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  1. #1
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    Illustration Income ... How much do they make?

    I know Income is a sensitive area for a lot of people doing it professionally, but there doesn't seem to be any kind of real info on what freelance digital illustrators, as well as traditional illustrators make ... nowadays.

    I understand that as long as your doing what makes you happy, the pay isn't really all that important (insight a lot of people seem to give). And that's true, who couldn't get into this type of work if they didn't enjoy it. But there doesn't seem to be any information avaible for how much the average illustrator with moderate quality artwork makes at freelancing. .... I did email to the Hildebrandt Brothers website awhile back, to which i got the reply that the begining illustrator usually makes about 20k a year. But how much is the average for book cover or package art these days, realisticly?

    What I'm even more curious about is how much digital illustrations make? Do they also make a lot more or same as traditional mediums that might take longer? Is there a certain area of digital art that makes a lot more money than others?


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  3. #2
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    You should look @ the Graphic Artist's Guild book on the subject, you can find it on amazon... the pricing in there isn't 100% accurate, but it gives you an idea of how the industry works.

    As far as getting paid more or less for digital or traditional, your fee for the work should be the same either way (same quality of work either way, hopefully), but the downside to digital is that you don't have an original to sell at the end of the job, which can sometimes fetch more $ than your beginning fee.

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    Well some would recommend charging, materials and time factored with how much you would like to get paid an hour....

    But this is also based on the quality of your work...some of the people i've spoken to charged 3000$ for a cover Illustration(ie comic work)...

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    I heard that the average illustrator in NY makes 20k a year.
    "If one advances confidently in the direction of
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    unexpected in common hours."
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    Quote Originally Posted by otis
    I heard that the average illustrator in NY makes 20k a year.
    Something like that...but exceptional artist always get paid exceptionally...
    The best to ask would be Irene Gallo...she would know...

    And since i am not a professional i honestly would not know...just some stuff i heard from friends...

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    I myself have the GAG's Handbook of Pricing and Ethicla Guidelines (in case you want to look up the title, and it does give prices for illustration, but it doesn't say specifically for concept art. And, as our friend just said above, total accuracy can very. My thing is, how much does it very? Obviously, this is all relative to your area etc, it's just a little frustrating trying to do what you love and still survive on it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bowlin
    how much is the average for book cover
    From the horse's mouth...

    $1500-$5000+, depending on:
    Publisher's corporate policy
    Artist's experience and reputation
    Size of image (spot/full cover/wraparound)
    Expected sales of book
    Rights sold
    Additionally, expenses (models, props, costumes, photos, etc.) may or may not be covered.

    Tristan Elwell
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    Thanks Elwell...

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    I'll be the second horse's mouth to second Tristan's post. Most of our book covers run around $3,000.00. Medium sized print-runs asking for hardcover and paperback rights.

    The tough part is that there are no guarantees in the illustration business. It usually takes about 5 years out from college for any serious illustration student to start earning enough to be freelance full time. And that is assuming that they are working (smartly) to improve and make contacts all the time.

    Don't you think, Tristan? (Although Tristan was an exception to this ; )

    And then, even when you make it, there is no guarantee that you can sustain a living over decades. It's a tough racket...all the more reason that I admire the ones that do it well over long periods of time.

    As far as digital versus traditional goes -- it shouldn't matter. There is no inherent qualitative difference between the two...and what I am hiring is the quality of an artist, not the medium.

    I may reduce the fee if it's just a spot element that is being asked for, or if the artists is really new and untried. The fees go up if the artist is well known, or I'm asking for a rush job, or if I'm asking for a ton of elements in the picture.

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    wow, replies from both Tristan Elwell and Irene Gallo! Horse's mouth indeed. Take a look at Spectrum to find out who these people are if you don't know. Thank you both very much for the information, I know many people can be reluctant to give out information like that.
    "The secret is to follow the advice given by the Masters in their work by doing something other than what they have done." - Edgar Degas

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    I was loooking at a jobs magazine at school today and it says the average income for this and that. graphic illustrator is 29k and fine artist is 20k a year

    all in all it just depends how mush work you get and who u work for


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    Wow.

    Thank you Bowlin for popping the subject open.

    Thank you both to Elwell and Irene Gallo for your comments, insight and openess regarding how this works. Especially the cover work, which is what I want to be doing. Your time and experience is greatly appreciated.
    ---
    As for Freelance work, I can pipe in a little on my own experience thus far. I have been freelancing for just under a year. At present, the money hasn't been that great, to be honest. I've not gotten many of the gigs that I've wanted, and those that I have have been fairly low paying. Most of what I've done has fallen into the category of card art and interior illustrations for games. A *lot* of work on instant deadlines for basically a pittance.

    With a family to support, this requires that I hold another job until I can get things to kick in. Fortunately, my wife works as well, and I can work at home most of the time so I am able to help out with the kids, so it works out more or less.

    I understand that as long as your doing what makes you happy, the pay isn't really all that important
    Don't kid yourself. I *like* having food on the table, and having a table to put said food on. Pay is very important, and I am doing what I love. But, yes, there are other pay offs as well. For example, I signed my first card for a local fan yesterday. *That* was priceless, and something that I will cherish. However, it doesn't pay my mortgage.

    With luck, this will change in the near future. The only thing that I can say to someone thinking about doing freelance work is be prepared for the long haul. Have a job that you can rely on and that will cover your expenses while you build up your reputation. Expect a lot of "No thank you's" if you get a reply at all. It can be dissappointing, and frankly frustrating starting out. But if you are serious, you will work through the obsticles.

    And, finally, always strive to get better. Ask Sparth, or Jason Manely, or anyone of the "Names" here, and they will tell you, I'm sure, that they are always practicing. A friend of mine, Todd Lockwood, pounds this into my head every time we talk. "Use Reference!". I go to sleep to that mantra

    Cheers,
    ~Oreg.
    Last edited by S.C. Watson; November 23rd, 2004 at 09:16 PM.

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    I understand that as long as your doing what makes you happy, the pay isn't really all that important
    First of all, it's much easier to be happy if you feel appreciated rather than exploited.
    Secondly, it's pretty hard to be happy when you're cold and hungry.

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    Tristan and Irene much love to ya...

    Quote Originally Posted by Elwell
    First of all, it's much easier to be happy if you feel appreciated rather than exploited.
    Secondly, it's pretty hard to be happy when you're cold and hungry.
    Stuck forever in my head...

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    Quote Originally Posted by bRyaN
    Quote Originally Posted by Elwell
    First of all, it's much easier to be happy if you feel appreciated rather than exploited.
    Secondly, it's pretty hard to be happy when you're cold and hungry.
    Stuck forever in my head...
    that's a new take on it!

    same here bryan, i'll be remembering that for my entire life. Good and bad

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    if yer getting into book cover illo...be sure to push for 50 percent of your initial total payment to be paid every time they do a printing...ie second print...third print....

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    Thanks Jason. Good advice. Now, I just need find someone to hire me to do the covers!

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    ...

    Well, after reading through this topic I have to ask, do illustrators get much money? I mean 20k per year in my country(hungary) is really good.And there? And 20000/12 means a bit more than 1500 a month. Well if you say you can get 1500 for a book cover (let's assume that making up the idea takes a few days and the work takes like 2 weeks - I have no experience in this), that means there is much less work to do than in most jobs. Getting 20k for that is extremely good. Especially if you enjoy it.

    Is it really difficult to find a job(if someone donesn't wanna go freelancing...is there more job for freelancers?)?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bence
    that means there is much less work to do than in most jobs. Getting 20k for that is extremely good.
    To put it in perspective, you can make about 15K a year working at McDonalds. You have about a week of training there. Now, take into account the years of training and debts from school that factor into what makes a good illustrator... 20k a year for someone who has the skills of a professional illustrator is pretty sickening, especially when there are jobs that make double, triple that without any real skills- just diplomas. And while it's not the same sort of work as say, digging ditches, illustration is still hard work.

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    Cool

    Quote Originally Posted by cotron
    To put it in perspective, you can make about 15K a year working at McDonalds. You have about a week of training there. Now, take into account the years of training and debts from school that factor into what makes a good illustrator... 20k a year for someone who has the skills of a professional illustrator is pretty sickening, especially when there are jobs that make double, triple that without any real skills- just diplomas. And while it's not the same sort of work as say, digging ditches, illustration is still hard work.
    I know people making four and five times that amount (not in Art) who are being forced to move out of NY city because it's too expensive. 20k will get you set up in a nice cardboard box somewhere in an alley. More gloomy persepctive... sorry.

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    It's a bit like acting -- Most people struggle and wait tables to get by....a small fraction doesn't.

    Various issues (stock, designer generated art, budgets) have come up in print illustration that has made it harder to be in the middle. The area that seems to be striving is concept work...although that may just be my perspective since, until recently, I wasn't as aware of the field as I should have beenly. Still, there are artists that just love creating illustration, seeing it in print, and having full authorship of it,....and are damn good at it.

    If anyone is interesting in learning about a group that is fighting stock houses and shrinking budgets should read up at the Illustrator's Partnership of America site. Invaluable information there.

    In publishing, the artists actually make out fairly well....sorta. A new author might get triple the money as the artist but they have spent a year, possibly a few years, writing while the artist has spent a few weeks. However, when an author hits big they are not even in the same universe as the artist. It's a shame since we are such a visual culture. (Perhaps the rise of graphic novels might help to level that out?)

    Because of FedEx and then the internet it has not been as important to be living in New York or any other major city. So, yes, a 20K salary will mean very different things to different people. Although I still think a personal connection every now and then can make the process so much smother. For me, the Society of Illustrator's events and conventions are great for that.

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    Wow! I appreciate the response I've been getting on this subject! This is a very sensitive area to talk about, I think mainly because you don't wanna give people the wrong impression, that your in it for the money. But it seems like with anything else, the better demand for quality in illustration helps the feild to grow.

    When your an ametuer it's very easy to get all kinds of impressions of what illustrators make. We start to think like, "well if you make 3,000 dollars every two weeks, and there's 52 weeks a year... you make so and so". I've looked and studied the GAG literally for years now and have thought i've gotten a good understanding only to realize it just makes everything even more confusing for us ametuers hehehe. I've went to a lot of conventions that sell the kind of work that we see here on the CA forums and there just doesn't seem to be a big market whatsoever for selling this type of original art. It seems on average the most popular illustrators sell about 1/4 th of their originals, if even that. Also, selling prints doesn't seem to bring that much income in at all either. A lot of ameteurs believe that professionals make a lot of money from the prints... but in reality there seems to be very few sells of prints. There's only one person that i know of that deals solely with prints in this type of subjects ( http://www.syntheverse.com/ ) ... Plus, I look up original art from popular artist on ebay on a daily basis and it's extremely rare!

    So trying to get good input from professionals like Elwell, Irene Gallo and Jason Manely too is a big help!! Oregano is really giving us the reality of a begining illustrator in the field, but it's almost impossible to find out what the realities of income is for like the top 100 best professionals in the field. It seems that striving for the best income helps the whole illustration feild in general... supply and demand.

    What scares me is that there's only so many places that pay for this type of artwork (sci fi, fantasy, etc) ... let's say, in book covers. And the first portfolio and first jobs you get in illustration gives an impression and your pegged for a certain type of quality and types of art. A lot of us ameteurs often think that this is like any corporation where you work your way up. But in reality it seems extremely rare to find an artist that has greatly improved and gotten more popular this way. Seems the best artist are at such an impressive professional level when they start out and they may gradually increase in income, but they are pegged for the best quality artwork... which is why they become even more popular. My point being that people are pegged for certain types of quality from first jobs. So it seems if you don't make an extremly big impression from the first jobs (first few years) then you'll never end up making a big income.

    Any more thoughts on this?

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    Hey Bowlin,

    Artists definitely get better. I'm sure people like Donato, or Tristan, or Foster (you out there?), can point at some work from their past that they'd laugh at now. (I only mention them by name since they're friends and wont get TOO mad at me...I hope! ) But you're right, by the time they start making a name for themselves and you start to notice them, they are solid. That's why I think it takes a number of years after college before anyone can hope to be living off their freelance jobs.

    I went to see one of the local art school's senior show last year. It seemed the graphic design students were so much further along than the illustration students. But I think illustration just has a longer maturation period. (That, and there is so little disciplined foundation in the schools. But don't get me started on that.)

    From my point of view: I have a group of artists that I KNOW will do a great job, are reliable, and I really enjoy working with. They are going to get most of the jobs I commission. However, it is REALLY fun and exciting to be working with a newcomer. I can get a fresh point of view, a new style, it can shake up our sales force. But I am risking a whole lot when I do it -- the author's career, how well the company does, my reputation within and out of the company, etc. So I'll take only very calculated risks.

    In terms of increasing popularity leading to increased fees -- it happens, but it takes both ability and business savvy. I think picture books and science fiction are among the few places where the public can become aware of who you are. Names like Donato, Whelan, Boris -- they mean something to Marketing people because they mean something to readers, not just other artists, so they get paid more. But they didn't start out that way. They worked REALLY hard to improve their work AND they got their name out there -- going to conventions, entering competitions, awards, finding multiple outlets for their work, etc.

    ---

    By the way, there is some controversy over the GAG price guide -- it definitely helps young artists get a handle on fees, but there are people who make a case that they have contributed to the stagnation fees. That art directors have taken the current day average to mean "the" price to incorporate into their budgets.

    --

    * The usua caveat: This is just my wee self's point of view. I'm sure I'm missing perspective on some angle...Gotta love the dialogue, though.

  26. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by Irene Gallo
    Artists definitely get better. I'm sure people like Donato, or Tristan, or Foster (you out there?), can point at some work from their past that they'd laugh at now. (I only mention them by name since they're friends and wont get TOO mad at me...I hope! ) But you're right, by the time they start making a name for themselves and you start to notice them, they are solid. That's why I think it takes a number of years after college before anyone can hope to be living off their freelance jobs.
    It's funny that you should mention Donato, because I was gonig to point to him as an example of someone who you can see has progressed. If you troll through his site, you find some of his older works and they don't have the same visual impact as his newer works.

    Donato Giancola

    For example, here's an "earlier" work of his Brand: Son of Bard compared to one of his most recent: The White Rider

    There's a definate progression there, both in composition, colour, and just all the way around dynamic.

    Also, if you happen to read his bio, he tells you what he had to go through to get where he is. It's both inspirational, and a little daunting. Plus, if anyone ever has the chance to correspond with him, he's a heck of a guy. Very kind.

    Regards.
    ~Shane

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    One of my teachers at Art Center had a six-figure income, but he did a lot of work for corporations and advertising (annual reports, etc.).

    Illustrators used to move to NYC to get started and quickly move to less expensive areas after they were established. I put this in the past-tense because I'm not sure how it works these days. I've been free-lancing, but only in my own little niche--so I'm not entirely up on the state of the business.

    I do know that it has changed a lot since I graduated (in '89). I mean--they used to still have big-name fashion illustrators when I was in school, and that's one of the areas that has died out for illustrators. Movie posters, too, were still (more of) an option then. Since then, the market overall has seemed to have shrunk. Friends report that Soc. of Illustrators groups have become less active as free-lancers dwindle.

    Many of them have gone in-house if they could. I know book cover and comics guys who have been seeking (and getting) positions in video game companies and in film. Other illustrators have tried spreading out into gallery work (which was always an option--only now it's more of one as other markets have died away).

    There ARE ways to make money, but you have to be good enough and you have to be smart (business-wise) and have the right kind of art.

    Fantasy/SF is a limited field in which to make money in. Say you've got the right look for book covers; you still have to get quite a few cover assignments in order to make up that (rather measely) 20K a year (yeah, sure 20K is OK if you're living somewhere other than NYC, but most guys have to put in some time there when they're starting out so that doesn't count!). Getting one 4k job won't cut it. You'd have to have at least 5 a year, and either a SO with a good job or lots of room-mates if you're living in a place like NYC.

    To add to your income you'd better have some other sources of work or money. These can be art-related. If you have the right kind of images you can sell prints and originals. This takes time and money, though, unless you are going through someone like Norm who will buy at wholesale and take care of stuff like matting and retailing them. Or have your originals handled by Jane at Worlds of Wonder--or something like that. Yeah--there aren't a lot of those people around, but really, it's because it's a pretty small market.

    Others have tried marketing outside the genre audience--there are fairy artists getting into places like Hot Topic. Ages ago--there was Sue Dawe who sold had her Unicorns on school notebook covers and calendars. There's places like the Franklin Mint. But it's still a limited market. Good enough for the few who can get in, though. Having original creations that you can own and market can be important. Really--going the Thomas Kinkaid route (mass-marketing prints and little figurines) is not something to ignore if you're trying to make a living from your art.

    Or you can try and be more mainstream in your content and also sell to non-SF/F markets. The money is still where it always was: in big corporations and in advertising.

    There is work in films--special effects, concepts, design, storyboarding, mattes, etc. But that's getting away from freelance illustration. The movie poster biz is almost dead unless your name is Drew.

    I'm actually thinking of getting back into full-time free-lance illustration. But I know I'll take a huge hit in income. For the past ten years I've been in-house working on computer games, but like the whole ea_spouse thing, I am being forced to get out for a while, just for the sake of health and sanity. Working 80 hours plus a week makes the fun job a lot less fun!

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    he's a heck of a guy. Very kind.
    I agree! I had the privilege of attending one of his lectures. He shared his development as an artist which was both inspiring and amazing. Inspiring because with his dedication to his art and professionalism (e.g. even for a Walmart job he did at the beginning of his career he still painted a gallery quality painting for a book cover) he is where he is right now.

    Amazing because he gave a slideshow survey of his work and you'd see that there's just a big contrast in quality to what he was painting or drawing before when he was student to what he's capable and known for now.

    And the few sketchbooks (portraits and studies in sanguine, black and white conte (?) on butcher paper) and large format preparatory sketches that he provided were pretty mind blowing too.

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    Question How many illustrations a year?

    So, assume a new illustrator is able to find a art director willing to give them a chance. The illustration is delivered on time and the AD likes it. How likely is that illustrator to get repeat work from that AD in a timely manner (within the year)?

    What I'm getting at is how difficult is it to land twelve jobs a year as a new freelance illustrator? Or maybe the better question is how many jobs should a new illustrator expect to get in a year when starting out? Kind of hard to answer that one-- given that it's so subjective; but, hopefully someone will take a shot at it.

    What can be done to ensure that you continue to get work and what should be avoided-- you know the things that will just kill or hamper a career?

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    Quote Originally Posted by jlward
    So, assume a new illustrator is able to find a art director willing to give them a chance. The illustration is delivered on time and the AD likes it. How likely is that illustrator to get repeat work from that AD in a timely manner (within the year)?

    What I'm getting at is how difficult is it to land twelve jobs a year as a new freelance illustrator? Or maybe the better question is how many jobs should a new illustrator expect to get in a year when starting out? Kind of hard to answer that one-- given that it's so subjective; but, hopefully someone will take a shot at it.

    What can be done to ensure that you continue to get work and what should be avoided-- you know the things that will just kill or hamper a career?
    Well, the first thing is whether or not these are small jobs, or something like book covers.

    In the time that I've been freelancing, just under a year, I've had... just over 50 jobs, several of which I'm working on now, with more to come. This hasn't really been consistant, and has seem to run in batches. For instance, I've probably got more work than I can realistically handle right now. The trouble is that these are all low paying projects at the moment, and I'm starting to feel a tad burned out.

    The main thing that I've found is keep your name out there. Send off inquiries for the type of work you are interested in. Then resend it again a few months later. The first time I did this, *no one*, out of almost a 100 publishers/game companies I sent stuff to responded. Of course, at that point my portfolio pretty well sucked like a black hole. Plus, my website was a wee bit scary. So, I revamped it. Culled out images that didn't really represent my skills, redesigned my site and sent inquiries out again.

    This time I got a lot of interest. No deals, yet. But I got about a 65% response rate from the same people that I had proposed the first time.

    The other thing is that if you get work from someone, don't be afraid to ask for more. I've done this, and do this. And do it. And do it again until they throw me a bone to shut me up Now, it's gotten to where I don't really have to ask as much, and I have kind of an idea of their publishing cycle. The trouble is, again, it doesn't pay well. So I'm looking at adjusting what I'm doing *again* to try and bring in better paying work.

    Some of the more experienced artists can correct me here, but I think the main thing is striking a balance between clients that you know and are comfortable with you, and bringing new ones on board. Eventually, you will hit a point where you are not looking for work any longer, and it is coming to you. But that takes a while.

    Not sure if that answered your question or not, but I hope it helps some.

    regards,
    ~Shane

    [edit] It also depends on what type of income you need as well. For instance, if you are young and single, you can get by with a lot less than, say, someone like me, who's married, has 2 kids, a psychotic dog, 2 cats, car payment and a mortgage. So, it tends to be a bit on the relative side.
    Last edited by S.C. Watson; November 25th, 2004 at 12:38 AM.

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    hey, i will not be of much help here but i thought i would add my head nod to what irene is saying.

    skill and drive are very much the priorities but making friends and networking, yes that strange business sounding word, are essential tools plus they are fun. you make so many new friends from different walks of life. You can not help but gain new perspectives and knowledge.

    i love to go to the san diego comic con. i have met many of my friends there and many of my art heroes. other artist have, on the spot ,gotten me work that they themselves could not take on because of a heavy work load.

    irene is a great friend of mine. she would be a great friend with out having work with her. she is just cool. This is important to know when you meet people, it ls not just what they can do for you but more about making new friends and expanding your own social understanding.

    as for money, i have had years that were extremely lucrative and the next year i am making way less than half of that of the previous year. it is hard, you need to save, plan for taxes and look for new work all the time.

    i am sorry i am not of much help. i am not sure how to make things solid and dependable except to try your best and being professional.

  32. #30
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    Quote Originally Posted by foster
    i am sorry i am not of much help. i am not sure how to make things solid and dependable except to try your best and being professional.
    Hi Jon,

    Thank you so much for your post!

    Actually, that was a great deal of help, thanks! It just ads to the picture and helps solidify what a lot of less experienced artists can expect. I know it's hard to give specifics because everyone's journey is going to be different, and there's going to be a multitude of circumstances at work, but things like this help build a general idea.

    Speaking of Networking, one thing that I've been wracking my brains about, and am a little terrified about (though I don't like to admit it) is going to a con. I've *never* been one, professionally or otherwise, and don't really know what to expect in terms of getting exposure for my work.

    I'm personally planning on going to the next San Diego con, as I've heard nothing but good things about that from a number of people (that's in July, right...? )

    What should I anticipate taking with me if I'm looking for work? I mean, would a loose leaf binder/portfolio work, or should I take matted prints... do I need wall space... I know I sound totally niave here, and, well, it's because I am when it comes to this aspect - what should I do, and how should I do it..?

    Any feedback from anyone would be great!

    Thanks,
    ~Shane
    Last edited by S.C. Watson; November 26th, 2004 at 02:31 PM.

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