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It's no question that being surrounded by people that seem to have their shit together can be pretty intimidating. It's something that anyone who pursues a craft has to eventually wrestle with, but convincing ourselves that practice is the only thing between us and our heroes isn't easy.
I'll openly say that this situation applies to everyone, but I think it's especially hard for visual artists in this digital world. Suddenly, all that masterful work that knocks our confidence is constantly in front of us. Looking for inspiration and feeling our pride take a hit seem to go hand-in-hand, which doesn't build a healthy relationship between our personal selves and our artistic selves. That said, time has taught me a few methods to make it a little easier.
Digital art looks like friggin' magic. The nature of this tool has created a way to create (as some call it) "too perfect" professional digital work- almost to a point that it's hard to believe it was made by a human. But that, I believe, is where we falter when looking at the art that others have made. We need to internally humanize the creators behind these pieces, and ever since I started reaching out to the people I deeply respect, these issues with intimidation have gotten a lot easier. Fear turns into respect, anxiety simmers, and I can appreciate these artists as more than just wizards. (Although being an art wizard is pretty dang cool.)
I constantly hear of this struggle with fear, and I want you to challenge yourself to break down those barriers. It's pretty scary at first, but the more that you do this, the more peace you'll achieve with the constant exposure to gorgeous art. Give it a try.
Write down a list of bonkers-crazy-good artists who make work that melts your eyeballs.
- Have a tangible list on a Google Doc or spreadsheet. Organize your thoughts- I always find lists to be bizarrely reassuring. Write down who they are, what they do, and a link to one of your favorites that they've made to reference later.
Add them to your circles.
- Add or follow them on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Artstation, or other social media. I don't recommend following a single artist on 8 different social medias; that'd freak me the heck out.
- I've had a lot of success on Facebook and LinkedIn, but reach out on media they're currently using. If their Twitter hasn't been active since 2008, that's probably not the best route.
Initiate with a strong message.
- Professionals are contacted constantly with generic messages that have no depth. Be more intentional with these simple tips in mind:
- Even though we're in a casual industry, hold yourself to a certain level of professionalism. Start with a greeting and introduce yourself. Double-check spelling and grammar. End with a "Best regards" or "Respectfully" before your name.
- Introduce yourself, but don't sell yourself. Cold-calling a pro and shoving information onto them is more than unimpactful- it's rude. Also, I usually don't recommend immediately asking for portfolio feedback, which they hear all the time. Approach with an attitude of seeking wisdom.
- Be specific. Mention a piece that they've made individually that you really respect if it feels appropriate and why you love it.
- Most importantly, communicate with purpose and authenticity. Again- have an attitude of seeking wisdom, so ask a question that encourages conversation. If you just send "Yo, your work is great, keep making stuff," then all you'll get back is "Thanks!" Asking questions helps to develop professional, respectful relationships by giving some bulk to the discussion.
If you don't immediately hear back, don't rush a response.
- Some of the best conversations with folks that were way out my league happened with professionals that didn't respond for literal weeks. Life gets busy, messages get skipped over, stuff like that. They're human, so give them some patience.
- In certain situations, it's definitely appropriate to shoot a follow-up message if you don't hear back within a few days. Rather than saying "You there?" I'd recommend shooting another specific question or comment related to the first message. It feels more intentional. If you don't hear back after that second message, let it go.
If they reply, write responses that encourage conversation!
- There are a few rules here: be respectful, be appreciative, and if they're a jerk, never respond in kind. Any reply that they give takes precious time out of their day, and time is valuable. Be thankful for it.
- Speak with a balance of humility and confidence. Don't shoot yourself in the foot by having too much of either.
- Most folks in this industry know how competitive it is to get in. They're aware of the challenges that younger artists are going through because they've been there. You'll be surprised by how many will write back with pages and pages of wisdom because they genuinely appreciate being reached out to and the work it takes to make it.
- Asking a question will almost always guarantee some level of a response. If you consistently seek advice, they usually will share it with you in some form.
- Requesting a portfolio review is asking for a pretty big time commitment on their end. It's a good thing to get feedback, but be aware that it's not necessarily a small request. Respect their time.
- If they're rude (which almost never happens,) then step out of the conversation politely. It's a small industry, and you never want to tarnish the valuable reputation that you have. Just respond with something along the lines of "thank you for taking the time to respond" and let it go.
By being genuine and kind, you'll go far. There is much wisdom in the world within people that can't wait to share it.
Leave a comment if you have any ideas or advice for folks that want to try this out!