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.


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.  

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.

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.

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.