Background photo by Darwin Bell

How to get hired

10 Questions that will get you gigs.

Artists! If you’re done working for exposure and want real artistic opportunities to come to you, here are ten questions you should ask yourself.

Who am I? Hi, I’m Ryan. I used run a little digital comics publisher called The Whole Story, and have done lots of other massive project. Now, I ain’t some fancy worldwide conglomerate or international IP storehouse, but I have hired a lot of artists and writers. Some are mind-blowingly famous, some are getting their first paid drawing job.

I’ve browsed blogs, I’ve mined anthologies, I attend international comic conventions where I have only minutes away from my own table to speed-read a whole floor’s worth of comics. I see even more artists looking for work in the process of editing @forexposure_txt

Now, I know working with me ain’t exactly winning the lottery. And I’m guilty of making all of the same mistakes I mention below. But my experience trying to hire dozens of artists for dozens of projects has given me some insight that I think might be helpful for whatever opportunities you’re trying to attract.

I want you to close your eyes, open them up again and look at your own work with a fresh perspective. Then ask yourself these 10 questions.

1. What is the first thing people see?

Look at every place people could encounter your work. Your blog? Is there easy access to your best work, or do people have to scroll through 3o pages of more current stuff to get to it? Your social media accounts? You better hope you took the time to make a nice header image so your Taco Bell diarrhea livetweets aren’t your first impression.

What about the cover of your book? Is it the best, most eye-catching art you got, or did you put it off until the end and crank it out in line at Kinko’s? At conventions, I constantly see books that have all white covers with black text in a default font announcing the name. Some of those books had good art inside. Some, not so good. Some were novels that were inexplicably for sale at a comic convention. Most… I have no idea because I didn’t care enough to check.

2. How many clicks hide your work?

If I stranger is considering hiring you, you have five seconds of their time to grab them, max. Do you have a landing page with an enter button? If so, NO. Bad. Burn it. I came to your website, why should I click to confirm? When I get into your site, do I see your best art? Or do I see a list of links to different categories of art? Do I see a text post with a tiny underlined bit of blue text linking to that art that I have to seek out like Waldo?

Use your five seconds well.

3. What work is yours?

So many people link to their Tumblr, Facebook, DeviantArt or blog as a portfolio. The problem is, when I look at your ‘portfolio’ It’s buried in all of your reblogs and personal posts. I find myself having to do detective work whether something I’m looking at is your work, your friend’s work, or a screen grab of the kissing robot anime you’re watching. Typically in the process of doing so, I just click the other person’s artwork, get taken to their portfolio, and forget all about you. By all means, reshare your friend’s art! But if you also have a place for just your own work, I may just hire both of you!

4. Do you have undead landing pages?

Haha, remember LiveJournal? Remember those 3 days you had a Google+? Ho ho, crazy. You may have forgotten, but people still see those. It may have been a big deal to you to move blogs, but not everyone knows where you went. People may still have that link in their bookmarks, or written in the margin of a sketchbook or in your old minis. You may have fans that just think you disappeared. You’d be surprised how many people still have your old blog in their RSS feed just because they haven’t cleaned it up. Not to mention: those blogs show up when people Google you. They show up when people Google other things. Think of them as an “April Fools” landing site where people can discover your work, but are tricked into thinking you draw and talk about your feelings the same way you did in 2004.

Every once in a while, when you have a new project, go back to your old, dead social networks and just make a single post. “Hey! Here’s what I’m up to these days! Here’s what my art looks like! Here’s where you can find more!” and cap it off with a link to the place you DO still post.

5. Where is the contrast?

Tape your work to a wall and walk to the other side of a room. This sounds like a crazy hypothetical. I literally want you to do that right now. Can you tell what’s going on?

I’ll tell you a secret. You have to do that because you know every line and brush stroke. The rest of the world doesn’t have to walk across the room. This is how your work naturally looks to them when they first encounter it. It doesn’t matter HOW amazing your linework or your story is, the human brain needs a reason to stop and focus on something. A whole bunch of lines from a .6 Micron may be beautiful, but our minds are unfortunately not programmed to search it for information.

Print out a spare copy of your art and just attack it with a black marker.You may not get it right at first. Don’t add too much- contrast is about balance. But a nice dark shock of hair, a black shirt, or a well placed deep shadow pop your art out so that we can see it.

6. Are you showing me your homework?

I’m not your teacher. If I see a flour sack pose or a life model warmup sketch in your portfolio, I feel like you’re looking for a good grade on your report card, not a job. Those are things you do in order to LEARN how to make art. If that’s all you have to show the world, the world will assume you haven’t made any art yet.

Even if you’re long since out of school, show people your BEST work. I love 24 hour comics. It was a very sad day that I moved all of mine off the front page of my website. But they shouldn’t be the first thing people see in your portfolio.

7. Are you proud of this?

One of the best ways to immediately know how you feel about your own online presence is to watch someone else browse it. I remember seeing someone open my site and cringed at the first thing they clicked. NO! Not that! That was a client job that I kinda phoned in! No! That has some fun moments, but I drew it in 2002!

Then I realized… why is it even there?

Several times this week I have had a Gmail tab open, with a draft of a job offer e-mail open, then scrolled down two more posts in the artist’s blog to see a really bad phoned-in comic and then deleted the draft.

8. What do you offer that no one else does?

In my search for artists, I came across no less than six serious portfolio sites featuring cute-ified dot-eyed versions of typically tough characters holding kittens and speaking only a white word balloon with a pink heart. If you’re going to rip off Katie Cook’s style, I’m not going to hire you. I’ll hire Katie Cook. I did once! She’s far better at that style than you, and she can do a lot more than just that one thing.

If your site is nothing but fan art in the same style as the original, you’re at risk of just creating a weird uncanny valley where all I notice is the slight ways your work is just a little worse. Do your own thing!

9. What opportunities do you want?

For years, I ran a custom comics site called Cartoon Commune. I spent all day lamenting all the time I had to spend drawing superheroes, which I had little interest in. But customers just kept ordering them. At no point did I consider the fact that my web site was covered in superheroes, and didn’t contain any of the types of comics I wanted to draw. I assumed people wouldn’t WANT to hire me for those types of comics.

Now, I focus my energy on making things I like. I am an artist/adventurer, so I post stories about my travels. These days, when I do work for someone else, it’s for a graphic novel guide to traveling on the cheap… or to write a tale inspired by my experiences in India. It’s to perform a radio show about the most interesting people I’ve met around the world. Because those are the things I love, the things I offer that no one else does, and the things I show off.

If you make art no one else can, you have no competition.

10. Who are you and how do I get in touch with you?

Haha, this must be the joke item because, DUH. But here’s the thing. I have been hiring artists all month. Clicking links, discovering comics, sending complete strangers job offers 3 clicks into their webcomic site just because their work blew me away. I have looked at hundred upon hundreds of sites.And way too many times to count, I have rushed my cursor over to the contact button to find none. Who made this? the header says only “by Br33zDogg” or some weird internet pseudonym. The only link is to a Facebook community talking about the comic.

These cases may seem obvious, but remember that your work gets discovered everywhere. Your fans may all know your wacky joke twitter name, but maybe say who you actually are and include a link to your site because not everyone is your fan. I once made a short comic about how to read Korean that went crazy viral and got reshared hundred of thousands of times before I realized I’d forgotten to put my name on it. Tell people who you are!


Background photo by Tony Hisgett.

If you ever need advice, don’t hesitate to ask.


Ryan Estrada’s work can be found at ryanestrada.com