Marketing: Emerging Artist Tips 3.0


Recently a young, fresh out of school artist (working at Starbucks) in New York City contacted me for advice about how to jump start his career. He'd had some good assignments as an illustrator, but things have slowed greatly recently and he needs help.

His question below stems from my asking him if he is thinking of changing careers at this slow juncture, and finding a more lucrative "regular" job. A lot of succeeding as an artist is having an extraordinarily thick skin, stamina, and patience. It is not for the faint of heart or those vaguely motivated. 


I am not at this time considering changing careers. Yes, I am young. Yes, I am poor. If either of those sentences changes, then I'll revisit the subject. Until then, I hold firm to something my mother told me years ago, when I first expressed interest in commercial art -- that illustration is the business of the last man standing. If I can just hold on long enough, it will work. I will outlast the others because whenever I pick up a pencil or a paintbrush, I know that this is what I was meant to do. Whenever things get a little dry (right now would be a good example) I always toss options around out loud. I never really mean any of them. I'm here to stay.


Being young and unencumbered (forgive me, I don't know if you're married and/or have children, I'm just guessing you're not) is the best way to start building a career in illustration. Your mother is exactly right - it takes almost unlimited perseverance at first. There will be weeks and months (and of course, weekends) when you have so much work you won't have a minute off and yet you can't afford to turn anything down; and then a dry period will test your commitment and make you get back to marketing all over again. 

The harder you work, the better you'll think, the freer you'll create, the more confident you'll become, and the more likely buyers will trust that you will do a terrific, professional job on time and on budget. They will trust you to make them look great.

You sound very self-aware of how you feel about being an illustrator. That's essential, because if you can't convince yourself that what you're doing is worth it, you won't convince anyone else.

Cardiovascular samples to win interactive multimedia work.
The National Institute of Health contacted me years ago, wanting samples of my interactive multimedia cardiovascular work. I quickly put together this sample containing simple contact information and captions describing each project. This mailing was sent with a cover letter and resume; if I recall correctly, at the time it was quite risky if not impossible to send such large files online. Note that each sample shown is specifically geared to the heart and cardiovascular system. I got the job.

Marketing: Emerging Artist Tips

• Recently I was contacted by a young, fresh out of art school "artist" who specializes in illustration. I put "artist" in quotes because he's currently working at a Starbucks in New York City and trying to succeed on the side. A hard-working, very talented person who just can't seem to break into the field, and finding that the information given in art school just wasn't enough.
• Although it's been many years since I've had to start out attempting to become a successful artist, and though the tools have changed, the basic principles remain the same. I'm still marketing all these years later, so I'm going to occasionally post edited versions of the questions asked, along with my responses. 
Q: "My marketing strategy at this time is what I would consider bare-bones, but definitely not unknowledgable. As soon as I graduated from art school, I set to work gathering a long list of potential clients. I started at the magazine rack at Barnes and Nobles, and moved on from there to the internet. I find mastheads wherever I can, I grab the names and addresses for Art Directors, assistant ADs, Creative Directors, and so on, and I add them to the list. I do this whenever and wherever I can. Every three or four months, I then mail postcards with my work to everyone on this list. I feel strongly as if I need more diversity in my marketing strategy. I do not email because I can't be convinced that it's remotely effective or even worth the time that it would take to gather the few email addresses I could find (people seem to protect these better than their mailing addresses). I also believe that it's too easy to automatically get sorted into junk folders, whereas with a physical mailing, at the very least there's a good chance that someone will take a look at what I can do, at least for a few seconds. If I can grab their attention in that time, I win. If not, at least I had that shot."
A: Gathering contact information whenever and wherever you can is a great start, as is creating and mailing postcards. Your take on emails is correct; they're often lost, forgettable and viewed as somewhat lazy and intrusive.
• I have known people who've spent a large amount of money on creating show-stopping, die cut, expensive mailers. I'm not convinced that's a good investment. If you're already getting some calls from your mailings (and they're not mega printing dollars to do) then your talent speaks for itself. 
• From my experience, the same goes for purchasing (what are often hugely expensive) ads in the big advertising books like the Black Book. Before I would do anything like that, I would talk to some illustrator agents, art directors, other illustrators, etc. to try to judge whether the investment is worth it. I've spent thousands of dollars on ad books and sometimes gone for a long time with no results, although some claim consistency of your message (over the years) is critical.
• The world has changed a great deal, but you need to start doing cold calls. Mailings are not enough; they're too passive. You need to constantly get to the front of people's minds, and you can't do that if you don't talk to them and happen to connect with them the moment they have a need for your work.

Multiple samples of medical art
• Here's a sample of one of my early marketing pages which was published in a specialized medical art marketing book: