Breaking into the Industry - Part 1

I was going to bring you the last of the Inspiration Interviews with the fantastic Mr. Mark Newman, but Mark is very busy at the moment with some very cool projects, and unfortunately did not have time to get to the interview. However, we will try to share that with you at a future date. For now, we'll be starting a new discussion. Enjoy.

As like many of my sculptor friends, I get asked a lot of questions by young and aspiring sculptors. "How do you make that?", "What material do you use?", "What kind of tools do you use?" And while all of those questions are valid, it would be hard to talk about those in this blog. However, there is one question I think we can discuss. “How do I break into this industry?” The funny thing about that question is that (unlike the other questions) I don’t have an answer. I’ve only managed to have one legitimate job in this industry and that was sculpting 1:6 scale portraits of characters from the 1980’s T.V. show “Buck Rogers”, for a new toy company. Outside of that, I’ve been trying to “break into” this industry for a couple of years. (The middle head -Buck Rogers - is not the head I sculpted. At some point, the license holder must have decided they wanted a different look. Too bad, because I think my sculpt looked more like Gil Gerard. But that's the commercial industry for you).

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In that time, I’ve managed to make some good friends who happen to be both big names and new comers to the world of commercial sculpting. They’ve offered guidance and support, critique and constructive criticism. I’ve learned a lot in the past few years and I feel that I’ve grown as a sculptor. However, that goal of becoming a professional commercial sculptor continues to elude me. That being said, I still feel that I’ve learned a little something about this industry that might be helpful. So, what advice do I have to offer?

Well, I’m sure many young sculptors have heard the typical responses (I know I have) like: “Never give up”, “Keep practicing”, “Go to conventions and introduce yourself to art directors” etc, etc. Now, although these suggestions are typical (or cliché), it doesn’t make them any less helpful. I’ve used these suggestions time and time again. Some of these have actually led to getting a foot in the door at several places, so I know that they can lead to future jobs.

Other things I’ve learned along the way are more practical and basic. Anatomy, surface finish, clean and consistent work, speed, and the ability to take criticism are all very important. You can focus on any specific style (animated, comic book, realistic) that suits you – or you can practice at all of them and make yourself more versatile. The idea is that you want your work to be good enough that your clients see you as a commodity (something of strong value). These abilities come through repetition and practice. Build a portfolio of well-rounded figures (and I don’t mean a bunch of fat guys, although one or two wouldn’t hurt). Make some full figures and busts. Sculpt both male and female figures. Try sculpting at different scales. Make sure your pieces are finished and not WIP’s. Sculpt different materials and details (leather, spandex, boots, t-shirts, armor, short and long hair, utility belts, etc), in order to show some variety and versatility. The actual material you sculpt the pieces in (sculpey, wax, oil clay) doesn’t matter at this point. Just get the practice in and try out a whole bunch of materials. Don’t be afraid to experiment and combine different materials on the same piece (if one material might help render something better). You’ll eventually find the material that suits you.

This whole process can take some time, since most of you don’t have the luxury of being able to sculpt full time. Most of you guys have jobs and families, all of which require time. So be patient, work hard, practice and get as much critique and criticism as you can (yes I know those are the typical responses - but they do work). Join online forums where you can make like-minded friendships, and maybe even a connection or two that might get you a job.

Now for some more specific advice, and more importantly, advice from people in the industry, I’ve asked a couple of friends to write about their experiences in getting into this industry. So, tune in next week when I bring you part 2 of “Breaking into the Industry”.