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Sunday
Jun162013

Networking for Artists: it's not what you think!

(Me in 2007. TWO THOUSAND FREAKING SEVEN. AT A CON. NETWORKING. Who knew?!)

In the past week or so I've had four different people ask me about networking, a seemingly daunting and difficult task, and if I had any advice or thoughts on the matter. I am in no way an expert on this, but I know that, based on my experience and general scores of others in the creative field, there are a lot of myths associated with what "networking" actually is to begin with.

Networking Myth #1: Networking is with people you don't know
Untrue! It is rare you will ever find yourself in a room full of people you don't know and expected to thrust your business card at them or something equally weird and awkward. For me, it started with the people in my quarter at Porfolio Center. There were about 10-12 of us, of all different disciplines, but there were only 2 illustrators (me and Liz Haywood) and everyone else was an art director or a designer or a writer.

While in school, one of my classmates would need illustration work for an ad or project they were working on. I was a hard worker (sometimes to a fault--lots of overnights in the illustration room with the dog are in my memory) and one of the only illustrators who actually completed their projects on time and basically tried to make everyone happy without going crazy with the workload. So, I suppose naturally I was picked often to help them with their projects.

(Me and a classmate of mine, 2008. Really seeing the breadth of questionable hair choices in this throwback post.)

Because of this, I would, in the future, be called to work with them for projects for their jobs post-college. I would also get calls or e-mails to help out on projects from former instructors and teachers from the school as well whose real-life jobs demanded illustration work or technical sketches or whatever. You never really know how your skills could be of use. And then, when successfully completing a project, their work colleagues would recommend me to others, and I would get more work that way as well.

Be friendly to EVERYONE and let everyone know that you are an illustrator (or whatever creative type you are). However, this leads me to:

Networking Myth #2: Networking is trying to sell yourself to the highest bidder.
This doesn't mean automatically running off your hourly rate and trying to sell yourself. Opportunities arise in the least likely of places, and it's better to have more friends than enemies! One example of this for me is that I used to go to one particular art supply store in Atlanta, and I just happened to make friends with the manager of the store by asking him for help with various school projects; I had never been to art school before so I didn't know what half the crap on the supplies list even WAS let alone which products would be best to suit my needs.

Two years down the road, that manager ended up quitting the store and opening his own art gallery in-town! Because of our friendship, when he had a gallery show of Atlanta illustrators, he asked me to be part of the show! So, if I hadn't asked some random dude in the art supply store about, like, matte finish spray or something equally weird, I would have never been able to have the experience of being in a gallery. He had never even really seen my work before the gallery, either, so it was really just because I happened to be friendly to him that I gained such a great opportunity.

(At that fated gallery opening! With my former teacher and a classmate!!)

On another note—because of this same gallery owner, I found out and was able to interview for a job through his friend who worked in apparel in New York City. That friend happens to be my current boss!! Crazy! Everyone talks about two kinds of people—people who are especialy terrible OR people who are especially nice. You never know who knows whom, so it works in your favor just to be friendly to everyone you meet!

3. Networking Myth #3: All networking is done in person in a schmoozy environment
Also untrue! Look, I don't even like answering the phone—the thought of going up to people and introducing myself gives me nausea. Never fear—that's what the internet is for!!

(This is me right now, writing this blog. Networking. I only am showing you this because you know I love you guys.)

Especially during my time as a freelancer in Atlanta, I spent a bulk of time on my blog, or on twitter, or on my facebook page, making sure I had a fairly transparent and fun presence which attracted all sort of attention that I wouldn't have been able to get locally! (ALSO, this is where your friends come in, because if they also have an online presence, having something online for them to link back to if they are needing your services is a big plus!)

It is also a great way to make other artist friends, and to learn valuable skills watching how they interact online with their individual markets—Atlanta illustrator San Smith and I met first on twitter, and then in person, and we are now very good friends online and offline! <3 <3 San has an amazingly loyal online following and I believe the bulk of it is because not only does she have talent and strong work ethic, but she is also has a great personality that she projects online as well!

Similarly, I was approached by Atticus of Evil Supply Co first online through twitter of all places, to work on a project for him. We haven't met each other in person (yet!) but we were still able to maintain a professional working relationship through the internet, and the project I did for him remains one of the most fun things I've ever had the pleasure of working on. AMAZING.

Something I have talked with often about with other people in the creative field is how, when people are looking to hire, they are obviously looking for someone with reasonable talent, but moreso I feel like, in my experience, I have landed work because I am friendly and easy to work with. The work / job is something that can improve or develop more distinctly with more time and instruction; however, if someone is a jerk, they more or less stay a jerk. :( Who wants to hire a person who may be talented, but also a pain in the ass to work with?

This partly runs into:

4. Networking Myth #4: Social networking will do all the work for you

This is something I heard for multiple people when I put a call out on my tumblr for questions about networking. Something along the lines of: “Well, I have a twitter, and a tumblr, and a facebook page, but I haven't seen any more traffic or more work...what gives!?”

Online social networking is more about displaying both yourself and your work. The bulk of everybody's twitter and blogs that I went through that asked me questions like this one, their twitter was just a wall of ads for their etsy store, or just blogs about how they're looking for work; it was like looking at resumes, but in blog form! Blech!

A successful online presence also shows the person that you are—your personality! What you like and don't like, what influences you, what you did last Sunday, what other authors / artists / images you like. It goes back to what I was saying about people not wanting to hire jerks—people like authenticity and personability. Think about the blogs that you really enjoy—it's never just their finished work or their art that you like; it's usually something about the artist themselves that keeps them on your blog feed. I think that, especially in America, we have a general curiosity about what's “behind the scenes.”

I'm not saying that you have to be completely transparent online—that could lead to some trouble! But the more of you we see, as opposed to just your work, the more relatable you are and your audience will feel like they know you better, and want to come back to see what you're up to.

(Who's that hunchback looking down and talking to no one at her artist alley table!? Thank god for my online presence, that's for damn sure.)

5. Networking Myth #5: This is too hard because I'm a stereotypical anti-social, introverted artist
Aw man, guys. This one is a biggie.

It doesn't take an extrovert to be nice to someone you are working with or are meeting, online or offline. It doesn't take a social butterfly to be able to communicate with others about your work on a project. It is not going to kill you to update a blog with some in-progress photos of something you are working on that you're really proud of.

What I'm getting at is—you can do it, and are more capable than you give yourself credit for.

Reading your questions on tumblr, it just kills me that some of you are so attached to this idea of being awkward or weird around other artists or clients or anybody, really, that you don't see the truth of the matter which is that EVERYBODY is awkward and weird. I think it's more about being comfortable with that fact that makes you a stronger candidate for any job or position.

Mostly, I think it's easy to think you should give up on networking just because you don't have an extroverted personality. I think it's easy to say “it doesn't work,” when you haven't really given it a shot. I think it's harder to take a good hard look at what you are capable of and do what needs to be done to make sure that you are making a good representation of yourself.

As stated before, no one is going to do this for you. Networking is WORK, although sometimes not the kind of work you think it is. Mostly I think it's making sure that the information and image you put out into the world about yourself is authentic and genuine. You are 100% capable of doing that—but you must commit to it, and be ever-persistent. People aren't going to notice you overnight. But, if you are diligent, and you work hard, and you are friendly, people WILL take notice. How could they not?

(Circa 2008, being an artist or something.)



I'm not the most talented illustrator in the world. But, I am a workhorse, I am passionate about my work, and I am nice to everyone I meet and work with. I've maintained a blog fairly consistently for years now, and have had some amazing opportunities come my way because of it. People have taken notice, and I have become a better artist because of it. I hope some of this helps you, and thank you everyone who left me questions on my twitter or tumblr regarding this topic!!


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