Intro: In these Q&A Sessions, I post emails that I get from people if I think my response could help others. Only with permission from the sender of course.
THE INITIAL EMAIL
I am a huge fan of your work and design. As an aspiring poster art designer, I was wondering how you go about finding clients to work with?
I would love to get my foot in the door and try my hand at designing a print for a band.
Thanks for your time,
(Insert Fake Name Here)
Hi Fake Name,
Thanks for the kind words. It’s always hard to be a designer in the early stages, so I can appreciate your struggle.
These days, I don’t look for work, work finds me and I find myself turning away clients. When I got started doing band posters, I would email the bands and ask if they’d like posters. With enough online sleuthing, you can figure out how to contact anyone (soon Anne Hathaway will be mine!). It didn’t work a lot and only 1 in 12 emails even got a response, even less turned into actual work. Many of those conversations were about how I was talking to the wrong person and needed to get in touch with some other person. This was all back in 2007.
But, I kept at it and eventually, I got some decent poster work for Built to Spill and the Shins (my first two band clients). Those got me noticed by Wilco and I did some tour posters for them and eventually, that led to work with Rilo Kiley (which led to working with Jenny Lewis as she was their singer), which led to some bigger acts like Beck. Once I got contacted by the Black Keys to do a poster, the jobs just came pouring in. Another thing that helped was I did a Bon Iver poster before they were HUGE and they really liked it, so they had me do four more tour posters which also got me lots of attention since now they win Grammys and starting selling liquor.
The bands posters led to people at LOST (TV series) and various movie poster folks (Mondo, Gallery 1988) taking notice and realizing they could use artists like me to create specialty items for their fan bases. Since then, I’ve done work for Lucasfilm, Breaking Bad, MOON, Avengers, you name it.
The point of that long story is that was started as a hobby to offset the lack of creativity at my toy design job led to a career that has taken me around the world, connected me with celebrities and huge properties, and earned me a decent sized following. I’m nowhere near the biggest, maybe not even in the top 50, of poster artists, but I really enjoy what I do and the friends I’ve made. Not everyone likes everything I do, not everything sells out like crazy, but no one has ever accused me of phoning it in or copying someone else. That’s the point of this long paragraph that was explaining the long story. The best way to get good work, is to do good work. If you’re putting yourself out there and you’re unique, people will notice, just like they noticed me. I can’t promise it will easy. It wasn’t for me. It sounds like a cowboy speech (imagine me in all denim, looking off into the sunset as I say these things to you) and it is. Sometimes, you work hard and nothing happens. This world just ain’t big enough for everyone to be a winner, partner.
A second thing I would like to point out to you is your approach to asking people like me about getting work. I’m going to be brutally honest because I want you to succeed. Not everyone is going to be like me and share things with a stranger. Your email could be misinterpreted. I don’t think you are that way, but it comes across that way and I want to help you in that arena.
First, there’s nothing particularly directed at me in your email. You mentioned my name, but for all I know, you have BCC’d a dozen other people and just changed the names. When you email, say something specific like a piece you like or what my kitchen looks like through high powered binoculars. No one wants to help someone who’s just using the shotgun method.
Second, you’re just asking for information. You should give some. It comes off like you haven’t even tried, like you just felt like being a designer and went for the easy button approach to just ask someone who’s done all the work already. Let people know where you’re at in your career (do you work a job in design, how long have you been designing, are you in school?). Tell them what you’ve tried in terms of getting clients (they might learn something too) and whether or not you think it’s working (well, why would it be working if you’re emailing right?).
Third, be courteous. Your email was polite and short, which is good, but in principle, a bit off putting. Depending on how it’s delivered and who’s listening, “How do you get work” can translate as “tell me, a stranger, how you, a successful designer, earn money, so that I, the stranger, can work for possibly the same clients and direct future clients from you”. Even though I sarcastically inflated it, that is what it is at it’s very core. I accept it and don’t mind, you should too. We all need to start from somewhere, just realize what you’re asking.
Fourth, be more specific. Asking how I get clients is a broad question and it relates to the third point of yanking work. I don’t know if what I told you is helpful because your question is broad and I don’t always want to type out full pages for answers like I am now.
Here’s an example of how I think your email could be improved. Please keep in mind I don’t think you’re a bad person, I’m just sharing a way to get the most out of your correspondence based on what I know.
My name is Fake Name (website or portfolio) and I’m just starting out in what I hope to be a consistent career in design/illustration. I’ve been a big fan of your work for the last hour and the designs you’ve done for porn are easily the best out there. So far, I’ve signed up for every artist representation site I can think of, made numerous cold calls, and emails, but to no avail. My goal is to design posters for bands, so I thought I’d ask you if you had to try any of that stuff and did it pay off?
See what I did at the end? you don’t have to come out and ask directly how someone gets work. Just share what you’ve been trying, they’ll sympathize, and either choose to share new information with you or not. If they weren’t going to, then they weren’t going to anyway.
Anyhow, that’s my take on this insanity I call a job. Don’t be a stranger. My pet peev is when I answer these emails and get no response (all the time, I hate the student interviews that teachers assign them, I want to beat the teachers that give those out because there’s no way those teachers are successful designers if they encourage students to send page long questionnaires to real working designers; you know I once got the same questionnaire from 8 people in the same class? Those students must be so lame they even copy each others’ artists to contact). You don’t have to buy me a sandwich, but any response is nice. Even if you’re upset at me because you think I’m coming down on you, just email: Kevin Tong yur a dik, u dont kno me, shut fuck up & die pleez. That would warm my heart on those cold Los Angeles nights.
If you don’t mind, I’d like to share this email on my blog, your initial email and my response, so that it might help others. I can blank your name if you’d like. Good luck, please let me know how things go.