“do you have any tips for young artists struggling to make it in the professional world? I’m about to graduate and I feel so lost and unprepared!”
It’s a bit difficult to tailor advice for situations like this because it really comes down to the specifics. Did you study animation? Comics? Illustration? Breaking into the industries of each specific field has their own specific outlets/contexts/resources – so me, a cartoonist/illustrator mainly in traditional publishing, can’t give you pragmatic tips for a field I have no experience in. The other thing is I don’t know how you are struggling and what level of struggling you are at. Have you already had a portfolio? Been sending postcards to art directors? Queried an agent? Or you have no idea how to start a business?
And another thing is; I didn’t go to school for art. I went to school for an entirely different career path in the academic sciences and jumped ship to commit full-time to a semi-official arts practice – a thing I had nurtured since I was a teen, had done work in, and I already knew the shape of. Things really came together at the right time to allow me the career I have now and totally avoid the situation where my family would be disappointed at the risk I took. So while I do know what it’s like to be lost and be in a quarter-life crisis before graduation, our pre-graduation situations are different.
So the advice you get from me is going to be generic – whether that’s helpful or not, YMMV.
If you’re still unsure about breaking in to your industry, you’ll have to start securing some kind of dayjob right away. It could be retail, or it could be a trade job. If you’re able to afford the time/money, start learning skills that aren’t art: trade skills, or spreadsheets, or whatever that could help weasel you in to an office job. The point of this is to give yourself the cushion (for money and to avoid questions from family) while you’re figuring out/building your arts practice. It also doesn’t matter how long it takes for you to reach the point where you feel secure to pivot to art; things take their own time, and what matters is survival and consistent effort.
Then you’ve to commit to being involved in your industry in whatever way you are able. So that could be visiting a festival or convention and engaging with your colleagues. You could go with your friends. You could also start making work digitally and share. Even if that piece doesn’t go viral, it is a piece that contributes to momentum, and it’ll build up to a presence. It’s not easy to break into an industry unless you’re at least somewhat recognisable as a familiar presence (I mean, you should build some relationships anyway even if you weren’t going to join the industry, because if it’s a medium you love, you’ll want to know the people who are making the work you enjoy). Arts is really small, and we know who’s currently working.
There are also resources from arts organisations and artists that collate opportunities and resources. Again, since I don’t know what field you are in, I cannot give you adequate advice. Would be unhelpful if you’re in animation and I accidentally give you information for a writer’s residency, you know? You’ll have to ask for these resources through Google or through anyone who’s older and in your industry.
Reimena Yee is a graphic novelist, artist and flamingo enthusiast.
She writes and illustrates quite a few webcomics and graphic novels. When not making books, she lulls away her time with essays on craft, life and experiences in the publishing industry. Some of her thoughts of art and life are rather unstructured and will evolve over time as this blog matures, as they should be.
Currently committed to being Alexander the Great's death doula. Is a nerd for all things spooky and historical.
Melbourne / Kuala Lumpur
French Book Tour, January 2024