How to Pitch Yourself to Local Shops (fantasy illustrator)

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I’ve been asked by a few people how I got stores to invite me to attend in-store events such as the pre-release for Dragons of Tarkir. I am not a Magic: the Gathering artist… yet. How did I get noticed by local stores?

This post will talk about how I specifically made this happen, but the methods can be applied for many different types of artists. My hope is that you can get yourself in front of a local fanbase, which is the beginning of really taking control of your own art career!

1. Identify stores with products or art that is similar to your own.

First things first (I’m the realest). What type of art do you produce? For me, it was really easy to find which stores may be interested in my art, because I am a Fantasy RPG artist. My paintings already seem to fit well in games such as Magic: the Gathering, Lord of the Rings LCG, Pathfinder RPG, and Game of Thrones LCG. Knowing this, I located stores in my area (a radius of approximately 2 hours) that hold events that cater to games such as these. Friday Night Magic, Sunday D&D, Thursday Night Commander, etc. It does help that I have clients such as Fantasy Flight Games and Paizo, though, but that is just another bonus selling point. Figure out your specific bonus selling points!

2. Prepare your pitch.

These stores are running a business. While a few of them will be interested in supporting local artists (these gems are amazing to find, by the way, much love to store owners who want to showcase local talent.), most of them are going to be more interested in what your presence in their store will do for them. In my case, I sell playmats that tabletop gamers are interested in and I am open to sketch commissions. Custom ACEO sketch cards are a great low-dollar item you can offer to fans and gamers to decorate their card boxes or to be used as tokens in-game.

Before you go to the location, gather up your merchandise and do not forget business cards! At the very least, you can ask if you can leave behind a few cards, and customers may contact you for commissions. Take 1 or 2 of each item you want to offer into the store with you, but have more in the car! If they want to carry your merchandise, it’ll help if you have plenty on offer.

Knowing that many gamers are eager to pick up original art to show off during tournaments, you can talk to the owner/manager of the store about the possibility of advertising your appearance in conjunction with a tournament or expansion release date to draw in more players. Once you’ve had one successful in-store event, players generally ask the store employees when you’ll be returning!

Another thing I do as an incentive for the store is offer my merchandise at a discount for them to sell at retail. That way, everyone makes a cut of the profit. Some stores will go for this, especially if they want to support a local artist, and some will pass up the deal because my prices will generally be higher than, say, StarCityGames.com or another mass producer of playmats. That’s fine. Maybe they’ll do consignment. Or maybe they’re only interested in having you come by for appearances. Decide what you’re comfortable with, and be flexible!

Me upon introducing myself:

3. Ask yourself all of these questions, and have answers ready:

How much are you selling your item for at retail? How much are you willing to mark it down for retailers? For what percentage are you willing to sell it on consignment?

Generally, I mark off about 10% for retailers for consignment, and up to 20% for retail (meaning, they buy the item outright, and sell it for whatever they think it will sell). Keep in mind that, while you won’t make as much cash off of a transaction when dealing with the retailers, you are getting your products in front of the public in ways you may not have been able to before. The in-store appearances are where you’ll make the best cash!

4. Be presentable.

This seems like common sense, but I’m going to include it anyway. When I make the rounds to introduce myself to new store managers/owners, and especially when I show up for an in-store appearance, I make sure I’m at the top of my game. Not only does a kick ass outfit and on-point hair and makeup look nice, it makes me feel more confident! So, take the time to make yourself look amazing, and you’ll feel amazing.

5. Follow up!

One of the best things you can do, especially if you left the store with a lot of maybes, is to follow up with either an email or a phone call. I tend to lean toward email for myself, because I’m better with the written word than the spoken. I can review what I’m going to say, as well as have a record of the conversation afterward.

Remind them of who you are, who you spoke with at the store, and what you discussed. Let them know of your availability. Assert yourself, politely, on the assumption that of course they want you to attend an in-store event!

6. Extra Credit!

Another way to get “in” with local shops is to become a frequent flyer. Go to the location, play their games or interact with the employees. Be friendly and develop a (friendly, professional) relationship. Networking is key, and it will get you everywhere you want to go. I have an entire blog post about networking planned, so check back for that!

I hope this has helped you, and remember to be creative in your approach. Put yourself in their shoes and figure out what will benefit everyone involved. Do you have any suggestions that should be included in this post, or any creative ideas for what works for you? Post them in the comments!

In another post, I’ll talk about how to have a successful event and what kind of merchandise I’ve learned moves well!

 

Are your goals SMART?

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!

 

How I Use Pinterest for Reference (and Inspiration)

Gooooooood evening sweet angel kittens.

I figured I’d spread some knowledge around like Nutella on a Ritz for you today. I know you’re all DYING to know how Pinterest can benefit you as an artist. It keeps you up at night, I know. Well, fret no more, for I shall teach you my ways. By the way, if you’re interested to see what I’ve pinned, each first mention of a board will include a link. Feel free to browse my boards and follow me if you like.

The idea to use Pinterest as an artist came to me during my first meeting with my mentor, Jon Schindehette. He suggested I gather all of the art that I feel is kind of similar to what I aim to do with my own art. When he mentioned possibly sticking art to a corkboard, my mind went immediately to the virtual corkboard on which I’ve sunk hours of time on collecting recipes and pictures of cute animals. Thus began my Character Inspiration board.

The biggest benefit of using Pinterest, in my opinion, is that I can collect and save reference and inspiration while mobile, using my smartphone or tablet, via the handy dandy and much user friendly Pinterest app. Here are the boards I have created so far that I use most often for art related activities (and, admittedly, as a time sink when I’m bored). Click the image to visit that board!:

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So, if you’re new to Pinterest, here is a step by step guide to how you can create boards of your own. You’re on your own figuring out how to register… Sorry.

First things first, decide what type of board this one will be.

For this walkthrough, I’ll create a Reference board for Materials, such as gold, gemstones, and marble. I’ll include everything from stone and fur in the future. On your pinterest page, under “Your Profile & Pins”, click the Create New Board square at the top.

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A window will pop up that looks like this:

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Name your board whatever you like. You can also add a description and select what type of board it is. The only thing you truly need is a Name, everything else is extra.

Once you create the board, it will be empty like so:

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Now comes the fun part… finding things to pin! In the top left corner, type in what you want to search. I chose gemstone first. Autofill can often help out:

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A plethora of search results should turn up, unless you’re too specific. Sometimes, you may have to try a variation of search terms to find what you need.

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Look at all the pretty colors

When you see something that tickles your fancy, you can either click it and a window will pop up, or you can hover over it and options for “Pin it” or “Send” will appear. Click Pin It:

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Ooooh, sparkly. Get to hoarding allofthethings! This is where all my time goes. I spend way too much time pinning things, but it comes in handy later. Even if you don’t need something now, if you like it at all and can think of any reason ever you may need it for reference, pin it.

Once you’ve collected a whole bunch of things, your board should look something like this:

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Voila! Super easy and super convenient. Instead of wading through folders on your desktop, everything is right there with a preview image, for easy browsing. If you keep it well organized, you’ll find what you need quicker than a bunny fart.

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Happy pinning!

If you pinned this post… it would be like Pinception.