-By Lauren Panepinto

Note: Getting You Paid Part 3 is coming, no really, it is. Held up by all my legal advice sources on summer vacation…but it’s definitely coming. Stay tuned.

With Illuxcon fast approaching, I wanted to address a topic that’s always a question on the minds of artists trying to break into the art business: How the hell do I meet/approach/not creep out/get work from Art Directors? I’m going to break it down into a few easy steps. (No, one of these steps is not listing all the Art Directors I know and their contact info. That’s your challenge.) Don’t worry! You can do it. We don’t (usually) bite.

Note: I am using “we” and that’s because I am trying to generalize over the many ADs I know, and what we talk about all the time, and what has been said in numerous Art Director Roundtables and Panels. But of course, I don’t speak for everyone, so do your homework.

Step 1: Who Do You Want To Work For?
While this might sound like a no-brainer, it’s often surprising to me how many artists just blanket email as many random art directors and companies as they can find email addresses for online and hope for the best. This is a case where quality over quantity is the key, and a little research goes a long way. Start with making a list of your dream clients. It can be publishers, film studios, gaming companies, individuals, etc. Start with a small list, you can always add more later. 
Now each of those companies is going to have an Art Director, or some person who accepts art submissions. Google is your friend. So are other artists that you can bribe to give up their contact list with beer, offers of house cleaning, etc. Find the name of the person who has the power to commission you for each dream client on your list. Find their email address too, you’ll need it later. I swear to you, we are findable. It’s not even that hard anymore. This used to take a lot of phone calls and in-person networking. Now it’s an afternoon with Google, Twitter, and Facebook.
While you’re doing this research, take a clear look at the type of work they produce, and the artists they have hired in the past. Does your work fit in? I’m never going to say abandon a dream client because you don’t see them using work exactly like yours, but it is going to be less frequent. I definitely hire outside the box as much as I can, but Orbit definitely has a house look. And so does Tor, and so does Rolling Stone, and The New York Times, etc. Make sure you don’t only have long shots in your dream client list.

Bonus Points: ADs are a social bunch, and I bet the ones you want to work for have been interviewed on blogs, podcasts, written articles, etc. Having an idea of how they operate from their own lips is invaluable information.

Step 2: Social Media

Every Art Director is a little bit different, but most of us are on some form of social media, generally at least Twitter and/or Facebook. You probably found that out in Step 1. Follow us on Twitter. Friend us on Facebook. (I apologize in advance for all the pictures of leggings.) I accept all friend requests from artists, because it guarantees that I get to see all your art updates in my news feed. Take a minute and make sure your Facebook profile includes a photo album(s) of your work, and make sure your website and email is in the About section. And when you have new work, post it. 

It’s also a good idea to have a SMALL watermark on the bottom right corner of your piece that is either your name (if it is easily googleable), or your web address. Just something so that it’s easy to figure out whose art it is. Images on social media bounce around like mad, and often any link back to your site or profile is lost. Just make sure it’s not big enough to be distracting. I cannot even tell you how often I send or receive an email asking “do you know who made this?”

Note: If someone doesn’t accept your friend request on Facebook, then they probably keep their Facebook personal. Don’t get all bent out of shape about it, just go follow them on Twitter.  

Do Not: Tag an Art Director in a piece of work you’ve uploaded to make sure they see it. Consider Facebook messages the same as emails. Expect to chat on Facebook messenger. Post a link to your website on their timeline. Post on their page asking why they haven’t hired you. Tweet at them for portfolio reviews. (All of these things happen to me all the time.)

Step 3: Email

So you’ve gotten your list together of target email addresses. What do you do with it? A nice short & sweet email with a few low-resolution (a.k.a. 72dpi at a printable size, maybe 800 or 1000px wide) jpegs attached and your website link in the email is great every once in a while to keep your name in an AD’s mind. I’ve talked to a lot of ADs, and “quarterly, OR whenever you have new work”, seems to be the consensus. Not more than once a month no matter how much new work you have.

Newsletter-style email blasts are ok, but if you have a few top dream clients then I would tailor my emails and attach jpegs to fit their company. Keep explanations to a minimum, keep it positive but not desperate. I understand newsletter-style mass emails save a ton of time and I don’t think less of the artist for not writing a personal note, but I do take extra time and answer all the personally-tailored emails, so if Orbit is in your top 5 dream clients then telling me a little about yourself is always welcome.


Dear Irene,

I am a designer with over ten years of book cover experience. I have been a fan of Tor’s books for years and I would appreciate being considered for a cover commission. Please find a few examples of my work I think would for well with Tor’s look, and you can check out my full portfolio at www.LaurenPanepinto.com

Thank you for your time,

Lauren Panepinto
twitter, pinterest, & instagram: @planetpinto 

That’s it. Short & sweet.

Do Not: Send a follow-up email asking why they haven’t responded to your first email (Some ADs will, some won’t). Do not write more than a few lines at most. Do not email weekly.

Step 4: On the phone

I hate cold calls. I know that’s how the biz ran for a long time, but I generally don’t answer any phone call from a number I don’t know, I let it go to message and then I generally forget about it. I reserve phone calls for artists I am working with, while in the middle of a project, that we need to brainstorm about. Do us all a favor and email us instead, ok?

Step 5: In Person

Office visits are much less common now that we don’t need you standing in our office with a big portfolio for us to see your work. Thank god for the internet. Now office visits and portfolio reviews are often reserved for artists we already know, artists that come recommended by an AD we trust, very well-known artists, and artists being brought around for intros by their agents. If you are just trying to break in, we’re probably not going to be able to take time out of our day to see you.

Lectures, talks, industry events, and conventions, on the other hand, are a great place to meet ADs. When we’re at industry events we are almost always ready to talk to a polite artist who happens to be hovering waiting to talk to us. (How do you know what we look like? Facebook, duh. Also look for artists shuffling awkwardly trying to break into a conversation.) At conventions like Illuxcon, GenCon, Spectrum, and many more, ADs hold official portfolio reviews and you can sign up to have your portfolio looked at, and have a chat. But even if you don’t get a slot, most ADs, if they have a second, will look over your book and exchange cards/take a postcard. If they don’t have a second they’ll usually give you a card or take yours, and say to follow up by email. Make sure you have business cards and some kind of leave-behind like a postcard ready.

For SFF art, the best networking conventions are Illuxcon (Sept, Allentown, PA) & Spectrum (May, Kansas City, MO), hands down. Get there.

I know a lot of people feel super awkward walking up to someone they don’t know and just starting a conversation. I know that feeling is hard to overcome, but I think you just need to ignore it. It’s not like walking up to a girl in a bar and wondering if she’ll talk to you or throw a drink at you. It is part of our job to talk to artists. ADs are generally always happy to talk to artists at a con, we’re expecting it, and we’re especially welcoming to students and artists breaking in. And remember, it’s ok to feel awkward, it’s networking, there’s a weird artificiality going on that everyone just accepts and ignores. 
Here’s a good example of a way to approach an AD:
Excuse me, Jon? I don’t want to interrupt if you’re busy but my name is Lauren Panepinto, and I’m a designer, and I’d really love to work for Wizards of the Coast. Here’s my card. If you have a moment, would you mind checking out my portfolio and maybe giving me some feedback?
Do Not: Be creepy or lurky. Either come up and say hi when you get an opening, or not. Don’t follow us around a con for three days stalker-style. Do not ambush us in the bathroom. Or when we’re having dinner at a restaurant around the corner from the con. Normal interpersonal politeness rules, and breath freshness rules, apply. 

SUMMARY: Be polite, and do your homework before you contact anyone asking for work. Sounds simple, but I can’t tell you how many emails I get a week that I have to dismiss immediately from people who have no idea what Orbit does, or who are just outright rude.

Also, and this is a big one, if you don’t hear back from an Art Director right away, or at all, don’t immediately assume they ignored you, hate you, will never hire you, etc. Sometimes it takes years for me to find the right project for an illustrator I have literally been dying to use. Yet sometimes I’ll meet someone and have a job for them the next week. It’s very frustrating for us, and often the artist doesn’t know, or I’ve told them that I really want to work with them, and they kind of assume I’m just being nice to say so.

There’s no science to this, but I swear, in networking, as in most aspects of our industry, keeping a zen-like balance of Patience and Persistence will always win over time.

…So I’ll see you all in the Illuxcon hotel bar in a few weeks, right?

To get you guys started, I’ll make it easy. My work email is lauren (dot) panepinto (at) hbgusa (dot) com. Here’s my Facebook, my Twitter, my Pinterest, my Instagram, and my cat.

Illustrations by mhatzapa on Shutterstock.