Do You Know Where You’re Going?
Alum Steve Heneveld (Digital Media, ’10) is a Storyboard Artist at Dreamworks Animation Television who previously worked for Nickelodeon and Disney. In this guest blog, he dishes some sage advice on how to navigate the post-graduation landscape.
Soon after I graduated from KCAD, I moved out to California. My wife and I packed up our four-door sedan and set out for the West Coast. But you can't just close your eyes, point your car west and end up in California. First off, you shouldn't drive with your eyes closed. Secondly, you need a map. And then you have to plan the whole trip from start to finish. Obvious, right?
"Do You Know Where You're Going?" - an original sketch by Steve Heneveld
Ah, but you're smart. You know I'm not talking about a road trip.
Choosing art as a career is a much larger journey than moving across the country. Yet I didn't have a destination when I started at KCAD. I just had a general direction: make art and make money.
"I don't make art for the money," said the young artist reading this. Good for you! Me neither…oh wait, I definitely do it for the money. If you don't wish to make money as an artist, then you are either extremely wealthy (in which case, jealousy requires me to slightly dislike you), or you are choosing art as a hobby (you have a day job that isn't artistic). Both are fine.
But I have chosen art as a CAREER. Yep, I used all caps, because in my head, I thought it loudly. Art is my job and I enjoy it, but I didn't get there by accident, just like no one is going to accidentally call and offer up your dream job. Think of KCAD as a really good travel advisor. They know all the destinations and have a solid understanding of the roadmap. And the best part is, they've already sent others on those journeys.
A storyboard drawing for the cartoon "Monsters vs Aliens," which Heneveld worked on for Nickelodeon (copyright Nickelodeon)
So how do you pick a destination? RESEARCH! Yeah, I used all caps again 'cause it's that important. Even if you know what you want to do after graduating, do more research. For example, what are the job/education/experience requirements? Where is your employer located? Will you have to move? How much does it pay? And most importantly, what kind of work are the current artists there doing?
If you know where you're going beforehand, you'll be prepared or even realize that's a place you'd rather not go. I wish I had done more research earlier in my life. I would have arrived at my destination much sooner. My map to where I am now looks like my two year old daughter got ahold of it with a crayon. Colorful? Yes. But a straight line it is not.
Heneveld with his wife and daughter
If you haven’t gotten serious about researching and planning yet, start right now. Once you’re in school it's easy to get comfortable or sidetracked. Don't! You ALWAYS need be on your way to your destination.
The best way to stay on track, besides producing new work and looking for internships, is to take smaller steps. Maybe it's looking at artist/industry blogs, watching movies, going to museums, or keeping up on job openings. For me, it's sketching. I may be at a job I love, but I'm still moving forward and trying to improve.
While at Nickelodeon, Heneveld was a part of a team that won an Emmy for their work on the popular animated children's show "Penguins of Madagascar"
That's the big idea. Because as an artist, you never really stop at any fixed point. If your destination is a certain job, you will quickly realize that it's always moving too. Staying good at what you do will require increasing your knowledge of the field you’re in by learning new software, keeping up with certain types of media, improving your draftsmanship, etc.
For artists, it's always been about the journey. But wherever you’re headed, remember, a little prep and research will ensure you don't end up lost.