Advice to the noobies…

It’s been my experience that the economy has very little effect on an artist as long as he-she doesn’t fall into the trap of relying on clients to come to you, or the illusion that if a client, say a magazine, hires you for six months in a row, that they owe any kind of “loyalty’ to you. They do not. Part of their job is to mix up the illustrators as much as they can. Also, here’s an example. I was making a lot of noise on Comics Message boards and landed a $10,000 job working for Microsoft to design 12 characters to be used as avatars for an experimental social online game they were experimenting with. I asked Danny Hellman if he wanted some of this pie, because they need about a hundred avatars from different cartoonists and illustrators. He said, “No! I don’t do that kind of work, I do magazine work.” I laughed at him and earned my $10,000 in less than a week. What a sucker that Danny was!
My job search has always been done by hunting and shmoozing. So-and-so got a job drawing some album covers, I called the 20 or so bands I knew and asked if they knew anyone who needed an album cover. Not if they need one, they always say no, but if they knew anyone who needed one. That expands your search by five-fold. I got three jobs that month, including a record cover for They Might Be Giants, they paid me well! Then I got hired by them to design some t-shirts. I showed the t-shirts to other bands and got a few more jobs designing tshirts. Someone at the New Yorker saw the tshirts and I landed semi-steady work from them for about 5 years. I sent free drawings to various zines, making sure they put me on the cover with the best art I could produce. I was picked up for covers and comics by Screw Magazine. A pervert saw my work and hired me to paint the name on the back of his yacht. A friend of mine got a job painting Rush Limbaugh’s bedroom ceiling, cherubs, floating ribbons, grapes and flowers. Imagine Rush dancing on his bed nude but for a gossamer toga and a crown of white roses.
My point is, if you want to work, crash all the parties at magazine offices and be nice! Carry a card with your website on it. Ask around, just keep after it. Hunting for work is a constant 50% of the job, that part never ends. You can have a lot of fun with each small victory.
And draw all the time. Kaz did just what I did and now he’s a big shot TV animator making more money than Julian Schnabel in the 80s!

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25 Responses to Advice to the noobies…

  1. jwbalsley says:

    Thanks a’many for the great advice, I’m finally coming back to America after a year in S. Korea feeling detached and crazy teaching English to overworked childeren. I love to draw and make things and I get bored easily if I’m not doing anything creative, though I’ve been fortunate to have had a good amount of free time here as well to get comics done. I always appreciate good strong advice from someone I respect.

    Someday there there will be many folk songs sung in your name!

    • benW says:

      Thats cool, I’m getting ready to go teach English in S. Korea.

      Can’t really find any work here and figure I can kill a few birds with one stone, travel, job, and free time for pursuing my art career. So its cool to hear that I can expect a lotta free time for drawing and stuff.

  2. Kevin Joyce says:

    “A pervert saw my work and hired me….”

    I believe this is how Michelangelo got his best commissions.

  3. John M. says:

    Sounds like cab driving, except the part about being nice.

  4. Brian says:

    Somebody give this man a job.

  5. granolafication says:

    thanks for the pep talk. I feel pumped. Now if only I had any talent.

  6. TonyMillion says:

    Bristow, enough with the American Express jokes. It’s corny.

    • Bristow says:

      Yet MORE great advice! I re-posted that comment because I thought there might be a problem with my browser. I’m not necessarily into corny credit card commercials, I just thought of it as a way to convey the value of your advice in comparison to the little money I have to spend on materials. Sorry… just trying to be appreciative. I’ll only say thanks from now on.

  7. I’ve found that work comes to me despite the fact that I avoid it with every breath I muster. It seems that people find it intriguing when an “artist” refuses commission work, no matter the pay is. I pretty much maintain a strict “no side jobs” rule and yet I am constantly bombarded with requests for strange things…

    If I come across any ink work, I will refer them to you.

  8. benW says:

    10k for drawing 12 characters?


  9. Ricky King says:

    This is good advice! Too bad I suck at talking to people!

    • TonyMillion says:

      It works through email, Facebook and Twitter, too. Just be creative, pleasant, energetic and above all, BOLD! DO NOT BE A WALLFLOWER. Link to your site and don’t be shy.

  10. Ed Choy says:

    Thanks for the good words, and the wonderful work!


  11. John Kerschbaum says:

    I came here following the links for the x-mas ornaments and ended up with some very sage advice, too. I’m not exactly a noobie anymore but it helps to hear this kindda stuff again coming from someone as successful as yourself and whose work I admire greatly. Thanks.

  12. Kevin says:

    I like what you said, but/though I have a friend who’s an artist/sculptor and dearly wish the economy hasn’t almost entirely crushed her financially. Her potential market is much smaller than your guyses are, and though she has followers who buy her work, they have fewer monies, therefore so does she. And I’ve tried to get her to find work in various other places, but being a one woman shop, she’s forced to do everything she can to keep head above aqua. I’ve written a children’s book that she’s illustrating, but we’re also not sure if we can find a publisher and Kickstarter is a crapshoot and blah frickity blah.


    • TonyMillion says:

      You gotta suffer! Fine Art is a tough road. I majored in Painting at college, and I’m so glad to have a Fine Arts background. Starting in Design or Illustration is like learning how to decorate a saddle before learning how to ride a horse. But now I make my living drawing for people who pay for it. Paid illustration work is easier to get than earning a living making real art, I don’t know how they do it. I love and admire the real artists.
      People often ask me if I consider cartooning to be Art. Well, it’s a type of art, but it’s sure not Fine Art.

    • TonyMillion says:

      My grandparents made a living at Fine Art, and they scraped by. Beautiful work though, everybody in my family has some of it.

  13. Mike Schultz says:

    This post made my night. You gotta hustle! Thanks!

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