By Lauren Panepinto

I’ve been art directing book covers for over 10 years now, and hands down the number one question I get from artists is always “How do I approach art directors?” And while email is nice, and postcards can be great, but the best way to meet and interact with art directors is in person. At industry events and conventions, art directors show up to meet new talent, connect with artists they already know, and do a lot of mentoring via portfolio reviews. If you’ve ever been to a convention like Spectrum or Illuxcon, you know ADs are pretty constantly reviewing as many portfolios as they can between sunrise and when they collapse back into their hotel beds. Art Directors know how impactful direct feedback can be to artists, and we try to make ourselves as available as possible.

Who us? Intimidating? No way!

But meeting in person isn’t as safe and easy as shooting off an email or mailing a postcard is. You have to interact with ADs, and that can be scary. Although I know most of the ADs that go to cons are there to help artists and be mentoring, not harsh and judgemental, it can still be incredibly intimidating to walk up to us and ask for your work to be reviewed. If you are the type of person who deals with social anxiety, that can be even more difficult.

That’s why, in my four years of writing this column on Muddy Colors, I’ve tackled this issue in multiple articles:

Approaching Art Directors

The In-Person Portfolio Review

Physical vs. Virtual Networking 

In the past, for most conventions, portfolio review sign-ups in advance have been kind of inefficient. There’s always a mad rush, servers always crash, and artists are somewhat randomly assigned to ADs because they’re just trying to grab any reviews with anyone they can. At the last Spectrum Live, Marc Scheff & I tried an alternate system, where artists signed up for a few ADs at once, and we painstakingly went through portfolios and matched artists to ADs that fit their work styles and desired fields. Although it ended up in closer matches in the portfolio reviews, it was more work than reward in the end. However, what did seem to work well was the Art Director Lounge experiment. A space was set aside for ADs to sit when they were available to review portfolios, and artists either waited when the AD was there, or met them on the show floor, and decided a time to meet the AD back at the lounge area.

Spectrum Live is back at the end of April and I am excited to report that there are going to be no portfolio review sign-ups in advance. And that’s going to be a great thing for artists. Spectrum has expanded the Art Director Lounge area, and now that AD’s aren’t going to get burnt out by doing hours of portfolio reviews back to back, we’ll be much more available around the Lounge and the show floor. I believe this will result in artists being better matched to the ADs for them, as they will be able to approach the ADs they are specifically interested in talking to. It will also allow the ADs more flexibility to shuffle artists around between them, as often happens. An artist will start talking to one AD, and they’ll say, you know what, this other AD would have great advice for you, or they would really be able to use your work, tell them I sent you.

Here’s the floor plan for this year’s Spectrum Live, and you can see, the AD Lounge has been expanded into an “Art Director’s Aerie” (how exciting!).

If you’re going to be at Spectrum, and you want to get some portfolio reviews from art directors and other artists, here’s my advice:

—Read the previous muddy colors posts I linked to above

—Download the “Getting you Hired” Drawn + Drafted Bootcamp onesheet

—Remember that Art Directors at cons are expecting you to come up to them and want to talk about your work and ask for portfolio reviews. Just be polite, slowly work your way into the conversation, or wait for a break or catch them alone, and ask. We’ll either look at your work right then and there, or if we’re busy at that moment we’ll work out a time to meet you later.

—Always have cards or postcards to hand out in case you don’t get a chance to have a review with every AD you want, you can still give them your card.

Download the onesheet here.

If you’re not going to be at Spectrum, bookmark this page for the next convention or industry event you’re going to, and remember, there’s nothing to be scared of. The worst thing that could happen is you have a slightly awkward conversation, and trust me, us ADs are used to it. And we’re awkward sometimes too. It’s better to ask and get that portfolio review and conversation you were hoping for, rather than letting your fear stop you.

See you in Kansas City!