Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Personal Work: Making it Count

-By Cory Godbey

Hey! Wait a minute. Something's not right. Yes, I know what you're thinking, dear reader -- you clicked over to see a new Gerard post, but it's nowhere to be found. Well! In fact, Justin has skipped town and run off to go get married! I'll be filling in for a few posts, so you're stuck with me for the time being.

I'm Cory. I seek to tell stories with my work. I also like to draw monsters.

There is one question that I get asked time and time again: How do you attract work?

Whether I'm doing a demo, a workshop, or just talking with a student, this question inevitably comes up. And then that poor soul is is really in for it, because the answer is something that I am very passionate about. (If you were to mention The Legend of Zelda, cats, or Norse mythology you might find me equally impassioned.)

In my experience, I haven't found anything that has benefitted my career, portfolio, and reputation quite like my personal projects. More than anything, my personal work attracts my client work.

Personal Projects
I know that it can be difficult to find time to set aside for personal projects in the midst of life and ongoing deadlines. At times it can be tough juggling everything, but for me the process has become essential. It's an ongoing cycle that will drive your career forward. A good portfolio attracts good client projects, which buys you more time to create new and better personal work, which in turn attracts bigger and better client work, and so on. Ideally, what's happening is you're attracting the sort of work you want to do. That's not going to be the case with every project of course, but if you show what it is you love to do, you stand a better chance of getting to do more work like it.

To get moving with this cycle, set a challenging yet attainable goal. Plan your project and give yourself deadlines. For myself, I work on creating a new collection of work every year, a series based on a theme. I always release my new collection as an annual sketchbook, which gives me a good goal to work towards with defined parameters. I give myself a deadline of launching the sketchbook at a show or convention, which has the added benefit of creating new sellable work. Fans enjoy new prints and books, and the original work appeals to collectors.

Why a collection and not just a random new piece here and there?
Working through a series makes you think through your work as a whole, showing you where you need to strengthen your skills or switch things up. Are you defaulting to the same composition over and over? Do your characters advance or are they stale? Ultimately the process is about creating a framework for yourself; a period of concentrated development and growth.

It also affords you a regular portfolio refresh with new and better work. You have the opportunity to create the portfolio you want based on the work you love, not just the projects you're hired to do.

Personal projects help to develop a mindset and habit of work which creates momentum. Momentum leads to sustained progress. You want to build on your past victories, move past failures, and be constantly working to better yourself and your skill set.

Another facet is this process is that it keeps you active online. The cycle attracts interest and followers because people know that they can expect new work and projects from you; that you're active and producing. An art director or editor that may have passed you by before might be intrigued by your latest series, impressed that your portfolio is consistently updated and fresh.

The goal with each personal project is to establish three pillars of income to support yourself and create future projects.

  • Work to attract new client projects.
  • Create prints, sketchbooks, and digital items.
  • Show new, original work for collectors.

Closing Thoughts
Only put in your portfolio the sort of work you want to do.

You have to discover what it is you love to do, what you want to show, and pursue that with all your heart.

Don't wait for a client to give you that dream project. Get out there now and make the work you want.

Want to hear me ramble on about this some more? I offer an online class all about this very subject over at The Lamp Post Guild. Registration is open for The Art of Personal Work through Nov. 18. Sign up with this code, LPGCORY2013 to get a 20% discount.

You can see more of my work over at corygodbey.com, or find me over on Twitter / Instagram / Facebook.

Special thanks to Justin for asking me to fill in while he runs off to get wed!

Justin and Cory have been friends for what seems like a long time now, probably since high school. Or summer camp, maybe? Together they have mined precious ore from distant asteroids, piloted a lighter-than-air craft around the globe (twice!) and eaten several pizzas. They have joined forces for many amazing projects in the past including, but not limited to:
* The Lamp Post Guild, a series of online art education courses.
* Various animation and story projects. 
* Gallery shows, art education workshops, and setting up really great looking tables at conventions.
* Once, they even collaborated on relocating Cory's dislocated shoulder.
They are real professionals, promise.

If you like, leave a comment of wedding bell congratulations for Justin and Annie!


  1. Hello, Cory! I've come across your work in the past- you have an unique and intriguing style.This post was quite interesting to read and it is something that makes a lot of sense, yet it is good to have it pointed out. Thank you for the post and I am looking foreward to the future ones!

    Congratulations to Annie and Justin! As you guys start this new journey together, may every day hold wonderful shared experiences!

    PS: I caught a glimpse of the word "wedding" then saw the picture of Justin and Cory, being happy together...giggidy:P

  2. Congrats on the marriage Justin. Really great to see your post here Cory. Looking forward to more.

  3. Super post!

    And congrats to Annie and Justin!

  4. Really good post here. I've always thought I'd like to do more themed series, but I get so caught up in other deadlines that I always push them to the side thinking they would not be worth taking the time to do. These are great suggestions for convincing myself that doing so would be worthwhile.

    Also a great big congratulations for Annie and Justin! I'm so excited to see where their future takes them. Wishing them happy days ahead! :)

  5. Congrats Annie and Justin!!!!!! It was great to meet you at FaerieCon, Cory :)

  6. Well SHOOT I guess I just signed up for your class!

  7. This is great, Cory! I need to keep reminding myself to make the time and finish my personal projects! I love your collaborative Justin and Cory bio. Cracks me up! "Once, they even collaborated on relocating Cory's dislocated shoulder." Lol!

  8. Great post!! Definitely pertinent to me at this point in how I work. I look at personal projects as way to test and expand my capabilities now more than ever. Thanks again for some great advice.

  9. I like this post. It is inspiring.

    Also, great artwork.

  10. Great post! Looks like you and Justin have influenced each other's work, I rather like yours, too.

    Also, congrats to Justin and Annie, may you have very many years of happiness!

  11. Great post! So much practical and doable advice and information! And great art too! Love the Walking Hill! :)

  12. Very inspiring Cory. Since I have come across this post too late to register for the class, will there be another in the new year?