Game art is a dude’s game. If we have such a thing as ‘famous names’ in the art that brings our game worlds to life, they’re usually white dudes. Often, they’re dudes who deserve praise because they’re worth their salt. They have the ins, they’ve been to the Conventions, they know who to email, or people know to email them. They don’t need to break in, these guys, because they’re already in. That doesn’t mean there isn’t room for you ‘in.’ You probably are not already in, or you would have skipped this article with an eye roll. This is entry level stuff, here, so if you’re a little beyond what I’m talking about, don’t be insulted, not every beginner needs all advice, and of course, YMMV. (Some of this advice applies to writing as well, but hold on writers, I’ll get to you later, promise.)
What Am I Looking At?
If you want to be a professional, you have to pretend that you are one even before you are one. (And probably for a while afterward.) I don’t mean you have to put on a dress shirt and slacks when you email me, I mean you need a portfolio online I can see and look at. I’ve had artists ask me for work and then tell me, ‘I don’t have any samples, but I’ll send you sketches on this project when I start it.’ This is a no. I’m not the big money deal, I’m not Wizards of the Coast, but if you assume I’m going to waste my time, sight unseen, on an artist who can’t be bothered to post something online before now, I don’t know how seriously you take this whole thing. There is no excuse not to have an online portfolio. None. There are plenty of sites that will host you for free, and free is good when you’re starting out. (A good googling will get you plenty of sites. Maybe people with some experience with specific sites will drop some suggestions in the comments.)
I’ve talked about this a bit with Fred Hicks. DA is a fine site for storing your work, showing off what you do to friends and fellow gamers, and of course, it has a community all its own. Those things are awesome. That said, as someone hiring an artist, I tend to cringe when a potential artist sends me a link to DA. Why? Two main reasons, really. First, the site itself is, shall we say, unclean. I don’t mean in any moralistic way, I mean its hard to navigate and confusing. An artsts front page is often cluttered with other people’s work and it is very very easy to navigated away from the work of the artist in question. Believe me, the last thing you want is for my gut opinion of your work to be tainted by other work, or worse, made to look not so good. The other problem is the tendency for artists to use it as storage space instead of portfolio space. Honestly, I don’t want to see the sloppy sketches of dragons you did five years ago. There may be nothing wrong with you sketch work, but if you really want to wow me and catch my eye, make sure I’m only seeing your polished work first. That seems to be a difficult thing to do on DA, I’m not sure if you can have folders on the site or not, but if so, artsts I’ve seen tend not to use them.
Aim and Hit Me Where it Counts
That sort of brings me to another point. Target your portfolio and send me samples that fit what I ask for. If I’m known for making gritty Cyberpunk games, of the All Call is specifically for a gritty cyberpunk game, sending me to a portfiolio that has one cyberpunkish images and a whole lot of anthropomorphic animals making out, and I’m going to closed that browser tab faster than I can type ‘no thank you’ in he follow up email. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with your fuzzy people making out art, but only send me to look at it if you know I’m making a game about fuzzy people making out. This goes triple for erotic or pornographic images. I have, more than once, been sent art by potential artist that was so graphic with no warning that I needed a shower afterward. (“Oh look, a sunset with tenticles…. Wait… THAT’s NOT A SUNSET! ARGHGHG!!!!”) Do the art that inspires you. Do the art that you’re interested in. Do the art you’re paid for. Just try to group similar styles or concepts together in your portfolio. DnDish art can get you a lot of work, but if it isn’t what I’m looking for, I may skip you for an artist who sent me a far more targeted sample. Why? Mostly because its an early sign that you can follow directions. Writers deal with this all the time when they submit short stories and novels to publishers. You’re every bit as professional as a writer, so show it! Target me an hit me with your best shot.
Just Go For It
The most important thing about breaking in is that you have to try. A lot. The chances are very slim that someone is going to notice you shyly scribbling in a coffee shop. Gasp at your work and give you a huge contract with WotC right on the spot. I do sometimes contact artsts I see on the web and hire them. However, even in that case, they’re putting good samples out there in a format I can see. If you aren’t out there, I can’t find you. More than that, don’t self select out of All Calls because you have ‘no shot’ or ‘aren’t qualified.’ Women are often trained to do this. To defer to anyone other than themselves. You need it stop that. You need to embrace your own success an talent. Unless the All Call has specific requiments you can’t handle, (must be able to work on Illistrater when you only know photopshop,) the worst that can happen is that you’re told no. If the want anime style art an you can’t do anime style art, okay, sure. But if your reason is some amorphous ‘I’m not good enough,’ than you need to shut that voice up. If you kill your career by not even trying, you’re not doing anyone any favors. The very worst that can happen is that you get a snippy email back saying you totally suck and that the art director is laughing at you. And frankly, if that’s the way they respond, you’ll have a great letter to share with the world when you’re a beloved and successful artist. So even that lose is a win. See how it works?