Friday, December 26, 2014

The Shortcut to getting a Job as a Professional Concept Artist

Seven artists are in a room discussing what is the BEST way to get an Art job. The first artist says "I got my job through HARD WORK! I work 12-14 hours everyday. There are no shortcuts!" The second artist says - "No no no, it's all about networking. It's not about how well you draw but who you know." The third artist says - "You have to get with the times! You have to market yourself on the internet, Facebook, twitter,  art station etc..." Every artist had their opinion on how to get a job and they bickered for hours without being able to come up with a conclusion.

If you ever heard of the allegory about the seven blind men and the elephant - you know where this is going. Everyone has their unique perspective.  Today, I would like to share my point of view with you. I'm going to discuss a methodology on getting an art job - which is based on business principles - and is what I believe to be the most DIRECT way on approaching your job search.

Overview - Traditional Method

First all, I want to say that there are lots of great articles out there. I think every approach is valid in there own way. What all of these articles have in common is the the idea of you being an "artist." You - as an "artist" - work hard to develop your technique, style, skill, build a portfolio and apply to jobs.

Anthony Jones - Shortcut to becoming an amazing artist is hard work.
Ty Carter - Components of a successful portfolio. 
Bobby Chiu - Social networking for artists. 
Chris Oatley-  Concept artist career guide
Noah Bradley  - How to be a professional artist without going to college

The Golden Rule for business is to Put yourself in Your Customer's Place

Even though I am an artist, I view myself as a businessman  and the golden rule for every business man is to put yourself in your customer's place. And with that in mind, I developed the new paradigm of 1) understand your client. 2) build a targeted and focused portfolio from your client research. 3) get the job.  Because we start from the end goal in mind, I believe this approach is much more direct. Even though this methodology has worked for myself - however I also attribute my success to a combination of hard work, networking, social media etc...

Client Research Tutorial - Step 1) Google your client/ employer

Just like how traditional illustrators like JC Leyendecker, and Norman Rockwell spend a lot of time and energy shooting reference photos for their illustrations. I think you a serious job candidate should spend a good amount of time and energy studying their employer before building their portfolio.

Decide on your industry: (animation/ video game/ theme park design) and Google it! Try search terms such as: "Animation Studio LA."  "Theme park design studio". "Video Game Studio OC." I can't speak for the rest of the world, but if you live in Southern California - there is an ABUNDANCE of opportunity that people are blind to (I found a list of 50+ video games studios in OC last I checked)  I think it's neglectful when a student fails to research their industry because they think the only companies that exist are Disney, Dreamworks, Pixar, Blizzard etc...

Compile your research together and find out everything you can about that company. What projects have they worked on? Company culture. Location. Blog. Twitter. Facebook page. Pretend you are a detective and learn everything about them.

Some companies will have a section on their website saying they are looking for potential employees. If you have an opportunity to submit a resume - do it. 

Step 2) Research employees via Linked In

Some companies have pictures and names of the employees on their website - which make it easy. For other companies, you will need to type in the company name into for a list of their employees. (the wider your network is, the more search results you will get)

Artists will often have a portfolio website/ blog on their Linked in page. (If they don't - you can google their name to find it.) Check out their portfolio to see what is the level of work that is required to get a job at the company. You can learn a lot about the company by the type of employees that it hires. Also, you can also see their past employment history to learn about other employers that might interest you. If they are a senior level concept artist, they will often have interviews, publications, tutorials, or even classes!

Step 3) Initiate Contact + Establish a Relationship

Now is a good opportunity to also establish contact with the artist who works at the company you want to work at. There are a variety of ways such as email, commenting on their blog, Facebook message etc... (if you Facebook message them, it only costs $1 to send a message directly to their inbox - a great investment! If your message goes into their "other folder" - they will NEVER see it)

If you email them, remember that no one likes to give shit away for free... except for one thing - their OPINION!!

Email format 

1) Compliment - say you've read their interview, follow their blog, like their artwork etc...

2) Ask for opinion on something.  Keep it simple and easy to answer. You should phrase it in a way that makes them feel important. 

3) Tell them about yourself. Who are you? School, experience etc...  Sneak some more questions in there if you can. And a link to your portfolio.


"Hey  John! I just wanted wanted to say I really love your artwork man. That environment painting you last posted on Facebook is so awesome. You are an inspiration to me. 

I'm a student in art school right now, and I was wondering if I could ask your opinion on something? What do you think is something that can make an artist stand out if they are applying to your game company? 

I'm currently going to school at xxxx and blah blah (tell about yourself and background). I really like the games that your company as worked on. I love xxxx game and xxxxx game.  I actually submitted a portfolio and resume through the company website.  If you have time, would you mind glancing at my portfolio and let me know what you think? ( - that would totally be awesome. Otherwise - no problem!

Have a great day man!
- Christopher

Be Persistent

If they don't reply to your initial reply - don't hesitate to send them another email a week later! Chance are - they were very busy - and simply didn't have time to reply. If you send two emails, it shows that you are persistent and serious about your career. If they still don't reply, you can try respectfully sending a third email 1 month later. But if they still don't reply, don't sweat it. There are plenty of other companies out there and people who will be happy to answer your questions!

Now that you've established a inside contact at the company, try to maintain a casual but respectful relationship. Remember you a detective doing research! There is IMPORTANT information you need to know about getting a job! Within 2-3 emails exchanges, ask the following questions.

Important questions

1) Who is in charge of hiring? This is the person who you should be contacting!! Sometime the person hiring is not an artist - but instead an Human Resources person.

2) How often do they hire? This way you can get a sense of when they might have openings.

3) Do they have any internships? (Some large studios like Disney like these programs, but are very competitive to get in. In a video, Disney artist Victoria Ying said she applied 3 times before getting into Disney Animation's Visual Development apprenticeship program.

4) Do they have entry level (non-experienced) positions? Some really large studios only hire senior level concept artists, which means if you don't many years of experience - you don't get a job. If that is the case, see if they can suggest some smaller studios that hire entry level positions)

5) **What is the job description for their ideal candidate? What does the ideal portfolio look like? Examples? What are the submission guidelines, portfolio requirements? Art test?**  This is the GOLDEN question! Remember how I told you that a businessman should think like their client? You need to find who is their "dream artist." Once you are thinking about THEIR needs instead of your own. Once you shift your thinking to helping others instead of promoting yourself - you will see a world of new opportunities!

Step 4) Build the Portfolio

This part is a little bit more open ended. Now that you've established contact with your future employer, do whatever it takes to make yourself that ideal job candidate. It might mean furthering your skills by taking class, workshops, self-study, books, blogs, conventions etc... Or if your skill level is already sufficient, and you just need to do art of a certain subject matter or style! This step could take anywhere from a couple of months to a couple of years depending on where you are.

Follow up with your contact whenever you finished revamping your portfolio to see what they think. Although a job is not guaranteed, you can become the first person they think of when they have an opening.

Case Study: Myself

Back in 2012 - I showed my portfolio to one of my art teachers. He simply asked me - "What do you want to do?" "I want to be a theme park designer" - I told him. "Well, this actually looks more like a game design portfolio."

And there I had my "AH-HA!" moment. Back in 2012, I wasn't getting theme park jobs because I didn't have a "theme park portfolio." And I wasn't getting video game jobs either. Over the course of the next year, I researched a lot of theme park companies, talked to theme park illustrators, joined a club called the "Themed Entertainment Association," attended theme park conferences and read theme park blogs and books. I only added 3 new illustrations to my portfolio, and I was able to get my first theme park job and I've been working in the industry ever since then. Did my technique improve in those 3 illustrations? Not really, but the illustrations were much more informed, specific and useful! I was able to paint a much clearer vision for my employer; I was able to sell them the idea of me working on their projects.

Ok - lastly, I need to tell you that every methodology has it's pro and cons. Here I will discuss some things to help prepare you.

Pros of Getting a Job FAST

- Positive cash flow. Once you get a job - no matter how small the company - you are earning money. Furthermore, your job can fund your further education and development of artistic skill through workshop and classes.

- Learn faster. Many professional artists will tell you that their real learning started when they finished art school and started working professionally. The studio environment, other artist will inspire you. The fast deadlines will make you work faster and accumulate more experience. The job hurdles and challenges will make you stronger as an artist.

Cons of Getting a Job FAST

- You might not be fully prepared for the job and might disappoint your employer.  Sometimes your portfolio looks really awesome, but you aren't able to deliver on the job because the deadlines are too fast, the subject matter is out of your comfort zone, or you are juggling multiple clients.  Even talented artists at Disney or Pixar have talked about disappointing 1-2 clients during their career.  I've disappointed my employer on my first assignment as well.  Everyone makes mistakes - it happens to everyone you shouldn't be afraid of making a fool of yourself.

- If all you care about if getting a job and making money, you might be not artistically fulfilled or happy. Contrary to what many artists do, I make it a point to separate work and play. I create illustrations for my clients - which I enjoy doing - but I also do other types of art and hobbies that are totally fun and give me pleasure. It's important to have a work/ life balance so you don't stress out too much.

- This advice is only for getting your foot in the door - so you can make money and gain experience. But once you get the industry, you still need invest in your long term artistic career.  You may need to constantly develop your skills and work hard.

- Just because I'm advertising this methodology as a shortcut does not mean that it's the fastest. As you have experienced on the freeway, sometimes the most direct route is not always the fastest or easiest. A longer path might prove to be faster or even just more pleasurable. Everyone has their own preference.

- This methodology does not work in isolation. I have combined my knowledge of business principles with my work ethic and art training to get to where I am today. I believe you may incorporate this new methodology with what you are currently doing to get even greater results!


Thank you for reading this article. I have worked on this article for about 1 an entire year and spent a lot of time thinking about it. I hope it helps you. Do try it out, incorporate the golden rule of business into your life and let me know if it works! Thanks!

- Christopher


  1. Great blog post! From a soon-graduating student perspective this is a gold, thanks for sharing.

  2. Great blog post Christopher really informative ! thanks for sharing


  3. Thanks Betty and Janos! Glad you guys liked the information! Good luck with your school and studies - but more importantly - focus on finding the job! Keep the end goal in mind. A good paying art Job > art degree with no job.

  4. Thanks for this post Chris, totally right i never seen in this way before, but now i have only one big " but" is that I´m a mexicana rtist do you think this works too for foreign artist living in another countries?
    Thanks again Chris and I still a mlot of work to do, Thanks Chris! :D

    1. Hey Jonathan - thanks. I can't say if it works for you in other countries. I haven't tried it!

      Best bet of action is to contact other Mexican artists and ask how they did it.

    2. Thanks for the answer Chris, yeah you´re eight, i need ot find artist who make it in the states :p.
      Thanks Again Chris! :D

    3. No problem man. Try to google "mexican concept artist"

  5. Hello! I seriously cannot thank you enough for posting this! It's so friendly and relatable yet extremely helpful. I was wondering if you had an IG or other social media accounts? You just seem like an incredibly great role model and a good person to go to for questions and or advice. If not, I just really have to express my appreciation for this, it seriously helped me out! :)