2008 AGDM Excerpt: Erik Rose Knows the Ropes

As promised here, I’m giving you a sneak peak at the interview I did with Erik Rose for the 2008 AGDM.

Erik isn’t just a talented artist; he’s also the art director for a national publication, so he knows the ins and outs of artwork submission from both sides. Here’s some of his advice for aspiring freelance artists:

From your experience, what are the best ways for an artist to promote his/her work to appropriate markets?
Today you simply have to have a website. The days of people reviewing your portfolios one-on-one are pretty much gone. Go out and meet people; make contacts at gallery openings, online–there are lots of great online artist communities. Find out what’s going on in your own neighborhood. Don’t be afraid to do a few “freebies” to get your work out there, and don’t forget the old standbys: send out postcards; go to conventions; set up at an art fair. Any place is a good place to start. I’ve done live painting in clubs, selling all the stuff I do that night to the crowds; you pass out some business cards and suddenly you have some freelance gigs or commissions.

How much of an impact has your website had on your success?
It’s been an amazing tool to get the word out about my work. It is also very rewarding because I get to hear from so many people that like what I’m doing. A lot of times as an illustrator you only get feedback from a handful of people–the peers that you trust to tell you whether your work sucks or not, and maybe from the art director that you do the work for, if they’re not too busy–that’s usually about it. The Web is just a great marketing tool. I’ve gotten so many jobs from having an easily accessible portfolio, and I’m constantly getting commission work from private collectors.

How do you stay motivated/find time to keep up with the demand of all your assignments, commissions, etc.?
In college I was working full-time and going to school full-time, so I got very used to the concept of using my time wisely. I don’t think of the week as five days of working and two days off–every day is a workday. To me, illustration is a lifestyle, not a nine-to-five job. As far as staying motivated, I just try to choose those kinds of projects that challenge me and allow me to investigate the things I’m most interested in. I work really quickly and am very aware of how long it takes me to do a project, so I am also honest with myself as far as how much I can take on at one time. I’m never going to overextend myself to the point where I might miss a deadline–that’s just not an option. Having the right music to listen to is also a great motivator.

As an art director, what do you expect (in terms of professionalism, quality, etc.) from other freelance artists?
Deadlines are number one. If you can’t get something to me on time, get out of this business. There are a hundred other people that are waiting for their opportunity who will get it in on time. I’ve had to tell really good friends that I wouldn’t hire them again because they couldn’t get something in on time. 
   Stay in contact, but don’t be annoying–it’s a real fine line, but figure out where that line is. If I don’t hear from someone for a really long time, I forget to offer them jobs; it’s as simple as that. Send some new images of things you’ve been working on every couple months. 
   Don’t send me an amazing thumbnail and then turn in a final that is a totally different idea. Even if you hit it out of the park with the new version, I’ll start to wonder if you’re able to deliver what I need when I say yes to a sketch. 
   Oh, and did I mention deadlines?

What can artists do to stay motivated and ensure that their work remains fresh and interesting (especially if faced with rejection)?
The truth is, either you need to do this because you need to do this, or maybe you should go find something a little easier to do for a living. Because there is always someone else out there who does need to do this, and it shows in the work they do. Always be looking at both new and old art. Find things that inspire you. Do some work for yourself and send that out there to try to scare up some contacts. It’s much, much easier to do work you want to do than having to mimic a bunch of other artists’ styles to try to make a living. 
   Be willing to listen to anyone who is willing to critique your work. You don’t have to take their advice, but sometimes we become so wrapped up in what’s in front of us that we need a new set of eyes to see through. Above all, keep moving forward–art, illustration and design are all things that take lifetimes to master, so keep pushing yourself and never allow your work to drop below a certain level. If you stay true to yourself and your ideals, the rejections won’t hurt as much.

Do you have any other advice for aspiring freelance artists?
If you have a passion for this, it doesn’t matter how many rejections you get; just be honest with your own set of skills. It’s never too late to go back and learn something you missed out on. (I didn’t end up in college until eight years after I graduated from high school.) And of course, do the work that you want to do–not the kind of work you think would sell. The rest of it is just working hard.




Erik Rose drew this portrait of Walter from the movie The Big Lebowski along with two other characters, Maude and The Dude, to be used for self-promo pieces. It’s possible one of the portraits will end up on a poster for Lebowski Fest in the near future. “I’ve had a lot of exposure from this image and got quite a few commissions because of it,” says Rose. “This piece is a great example of the motto Do the kind of work you want to be known for, as it shows what I do best: icon images, celebrity portraits, and pop-subculture.”



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