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Comics 101
The latest art tips and techniques, reviews and interviews from my studio. Updated here and at World Famous Comics!

Comics 101 Archives

Comics 101 for 03/03/2005
Tips on Developing Portfolio Submissions for Role-Playing Game Companies
Hey Joe,

I need your guidance on something. I have a friend of mine who's a very good artist. She needs to get a portfolio together so she can start pursuing some freelance work. I'm a writer and I have no clue what to tell her she needs so I wondered if you could give me an idea. Also, are any of the gaming companies you have worked for still looking for freelance artists for their RPGs? If so, who can I have her contact and what information would they be looking for from her.

Thanks a bunch with anything you can suggest.
Josh
Hi Josh,

Good to hear from you. In regards to your friend, it can sometimes be difficult landing that first freelance gig but once you do it usually gets easier from there since you can build off the momentum of being just previously published. If she's as good as you say she is, it probably won't be too long before someone gives her something to illustrate since gaming companies are always looking to hire talented and dependable people for their projects.

And breaking in as a freelance professional artist with a gaming company can be a smart way to get your feet wet as a illustrator. The opportunity for creative freedom as an illustrator with the material can be quite attractive and has always allowed me the freedom to experiment with styles and techniques, expanding my artistic horizons, because of the constant work I was doing for RPGs. Plus the enjoyment I get from illustrating in the variety of genres that gaming companies produce in like horror, sci-fi and fantasy are great creative outlets for the average artist's imagination too.

The only downside to the fun and freedom of working freelance for gaming companies, especially the smaller publishers, is that there's always the risk of making minimal cash for your work or possibly not even getting paid at all, even if you end up signing a contract beforehand unfortunately.

Gaming companies are often fan operated ventures especially when they are just starting out. So the smaller less established venues tend to suffer from a serious lack of business sense. They may make a promise to pay you, they may (and should) even send you a contract beforehand (which is always important) but they may not end up having the resources later to reimburse you for your work. It's happened to me and a lot of other artists I knew when we were first starting out so that's why it always helps to research the publisher and ask other artists who have worked with the same client before about the company's professional reputation before you sign on the dotted line with them.

But the positive outlook can be that an established company who does pay may really like your work and use you again on a steady basis if you meet their deadlines and are enthusiastic and dedicated about the work you do for them. That first project is your first impression with them, no matter what came before it with other companies, so don't miss a deadline whatever you do and only turn in your best work every time. For these reasons I've had great working relationships with RPG companies in the past like Wizards of the Coast and White Wolf. Both of those RPG companies are well established and publish enjoyable and consistently great looking books and games.

Getting your foot into the door with a larger company like WotC or White Wolf may take a few portfolio submissions to get their attention but the best advice I can give is to research the books they are currently publishing (and that your friend may want to illustrate for) and see what kind of art and styles the art director is leaning towards in the look and design of their books. It helps to be flexible as an artist and having a wide array of techniques you can choose from. Being open to styles that can inspire and appeal to you should also help when it comes time to tailor your own portfolio for a specific publisher.

Most gaming publishers like to see six to ten (some may ask for more, just check out the submission guidelines at their web sites) strong examples of your work in a variety of techniques. Perhaps their not looking so much for variety of styles per say since consistency shows strength and confidence in your work, but if you can adapt your work in your new sample art for them to have a similar feel and context to what they are using then that would help greatly too. Balancing the consistency of great looking art with the flexibility of style is important.

You should send everything from full color to black and white, to full illustration and vignettes to spot illos and character designs as sufficient art samples. Usually less if more so only show your strongest work. Learn to edit your portfolio and remove any potential samples that give you any doubts and that don't hold up as some of your best and most recent work.

In the submission and besides the hi-res color print samples from the portfolio of your best work, you should also include a brief introductory cover letter detailing who you are and why you're interested in working for them, perhaps even listing previously published credentials if you choose not to include a resume' in the package. Resume's aren't as necessary as cover letters and the actual artwork samples when it comes to getting an art director's attention but it doesn't hurt to list previously published projects briefly in the cover letter also. Just make sure to proofread and spell check the letter before you send it along since a poorly written letter would not seem professional and could turn off a potential client. A business card or mailer with contact info and perhaps your web site address is always a handy addition and be sure to have your full name and phone number on the cover letter as well just in case.

Sometimes stamping the back of your samples with your contact info is handy too actually since the copies of your art could get passed around the office or misplaced from the package. That way if another editor or art director sees your work laying around the office or on a desk they can choose to contact you if they weren't the recipient of your package originally.

As for information regarding contacting the art directors and editors for RPG companies, just open any of their books in the store and look on the credits page for their names and the mailing address of the companies. Write them down in a notebook or hit their web sites online. Sometimes, these folks' email addresses are also published so it might help to drop them a line a few weeks after you snail mailed them your samples just to check in and see if they got your portfolio submission and find out what they thought of your work. Usually, these folks are extremely busy with their day to day projects so catching them at the right time when they have an opening on a project or just contacting them once a month until you get a response might be necessary. if they still aren't responding to your submissions keep sending your latest artwork samples to them every few months and make sure the work is being tailored to what they are producing in it's content and in style. Tenacity, dedication and determination are important, but don't be pushy or obnoxious in contacting them for work.

Feel free to pass this email on to your friend and let her know she can contact me directly if she has any more questions or would like some more advice. Or if she just wants me to critique her portfolio and art samples via email before she sends it out. I wish her luck with her work.

Best Regards,
Joe

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