If you have ever thought about landing a job as an artist I am sure you heard all these things to keep in mind. Make sure your anatomy is correct. Make sure you understand perspective. Make sure you understand composition and framing. There are any numbers of these sorts of ‘rules’ to follow to land your dream job. And they are valuable, no question. But I kept thinking, what is beyond that?
I see many people who have gotten those things down, at least as well as some of the people working in the dream job now. But they are still trying to get that break. What is that missing element?
Then I had an epiphany. What these rules are meant to do is give you the right approach. Editors see hundreds of submissions a week, if not more. I would venture a lot are just really sub-par in one or more of these basic needs. So editors have created a sort of short-hand to look at when reviewing a portfolio. Do they meet these needs? If so, you have gotten to the approach level. You are through the first gate. Congrats!
But you are not ready.
Whoa, wait… What happened? I did everything I was told to do. Why didn’t I get the job?
Because there is another level that rarely gets talked about, the landing level. What is that? It is the art behind the art. Once you have all the approach level stuff done, you are at the most basic level you need to be at to maybe get the job. But, there are many other artists who are beyond that basic level. While there may not be anything ‘wrong’ with your art, there is nothing standing out. Why is your art more desirable than the other three hundred people they see who are at the approach level now?
While I don’t think there are as many ‘rules’ in landing as approaching, I do think there are some key things to think about when you are working on samples at this level.
1: Does your art engage?
Let’s take this panel.
This is from my newest Marvel sample. Not bad, for an approach. Nothing technically wrong with it. But, is it landing level? No. Why? It does not engage you. Think of it this way, this is a panel of Thor, the god of thunder, being thrown into a fire engine by (an off panel) Abomination. This shows Thor being thrown into the fire truck, but does it SAY that? This is Thor, a god, being hurled by a giant green radiated rage beast in the heat of battle. This hints at it, but doesn’t scream it.
Image the art as a paragraph. Here is how it is now.
Thor is thrown into a fire truck. A woman turns away.
Now image the how the art could look if it was written like this.
The mighty god of thunder, Thor is sent flying into a fire engine, the sides crumpling in on the wounded god. A woman flees from the scene, desperate to avoid the arriving battle!
That is the difference between approaching and landing.
So when you are working on your art, know what you want to say, and how you want to say it. For comics, especially action/super hero comics, you want to be big and powerful, larger than life! You want each action to be as exciting and engaging as it can be. A word my teacher Chris Oatley always tells us to think in is artful. Make the artful decision. Don’t just present the image, show us artfully so we can feel the impact of what you are saying. Not just in comics. If you are painting a monster coming up on a child, think about those emotions you want the viewer to feel and find ways to bring that out.
2: Be you.
This is a hard thing for approaching artists to be. We see all these great artists who have come before and we feel we will never measure up. So we bury ourselves and just try to make the best art we can. But when editors are looking for an artist, they want someone who can bring something to the project that no one else can bring. If you are just a blank shell, then your art will be generic and forgettable, or maybe even worse, you copy what another artist brings. If the editor wanted that artist, they would hire that artist.
More often than not, when you are hired it is 50% about your skill level and 50% about your thoughts.
How do YOU show action? How do YOU show intensity? How do YOU show sadness? How do YOU show love? How do YOU show hate? How do YOU tell the story? How do YOU design the character? How do YOU decide what matters in the image? When you have answers for this, you are in the landing zone. This is something Seth Godin calls being a Linchpin, that thing that you can do, that no one else can do. That thing that makes you valuable for the team and company. Find that thing for yourself.
3: Make art.
And last is actually make art. So often in the approach stage we are so worried about all the technical aspects we have to get right we miss out on the fact this is art. Have fun on the page. Enjoy it. Love it. That joy and excitement you feel will come through in the work. If you are over-thinking, over-working, frustrated, worried, etc, that will show on the work. No editor wants to see a belabored page. They want to see that you were having fun with the work; you had an awesome time drawing Thor smashing into the fire engine. Because when the art comes from a genuine place, the viewer can feel it and they will share that excitement in the art. When you make them happy they trust you to make the buyer’s happy.
So where are you? Are you working toward the approach level? If so, work hard and learn all you can. These are tools you must have. Are you past that level and wondering why nothing is happening yet? Begin to apply the ideas for the landing level. When you bring that artful excitement to your art, jobs will soon begin to follow!
Now go draw!
Dwayne is a comic book artist working for Avatar Press comics and freelance artist from North Carolina United States, specialize in concept art and illustration.
reach him at: http://artofdwayne.wordpress.com/