Physical vs. Virtual Networking

-By Lauren Panepinto

As many of you have seen across various social media channels, Illuxcon was this weekend (and was the best one yet, in my opinion), and it's a really great opportunity to talk about the importance of networking, and the differences between physical and virtual networking.

By physical networking I mean going to conventions, having your portfolio reviewed, office visits, going to lectures, sketch nights, gallery openings, really any events, including just hanging out and socializing informally with peers. By virtual networking I'm talking about emailing and social media—mostly facebook and twitter because those have the most interaction. 


Art Directors don't bite, I promise! Stewart Craig escaped unscathed.
This is going to come as a surprise to no one: In today's world you must put time and effort into virtual networking. You must make your work available online, even if it's via the most basic website. You have to target clients and Art Directors by email and keep them updated every so often of your new work and your website. I'll even go out on a limb and say you must be on facebook, even if just an artist fan page rather than a personal account. I think you can take or leave twitter as an artist, since it's not a visual medium, but there's an interaction style on twitter that is really different from facebook and works well for some people. You all know by now that I love instagram and pinterest, but we'll consider them bonus activity for this post, along with Behance, DeviantArt, CGHub and all the art-specific networking sites. You don't have to be everywhere, but pick sites that mesh with how you work and the devices you use most, and then keep them updated. Third-party manager apps like ifttt.com are amazing, just remember the idea is to not make the auto-posting feel like a robot is running all your social media interaction.

Why is it so important to keep a steady presence online? Well, for one thing, most Art Directors spend a giant portion of their day online and on social media, keeping tabs on artists, keeping an eye on fresh talent, gossiping about artists (anyone who was just at Illuxcon will agree: ADs gossip like fishwives). Also, the art world is changing. There's a world of artist-as-entrepreneur opportunities online to sell your art and personal projects directly to fans via sites like etsy, society6, kickstarter, etc. Building an audience of people who love your art just because they love it and have no business motives is a lovely self-confidence (and financial) cushion when that evil AD keeps not calling you for commissions. Look at artists like Tara McPherson, who was fabulous enough to come to Spectrum this year and talk about how to diversify your art career and audience. She sells prints and merch, does gallery work, and still takes commissions for bands, comics, book covers.

While online, just remember the rules from the Approaching Art Directors post: no tagging people in your artwork just so they look at it. No posting your work on ADs pages. No facebook-messenger-stalking or twitter-stalking. Just be as polite online as you would be in person and you'll be fine.

Ok, now let's go on to the harder of the two: Physical Networking. It's more expensive, it's more work, and it's potentially very uncomfortable.


There were so many artists and ADs in that one restaurant it was ridiculous.
Artists ask me all the time, how important is living in NYC (publishing & editorial) or CA/WA (film & games)? Is it mandatory to go to cons? Do you have to meet Art Directors in person? 

No, physical networking is not mandatory. I work with a lot of artists I've never met. I know a lot of artists who don't go to cons and who live in remote places—thanks to hi-speed internet. And while I think it is critical that you establish a network of people who can give you honest critiques, yes, that can be a virtual network. 

Relieved? Well, let me add this caveat: One hour of physical networking is worth 100 hours of virtual networking. I'm not exaggerating. In fact, I'm probably underestimating. I underlined it just so you know I'm serious. There is no real substitution for meeting someone and having a conversation with them. As a human being you take in so much subconscious information about a person when you meet them that it makes an impact you just can't replicate virtually. Skype and Online classes come close but not close enough. Meeting someone is a giant leap towards trusting them and starting a relationship with them. And as an Art Director, you're asked to put your job in someone else's hands every time you hire an artist—the more trust you have for a person, the more you feel like you know them, the less risky that feels. Again, you can establish strong connections virtually, but it's like walking while physical networking is driving a ferrari.

You know that world-famous artist you've admired since before you ever picked up a wacom pad? At a con you can walk right up and meet them and show them your work and get feedback. You know that Art Director who never answers the phone and doesn't have time to answer every email from artists they don't know? At a lot of industry events you can sign up for a portfolio review with them, and if you miss that you can walk right up to them and ask them to look at your work. (Just remember the no bathroom solicitation rule.*) At sketch nites and gallery openings and lectures you can meet other artists up, down, and at the same place on the career ladder as you are, and get an infinite amount of perspectives on your art and the business of art. These kinds of interactions only happen in person. There's just no replicating them virtually. Late night ichat conversations and facebook posts just aren't the same as being up until 4:30am debating art with other artists in a Holiday Inn lobby* or a dark bar somewhere.

Did someone say world-famous artists?
So why do many artists find physical networking so hard? (Besides the fact that living in NYC as well and/or traveling to cons costs a lot of money, of course.)

There's 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 sterotype, 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 Jung and further codified after him by Myers & 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." 
 
You don't even have to make conversation, you can just stand and watch an artist's process,
in this case Travis Lewis's crazy pencil skills.

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 strangers, showing your work to strangers, having random conversations with strangers. When you retire back to your hotel room (or bathtub*) that nite (or morning*), do you feel relieved that you have some time to yourself to recharge (introvert), or do you feel recharged by having had 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. 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.


Clearly introverted.
I realize I'm at an advantage because I am 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. Here's some advice:

• Fake it till you make it. 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 conversations, 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.

• Practice opening lines. 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 takes care of itself. Try to have a few lines ready for each of the type of people you want to talk to:

Art Director: "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 your own for the Cute Girls. This is an art blog, not a dating advice column, ha.


Clearly my scary Art Director face didn't faze Andrew Cefalu. (Makeup demo by J. Anthony Kosar.)
• Power through the awkward. 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.

• People are judging you less than you think they are. 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.

• Networking events are the easiest places to network. Cons are big and crowded but people are there purposely 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.)

Physical networking can be exhausting. Just ask Cynthia Sheppard and Noah Bradley.
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.

And see you at Spectrum in May?



*You know who you are.

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