some of the top artists in the fields of concept art, illustration, and sculpture.  They share everything from business practices to technique tutorials from tried and true professionals.
The ArtOrder – A blog ran by Art Director, Jon Schindehette.  Jon is an invaluable resource not only for having an AD’s perspective on portfolio building and professionalism, but he also has a passion for inspiring other artists.  He hosts frequent art challenges with prizes that are highly worth participating in for your own skill building and for the exposure your work might receive from his well chosen challenge judges.
SurLaLune Fairytales – This blog is maintained by Heidi Anne Heiner, an expert on fairy tale studies who has her finger on the pulse of fairy tales in past and modern culture.  She posts very often with the latest news about modern revisionist fairy tale movies, books, etc. and about her own compilation books of fairy tale motifs.  Definitely a must-read for you fairy tale illustrators out there!

(EDIT can’t believe I forgot this one!) Chrisoatley.com – How could I forget to mention Chris Oatley’s blog? Chris Oatley is a character designer and the spearhead behind the Oatley Academy, where I am a student of Painting Drama. His blog posts and Artcast cut right to the heart of my concerns as a freelance artist and tend to inspire me when I need the boost most. It’s a new one on my frequent reading list, but an invaluable one!

Magazines

It hurts having to pay subscriptions, but I consider my subscription to ImagineFX an invaluable connection to the Sci-fi/Fantasy and concept art industry.  While the tutorials and free Photoshop brushes are hit or miss sometimes, the real value to me as a working artist are the reviews on current technology and art books.  Reading these reviews helps me make better decisions about my purchases so I can spend my budget wisely.  
I also enjoy their profiles of accomplished working artists which gives me a valuable glimpse into where these artists came from as people and how they are succeeding in the industry.  Reading about their journeys inspires me to continue walking my own and that kind of motivation is priceless! They also host contests, post articles about new online art projects and communities, and gather other odds and ends of information that help inform me as an artist.
This list could go on and on, but I’m going to stop here!  Long story short, the best way to keep up, in my opinion, is to know who the working artists are in your field, know the companies that are active and hiring, and never live in a void.  Staying informed goes hand in hand with staying inspired!

What are some of your favorite places to keep up with your field of art?  Share in comments!

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