By Jason Embury
What defines an artist as a professional? Is it a term that hinges around the monetary aspects that fuel an artists work, or is it a term that deals with the character and make up of the artist in question, and their ability to deliver quality work? All of these factors figure in to the equation. A professional in any occupation is a person who is paid for a service with which they are providing. Whether this service is under an exclusive contract from a particular company, or is being provided as work for hire, the professional is being compensated for their work monetarily.
However, money by itself, as attractive as it can be, doesn't make a professional. More important than the financial rewards that can be allotted to an artist, and even more important than abilities, is a clear understanding of what it means to act in a professional manner. The building block around which an artist constructs his/her professional appearance, is attitude.
A positive attitude is the one thing that can benefit an artist more than anything else. A positive attitude can not be an imposed behavior modification on the part of any artist, or person for that matter. Rather, it is something that has to be learned through acquiring a competence for the correct way in which to present yourself, and to use criticism as a tool for advancement. It can be tailored to fit the individual, and not everyone who possesses a positive attitude, displays it in the same manner.
The foremost ingredient to attaining a positive attitude, is self worth. As an artist it is the primary motivation behind creation. If you dont take pride in your work, your work will suffer for it. An easy equation to remember is that your self worth is equal to the value of your product, in an artists case the finished piece of work. By sacrificing your self worth taking jobs that mean little or nothing to you, you are creating a product whose value reflects the lack of meaning you feel in creating it. Learning to say "no" to certain projects is necessary in order to have time to do quality work. It is also important to not undersell yourself, or to take too many low paying jobs even if youre just starting. You dont want to develop the reputation of being cheap. I wont get into the topic of doing spec work, it is another article in and of itself.
Another factor in coming to my definition of a professional artist, revolves around the ability to maintain deadlines. An artist who cant meet deadlines, is not an artist that should be in the business. Deadlines, as everyone has heard before, are the most important aspect in any sort of job, especially in comics. No matter how great the artist may be, missing a deadline is unprofessional and intolerable. The artists who have developed a pattern for lateness in meeting deadlines, can eventually expect to find a decrease in their workload, and ultimately if this problem is not addressed, jobs for them will evaporate. Being on time is the next most respectable aspect in a professional artist.
Finally, when I define an artist as professional, I think of how they respect their field, their craft, and their dedication to deliver quality time and again. The simple fact is that the comic book industry, does not NEED more artists. For every open position in a company, there are a slew of candidates foaming at the mouth for the opportunity to fill that position. The industry does need more quality and less people interested in getting rich.
The majority of illustrators (and comic book artists) are freelancers. And as any one of them, including myself, can attest, there is going to be some disparity in billings from year to year. Financial stability is not one of the luxuries that come with the lifestyle of the artist, that is the trade off for the pleasure that we take in our work:J
In closing Id like to leave off with an excerpt from a book which has spawned many a discussion amongst myself and fellow artists, and has taught me many valuable lessons. The following is passage from the opening of the second chapter of, "The Business of Illustration," by Steven Heller and Teresa Fernandes.
"Getting an illustration career off the ground is difficult under the best of circumstances, but in the current business environment what determines who will or will not succeed is subject to the vicissitudes of a fickle marketplace. Even having a strong portfolio does not guarantee that one will get career-launching assignments. There are simply too many artists vying for attention at a time when viable outlets are dwindling."
While this outlook may appear gloomy, it in fact enforces the importance of a positive attitude as the crux of a professional artist. Even artists who have been published or make most of their money from the art field, dont always get the jobs that they covet the most. What is important to take away from this, is that these artists stay focused on the quality of their product, because in the end it is that sense of pride and self worth that will set their work apart.
This is the first of, I hope many, articles that I will be writing for The Grinding Stone (as my schedule permits) and I hope that everyone who has spent the time reading it has taken something positive away with them. I welcome all comments, criticism and feedback that any of you may have, you can email me here. Thanks for stopping by the Stone, and go tell your friends to stop in.
Jason Embury is a Freelance Illustrator and Creator living in the Detroit Michigan area. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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