WARNING: This post has an over-abundance of the word “goal”. It is used an absurd amount of times.
I’ve mentioned before that one of the most important things an artist has to do to be successful is to set goals. That seems simple enough but it can be a pretty daunting and discouraging endeavor especially if you don’t know where to start. How do you set goals when you don’t even know what kinds of goals you should have?
I struggled with this for a long time until I started reading up on what it means to really set and reach your goals in life.
It turns out that the process is pretty simple. I’ll break down how I created the goals I’ve created, which goals have changed (and why) and which goals I’ve reached so far.
The method I use is the S.M.A.R.T. method. It stands for Specific Measurable Attainable Realistic and Timely.
Specific means that it is a goal that is defined easily such as “learn to write in calligraphy” or “run a 5k” or “drive a manual transmission vehicle.” This is the who, what, when, where, and why.
Measurable means that it’s something that you can easily determine as a goal you’ve met. How will you know your goal has been accomplished?
Attainable means that it’s a goal you can achieve through certain steps and hard work.
Realistic doesn’t mean it has to be a small goal. It can be a high goal and still be realistic if it’s something you’re able and willing to work for. Setting goals and planning how to achieve them can make nearly any seemingly insurmountable obstacle obsolete.
Timely means you have a certain date by which you would like to reach your goal. This doesn’t have to be 100% concrete, but giving yourself a sort of deadline will help motivate you to get moving on the smaller steps today.
Seems simple enough, no?
When I started out with illustration, I knew I eventually wanted to illustrate cards for Magic: the Gathering. It’s a pretty common target for fantasy artists to be aiming for, and it’s my biggest goal to date. I figured to get to that point, I would have to improve my work to the point of being comfortable submitting a portfolio, and to also work for other card game companies in order to gain experience working with art directors in general.
So, I started a little smaller, but still exciting. I would work for Fantasy Flight Games, or something similar. I looked at their art and felt I could achieve that level.
Specific – Get hired to illustrate cards for Fantasy Flight Games.
Measurable – I will have been commissioned by FFG to illustrate cards.
Attainable – I am a freelance fantasy illustrator and FFG hires freelance fantasy illustrators. I know I am capable of illustrating characters very similar to their style without compromising my own work and style. *This one is very important as I’ll discuss in a future blog post.
Realistic – I am willing and able to study to improve my skill set in order to reach the level of skill expected for FFG cards. There is nothing stopping me from reaching this goal eventually, even if it takes longer than expected. It is within my overall career plan and will not conflict with other areas of my life to a detrimental degree.
Timely – I will be hired for my first set of cards by summer 2014.
I set about creating tasks for myself that would help me to get hired by Fantasy Flight Games. I realized that one of the best ways to get noticed in the industry is to have a table or booth at a convention, and that the best convention for myself would be Spectrum Fantastic Art Live. In January 2014, I did not feel I had enough original work to constitute having a booth at Spectrum, but believed I would be able to crank out enough work to show at an Artist Alley Table. I registered and confirmed my booth immediately. Once that was done, I decided I needed at least 5 new illustrations that accurately portrayed my skill set and demonstrated my ability to produce interesting and believable characters. I began sketching out ideas and scouring the internet for references and source material to help inspire me. In the meantime, I also researched how to make my Artist Alley table stand out in the crowd and how to make it look presentable and professional.
I also started reading up on how to talk to art directors and learned which art directors worked for which companies. I had missed the deadline for signing up for portfolio reviews, but I was confident that having a presence at Spectrum would yield positive results. I knew Zoë Robinson, art director for FFG, would be in attendance and worked out what I would say to her if I had the opportunity to meet her.
Once at Spectrum, I kept a professional yet approachable demeanor and chatted with hundreds of people from passersby to other artists. I spoke to a few artists I admired to try to ease the nervousness I felt at the thought of approaching a potential big name client.
By the time the very fortunate moment arrived, I was ready and willing to open myself up to the opportunity. Zoë happened by my table and I introduced myself. I offered her a postcard that I felt showed off my skills and had all of my contact information. She gave me some pointers and guidance on how to improve my work and encouraged me to keep studying. I felt good about the encounter and decided I would implement her suggestions in a few new pieces to send to her within the month (another SMART goal was set!).
I didn’t get the chance to meet that new SMART goal, though. She contacted me within a week of Spectrum! I was hired to illustrate 2 cards.
I felt exhilarated! I was SO excited. GOAL ACHIEVED!
This presented the opportunity to take another step toward my Mt. Everest. I knew from talking to other artists and art directors, that working hard and doing the absolute best job you can will result in your name being passed around to other art directors in other companies. Conversely, if you slack off and phone it in so to speak, your name will be passed around negatively.
NEW GOAL: Knock those illustrations out of the park.
The cool thing about achieving what I’ve achieved is that I really enjoy illustrating cards for FFG and for Zoë. It helped confirm that my larger goals are definitely something I want to go for, while also enjoying the work I am getting with Fantasy Flight.
This was just an example, though. Your goals may be to work in the movie industry as a matte painter or concept artist. Maybe you want to become a gallery artist and sell your paintings for tens of thousands of dollars.
M:tG isn’t my final goal. Honestly, I don’t have a final goal and don’t ever intend to have a final goal regardless of what I achieve. Someday, I’ll produce my own IP. I’d like to illustrate book covers and box art. Maybe I’ll do character concept art for a AAA game. I don’t know what goals I’ll set in the future, I just know that I’ll continue to set them as I achieve those I’ve set previously. That’s the beauty of it all, innit? Forward momentum, pushing yourself to see just what you can do.
It doesn’t much matter what your goals are, so long as they are S.M.A.R.T!
I challenge you to sit down today and write out your biggest goal and a couple of smaller goals. Then, start figuring out the steps you need to take! Write them down, make a checklist, write a blog post about it. Just do it!
DO THE THING!