Recently I had the pleasure to sit down and chat with professional artist and illustrator Sam Perin. Sam has created art for Wizards of the Coast, Kobold Press, Calystral Games, and more.
We covered quite a bit of ground in our chat. But what stuck out to me was his experience of transitioning into being a professional artist.
If you’re a beginner artist or hobbyist looking to break into the (highly competitive) concept art or illustration field, listen up!
Starting art as a hobby
Sam told me that he never really envisioned being a professional artist earlier on in life.
“I was never super serious about it, it was always kind of a hobby. I started in Middle school, took classes in High School, and learned from an artist in my hometown.”
It wasn’t until later on that he deeply considered pursuing it as a profession.
“In college when there’s all that pressure to figure out your career and life path, I decided I wanted to commit to the art thing. That’s when I started really honing in on the craft and the skills.”
A lot of people get discouraged because they think you have to start making art super young and be driven to do it your whole life. I think Sam is a great example of someone who just loved making art, and didn’t decide till later on that he wanted to do it professionally. He went on to major in Illustration & Concept Art at a State university, using a self-designed major. He took a lot of fine art classes and learned a lot about art theory, and created art for students in game design classes.
Becoming a professional artist
I asked Sam if his relationship with art changed when he started getting paid for it.
“I would say it’s definitely different,” he said. “My relationship with art changed. It was really a big passion of mine, but then it became what pays the bills…. I’m still super passionate about it, but I also know that it’s my job, and I have responsibilities to fulfill a certain quality level and specific deadlines for clients.”
He told me that the transition was a good experience overall, but it required some adaptation and critical thinking. He had to figure out exactly what to put in his portfolio to get a job, how to actualize his skills in a way that’s something he enjoys, but puts him in a position that’s viable in the industry.
I can definite relate to Sam’s experience.
Switching from just doing something you’re passionate about to using it to pay the bills isn’t for everyone. For me, art has always been more of a craft than an immersive emotional experience. This has actually helped me in the professional world.
When someone gives you critical feedback on a piece, you can look at it objectively and adapt if needed. You can put the client’s needs first, rather than saying, “well, this is my art and my expression and you can take it or leave it.”
Of course, sometimes you can get clients who demand too much from you. Which is why I asked Sam about his experiences with art jobs so far.
“My first paid piece was a commission I did for a company called Kobold Press and I was really nervous. It was my first industry gig, and I was still in college. I definitely learned a lot, like signing contracts, how taxes work, how to work with an art director, and how to take feedback. How to do a piece of work that is not necessarily for your own purposes, but as part of a team.”
This is one of the qualities that I’m sure has really helped Sam in his success. Being able to work with someone else’s creative vision is essential for a lot of industry art jobs, especially in concept art. In short, if you want to get paid for your art, you need to be good to work with.
Advice for beginner artists
For our final thoughts, I asked Sam what kind of advice he would give to beginner artists looking to make that leap. Here’s what he had to say:
“I think that the biggest piece of advice would be about portfolios specifically. Make sure that when you’re applying to companies, you have a portfolio that meets stakeholder needs.
Make sure that your portfolio is fulfilling a real need for the company you’re applying for. If you’re applying for a concept art position for a Call of Duty title, don’t apply with a whole bunch of anime drawings in your portfolio…. You basically need to prove that you can already do the job before you do the job.”
As with most jobs, employers are going to want to hire someone who has already proved they can handle the work. That’s not to say you have to master everything. Just find out what you like to make, and keep getting better at making it. Then apply to jobs that are seeking that kind of work specifically.
For the full chat, check out the video above. And if you want to see more of Sam’s work, follow these links to his Instagram and Artstation accounts.
And be sure to check out other similar articles, like this interview with concept artist Adrian Virlan.
Catch you guys next time!