Hooray! It's been one year since graduating my alma mater, and life definitely didn't go the path I expected. When I graduated, I knew I wasn't ready for the real world (none of us feel like we're ready when the time comes), but I felt having a plan would leave me better prepared than not. Most of you who are friends with me know that I like making plans, backup plans, and backups for those backup plans. So how did this past year turn out, and did I survive? Well, I definitely survived. I'm not exactly where I thought I'd be, but I know I'm where I should be. I'll explain this as we go further.
Right after graduation I worked during the summer as a resident assistant at my former college, the Academy of Art University. From May-August 2015 I was provided a room and food, and when I wasn't working I'd be sending out job applications. When the end of summer was approaching, I knew I'd have to move soon and I owned a lot of things. I started a Facebook group called "Student Garage Sale", drew up a logo to make it more official, and managed to get rid of a huge majority of my belong while giving a huge chunk for free to my old Department of Illustration; the Facebook group is still active for other students/alums to use. It felt good to get rid of things, and it helped force me to think of what was truly important to me both as an artist and person.
When mid-August came, my sister's parent-in-laws were gracious to offer me a place in my sister's grandfather-in-law's place for free. I could not have been more blessed nor appreciative. While there I continued to apply for jobs, attend interviews and art tests, work on commissions and remote work (more on that later), slowly build my portfolio, and started writing blog articles focused on motivation and informational reviews geared towards artists. I stayed there till early February, which is when I transitioned to living with my sister's parent-in-law's place. Since then nothing much changed except working at Starbucks around the end of February to present day.
It's amazing how much can happen in a year, and how much rejection and motivation can impact you as a person. I've easily applied to over 150 jobs, was told on numerous occasions how I "should" be working in the industry both throughout my school years from mentors and professionals, and "you're not getting the job because of reasons A or B; let me fix you." The feeling of impostor syndrome was never more pronounced than this past year; and I'm grateful for it. It has helped me to accept new opportunities, be open to changes that may feel scary or uncertain, and to always remember that you won't know all the answers for everything and that's okay.
I'm humbled to say I've experienced a lot, and have grown to understand the hiring process from companies in a huge variety of perspectives. I've applied to big companies, start-ups, companies focused on animation, video games, mobile games, tutoring, web design, card games, and so forth. Below I've listed the majority of my experiences; there is a chance I'm forgetting a handful of experiences and outcomes here and there so I do apologize for not providing everything:
- A successful company offered a great gig at the expense that I would have to pay to have the gig.
- A successful company offered a great gig, but I priced myself too high and lost the gig (I learned there is a difference between freelance and company employed salary wages; and more importantly I learned you don't have to feel pressured to guess your wage on the spot).
- A company offered me a lead artist position saying they're impressed with my resume and portfolio, then asks me for my portfolio and resume, and ultimately tell me the job is not available and to please consider other avenues.
- A company out of state offered me a job working remotely, and would have me video-stream my digital painting while working alongside other artists also video-streaming their painting assignments.
- A company met me at a fantasy/sci-fi convention, and the CEO expressed wanting to work with me on a project guaranteeing approximately 200 illustrations all with very reasonable pay. Unfortunately the project was shelved before I could start.
- A company offered me an in-house artists position as well as feature artist gallery. I was interviewed, accepted, informed they'll hit me with a date and after would be provided details. I followed up and rescheduled this gallery position three times; still no confirmation.
- An agency contacted me wanting to "help me look for more art opportunities". I was interviewed, placed in their database, and never head back from them.
- A friend passed an art-gig with a former company client needing art, and I took the gig; initially growing into the best client-artist experience I've had to date.
- One of my job applications contacted me back highly interested in hiring me. Despite my follow-ups, they've miraculously disappeared.
- One of my job applications for a seemingly legit company came back with interest, two interviews + one art test performed (which wasn't an art test, but actual company work requiring file organization). I ended up not signing because the contractor wouldn't agree to what was verbally agreed upon, and defensive when I asked questions regarding pay or other basic job knowledge.
- A company was interested in interviewing me for an internship position. We had a formal interview and art test within the same day, and the rejection shortly followed.
- A company was interested, wanted to hire me but said I must go through the second interview before hire, and after a week said screw it and hired me - thank you Starbucks.
Have job applications helped me? - With the exception to Starbucks, they honestly haven't. All of my most reliable job offers that have gone onto further opportunities or positive experiences have all been through a friend connecting me, or some form of networking. This isn't to say applying online doesn't work; it just hasn't been successful for me.
What are my plans now? - As of May 1st, I've stopped continually applying to any type of job offer in hopes of making it in the art world. The advice I was given so many times of "just keep applying" wasn't working for me. I had reflected instead on "how can I get a job in art to further reach my goals" instead of "how can I make myself a better artist". Some people will argue that I didn't get the job because of networking, but truthfully I have many friends in the industry all of whom I've very proud of. I believe I didn't get any job positions because I wasn't ready and it showed both in my portfolio and my presentation/mindset. I cared more about getting a job than getting the chance to grow as an artist. This may seem like the two go hand-in-hand, but not exactly. It's like I valued money over art as if it were my motivator; which wasn't the case. I didn't want to be that artist that accepted job opportunities under poor circumstances and further enforce the idea that artists don't deserve decent pay. I still don't want to be that type of artist. However, it doesn't mean your views should switch from "do what you love" to "stop doing what you love and get a job".
A lot of today's industry relies on skill and networking, but it heavily relies on luck and being humble as well. You have to be the person in your friend or anyone's mind when that job position opens, and you need to be someone that friend can have full faith and trust that you're someone worth representing. You're competing against thousands of other hungry artists, and chances are your good networking industry buddies have more than you as a friend. Just because I haven't gotten a stable job within the art industry doesn't mean I'm not a good artist; albeit I still have a lot of room to grow. It just means I don't have an industry job yet.
For now, I plan to focus on Project Sky, my personal story that's been on standstill for far too long. Its first public viewing was at CTN 2015, and I hope to have much more of the story completed and ready for CTN 2016. There are many goals I wish to accomplish, but I'm taking things in strides to be sure the largest goal [Project Sky] holds priority. I will be returning to posting weekly blogs, and slowly make my way back into social media as that was part of my original daily routine.
Everyone says they can prepare you only so much, and you'll just have to take a leap into the "real world". The default plan: graduate, get a job in your field of choice, and if you don't then keep applying until you do get that job. Though there is some truth to this, I'll share the misconception I experienced by following this plan. As you know, I did get to work for companies within this past year, but none at a salary position.
What did I learn from this?
* DISCLAIMER: some of these lessons are just reinforced, and not necessarily reflections of new concepts
- When applying for jobs, always assume you won't get the job.
- Everyone's wanting that golden ticket, and many people are qualified and connected; some more than you. I'm not saying give up, just be realistic and don't get upset if your dream job or a job you're not interested in doesn't pick you.
- Networking and Skills are only part of the game; the other half is luck and you as a person.
- When you think about it, companies are only looking for 1-2 artists and hundreds of people are applying against you. You've got to be someone who is humble and willing to learn, and be appreciative for companies taking the time to review your work (and perhaps get to know you as a person). Your time will come.
- If a company is interested in you, do your research
- Unfortunately I've had my fair share of sketchy job opportunities. When you hear from a company that they're interested, often expect two interviews (usually a starting interview, then an art test if they're interested - these can sometimes be back-to-back) and an offer or rejection letter 1-2 weeks later. Also, keep track of important information such as your expected pay, and see if they respect that in the contract. Do not be pressured into signing a contract.
- Be nice to everyone
- If someone is nasty to you, don't be nasty back. Even if things didn't go in your favor, such as rejection from a job opportunity, show your appreciation. It really goes a long way, and can say a lot about your character.
- No one is lower than you. Period.
- Get a part-time job.
- Seriously, you don't know when you'll get that art job, and until then you'll want to have a steady income of sorts. Even if you say "I'll do freelance", unless you have a well-established number of clients and work ready, it takes a lot of time to build up that audience.
- It keeps you driven to reach your goals, because you know you don't want to do your part-time job for life. Additionally, your team is often in the same mindset with future goals of their own, so there will often be a level of understanding for shared passions and experiencing struggle.
- Don't be picky about your job.
- Do you have the skills? Will it get you closer to your goal in any way, shape, or form? Then take it. Trust me, you're going to gain so many experiences and knowledge on how to handle work and clients that you'd otherwise pass up. Plus, those connections you build could become larger opportunities down the road.
- Live like a nomad
- Don't buy things you don't need, and really try to own only essentials. Until you have a stable job and finances, you're likely going to have to move (a lot). Some companies may help you with moving, but they're not going to help you move when your contract finishes. A great artist to reference on living the nomadic life is Noah Bradley. You can learn about him and his artistic journey on Medium.
- Reconnect with friends every now and then
- You've gone through years of struggles to pursue your passion. If anyone's going to understand you best, it's them. Plus, there's nothing more rewarding than to see where you and friends end up.
- Always make sure you balance work with benefits
- This could mean getting paid, if a friend did something for you in exchange, etc. You'll think no pay is ok if it's for a friend or family member or even a big name company, but that's when most conflict happens. For friends and family, there's the struggle with communication. Additionally because it's someone you already developed a relationship with you're more likely to push those free projects on the back-burner. For companies, you know they can afford you. Most job applications and future job opportunities will also ask you who you've worked for and what your salary was. This is how some companies determine whether you're affordable. So the big name may be nice, but sharing that you worked for free may not work in your favor.
- Plus you won't feel as invested because you're giving your craft away, and often times there isn't a deadline... and let's be honest, that means it'll happen when you get time which is often never. When we get free time, our minds immediately go towards sleep, eat, chores, or personal project(s). Save yourself the stress, and get paid. It's the right thing to do.
The world is a big place, but the industry is very small. It's not quite as I expected life to be after college, and truthfully there are things I do wish college had better prepared me for that were in its control. When I was a kid I was fearless with my art; I knew what I loved, and I drew it nonstop. When I was in college I was trained to "let go of everything you think you know" and was taught the foundations; so I let it all go, including my inspirations. When I graduated from college, I spent the past year applying to jobs, not making new art because I was tired of making art, and I had to rediscover why it was I drew in the first place. It took a lot of soul searching and time to find the right words to say what it was I really wanted to do with art:
I want to make great stories
i want to build new worlds, memorable characters, and lasting moments
that not only leave an impression on you
but touch your mind and soul on the beauty and harsh realities of life and humanity
There is still a lot that needs to be done for Project Sky, and there are many more stories I wish to tell over time. I look forward to sharing Project Sky with you in a more public setting at CTN 2016, and ask you please support me in its development. I hope my past year has provided you at least one perspective of "life after college", and that you can learn from my experiences. In next week's article, I'll be covering over 30 artists who have left/graduated college within 1-3 years and have shared their experiences with me. Be sure to subscribe to my website to catch this and future articles every Tuesday at 9AM, as well as new artwork and other exciting news.
To those artists who are graduating soon, congratulations! It truly is a remarkable feat you've achieved in not only pursuing an artistic life, but actually finishing the college journey. As you should know, you're learning doesn't stop there. In fact, you're going to learn so much more just within this next year than you have possibly throughout all four+ years of college. Embrace every success and failure, and keep pursuing your goals. Do you have a goal you'd wish to see achieved someday? Let me know in the comments below. I wish you the very best. Go rock the world!