This is the fourth interview in a five-part artist interview series by artist and instructor Lisa L. Cyr. In this Q&A, Cyr talks with illustrator John Seckman about his promotional materials and building his own unique brand. Enjoy!
Interview with illustrator John Seckman
Q: Can you talk about your brand and how you were able to incorporate that vision into your promotional materials?
A: For several years, I worked for a large advertising agency and developed an understanding of branding as it applies to large corporations. The brand image being promoted did not always match reality, yet the public generally perceived the brand image as being authentic.
It has taken me a while to get my head around a personal brand. It seemed to me that it was simply a projection of who I am. While that is part of the story, it is an incomplete, somewhat egocentric understanding of a personal brand. What was missing was a consideration of how others see me and perceive my brand. On further analysis, I began to understand that the way people saw me as an illustrator was not the way I wanted to be seen. Clients generally came to me because I was capable of mimicking many styles. My personal brand image was that of a cheap knockoff. I did a poor job of promoting myself as an illustrator with a personal voice.
My branding efforts now are in many ways a re-branding. I want to be perceived differently than before—less generic. I have since focused my energy on developing a body of work that I feel personally connected to and can take ownership of. To promote this new direction, I need to reach new clients. I chose to use a video as my initial promotional endeavor. It is a new approach, and it reflects the direction I have taken with my illustration. In the video, the illustrations are built on the screen similar to the way I build them digitally. I like the way they evolve from line drawing to completed images. The use of video also demonstrates my ability to do more than just work for print publications.
Q: What advice can you give other illustrators/artists when it comes to self-promotion?
A: The most important thing is getting your work in front of people, especially those who can potentially hire you for projects. The more eyes that see your work, the better. I have been hired by clients based upon referrals, people who were familiar with my work but not necessarily in need of my services. As a teacher, I have referred students to clients when I felt their style was appropriate. This leads me to an important point for students. Think of your teachers as future colleagues. Demonstrate to them that you can meet deadlines and are capable of delivering top-notch work. Several times, I have refrained from recommending talented students for projects because I was not confident in their ability to meet a deadline.
A web portfolio is essential, but there are hundreds of thousands of visual artists promoting their work and services online. You need to find a way to drive traffic to your site, and make sure potential clients are clear about what you have to offer them. Stay away from gimmicks and make sure your website is easily navigable. Don’t show all of your work. Show your best work. Feature new projects on your site and change them at regular intervals so when clients return to your site there is something new and interesting for them to see. If your website content remains static, there is no reason for clients to return. When you add new projects, let clients know about them. Use email, a postcard or some other mechanism, but keep them interested.
Q: How has the Hartford Art School low-residency MFA Program in Illustration helped you in further realizing your career goals as an artist?
A: I entered the program with a fairly simple goal—to be a better illustration teacher. The program has definitely helped me improve my curriculum, but it has done more than that. As mentioned above, my illustrations have taken a new direction. This would not have happened without the Hartford Art School low-residency MFA Program. The support, inspiration and guidance I needed was provided by the faculty and students. I cannot say enough about the experience of working alongside many talented peers. Each of my classmates had something to contribute, and once again I am excited about the creative process and the possibilities that lie ahead.
The Hartford Art School at the University of Hartford has designed an elite low-residency MFA program for seasoned illustrators who seek to move their careers to the next level, while earning a master’s degree for college-level teaching. Dr. Murray Tinkelman, Hall-of-Fame illustrator, historian and the 1999 Society of Illustrators’ Distinguished Educator in the Arts award recipient, is the director of this cutting-edge program. Tinkelman’s years of experience in the field are an asset, attracting internationally-recognized artists eager to teach under his directorship. “It is taught by professional illustrators who are also dedicated and talented educators,” comments Tinkelman. “The students who enter this program are equally committed to the field of illustration. They come from all over the world, courageously checking their egos at the door and ready to plunge right into the learning process.”