The Art of Professionalism

Talent and a polished portfolio are only one part of being a professional artist. Your fantastic work will only take you so far if you are unreliable or difficult to work with.

You may be the best writer, modeler, draftsman, painter or designer, but if you can’t take critical feedback, work collaboratively with others or meet a deadline, you will find difficulty in maintaining longevity in your career.

This crucial tidbit of advice holds true across disciplines and creative industries.

The most successful artists not only possess refined artistic ability, but also understand the need for being a productive and reliable professional, fostering positive relationships and reputation.

So push your work to be better and better. Learn new techniques and diversify skill-set, but don’t neglect the art of being a professional. Your career will thank you for it.


Give Thanks!

It’s easy to become jaded in a professional setting. Employees do their jobs, and they are financially compensated for it.  Money however, is often not the most important component in keeping folks positive and engaged.  Let team members know how much you appreciate them going the extra mile to do an exceptional job.  Tell them you’ve noticed how they are giving of their time, helping other team members to grow or execute against a challenging assignment. Give thanks!! Let your team know their contributions are meaningful and appreciated.


Contrast Counts

We talk a lot about contrast in the process of art production, but it's usually mentioned in the context of value. At its core, contrast is about differentiation, making elements separate from one another to bolster visual clarity. In order to stimulate the eye of a viewer, you need that push and pull.  If everything is the same, boring right?  So taking the notion of contrast further, consider it in the context of not only value, but also contrast of form, scale and silhouette. Think about dynamic color schemes with contrast in hue or contrast in your levels of saturation. Play with contrast in texture and levels of detail too! Bottom line is contrast is not only about value, but about pushing and pulling with all of the tools at your disposal to create amazing visual content that will stimulate and excite your audience.

Embrace Discomfort

Taking on a task you’ve never done before is uncomfortable for most people. As creatures of habit, we prefer the safety of the known and familiar, but growth often requires venturing into unexplored territory. You’re not alone in your discomfort. Welcome that feeling as a required vehicle to your final destination. The more familiar you are with discomfort, the less it will affect you each time you encounter it!


Leaders are responsible for establishing tone, owning vision and getting buy-in from their team. They’re responsible for setting team members up for success, cultivating engagement so folks can do what they do best. A leader should be that second set of eyes, responsible for helping a team fight through blockers and guiding improvement to the quality of work. And if something goes south, a leader is responsible for taking ownership to address issues in a constructive manner. Oh, and you’re responsible for buying the team drinks at Happy Hour. Oddly, that one is often the most appreciated. 

Ask Questions!

Asking questions is your quickest route to gaining clarity when kicking off a new task. It’s important to comprehend the fine detail of your discipline, but it can also be enlightening to understand how your work fits into the bigger picture. Another useful tool is to not only inquire on the “yes", but also identify what you can rule out as a “no.”  Having clearly outlined parameters can save you hours of wasted cycles and will direct you to a more successful outcome!

Fostering Success

Setting team members up for success is one the most important responsibilities for a leader.  This can of course mean different things per employee, so it’s important to keep an open dialogue to understand desire and motivation.  Setting someone up for success might translate to understanding their specific talents and providing exactly those sorts of tasks.  It can also mean having a grasp on desired areas of growth, challenging them with new opportunities to learn and further their career.  Being mindful of this responsibility will not only show that you care about the individuals on your team, but will also result in positive engagement, performance, and overall productivity.  

It's the people...

Cutting to the core, it’s the people you work with on a daily basis who have the greatest impact on your day to day work experience.  You can chase title and money, but if you end up working in a toxic environment, will it really be worth it? It’s imperative to enjoy the company of your immediate team members. Seek out situations comprised of those with positive attitudes, whose company you’d potentially enjoy outside the office.  Even companies with strong corporate cultures are going to have their ups and downs, but forging through difficult moments with a positive and committed team you enjoy being around will make all the difference!

Find The Love

I’m a big believer in finding the love in your work, no matter the ask. Not every assignment can be the sexiest or most exciting, but a professional is expected to get it done at a high level of quality. Focus on some aspect of your craft, no matter how miniscule…an element that you are truly passionate about. Leverage that energy to really make your assignment shine. Master this ability and what might have been a source of negativity can be transformed into something you are truly proud of.


Adventure awaits in your creative workplace. You are frequently plunging into the unknown, exploring new thoughts and ideas. That first stroke on a blank canvas, unaware of the final destination. An embrace of discomfort with the courage to be a lone voice with an unconventional idea. This is at least how I personally choose to explore being adventurous because let’s face it, that street food scorpion on a stick in Beijing? Yeah, couldn’t do it.

Caring is Brutal

Caring about your work can be brutal. Working diligently on a project, investing, paying attention to every single last detail. Pouring over your painting only to decide at the 11th hour that you need to repaint an important element. Proofreading your presentation for the 433rd time and STILL finding that errant punctuation mark. Being conscientious, caring about quality and doing an awesome job can be brutal…and you wouldn’t do it any other way.  And there’s the rub.

Collaborative Imagination

Collaborating with others can be one of the most rewarding team experiences in the workplace. Getting talented, creative folks into a room to bounce ideas off one another is like uncorking a bottle of adventure.   Everyone brings something unique and special to the table, and from my experience you never know who or where that next great idea is going to come from!

Your team will be excited.  Your team will be invested.  They’ll toast and sing praises to your greatness!!  Ok, so maybe not, but I’m sure they’ll appreciate you’ve included them.

Be Flexible!

An ability to be dynamic, to pivot, to deal with what the day brings you is essential in fast-paced, creative work environments. There is absolutely a place for being true to your vision, sticking to pillars and plowing forward. An unwillingness to bend though, to be obstinate vs crafting solutions can create unnecessary pain points for you and your team.  Ask yourself if the issue you are facing amounts to a mountain you are willing to die on? The art of knowing how to be flexible, of introspection, of choosing your battles and managing unexpected circumstance is vital not only to your sanity, but ultimately to successfully crossing your project’s finish line.

Color Matters!

I’m biased. My first professional experience was working as a digital color artist in the comic book industry. That role is all about using color as an emotive tool, influencing the audience while communicating story or product message. I’m certain that a vast majority of concept artists would provide lip service to the notion that color is important in their work, but I frequently witness it being underutilized in the concept artist’s arsenal of visual communication tools.

As a writer finds finds their voice, carefully choosing the words to communicate that precise message they wish to convey, an artist should similarly use their color choices to say something in their work. Color can be an extremely powerful tool that appeals to a viewer on a core, innately visceral level.

Colors make you feel. They can soothe, they can sing, and they can smash!  Each one has a voice that says something just by being themselves. Multiple colors in a scheme can unite and harmonize. By contrast, they can also separate and push things apart. It’s amazing what you can say just through your color choices.  Does your night time concept painting have to be a dark blue, starry night? Is it set on an otherworldly planet? What type of planet is it? Who lives there? Is it toxic or welcoming? What color is the light source? How does that color reflect in the environment? You are likely already asking yourself these questions from the design context, but really take a moment and think deeply about color, what hues, shifts and transitions will really help to convey your overall message.  

In my view, use of color is a component that often separates good concept artists from the really outstanding ones. The good news is that with a little bit of extra thought and planning, you too can take that piece you’re working on to the next level! 

Styles of Leadership

Leaders employ various management styles as they attempt to draw out the best from their teams. As leaders of art teams, Art Directors are no different. I have seen a variety of styles at play in the workplace, and have drawn my own conclusions on what works well based on both observation and what has been successful for me.

As the leader of an art team, it helps to remember that it is indeed a team. Meaning, while you are a leader, you’re also working with a group of creative folks who have valuable input, thoughts and ideas too. You never know where that next great piece of input is going to come from. Be inclusive, be collaborative and keep an open mind!

You are the shepherd of the vision, and while you strive to keep everyone on track, you also need buy-in and investment from your team to be successful.

Engage your artists in discussion. Don’t just tell them what is wrong with their piece, but start with what is right. Have a dialogue; ask them what they think is working and what is not. Gracefully guide them towards the end goal, and more likely than not you’ll have a team that is both invested and working diligently to bring your vision to life.