Show the work you want to do.

My first studio gig was doing line drawing layouts for the webseries reboot of the "Superfriends" cartoon for Titmouse.  Man, I was excited!  The boards were really loose, and I got to basically design huge swaths of Gotham city and the headquarters of the Legion of Doom.  I would rather have been painting, or at least finishing the layouts, but the subject matter was awesome, and I felt great to be working on a real show with a name that people had heard of.

The sort of work I was doing on Superfriends

The sort of work I was doing on Superfriends

 

Of course, as soon as it went live, I put that stuff in my portfolio.  It lasted until I talked to Benjamin Hayte at CTN Expo last year.  As he was flipping through my stuff, he asked me, "So, would you rather be painting things, or doing these line drawings?"  I of course answered, "Painting, but I wanted to show professional work that I'd done."  

His response stuck with me.  "Put the cool companies and projects you've worked for on your resume.  Put the work you want to DO in your portfolio.  Do you want to get stuck doing line drawings for work when you could be painting?"

Dude.  This is *so* true.  There are two absolutes in art - The first is that if you give a client 4 options, they will *always* pick the one you like least.  The second is that when a client looks at your portfolio, they will ask you to do something like the thing you are least into.

Nothing wrong with those Superfriends layouts, but I want to show my strengths as a painter and a designer.  If I was at a loss for ideas for personal projects, I suppose I could take one of those layouts and do my own painted version, but that gets complicated in terms of IP ownership and making sure you don't step on the toes of your employers.  Better to just start fresh and do something new.

For the last year, I've done a TON of cyberpunk paintings.  I've done 27 paintings for Catalyst Games Labs for their Shadowrun project, and I've been working off and on on 2 near future sci-fi IPs of my own.  Because of this, my book is pretty much 100% that genre....and I don't want to be pigeonholed, so this last week I've started working on a new project, set in a world based loosely on the early 1800s in Tuscany, but with the dawning of a magical "Industrial Revolution" instead of a technology based one.  I'm super excited to paint some vineyards at dusk, some cobbled streets, and some magic factories where children and the poor labor under horrible conditions to feed supernatural production lines.

My goals are to show that I can work in a variety of genres and styles as required by the kinds of clients I want to design for.  You can't assume that an art director will believe you can do fantasy if you show sci-fi.  In photography, I literally knew a guy who didn't get a job shooting train engines because all he had in his book was car engines.  The AD didn't want to take the chance.

You have to show the work you want to do.

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