How you got yourself out there during the beginning stages of your career:
I applied for the Hallmark design internship during my junior year of college, and spent the summer in Kansas City. Things went well, and they surprised me with a job offer the week after the internship ended! I stayed for 18 years... And was laid off 18 months ago. 500 people were laid off that year. So really I am just learning how to put myself out there!
A strong portfolio is important. I'm on LinkedIn and I also have a "Jen Rarey Art" page on Facebook and Instagram. That helps new people discover me, and encourages me to always be creating, even if just a sketch here or there.
The best way to put yourself out there, I think, is to get out and meet people in person. Professional societies and events, networking events, getting introduced through colleagues, etc. Because being great at what you do is expected… It is the price of admission. What people who are hiring really look for is your attitude and personality, so they can assess if you fit within their culture. (You should assess them, too.)
Advice for young artists:
You need to be a strong visual storyteller and have a strategy behind everything you do. If people ask why you did something a certain way, why something is a particular color, what something represents, etc.… You should always have an answer. You should know why you made every mark, and it should matter. If you are putting this much thought into everything you do, you won't need to explain… Your work will connect with your audience!
Some people mistakenly think that an artists' job is just to make something look pretty, but your strategic agility and storytelling skills are what truly makes you valuable and set you apart from your peers.
How you get inspired:
I get inspired from looking at other artists' work and going to hear them speak when possible--such as the "Made in the Middle" conference I attended this past weekend. It's very important to know the trends in the particular industry in which you're working.
However, it's vitally important to not just rely on others' work as your inspiration. You need to find the things that speak to you and immerse yourself in them. For me, that is physical activity, which gives me a lot of time to think. And especially being out in nature. I just came in from my daily morning walk with my two dogs an appreciated the sunrise and the beautiful fall leaves. Music is another thing that inspires me. The particular music I'm listening to influences the style of my work. My pets also inspire me, make me laugh, and remind me to take breaks. A lot of the sketches on my Facebook Art page are of my pets.
And challenging myself to learn new, tough things inspires me (learning to swim, scuba diving, rock climbing, building a website, reading a challenging book, etc.) Always learning, learning, learning! Every experience teaches you something that could inspire your work.
How you balance life with career:
This is a tough one, and I don't think many people have it figured out! When you're an artist, you are never really "off." Part of what makes you uniquely talented is that you are keenly aware of what's going on around you and notice the beauty in even small details.
Like most careers, you have to work really hard to make a living as a creative person. My downtime consists of time with my friends, time with my pets, long walks, hiking, running, biking, kayaking, and taking trips whenever I can. Physical activity is how I unwind, since making art is sedentary. Staying healthy is always top of mind.
How you choose what projects to be involved in:
If you're a freelance artist, especially just starting out, you may have to take most jobs that come your way, assuming you are capable of executing them. Until you have a large enough base of clients, you may end up doing work that you're less passionate about. I have taken many jobs where I wasn't sure how to do it, but I figured it out along the way. Being resourceful, curious, and willing to learn is incredibly important and valuable—you should always be learning, growing, and evolving. If you don't, your work will become irrelevant.
The best thing is when you find clients or full-time jobs who specialize in the type of work that you are best at doing and really enjoy. Then it isn't just about the money. Like any career, if you're just in it for the money, I don't think you will find true happiness.
I have donated my time to create branding (logo/T-shirt/invitations) for fundraising events for the Humane Society of greater Kansas City for 12 years. I dearly wish it paid enough for me to do it full-time, because the work is so much fun, and I love the idea that the work I have created helps generate money that has saved and/or improved the lives of hundreds or maybe thousands of pets in KC.
Then my skills have a deeper meaning and purpose... makes all the hard work worthwhile.
Your favorite things about being an artist:
All the fun, creative people you meet. Artists tend to have diverse interests which inspire their work, so each one has a lot they can teach you! I have found most creative types to be extremely generous in sharing what they know.
I love collaborating with people on projects, and adding ideas to make the work better and better!
It can be frustrating when people think that the work we do is always fun and easy--like magic. Some of my favorite work I've done was the most difficult or taught me the most. So I love it when I've worked really hard on something and my clients are delighted, and truly understand and appreciate the heart and soul that went into them.
I love drawing with little kids because they're so uninhibited with making things look "right." Pure creativity!
And I love mentoring young artists and sharing what I've learned. It has been a great career. Certainly not easy, but I can scarcely imagine anything more rewarding.