"I love networking. But I learned to love it"-Jamal Igle
Part 1, Part 2,
So why do so many artists find physical networking so hard?(Besides the fact that living in NYC as well and/or traveling to cons cost a lot of money, of course.)
Theres a pervasive stereotype that artists (especially SciFi/Fantasy artists) are weird introverts that do all their work at night, chain smoke cigarettes, and don't venture into the light of day.Now while there's certainly the cases that prove the stereotype, in fact, artists are some of the most social animals I've ever met. So let's go back to the actual definitions of extravert and introvert. It's not as simple as shy or not. These are terms created by Carl Yung and further codified after him by Myers and Briggs. IF you look these personality types up on the Myers-Briggs chart, you'll find these profiles:
Extravert(outward-turning): "I like getting my energy from active involvement in events and having a lot of different activities.I'm excited when I'm around people and I like to energize other people. I like moving into action and making things happen. I generally feel at home in the world. I often understand a problem better when I can talk out loud about it and hear what others have to say."
Introvert(inward-turning): "I like getting my energy from dealing with the ideas, pictures, memories, and reactions that are inside my head, in my inner world. I often prefer doing things alone or with one or two people I feel comfortable with. I take time to reflect so that I have a clear idea of what I'll be doing when I decide to act. Ideas are almost solid things for me. Sometimes I like the idea of something better than the real thing."
We all have aspects of both in our personalities in different amounts, and that gives us a greater leaning towards one or the other. Think of it this way: You go to a con. You spend the entire day introducing yourself to so strangers, showing your work to strangers, having random conversations with strangers. When you retire back to your hotel room(or bathtub) that night(or morning), do you feel relieved that you have some time to yourself to recharge(introvert), or do you feel recharged by having those interactions(extravert)? I think most artists swing radically back and forth between extravert and introvert, I don't think you can create without having introverted periods, but the truth of the matter is, it's the extravert side that you really have to activate when it's networking time.
Jamal doing some Physical Networking.
I definitely fall on the extravert side of the scale naturally, and that's why you find me running around cons talking to everyone. I enjoy random conversations with people I don't know so much that I subconsciously gravitate to wearing things (like Lord of the Rings leggings, or tentacle necklaces, for example) that are easy conversation-starters. I love networking. But I learned to love it. A lot of people find networking in person really stressful and awkward . You might be shy, you might be an introvert by nature, or you might just be a young artist just overwhelmed and nervous in the presence of a crowd of people more accomplished than you. I realize I'm at an advantage because Im naturally an extravert, and I'm also an Art Director now, which means people are more willing to overlook the times when I'm awkward and weird and consider it a job quirk, but I wasn't always this confident in a crowd.
Heres some advice:
This is a public speaking trick that seems trite but actually helps a great deal. If you aren't comfortable starting up random conversations with people, or walking up to an artist you admire and asking for advice, then spend a few moments before you enter the room visualizing a new character for yourself. You are confident, you have interesting things to contribute to conservations, you have no reason to be shy. (Bathroom breaks are great for self-coaching sessions.) Eventually you will automatically adopt this more confident persona in social settings without thinking about it.
The hardest part of networking is starting a conversation with someone you have decided you want to talk to(Art Director, Famous Artist, Cute girl, etc.). Once a conversation gets past the first 10 seconds it usually takescare of itself. Try to have a few lines ready for each of the type of people you want to talk to:
Art Directors:"Excuse me, Lauren, I really love the books Orbit publishes and I would love to work with you. If you have some free time now or later would you be able to look at my work?"
Artist: "Hello Boris, I've admired your work for a long time, and I was wondering if you minded telling me a bit about your technique for painting lighting effects."
You're on you own for the cute girls. This is an art blog, not a dating advice column, ha.
Everyone is awkward sometimes. A joke falls flat, you freeze up, the conversation dies...you feel the awkwardness level, and tension, and stress ratchet up ten degrees. Just ignore it. Awkward moments happen. Push past it and either keep talking or make a joke or excuse yourself politely and everyone else will be more than happy to ignore it because they were as much responsible for the awkward moment as you were. Do not retreat back to your hotel room to hide. Do not replay the awkward moment the whole way home on the train.
Most people who are networking at a social event are so concerned with not looking like an idiot themselves they don't have time to notice your hands are trembling and you're sweating through your old spice.
Spider-man by Jamal Igle
Cons are big and crowded but people are there purposefully for networking. That means ADs are expecting you to awkwardly break into their conversations. Other artists are expecting you to walk up and gush at them and push your book at them. If they hated doing these things they would not go to a con at all. Thus, the atmosphere is much more forgiving.(Just remember the golden rule. No networking in the bathroom.) Whether you're an extravert or introvert, virtual networking is easy and necessary, and physical networking is harder and more expensive. But it's also a hell of a lot of fun. Don't rob yourself of the joy that can only come from con-induced sleep deprivation. Oh, absolutely, be honest about your situation. That's a huge relief for ADs actually, because the first few seconds of any conversation is figuring out what the person approaching you wants. I'm thinking in my head "Is this someone who is clearly not ready to work yet wants to know when I can hire them and I'll have to do my diplomatic acrobatics to tell them no truthfully without hurting their feelings?"
If you walk up and say "Hey, I'm David. I know I'm not ready for Orbit commissions yet but I'd love some honest feedback and maybe some direction," that would be like the best and easiest thing ever to respond to.