Landing your first job as an artist can be very frustrating. Getting hired in a studio or for a publisher is not an easy task. In this post, I will propose you 10 tips to increase your chance to get hired as an artist.
From how to build your portfolio to how to plan your art test and your interview. I will discuss which techniques allowed me to not only get a job, also to negotiate my salary on my favor and get the money I want.
Under this lines, I left a video explaining 5 of this 9 tips I used not only to get my first job as an artist but also to move from one video game company to another. Also, some of this tips were very useful for me when trying to get freelance work.
If you want more in-depth information and more tips on how to get hired as an artist, keep reading this article.
1. Be persistent
This first one sounds quite evident but I think is the most important one and the principal cause you are failing in order to achieve your goal of getting hired. Many times I’ve been approached by students and friends with doubts and concerns regarding their chance to get a job as an artist. I always ask them the same question:
Imagine you will never get a job as an artist, do you think you will keep drawing and sculpting anyway?
If the answer is YES, you will succeed. The reason is that you have a true passion for what you are doing and creating art comes naturally to you. As a result, you are going to be producing and creating art for you, and by default, you will get better at it. Practice will get you closer and closer to greatness.
Certainly, passion is not the only ingredient in the recipe that creates a profitable artist but is a great starting point. Is a fact you are competing with other aspiring artists for the same jobs. Who do you think will get it? The artist who is inspired and motivated because he or she fills they are destined to be a pro artist. Or the one who wants to get a job, but in his free time prefers to play video games or partying.
I think the answer is pretty obvious.
2. Focus your portfolio
Planning your portfolio is another key to solving this puzzle. In order to create an attractive portfolio, you gotta answer another question. Which companies I’m interested in? Which studio or studios I wish would hire me?
Once you know the answer you gotta create a portfolio that is totally tailored to this company projects. You gotta show art that matches the style and genre this company is known for.
As a case study let’s propose an example:
If your goal is getting hired by Riot, I will say if you are a student, your chances are pretty low. But, should you stop trying? I will say no. The reasons are:
- It will take you several tries to achieve your final goal. So let them know you are interested. Send them your portfolio with your latest artwork every six months, so they will remember you and will see your progress.
- There are tons of companies working in a similar range of styles and genres with lower standards that can give you your first chance in the industry. Aim for the best and you will never fail totally.
- These companies can be a good milestone in your path to your final goal of getting hired by Riot, or whatever you dreamed studio or publisher is.
- The same is applicable to illustrators. In my case, I was a fan of Warhammer and the Games Workshops franchises for years. It took me 4 years to be good enough to get hired as a freelancer by them. In the meantime, I build a strong portfolio oriented to Games Workshop products by first working on my portfolio on my own and shortly after I started working for Fantasy Flight Games, who happen to have the license for all the RPG games based on the Warhammer franchises.
3. Show your creation process
I’ve been part of the selection process of candidates on several occasions and for different companies. I can tell you, based on my experience, one of the most important things we like to see in a candidate’s portfolio is his processes. This is very true, especially for a concept artist.
With processes I mean your thumbnails, iterations and color tests. Also alternative skins, action shots, isometric views, props, etc… All this information will tell to the recruiters the way you think and how you approach the different challenges during the creation process.
This is why you gotta be very refined in the way you present your work. Don’t show just the final art, create a sequence of slides showing the whole process creation. This will create a narrative feeling to your artwork and will give way more depth to your creations.
This can be one of the hardest realities to accept for some people. Unless you have the chance to work remotely or as a freelancer, it’s very probable you will need to move from your city or country to a new location. The best studios tend to gather in similar urban areas. This is the case of cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, London or Beijing between many others, where you can find congregations of studios, some of them producing the bests games in the world.
Be ready and open for this possibility and your chances to get hired will increase dramatically. Sometimes maybe the destination will be not the most attractive one, but if you are motivated and willing to do what it takes to get inside the gaming industry, you will take this challenge as a chance to gain experience. With time you will gain experience and you will be able to move to a better studio or to a place you like more.
5. Use Headhunters
Headhunters are another good resource if you know how to use them. If you don’t know who they are, basically they are third-party companies who specialize in finding candidates to fill open job positions in studios and companies.
I said you need to know how to use them because of the next reasons:
- Not all Headhunters are equal. Some will try to push you towards vacancies they have open, that maybe doesn’t fit you completely. They want to get the commission from the studio for finding you and move to the next opening.
- On the other side, you have good Headhunters who will take interest in your needs and will try to find the best spot for you. Also, they will follow up after you get hired and will call you several times in order to know if everything is right and the company is respecting what they promise you before hiring you.
- Make very clear what are your goals and needs. This will give to the headhunter a clear path to follow. If he or she comes back with offers not fitted to your desires and needs you know your headhunter is working on his own interest, not yours.
- Work with 2 or 3 headhunters at the same time so you will have a better chance to get what you want.
6. Fake it ’till you make it
This can be very true for an aspiring artist. Let’s face it, how are you going to compete with other artists if they have some experience and you don’t? This question has two valid answers:
- Build some experience freelancing for indie studios and small companies ( which I will explain in tip number 6)
- Create a portfolio where you are showcasing several pieces of artwork, all related to a common project. This project can be totally fictitious and created by you. The idea here is to show them you truly understand how to work in a team-based project. Following some guidelines and a typical studio pipeline.
You can create your own lore, rudimentary game mechanics, actions, etc… You don’t need to become a Game Writer or Designer, but you need to give to this project some depth and background in order to make it believable.
7. Freelance for indie studios and small companies
This tip is related to the question we were asking before. Getting hired by small startups and indie studios is very possible. This employers have usually small budgets and can’t afford to pay the fees of experienced artists. This leaves to a junior artist the chance to work in real projects. A sure thing is you are not going to get paid very much, but you will get some experience that will help you to get access to bigger studios and better-paid projects.
The positive side also is you will not need to move to their location. Most of this studios work remotely with a big part of their workers.
On the bad side, you gotta be careful with some of this small projects who offer you royalties on future sellings instead of a paid salary or fee. Never accept this type of offers. The chances of getting paid are only based on vague promises of selling that most of the time will never happen. Never work for free. Your time has value. Don’t give it for free.
8. Deliver your art test on time
First impressions count a lot. You need to follow strictly the rules and guidelines of the art test a studio will send you. The art test is the second step in your selection process and is the most important one. Here is where thing get real and not only your art skills need to shine. You need to conduct yourself with professionalism. Meeting the test guidelines and the deadlines are key to the impression you will leave on your potential employer.
If for any reason, you think you will not be able to complete the test in time, before starting, ask them to postpone the test to be able to deliver it on time. Be honest and tell them the reason/s you can’t start with test right away. If your reasons are legit they will understand.
9. Know your market value and stay open for other offers
Depending on your experience and where the studio is located you can earn more or less money. Is important you do some research regarding how much money you can earn based on your skills, experience and the quality of your work. Another factor that influences greatly the negotiation of your salary is where the studio or company is located. If you are aspiring to an in-house position, this factor will be key. You gotta negotiate your salary taking into account the cost of living in the city the studio is located. Companies usually offer relocation packages, so don’t be afraid to ask for them.
If you want more information regarding artist salaries in the gaming industry and costs of living abroad feel free to check my article: “How much an artist earns in Video games”. The article will provide you with data of salaries for the different type of artists inside the industry ( Character artists, Technical artists, Concept artists, etc…). Also, you will have valuable information regarding how this salaries will perform vs the cost of living in different cities across the United States, United Kingdom, and Continental Europe.
Another recommendation I will give you is to “don’t put your eggs on one basket”. Send your CV and your portfolio to several companies that will suit what you are looking for. Is always good to be able to choose where you want to go and it’s also a great negotiation tool. I’m not telling you to make those companies bet for you but is good to open your ears to alternative options.
10. Show them you know and love their projects and vision
If you complete your art test successfully, the recruitment process will move to the final stage, the interview or interviews. Here your social skills will play a determining factor. The most important thing is to show them you know their products, their vision and to let them know how you can help and contribute to their mission.
Do some research, read some articles regarding the company status at the moment. In case of a gaming company play their games or if it is a publisher read their comics or novels. Long story short, get familiar with who they are and which are their goals (short and long-term).
Studying them will put you in a favorable situation when negotiating. Usually is easy for you to know which type of company are you applying to, that for them to know in advance who are you as an individual.
This tips I shared with you are the same ones I use when negotiating a gig or when I switched jobs last time. If you are interested in becoming a Concept Artist you will find very useful my article on “How to become a Concept Artist”.
You have several articles and tutorials on the blog. Hope you will check them and found them useful. If you have any comment or doubt leave a comment below and I will answer back as soon as I can. Also, I will appreciate if you share this article on your social networks. It will help me in making me grow the blog, reach more people and help more artist to develop their full potential.2