My experiences and two cents on graduation, portfolio, industry recruiters, and life as an artist



Last week, I attended my art school's senior industry portfolio day, where big-name industry recruiters such as Laika, Pixar, Dreamworks, Illumination, Lucas Arts, and Blizzard were conducting one-on-one interviews on the spot. There were many recent grad students like myself who were vying to break into the animation/film industry. The students were filed into a small room and waited to be sent to the various industry representatives for their respective interviews. As soon as an industry stated what they were looking for ("we're looking for 1-2 concept artists"), all students with the "right" portfolio were called in. Sometimes the line to see a certain company snaked around the corner and your peers could hear your every exchange with the rep during your interview.

Although I am very grateful and I personally had a lot of fun, I also noticed a downside for my fellow artists. Unfortunately, these kinds of situations breed what Rick and I would call a "mentality of lack." What I noticed was that many of the students around me were thinking in terms of limitation. Many felt that this "one day" is the only one shot to their dreams, the "be all, end all" moment. Rumors started spreading around, "they are looking for only one artist, etc." Although it may be true for a company to state such a thing, it does not mean that perhaps they will not be looking next semester or even a month from now. I can see negativity in the students' demeanor. One guy in the elevator (whom I did not even know) randomly asked me, "so, . . . how many interviews did you get?" I (don't like thinking in terms of numbers) replied, "I don't know, I wasn't really counting" and he scoffed at me, "I was called into six of them." It saddened me to think that this "artist" defined his craft and himself by how many interviews he had.

It shocked me to see that so many of my talented peers, whom I aspire to, and consider my friendly rivals, were downgrading themselves. They defined themselves by how well their portfolio was received, or how many interviews they had, not by how far they have come, where they want to go, and what they need to do in order to get there.

Although it was intense, I had a lot of fun. I heard a lot of good feedback regarding my work and also how to improve it. I now have a direction to evolve my art. I was so happy to be able to speak with creative directors/ and artists from the all the different companies and had the opportunity to pick their brain and experience. Their knowledge, time, and feedback is invaluable. After all, some of these folks have worked in the field 5-20 years. Although I understand that everyone is looking for a job, would like a job, and would like to be recognized for their artwork, the one-on-one feedback from these creatives for even just one minute - was the most rewarding and important piece of the entire experience.

With all due respect and perspective, when these experienced artists of 5-20 years, see a "recent grad student's" portfolio, they probably come to similar conclusions: "I see potential, but needs polishing."

In these kinds of situations, an artist must have pride in their work for what it is, but also see into the future of their growth. One day, I will throw away everything that is in my current portfolio because I will have grown, my work may change, and I need to move forward and constantly experiment in new ways to best express the images in my head.

There were plenty of people who had talent and a kick-ass portfolio, but the people who really did well that day, who seemed as if they shone above the crowd, were people who believed in their own potential, accepted the situation as it were, and at the same time, had the generous heart to root for their comrades during such an intense situation. A couple of people came to mind, but I was thinking specifically of my friend, Nathan. He was giving everyone the thumbs up, reassuring his colleagues, really, genuinely, was wishing well to all of his "friends and simultaneous competitors." His personally was gold. And the industry recruiters could see that. I'm happy to congratulate him on his new work in the animation industry.

The way I like to look at it is this: There are jobs for each and every artist, it's just about finding the right fit, for both the company and yourself.

Your portfolio, your current skills, who you are as a person right now . . . it is what it is, but ultimately, it can be molded into anything. In the end, you are not defined by your art portfolio, but your character as a person and an artist.