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The Evolving Face of Networking in the Art World

How Facebook, Livestream, and YouTube are Changing the Way Artists Interact


Yesterday something completely amazing happened in the digital art world.

A gathering. An impromptu industry summit, like a gang of adventurers huddled around a campfire. But not just any adventurers—that's the crazy thing. This was like Lewis and Clark sitting next to Captain Cook, listening to Magellan tell people about that time he sailed around the Cape of Mordor and battled a dragon.

I was hanging out on Facebook, as so many of us are wont to do.

Browsing the latest pieces from my favorite artists. Checking how many times Paperman, Disney's latest short film, had been posted in my news feed (seven times). Chatting with my sister. You know, the stuff we all do when we're killing time online.

I don't quite remember how I found the link—maybe it caught my eye in the sidebar, or maybe a mutual friend posted about it, but the name “Art Buddies” sounded interesting enough to entice me to click through.

It ended up being a newly established art group on Facebook, which immediately piqued my interest. Because for the past seven months, I've been a member of another Facebook based art group called Team Awesome, which was started by the four excellent artists of Awesome Horse Studios (Noah Bradly, Cynthia Sheppard, Aaron B. Miller, and Marc Scheff).

Team Awesome has been a pretty big part of my life since I joined.

For the first few months I didn't speak up much but I watched all the time. It's a place to post your work, receive critique and support, and connect with your peers. Above all else, it's a place where you can feel like you're not alone in the art world.

The quest to become a competent artist can be pretty cold and dark if you don't have anyone to share it with, because getting good at art means you're going to fail a lot before you get good. But when you have a group to share the road with—the journey feels less like a burden and more like you're leveling up in an RPG. You might run into some pretty tough dungeons along the way, but as long as you keep grinding you'll eventually get to the end game.

But I digress. Team Awesome, great as it is, isn't really the focus of this story.

So I click the “Art Buddies” link, and step into the room.

When I arrived, the newly minted group was an hour and a half old, had about eighty members, and from what I could gather it had been started in response to an idea that Anthony Jones (look him up!) had proposed during his most recent Livestream session. Something along the lines of, "Hey, wouldn't it be grand if we all got together to start a new art community where people could chat, and show work, and get feedback?"

I joined the group, and started watching the action. People were joining left and right, greetings and salutations and introductions and high fives were flying freely. I received three friend requests immediately after joining—and I hadn't even posted anything.

And then the madness started, because it quickly dawned on me that this wasn't just your everyday group of artists and designers hanging around. All of a sudden the room is full of people like Kekai Kotaki, Dan Luvisi, Anthony Jones, and Chris Durso.

Now, if you're reading this and you're not someone who's directly involved with the entertainment design niche, those names might mean nothing to you. The best way I can describe it is this:

Imagine you're an aspiring superhero, and out of nowhere you find yourself standing in a room with The Avengers. And they're willing to talk to you, and answer your questions. They're willing to share their knowledge, and sometimes they even let you watch over their shoulder while they fight crime.

Between Facebook and Livestream, that's what the digital art world feels like right now, and it's pretty exhilarating.

The names I listed are just the ones I actually recognized—I suspect there were many more pros and rising stars hanging back and watching the fray (Looking at the members list, which has now doubled in size, I see that I'm right).

These are the people who design and produce your favorite film, game, and entertainment properties. Kekai Kotaki was responsible for the art direction of Guild Wars. Chris Durso designed and lit environments for the latest Halo title. Dan Luvisi's just sold the rights to his graphic novel to Paramount where it's currently being adapted into a feature film!

These dudes have some remarkable achievements under their belts, and it felt amazing to be around people like that, even briefly. It's not uncommon to come across well known artists from time to time if you spend a lot of hours hanging around art forums—but I don't think I've ever seen that many big-name designers descend upon the same place at the same time. For a split second it was almost like being at the center of the industry, witnessing the action as it unfolded.

An hour later, things began to calm down.

Folks were still trickling in, but the frenetic energy of the previous hour had mostly subsided as people went back to their personal business. Will Art Buddies be a flash in the pan, or will it have staying power like Team Awesome? So far, so good. A day later, people are still talking and sharing art, and that's really all that matters.

Maybe this sort of thing happens all the time, and I'm making a big deal about nothing, but the amount of creative energy gathered in that little corner of Facebook was inspiring. This is certainly the first time I've been lucky enough, or well enough connected to actually experience something like it.

The articles I write here are supposed to be instructional, and so far this piece probably reads like a starstruck blog entry. So here are some scatter-shot takeaways:

  1. The face of networking in the art world has changed drastically. There is still a place for business cards, conferences, and local meet-ups, but none of those things move in real time the way social media does. There is so much happening on Facebook, Livestream, and YouTube right now—don't miss out on it!

  2. Not missing out means keeping an ear to the ground and always being on the lookout for new ways to interact with other artists. If someone mentions a Livestream they liked, check it out. If an artist you follow posts about a new resource they found, go look at it.

  3. If you're wondering whether you should join a group, or introduce yourself, or post that work in progress you have going. The answer is yes! It took me way too long to realize this.

  4. Form connections whenever and wherever you can—making it in the art world is so much easier when you don't feel like you're going it alone.

  5. Pick at least five well known (well connected) professionals that you look up to and follow them on Facebook immediately. Simply by the virtue of the things they post, you will learn a ton about the work you want to do, and you will feel far more connected to what is happening in the industry.

  6. Find a place where you feel comfortable sharing your work and do it regularly. Whether that's a Facebook group or a forum doesn't really matter, but start putting your stuff out there right away, regardless of your skill level. Every artist ever had to start somewhere.

  7. Accept praise graciously, and when you give someone a critique try to begin and end it with a positive comment.

  8. Don't be self-deprecating about your art. And don't be overconfident either.

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