6 Quick Tips for Art Students

  1. A-level work can be published in industry; so if you are consistently getting A’s then should be out working instead of taking out loans for school. Most students get C’s at AAU, with a few stars getting the infrequent A-. So feel good about getting high C’s and low B’s, especially before midterm.  Grades are no more or less than feedback on your work.  No one will care what your GPA was in school, they will care about your portfolio.  However, aim for A-level work so that you will have a professional portfolio.
  2. Related to No. 1: If you are offered a job while in school, take it! The goal is to get work, not necessarily to get your degree.  The timing might not be right when you graduate; in fact, it probably won’t because you’ll be competing with other graduates at the same time.  You can always return to school and finish your degree if you so wish, or even receive educational reimbursements from your employer if you want to continue studying while working.
  3. Almost everyone in school is great at something and weak in other things. I’ve realize that compared to other beginning students I have more experience rendering texture and painting digitally; I also have an intuitive knack for picking colors. But while I can copy a figure given enough time, I have trouble imagining the human body in other positions or from different points of view, or capturing gestures quickly, or simplifying and stylizing it for animation, or foreshortening it.  Once I have that down, I won’t need to learn much about how to “wrap it” in shade or color.  If you’ve been admitted into an MFA program, you have something to offer and something to gain from school.
  4. Attitude is critical.  Remember the tortoise and the hare parable, “slow and steady wins the race”.  There are a number of experienced students, but some of them are complacent and others are resistant to trying out new things. However, with an excellent attitude towards learning, you can rise head and shoulders above other students with time, dedication, and practice. That’s the same attitude needed to get work in industry and to be the very best at the tasks you’re assigned.  The artists with that attitude are the ones who are promoted, not the ones who are envious of senior artists on the team.
  5. A lot of students resist learning certain techniques, styles, or subjects because they think they won’t use them later on. In my character design class  we’re learning to become “style chameleons” during the first half of the semester and “building our design vocabulary”. Many students want to stay in their comfort zones and draw in their own style, but that will kill the career of a new artist in industry.  Learning to draw in different styles is a survival skill. If hired by a company (say, Disney or Lucas Arts) you would have to draw in the style of the particular project you’re assigned. Everything you learn adds to you “Batman’s belt” – your set of tools available for every occasion.  Never stop learning.  Keep your tools sharp.  For more on this, read Dresden Codak’s article on Draftsmanship: Increasing Your Visual Vocabulary.
  6. Is it better to generalize and be able to do many different things, or to specialize and rock at one thing?  In other words: “is it better to become a swiss army knife or a scalpel?”  The answer: ideally you should become a swiss army knife with a scalpel attached.  Be a rock star at one task and then be able to do many different tasks for a project as well.  That is the best way to get yourself established in the industry and to keep yourself employed.