Student Fears - A blog post series

SF1: I fear I won’t be noticed artistically

March 24, 2016 - 13 minutes read

An Introduction to Student Fears

This is the first in an intended series of posts on student fears. Real fears, submitted by or otherwise sourced from real students. Fears about life and work after art and design school. Many of the first few fears were sourced from a great talk my good friend Bailey Copithorne gave to the students of the web design class I was teaching in 2015. She asked them all to write a fear or two on a piece of paper, put it in a bag, and she’d draw them out anonymously to discuss a few of them. I thought to myself afterward that many of them were excellent fears or questions that should be talked about and elaborated on, have some advice applied, and address what you should do if the fear is true. And so here we are.

Without further ado, the first fear I’ll be talking about is…

The fear of not being noticed artistically

The fear of not being noticed is totally valid coming from a visual student. Most of us in illustration and design fields are already introverted and awkward, so we know it probably won’t be our expert marketing skills that help us get noticed. Then there’s the part where we’re pouring our souls into our projects, getting all worked up emotionally, and it may just hurt to give so much of yourself to something and feel like no one appreciates your efforts. I think this is a totally valid fear, depending on why you want to be noticed. So, what should you do about it?

Wanting to be noticed for a job

If you’re wanting potential employers to notice you artistically, welcome to the group. Seriously though, there are so many easy wins that graduates miss when they first get out of school.

For starters, you should have been promoting your work years ago. Not to make you feel too behind, but the right time to start promoting yourself isn’t after graduation, or even a couple months before, it’s while you’re still in school. So many of the successful people I know that I went to school with got a jump on promoting themselves by starting in year 2 of a 4 year degree program.

Here are a few things you can do to start promoting yourself to potential employers, ASAP:

  1. Get on Behance
    So many people I know lately are getting freelance from Behance, and all they’re doing is posting their work there. Want to be noticed for your style? There’s a good place to start.
  2. Get on Instagram, and Twitter, and make sure you’re using them properly for a visual artist.
  3. While on Instagram and Twitter use proper hashtags for the audiences you’re trying to reach. Too general and no one will see it, to specific or niche and only two people will see it. And do not spam with tons of hashtags or repeat posts.
  4. Post your best images to Tumblr.
    Make sure you’re including your name and website URL in every post description to link back to yourself. If you notice people removing that, consider starting to your name/URL directly to the images.
  5. If you know any notable people on social media ask them to do you a solid and retweet/repost or otherwise pimp you a bit.
  6. Get a website and make sure it has only your best work and it’s incredibly easy to contact you from it.
    Websites are pretty easy these days. Shoot me a message if you need help getting online.
  7. Get on LinkedIn and flesh out your profile as much as possible.
  8. Ask your instructors if they know anyone who needs freelance.
  9. Check out services like Upwork that connect you for freelance online.
  10. If you get any projects, add them to your LinkedIn and website as they become completed. Talk about your successes.
  11. Go to local art, design and industry related events and actually talk to people. Give them a business card, post card, sketchbook drawing, or whatever that has your name and URL on it.
  12. Blog and post on social media about your opinion on things in the industry. Show people that you are an expert in your field.
  13. Make sure you’re continually posting new and better work.
    Two of the biggest reasons I’ve heard from art directors that they’ve not been interested in people is that their portfolio seems too small or too old. Keep it fresh.
  14. Once people do start to notice you, even if they aren’t the exact ones you’re looking for, reply and engage with them or risk looking like a dick.

Know your audience

I think one of the biggest things I see people getting wrong though is not knowing the right audience. I’ve seen illustrators that mostly draw R rated pin-up girls and hentai trying to apply for design roles at agencies and giant corporations. It just doesn’t make any sense. Figure out who would best want to make use of or see your work and market to them, specifically. Write a specific cover letter and resume for each of those groups, even editing what portfolio pieces you show to each of them. If you want to be noticed artistically then you must know your audience.

This goes for social media as well. If you’re posting to certain hashtags and groups that are too general people may never find you. And if you’re posting to places that aren’t the correct audience you may actually make people angry. Figure out what your niche is, figure out who your people are, and find them. Do searches for hashtags, Tumblrs, Pinterests, and forums that are tailored to your style or your type of content and post there.

This is also big if you’re just looking for like-minded people to collaborate with, get tips from, or otherwise just chat with. When your mom told you that you were hanging with the wrong crowd she just wanted to help and see you do good.

Wanting to be noticed for fame/your own self worth

On the other hand, if you just want to be noticed because you want “the feels”, then you’re in an entirely different situation. Marketing yourself for a job is one thing, marketing yourself for self worth, recognition, and making the flow of tears in your bedroom when you’re alone at night a little easier to handle is an entirely different thing.

I talk about this all the time, and I tell people that if you’re trying to promote yourself for a job that’s great, but if you’re trying to promote yourself because that’s where your self worth comes from then maybe you need to reevaluate things.

Why did you get into the art and design field in the first place? Was it because you enjoyed it? Because you had a knack for it and thought you could make a career out of it? If it was because you wanted to express yourself and have others recognize that then you may be in the wrong field. Certain artists and designers get famous or otherwise get load of attention. That’s great, and just like many other industries it happens. But if that’s the sole reason you’re chasing this you’re probably going to be sorely disappointed. Create what you create for yourself first and foremost, that’s the most gratifying path you can take. If you can find others to appreciate you or hire you to do it, all the better. But what means the world to you may not even be easily understood by the next person, so take it easy on yourself.

Still though, many of the same basic promotion techniques apply if you want to get noticed by anyone and not just an employer. You may also want to:

  1. Submit your work to magazines and annuals like Applied Arts, Communication Arts, CMYK and other places your peers look for inspiration.
  2. Submit your work to contests (while avoiding spec work and crowd-sourcing, of course).
  3. Post a lot to all the social media accounts you can, in the same ways I outlined above.
  4. Again, find your audience, find the people that would actually want to see your work and appreciate it.

You’ve tried everything and people aren’t noticing you

It’s possible that you’ll try everything and people won’t notice you, whether it be potential employers, potential fans, or even your peers. So what should you do in that case? What if you’re putting in the work and people really aren’t noticing and your fear is coming true? In this case I think there’s a few things you should consider.

  1. Is it your work that’s keeping people away or something else?
  2. Are you presenting yourself in a professional way online and in person?
  3. Are you coming off as too confident and dickish?
  4. Are you coming off as not confident enough?
  5. Are your skills far enough along that they’re ready to promote, or do you need more practice?
  6. Are you sure you’re reaching the right audience?
  7. And, the scariest question: Are your style and/or content just not suitable for commercial use, and are you comfortable changing them or learning a new approach if they aren’t?

So, is it valid?

Do you think the fear of being noticed is valid? I think it is. I just want people out there to want to be noticed for the right reasons. And if what you like doing is so totally niche that it doesn’t really interest anyone, but you still enjoy it yourself, then that shouldn’t deter you from continuing to create.

Let me know what you think.

Do you have a fear relating to art, design, getting a job, or something else? Leave a comment below or send me a note.

This post is part of a series on student fears, addressing real concerns from real illustration and design students. Feel free to browse other posts in the series. For more information on how the series came about, see the first post, here.

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