posted on Mar 09, 2018
by Gary Laib
I needed to share this with as many artists as I could before the buzz of this past weekend wore off! I feel like I found a unicorn! I discovered a new avenue for artists and makers. This is an avenue where you get to work with new art mediums, where people not only want your opinion, but respect it, and where you can get paid on top of that. Wait. I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me back up a bit and catch you all up to speed.
In October of 2016, I left my job as a senior concept artist at NC Soft in San Mateo, California. At that time, I had been working in the video game industry for over ten years without a break, and without having gained any real sense of accomplishment for all the work I had put in. So, I left the safety of my studio job, with more than a little trepidation, to work on chasing my dream of becoming an author and illustrator of young adult fantasy. But, that’s not why I’m writing this article. Far from it.
Shortly after my departure, I was approached by a neighbor who happened to be the Brand Manager for Derwent Pencils, an art supply company based in England, but with a North American Branch. Ariana, an art lover, and creator, asked me if I had any interest in having my traditional work sponsored by her company, and I’ll be honest, I had no idea what that entailed. It sounded awesome though, so I said yes, and in a manner of weeks, I was receiving loads of art supplies to test out and create work with: not just any work, but my OWN work.
Not long after that, I was asked to attend the annual sales and grand openings of art stores around the Bay Area. All that was required was that I needed to sit and draw and paint and answer questions about the Derwent supplies I was using. I had so much fun getting the chance to interact with people who were not just interested in what I was working with, but in what I was creating with those products as well!
Cue this past weekend. Ariana asked me if I’d be interested in attending a convention in Texas called NAMTA, where art supply companies and distributors from around the world would be gathering to sell and showcase new products to art stores. Now, this isn’t at all like Comic Con. People aren’t standing in long lines to meet celebrities, and I didn’t witness anyone dressed in cosplay, but what I did find was a handful of amazing artists, and hundreds of vendors all working together for the same reason: to bring new and exciting art into the world. This weekend I discovered that the relationship between art suppliers and artists is almost symbiotic in nature. We, as artists, need their products to do what we do, and they need artists to use those products to find out how to improve upon them!
So, what was I tasked with? Exactly what you’d expect. I sat at the MacPherson booth (purveyor of all things branded Derwent) and I painted and drew my heart out. I answered questions about what I was doing and how I was using their products to fit within my art style. I met people from Italy, Canada, South America, and across the country who all seemed to respect my opinion (something that I felt might have been lacking in some of the jobs I’d held in the past.) What’s more, I was able to advertise my work and garner interest from art stores and suppliers who also needed demo artists or even teachers to hold classes. That’s right, “Demo Artist.” That’s the gig. That was my unicorn.
And I wasn’t the only artist to have discovered this mysterious creature of a job. I shared the spotlight with four other artists, each one remarkable in their own styles. Lisa Elley (@lisaelley on Instagram) is an amazing knife painter out of San Jose. I got to watch as she quickly brought beautiful birch trees to life in thick and perfectly placed daubs of paint. Gigi Chen (@gigichen.art on Instagram) is a fantastically creative and spirited artist out of New York. She impressed everyone with her highly rendered and magical painting style. Adam Harris (@1800getatom on Instagram), is a resident of Central California, and a card artist for Topps and Upperdeck. He created so many colorful and dynamic sketches of pop culture characters, I was blown away (and intimidated by the speed!) Last, but definitely not least, Devin Finley (@define_arts on Instagram) is a muralist and graffiti artist based out of Washington. He did things with POSCA markers that I didn’t think were possible. The five of us, each demoing different products, spent the weekend having more fun than should have been allowed.
But wait! There’s more! The swag… oh man, the swag. You know how at gaming or comic book conventions you end up with an oversized bag of posters, pins, stress balls, and other stuff that, for the most part, just ends up in the garbage? That was definitely not the case here. Nearly every company offered sample and full-sized products to visitors of their booths. I’m talking sketchbooks, pencils, pens, markers, etc. We even got full brush sets from a small German company run by a warm and charming older couple! If I sound like a kid in a candy store, it’s because I was. It was the first time I had gotten swag that I KNEW I would use.
You might be asking yourself “Why is this random fella telling me all of this stuff?” Well, it’s because I found this weekend to be one of the most artistically uplifting experiences I’ve had in a long time. It showed me a world outside of the ever-coveted concept art and video game industry: a world that not only needs artists but holds them in high esteem. It brought together five artists from dramatically different walks of life for a weekend filled with art, laughter, and new friendships. (And did I mention the swag?)
So, you weary, tired, artistic soul. If you’re still reading this, and if you have even the slightest bit of curiosity about what other art jobs might be out there, take a look at the brush, pencil, sculpting tool, or even stylus in your hand. Who makes that? Maybe reach out to that company or tag them on social media when you post your newest piece. Show them how much you love what they make, or even show them how they could make it better. You never know when you might happen across your own unicorn.