So many of the aspiring artists I talk to are very concerned about STYLE.
And man— I get it. I was really stressed about that when I was in school. My work looked completely different from piece to piece (still does) and I was told that this was a no good very bad thing. I grew of the deep shame and started hanging out in the shadows.
Now that I’ve been out in the world a bit more I can tell you that it was all wasted energy. Style is the literal last thing you should be worried about as a young artist. Let’s talk about why:
Be Cool Soda Pop
When I first got to LAIKA as an intern I was always nervous when I had to go to the floor where higher ups worked. It was totally silly, but suddenly I’d think “Am I walking normal?? What do I usually do with my arms? This does not feel right…”
I FORGOT HOW TO WALK.
When you focus in on something that should come naturally, that task becomes almost impossible.
Stop Thinking About Style
Seriously, stop it.
If you are trying to force a style onto your work before you’ve really explored who you are as an artist…. it’s going to be almost impossible to be authentic:)
Jennie Says RELAX
Most of the folks that I have seen putting emphasis on style before they even know what they like, end up poorly imitating people that are already established in the industry. That is not likely to be a path to happiness or longevity for you.
Wearing a mask is fun for a minute- but after a while the novelty wears off and it’s just itchy and sweaty:/
The best chance you have is to take some time to figure out what kind of work you genuinely love.
The less you think about how to please others, and start pleasing yourself, the closer you will be to making yourself a unique and interesting artist. It’s also the best way to end up in a career that you love:)
(Okay that header was forced. I feel appropriate shame levels.)
Honestly though, if you have run in every direction exploring— as you should have… You have built yourself a map of sorts:) Gather your favorite pieces from the work you have made and look at everything together.
If you have a consistent style— that’s awesome! You will be hired to do your own thing and work freelance or hop from studio to studio, depending on your industry and the circumstances. But keep working on your map, your style will/ should evolve over time. Keeping things fresh for yourself and pushing boundaries will keep you interested.
If you had more of a grab bag thing going on— That’s awesome too! Being versatile makes you an ideal candidate as a staff artist. You can move from project to project within one house with ease— and if you’re like me, you’ll really enjoy getting to take on completely new challenges from thing to thing.
Lack of consistency in STYLE will not stop you from being hired.
Lack of Consistency in QUALITY most certainly will!!
Follow your Bliss:) Make the art that gets you excited to come home after a long hard day and CREATE.
Jennifer Ely is an artist working in the animation industry as a Color Stylist on a Dreamworks television show for Netflix. She has also worked on LAIKA’s upcoming stop frame feature filmThe Boxtrolls, and still moonlights for them as a Visual Development Artist on super secret future projects!
You can follow her here:
With SDCC fast approaching— here are my tips on networking with pros!
(My first advice blog was dub rainbows and unicorns made of sugar, but the big rock candy mountain has some deep dark caves, and we’re going to crawl into one here. Hopefully we’ll all emerge better on the other side of this thing!)
**If you’re a tall gorgeous redwood of confidence and charm— feel free to skip past all this yammer. Also congrats on all that:D
To the rest of you/ us:
I’m pretty awkward. Maybe all the awkward. Like you might think you’re awkward, but really, have you ever seen me and your awkward in the same room? Right….
The truth of the matter is that as an artist, I am far from alone. Whether you share my specific laugh to snort ratio of 1/3, or if you suffer instead from a severe case of “So who’s this Janelle Monae character all the youths have been talking about”…
THERE IS HOPE.
However, since I promised cavernous darkness (GRRRRrrrrrrr)— let’s go with the call outs first.
Let’s call this section:
Recently I saw a generic tweet cut and pasted repeatedly with a new big name artist on it each time on my feed. The tweet contained a link to a recent piece of art by the unnamed tweeter. I saw it time after time and cringed a little more with each one. This was the unfortunate inspiration for this blog post.
There are so many things wrong with this that it’s going to need it’s own bullet points:
These are human people who work hard all day then go home, either to some much needed down time, or more often trying to make their own work in limited free time. They likely spend a lot of energy wading through emails/questions from followers. Why should they use their valuable time responding to a form one-liner blast, when there are 15 others who wrote considered emails with thoughtful questions??
Using buzzwords like “please” and “thank you” does not make your request appropriate or polite.
Making a public request can put the artist on the spot. It’s kinda rude, and you are unlikely to get honest thorough feedback. So really, why bother?
Twitter is great because you can reach a huge audience with a couple clicks. With great power… and all that. Use it wisely.
Ever been on a dating site? If you’re not familiar with the “Hey Girl” ignored by women the world over, then read up!!
There’s a ton of crossover. So when you spend an afternoon taking advantage of the old copy and paste keys on twitter… you’re not just annoying those artists (which is bad enough)— but potentially other folks like myself that just saw several of the exact same message clogging their feed.
This was a crime of Passion.
The problem is awareness and consideration. When you are fighting for your dream you get tunnel vision. It becomes your whole world. Realize that while your motives are valid— they are YOURS. Other people not only exist— but they’re running around like crazy trying to make their own dreams come true;) Even the ones you admire. ESPECIALLY them.
A couple facts to make you feel a bit better about the situation:
We love an underdog, and most people can relate to feeling like a circus freak and being weirdly obsessed with sandwiches. Metaphorically.
Being a fan is forgivable, if not entirely charming. You just have to pair it with humility.
Here are two examples.
I watched a sweet girl come up to one of the main stage presenters at ICON8 this weekend. She was so nice— but she was shaking with nerves and she could not remember the name of an artist she was talking about. It was actually really endearing— it made me like her even more because she was just so genuinely moved to be talking to this guy that she admired. He helped her along and I’m sure was flattered that she was so overwhelmed by his presence!!
I met another girl when I went back to SCAD to give a lecture. I was introduced to her specifically because she loved Laika and her professor thought she’d have a lot of questions. Instead she immediately began quizzing me on what I knew about the studio, asking me about facts she had read online and educating me when I wasn’t sure, for example, how many minutes Coraline was… I know she was excited, but it was hard to stay in the conversation. I was already pretty tired from hours of portfolio reviews. She wanted to show me how much she knew and I could have been human or park bench standing there for all the back and forth that was happening…
There have been some great posts lately about networking. Jim Zub’s post from back in April is one of the best I’ve seen. If you haven’t read it, I strongly urge you to check it out!!
I completely agree with everything he says there— read and reread that post. If you can manage casual, absolutely do it. If you’re more like me (meaning being CASUAL is about as likely as doing that catching flies with chopsticks thing from Karate Kid)…
QUICK GUIDE BELOW:
Ways to Get the Most out of Pro Interactions: even if the word “cool” is foreign to your existence:
If someone begins telling you about something you already know— STILL LISTEN. Do not interrupt and hurl your knowledge at them. You might still learn something, but even if not— you just avoided being referred to for the rest of the week as that rude guy who interrupted! Bonus points for a big thank you after!
Limited time is always an issue. Curate your top questions. If there’s a line behind you, maybe just ask one and see if they’ll consent to a follow up email. Even then, less is more.
Okay don’t lie #OBVI — but you must love the work of this person if you’re fighting to get a slice of their time?? Show you know their work— mention why, or which you liked best!
Your job is to enable them to share their secret knowledge with you as easily as possible. Lay out the bread crumbs and then hush as you lure them further and further out of their shells:) You might be surprised how easy it is to get someone talking when it’s about something they love!!
When you start to sense that you have worn out your welcome, or if the crowd waiting for your pro is looming— it’s nice to leave gracefully on your own terms. Offer a card with contact info— ask if you can follow up with them, if they have a card/ or contact info.
Say thanks by following them on twitter/ tumblr/ wherever they have a presence online. People are more likely to continue a dialogue with you if you aren’t a fair weather friend.
I hope this gives you guys a better idea of how to approach people even if like me— you’re just a little uncool;)
I wish you all the best!!! Let me know how it goes!!
Jennifer Ely is an artist working in the animation industry as a Color Stylist on a Dreamworks television show for Netflix. She has also worked on LAIKA’s upcoming stop frame feature film The Boxtrolls, and still moonlights for them as a Visual Development Artist on super secret future projects!
You can follow her here:
I love you guys. These words are for you, and also for myself.
I thought that by the time I actually got a creative job in the animation industry I would surely feel… like less of an imposter. Nope. Often times when I get an assignment I experience a moment of pure terror. Afraid that my last success was an accident and I’ll be shown for what I am in front of an audience that grows with each day in the belief that I am something that I am not. This feeling comes in white hot flashes between fleeting moments of proveable victory.
A creative act is a leap of faith, and like many who follow something greater than ourselves, we falter often.
When I was in grad school and still figuring out what was possible, I had a revolving door of people telling me to lower my expectations. Friends and foes alike, telling me I wasn’t good enough. And I wasn’t… YET. But it did not matter.
It does not matter if you are READY.
Ready is a lie. It’s a finish line we point to, always far in the distance, where the weather is always sunny and a roaring crowd waits to give a standing ovation.
Ready is always far enough away to create comfort, but not so far that we need admit failure. It is as sweet and delicate a fantasy as exists, but in addition to being only mildly comforting, it is ultimately damaging to our artistic goals.
What creative goals have you been putting off because you aren’t “ready”?
Whether you want to write a novel, develop a video game, be a character artist for animation— whatever your goal is, the only way to BECOME is to do:)
Apply for that position. Go to that convention. Approach that artist for feedback. Do it now. Learn what you can, then do it again. Every time it will become less daunting. You’ll find new things to be afraid of in no time;)
Trying to become perfect in a vacuum, and then present yourself to the world like some sort of gift wrapped God of art making is not realistic.
Immerse yourself in the community.
Fall down and get back up.
Allow people to help you, and help others in earlier stages than yourself.
Be courageous (and positive:)) as you jump in with both feet!!
This year— to take my own advice. I will be creating a book of my artwork, getting a table at at least one convention (ECCC2015), and reaching out into the world of kids book publishing as it’s a huge dream of mine to work in books. And of course creating written content for the followers of this blog;) I may not be ready for any of these things… yet:) But this is the fastest way I know to get there:)
I wish you all the best!! Be fearless!
Jennifer Ely is an artist working in the animation industry as a Color Stylist on a Dreamworks television show for Netflix. She has also worked for LAIKA as everything from Intern to Visual Development Artist.
You can follow her here: