Careers And Jobs: How To Find Work For A Graphic Artist

If you're a graphic artist, there are unlimited income opportunities open to you. Learn what to do--and what not to do--to find work today.

If you're a graphic artist, the sky's the limit when you're planning your career. Income opportunities are everywhere when you know how and where to look.

Make these important preparations before looking for work: Be sure that your portfolio is current and represents your best work. Update your CV or resume. Print business cards, and copy slides of your art. If you have a website for your art, make sure that it's fresh, that your images load quickly and completely, and that all of your links work.

With those basics in place, it's time to look for work.

A JOB OR SELF-EMPLOYMENT?

First, decide is whether to work for a company or be self-employed. That will depend more upon your best work environment rather than opportunities. Some people remain most creative when they don't have to worry about a weekly paycheck, and are required to keep a regular work routine. Others flourish when the boss is the client, or even an agent, rather than a constant supervisor who may not understand how artists work.

In general, you'll earn far more money if you freelance in art. But, you may need to develop good work habits and self-discipline.

If you're going to look for a fulltime job, or two or three part-time jobs in art, start with the newspaper. Help wanted ads are usually the best resource. You may also discover jobs if you network with other local artists; they'll let you know if someone has given notice and a job is about to open up.

But, in the long run, it's better to freelance. Most artists find that they are more productive when they can work on their own schedules rather than someone else's.

There are two sources of income that you'll focus on when you start: Immediately identify sources of significant future income. These are big projects that you may work on just two or three times a year, with good pay and great visibility. Then, start finding easy short-term work to keep the bills paid.

BEGIN AT THE LIBRARY

The first thing to do when you're "planting seeds" for a long-term harvest as an artist, is to go to the public library.

Your first stop will be the reference desk, where you'll ask for a book called "Artist's Markets." (Sometimes the title changes slightly. And, when the art market is booming, the publisher may issue a separate "Illustrator's Markets.") This is an annual publication that lists every major publisher, agent, and other resource for selling your art. The book tells you who is buying, what they're looking for, how to approach them, and how much--and how soon--they'll pay you.

The focus of this book is often illustration. However, illustration isn't just line drawings and clever cartoons. If you're a fine artist, many publishers are looking for impressive work to feature on book and magazine covers.

Read through "Artist's Markets" and select five or ten companies to contact. Note everything that they say in their listing. When art is rejected, it's rarely because the work wasn't good enough; usually the artist didn't follow directions. Perhaps he sent slides when the company wanted prints, or missed the deadline altogether.

While you're at the library, look through their collection of art-related magazines. Many magazines for artists list upcoming shows, competitions, grants, and other opportunities to show and sell your art. These will not only make your resume look better, but also provide income.

Also, ask your library about shows that they host. Many public libraries feature the work of

local artists. They may have an annual show in a meeting room, or a steady, rotating exhibit of local art. A helpful librarian may also tell you about other businesses that have similar displays.

HIRE AN AGENT

You can double your efforts if you find an agent to represent you. Your agent's job is to find steady work for you, and to act as a buffer between you and the client so that everyone is happy with the completed project, as well as your paycheck.

But, it may take awhile to find the right agent. First of all, you'll want an agent who is fun to work with. But, it's even more important to have an agent who can find steady assignments for you. Start looking for an agent early, but expect that it may take awhile. And, most agents want to see an impressive portfolio of work that's already sold.

Using "Artist's Markets" and your local phone book, make a list of art agents in your area. Many agents specialize in local artists, and this is a good place to start.

If an agent is looking for new artists, call for an appointment immediately. As you get ready for your interview, dress like a professional and make certain that your portfolio represents the kind of art that this agent is looking for. Be a little early for your appointment; many artists are notorious for being chronically late. Go out of your way to smile and be friendly. The "dark, brooding artist" is another stereotype to break quickly for a good impression.



But, remember that you're interviewing the agent while the agent is interviewing you. Never sign with an agent if the chemistry isn't right, or if something doesn't feel right to you. And, the agent earns his or her money as a percentage of what you're paid; there should be no up-front fees.

LOCAL AND REGIONAL ART GALLERIES

Visit art galleries near your home. Talk with the staff, and see if you're comfortable with them. Let them know that you're an artist, and that you're looking for representation. They may ask you to return with your portfolio or sample work.

Before committing to any gallery, learn more about their reputation. Most galleries are wonderful to work with, but a few aren't. Be especially cautious before signing an exclusive contract. It's fair to work with just one gallery in a particular area, but you should be free to work with distant galleries as well.

Galleries can provide regular income, but most artists don't earn a living from gallery sales alone. Nevertheless, gallery representation is a good addition to your resume.

With these long-term seeds planted, it's time to find some immediate income as a graphic artist.

While you're waiting for--or working on--bigger opportunities, you'll need income to pay your bills. If you market yourself aggressively, you can have a paycheck in less than a week.

PRINT SHOPS

The first place to visit is your local print shop. If there are several in your area, start with the more upscale printers, especially "mom and pop" print shops. Often, their customers bring sketches or poor quality originals for printing. The print shops hire artists to create--or at least clean up--the originals. If you can complete the necessary work overnight or faster, you may find steady work this way.

Many small print shops aren't current with technology. If you're comfortable with computer graphics, there may be steady income in this area.

For example, scanning a sketch and increasing its contrast can produce a print-ready graphic. If the shop is accustomed to redrawing the illustration from scratch, you'll save them time, money, and headaches if you offer them this digital alternative.

Some print shops have a bulletin board where local businesses can post their business cards. Make sure that your card stands out, and that it's clearly the card of a good artist. Leave a stack of your business cards with the shop, if they're willing to hand them out when a customer needs a special graphic or illustration.

INTERIOR DECORATORS AND DESIGNERS

After visiting every local print shop, it's time to explore alternatives. If you can make fine art (drawings, paintings, mixed media pieces) to order, print some full-color pages showing small samples of your work. Take them--and your business cards--to every interior decorator in your area.

Often, designers need a picture that features specific colors and perhaps a certain theme, in a precise size. If you develop a reputation for creating quality art quickly, this can be another steady source of income.

FREELANCING IN THE MEDIA

If you aren't already overwhelmed with work, your next stop is the local newspaper. Many newspapers have their own photographers and advertising artists, but some use freelancers instead. And, even if they have a competent graphics staff, they may need special work now and then.

For example, your black-and-white digital collages might be perfect as cover illustrations for newspaper supplements, especially at holidays such as the Fourth of July, Labor Day, Halloween, and Christmas. Or, you could create line drawings from vintage photos for a regular column about local history.

Regional cable TV shows and local news shows often need graphics to represent specific subjects and themes. When they don't have a news photo to use as an illustration, they'll often rely on a generic graphic. Watch these local shows and see which of them could use better art. If you show up for an interview with readymade art in hand, you may make a sale on the spot.

ALTERNATIVE MARKETS

Look for unusual ways to sell your art. The local mattress shop may sell more beds if art on the walls creates a home-like ambience.

City buildings and public spaces need art. You might be surprised at the existing programs that encourage federal, state, and city offices to purchase and display art. In some cases, your town hall may not know about these programs. More often, these offices haven't purchased art because they didn't know how to find a good local artist.

Professional offices may be unhappy with the inexpensive prints they're displaying. Seeking better art is often a low priority for doctors, dentists, and lawyers. Whether you can create a large, clever cartoon to brighten a waiting room, or a full-sized mural for a hallway, there may be opportunities just a few feet from your front door.

ONE SALE LEADS TO THE NEXT

When you sell art that will be seen by the public, it's a good idea to write a press release about this. Your public library has books about writing press releases. Be sure to include a photo of yourself with the art, as well as easy ways for potential clients to contact you.

When the press release appears as an article in the newspaper, be sure that a copy of this is in your portfolio. Also, send copies to local art agents and interior decorators, to remind them that you're available for freelance work.

Looking for work as a graphic artist can seem overwhelming at first. Take it one step at a time. By planting seeds for long-term income and filling in with immediate, local work, you'll soon have a very successful career creating art that you love.

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