ART FOR TABLETOP GAMES PART 3: Get an online portfolio
Welcome to my third in the series about being a freelance artist for the tabletop games industry! This one is more specific to artists and I guess, anyone who does anything visually (web designer, graphic designer, videographer etc).
I get asked a lot about how to get work as a freelance artist. That’s a really tricky question because the industry is moving at such a rate, it changes constantly. I recommend that you find companies that you want to work for and keep an eye on their websites and social media in case they do call outs. But also, don’t shy away from contacting companies directly with some examples of your work. Find online groups and forums as well as Facebook groups. Here’s a few I can remember off the top of my head, but there are loads!
But one thing you will always be expected to show when talking to a prospective employer is your portfolio. Having physical art you can show someone is great! But in this day and age of technology, if you’re serious about working as a freelancer, then get an online portfolio. Now.
There are again loads and loads of ways to do this. Something like Deviant Art or ArtStation will do. Some people have Facebook Pages, some have specific websites just for their work. There’s a lot of discussions about which ones are better than others, but my number one statement is this: get one. It’s easy to put it off because you want it to be ‘right’ but it’s always better to have something rather than nothing.
I’ve made a list of Do’s and Don’ts. This is not exhaustive, but hopefully, it’ll help with getting it set up quickly and with a good appeal.
Do put a range of work in there from different genres and using different techniques and styles
Do have a range of different scales of artwork – small thumbnail portraits to single figure vignettes to battle scenes to page fillers
Do show step by step shots of how you work up to a final piece
Do include hand drawn as well as digital art – it demonstrates you *can* and not rely on photo refs for everything
Do show people your portfolio
Do put your contact details or have a direct messaging option on your portfolio
Do start your portfolio NOW before you’ve done all of the stuff above. Get something up, now!
Do seek feedback
Do keep updating your portfolio
Don’t put anything in your portfolio you don’t want to do
There is nothing worse than asking someone to do artwork based on their portfolio and it turns out they hated doing that piece so do a bad job or want to charge more money after you’ve already agreed on a fee).
Don’t include art that isn’t at the same quality as the rest because you want to show ‘breadth’.
I know I just said you should above. But if you have a dodgy pencil drawing of some wonky pots next to your awesome photo composite art of a battle scene on the moon, it will put people off. Don’t include huge battle scenes if they’re not something you’re good at. Etc, etc. An artist is expected to have a discerning eye when it comes to good art. Being honest about your work and putting up your best stuff is important. Check out my blog about feedback for more tips. However, being honest means being happy with stuff too and appreciating when you’ve done something well. Embrace the different but good. Even if it’s out your comfort zone. It takes strength and honesty to be proud of your work, just as much as to admit something needs work.
Don’t have nothing but naked/ mostly naked ladies in your portfolio.
It’s sad that I have to say this. But I have seen so many portfolios of beautifully drawn, gorgeously rendered naked ladies and nothing else. It doesn’t matter if some of them are fantasy and some are alien and some are half-spider. If all you have is scantily clad ‘sexy’ chicks then it just feels puerile and makes people think you are incapable of variety or change. Even if you are. One of my favourite artists I ever worked with didn’t get the job for a year because of this. Once he started working on the stuff I asked him to, he was great! But be aware that variety doesn’t just mean setting, it’s subject matter too.
Don’t have nothing but *insert thing here*
On a lesser note, don’t just draw Pokemon, or people’s eyes, or weapons or horses or etc. Unless you’re aiming for a REALLY specific demographic here, you’re going to need to expand it. Every artist has their favourite ‘thing’ to draw. But as a freelancer, you don’t have that luxury. It’ll also be great practice to start pushing yourself out of that comfort zone now!
Don’t be dishonest about your art.
Again, I’m saying this for a sense of competition – but this should be obvious. Don’t steal people’s work and claim it as your own. Don’t do a slight redraw on someone else’s work and put the whole piece up on your portfolio with no comment, people are going to think you drew the whole thing. If you were a part of the team who worked on some art, then be honest about what you actually did on that piece. If you are applying to do portrait work and you submit a portrait and say you were ‘part of the team’ that did it, people are going to assume you drew it. If it turns out all you did was put some light effects on it at the end, then you are being dishonest. Don’t steal people’s IP and claim it as your own. Doing a homage piece of Warhammer 40,000 art is fine (as long as you don’t sell it or make any profit from it – that’ll get you into hot water) but don’t see someone’s cool dragon-unicorn hybrid fighting a sharkadon and copy it, then claim you came up with the idea. All these things are bad. As well as being deeply disrespectful to your peers. Let’s raise one another up instead. It’s so much nicer that way.
Don’t leave your portfolio to rot.
I can’t decide if you’ll be good for my project if a load of work you’ve done since isn’t there. As people work more and more in the industry they’ll get better, they’ll have a wider range of skills and probably in more industry-specific formats (card art box cover, page fillers, the list could be endless). Keep your portfolio up to date with the most recent work you’ve done.
Don’t break NDA’s or show work off early before you’re supposed to
On the other end of the spectrum, don’t show off work for a specific game before you’ve been given permission to by your client. Don’t break Non-Disclosure Agreements by showing off that latest marine on your portfolio, name-dropping the company you’re working with – before they’ve even announced they’re doing anything with marines. Generally, people agree to a release date with their clients, at which point they can then share their work.
I’ve gone on a lot about DON’TS. But really, the general rule of thumb is don’t be a dick. If something feels like it might be dickish – don’t do it. A general rule of thumb for life really.
The key is if you want to be a freelance artist you need a portfolio. Preferably one I can find somewhere without having a link. It would be great if that portfolio has up to date work that shows variety and has your contact details. Now, go do it.