Tips for Aspiring Artists

I get emails from people asking to be apprentices, but they tend to approach me in ways that work against them. The purpose of this post is to educate readers on good forms of practice, without using up my time sending individual responses to people.

At this moment in time, NAOHOA is not taking on apprentices.

Here are some basic tips to consider when trying to get work or experience as an artist…


Do Your Research

Find out the person’s name and use it when contacting them

Personally, I don’t bother responding if they haven’t at least done this. It is not hard to find my name on this website or via social media. NAOHOA prides itself on attention to detail and a high level of customer service – if you can’t manage this simple courtesy, it tells me that you’re not a good fit.

Even when doing a general job hunt, this is good manners. Always address the person directly, if you can (this might be harder for large companies or agencies).

Are You A Good Fit?

Does your work compliment or enhance their company? Do your values line up with theirs? Do you have the relevant experience they’re asking for?

Think more about what you can offer them and highlight this in your opening email, rather than what you want, out of the blue. Give-and-take. If they were to offer you a job or training, what could you bring to the table that would set yourself apart from other applicants?

Attach a Portfolio & CV

When approaching studios or Art Directors, always attach a .PDF of your portfolio (up to 10 pieces of your best work, no larger than 10MB*) or links to your website or social media account (strictly portfolio work – not personal pics), along with an updated CV.

You want to make their life easy, so don’t make them chase you for your work. You’re the one asking them a favour, so you should be the one who is prepared and ready.

There have been times where I’ve given someone the benefit of the doubt and responded, asking for samples of their work. I can see they’d seen my message, but they didn’t get back to me. This is even worse, because it shows they’re clearly not ready and are acting unprofessionally. Don’t waste people’s time and instead, prepare in advance and have it ready for the opening email.

…speaking of, keep said email short and concise. We don’t want to hear your life story (at least, not on the get-go). Introduce yourself, why you’d like to work for x company and/or what you appreciate about it, attach your portfolio and CV (or links), and politely leave it there. Copy-and-paste jobs are obvious. Make an effort to tailor each email to that specific company. Give at least two weeks before sending a follow-up email if you haven’t heard back yet.

I shouldn’t have to point this out, but…check for spelling too.

* Get the file size as low as possible without compromising image quality.

Include Sketches to Show Your Thought Process

Don’t just show final pieces – include sketches, observational studies and things that show your thought process. Even better, show a design brief from start to finish – this will prove that you’re able to absorb what a client has asked of you, run through stages of problem-solving, then come to a polished solution that fits the bill.

There’s no point in anyone hiring you as a commercial artist if you can’t follow a brief. If you only want to draw and do your own thing, then become an Illustrator and find an agent who can sell your work, or self-publish. I’m speaking from a professional, commercial lens here (having worked in the gaming industry), but even in cases where tattoo artists ink whatever they like, they’ve normally formed a strong, distinctive style and worked their way up to gain a reputation where people seek them.

Make It Relevant

Does your work suit the company you’re aiming for, or the project they’re seeking artists for? Many companies will want a portfolio that exhibits a strong, consistent style that’s relevant to what they’re looking for. Unfortunately (and this has worked against me in the past), many don’t seem to see versatility as a bonus. I’m not sure why, and I don’t hold this opinion personally, but that’s what I found when I used to work in gaming.

If demonstrating multiple art styles, at least show a few pieces of the same style to prove that they’re not just one-offs. Being able to consistently produce good work is important.

Research the company before approaching them and think whether you’d be a good fit and bring value to them. Some places might want a mix of styles to cater to all tastes, whereas others may wanna keep the same vibe throughout, for consistency. If you approach the latter type of business with something completely different to what they do, they may take you on as a Wild Card, or they may turn you down because they’re not comfortable with – or have a need for – the contrast. Ultimately, it’s up to them, so whatever response you get, take it with grace. No one likes dealing with tantrums.

Act Professionally

Art Directors, studio owners etc. aren’t your buddies; they’re potential bosses. Most studios won’t appreciate casual DM’s or incessant pestering. If rejected, take it with grace and move on. You can ask for feedback on how to improve next time, but don’t send a gazillion messages asking for more chances. Desperation isn’t attractive – it’s annoying and off-putting. I get how difficult it is to break into the creative industry, but not acting with decorum will give the employer a negative impression of you.

Sometimes, people just aren’t a good fit for the studio and type of work they do. Respect their decision and find a place that’ll suit you better.

It’s okay to ask for feedback on how you did. Constructive criticism is good. Take the advice with a pinch of salt, then strive to improve for the next step. If someone sends you personal attacks, then you’re better off without them. Even if the person you’re speaking with is not acting professionally, it will always serve you well to take the higher ground. As the Obamas say, “Punch up, not down” (i.e. don’t stoop to their level).

What Else Could I Do?

  • Draw, paint, whatever it is that’s your jam and relevant to the type of work you want to get into (unless you’re drawing for funsies or a personal project)
  • Follow their work. If you’re not a fan of what they’re doing, why would you want to work for them?
  • Keep going! I can’t emphasise this enough. Finding work as an artist is really hard, and you’ll need thick skin. Keep doing, learning and persevering. You’ll get there eventually. 🙂
  • Find support groups. The days of forums are sadly no more, but there are communities online with well-meaning people who might offer feedback or support on your journeys.
  • Have other hobbies. The more you enrich your life outside of the sketchbook, the more inspiration you’ll have to draw from. Read books, take classes, meet different types of people, walk to different locations, maintain social bonds, anything…it’ll all feed back into your art, whilst helping you maintain a healthy, fulfilling life. đź’—
  • Personal Projects that’ll result in a finished product can help give you a goal and sense of focus, as well as material for your portfolio. You’re not bound by clients or bosses – you’re free to do whatever you’re passionate about. Go for it!
  • Get savvy. If you’re looking to be a freelancer, you’ll need to learn to do your own invoices, taxes (unless you get an accountant), advertising and job-hunting (unless you have an agent). It’s not for the faint-of-heart. Learn about this stuff before you jump in (or if you’ve already jumped, learn it quickly!).
  • Look after your mental health. It’s a tough journey, often riddled with rejection. I have several blog posts with advice to get you started.

Helpful Resources

Besides having a hella fun name, Stan Prokopenko has done an amazing job teaching the fundamentals of art in a fun, engaging way.

The Honest Designers

A podcast between friends who give advice to aspiring artists.


Closing Thoughts

I know this post is less jovial than usual, but it’s because I’m fed up and want people to learn and do better. As Maya Angelou says,

“Do the best until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

This is by no means an exhaustive list – I’ve simply pointed out and elaborated on common mistakes I see when people approach me, then sprinkled some extra bits on top.

I hope this has been helpful. If you have any questions or can think of more tips, please post on social media and I’ll amend this page accordingly.

Kind regards,