Building a body of work and seeking a career as an artist can be incredibly intimidating, whether you’re seeking further art positions or making the jump to another industry.
Many independent artists begin as Twitter-based fan artists, but if you’re trying to up your game into that coveted desk job, knowing how to write a resume is key.
Even if you have a large online following, it’s easy to feel like a bit of a nobody when the time comes to actually sell yourself to a potential employer.
What if you can’t communicate the visual aspects of your art over paper and text? What happens if you forget a “standard” convention in traditional resume writing?
Worst of all: what if your resume is forgettable – no more than a single piece of paper in a stack of hundreds?
Knowing the proper resume-writing conventions can help ease that burden and stop you from asking the inevitable questions, so breathe easy – this process is far less complicated than it seems on paper.
Resume Writing 101
While some art-based positions may be okay with only a portfolio and interview, almost all non-art professional positions require a resume. So, first things first – what are the basics of every resume?
- Big, bold, and clear-as-day.
- Your phone number, an email address you check regularly, and a website (if you have one) are all excellent places to start.
Some work experience
- Standard convention is reverse-chronological order, but if you have experience relevant to the specific position you’re applying for, you can choose an order that better highlights that.
- This is not just work experience – it can be anything relevant to the job you’re applying for. Whether that includes volunteer experiences that taught you “hard” skills (industry-specific software, etc.) or “soft” skills (management, teamwork), put what you have! Think about how those skills translate across jobs.
- These days, many jobs require a degree, but it’s okay not to have a college degree on your resume, especially with art – look for listings that accept professional experience in lieu of a degree
Keep it to one page
- While there’s anecdata that this convention is changing, keeping your resume succinct is still best practice. A CV is where you build out your total experience in a larger document.
Art & Transferable Skills for Non-Artist Jobs
If you think of yourself as primarily a “hobby” artist, when it comes to non-art jobs you may find yourself thinking that you don’t have any relevant job experience.
While that isn’t true, properly communicating how your painting, digital art, or illustration skills relate to office work, excellent barista-ing, or selling cars can be a stumbling block for many.
There are several solutions for this dilemma out there, but the most effective are as follows:
Focus on “Soft Skills” vs. “Hard Skills”
What specific skills will you need for the position you’re applying for? Look at job descriptions for the type of position you want and identify which of the requested skills (hard or soft) you may have picked up during your time as an artist.
For example, you might highlight how independent artistry has taught you to work on tight deadlines, communicate clearly with clients, and collaborate with like-minded peers.
Use a Cover Letter
Cover letters, while occasionally frustrating to write, are the best place to show how what you’ve learned and done with artwork can translate to the position. They allow you to highlight things that a traditional resume simply can’t communicate.
Things like personal experiences, hobbies, or how you relate to a company’s values aren’t great for resumes – but on cover letters, you have a blank page to show who you are and why they want to hire you.
Don’t Downplay Experience
It’s okay to say outright that you’re a self-employed artist on your resume! A Self-Employed Artist is an Employed Artist, and if you’ve ever taken money to create art for a client, you have successfully operated as a freelancer.
One way to illustrate (heh) this is to put a general time range from when you began selling artwork to the current moment (e.g., “Self-employed artist; 2015 – present”).
Don’t be afraid to gently remind employers that freelance and gig work is not an “employment gap.”
Art isn’t (only) something you’ve done in your spare time for fun – it’s real work that you’ve been doing over a distinct period of time, with clients, deadlines, and operating expenses.
(And at the end of the day, if you ever question whether your art is too nerdy for an office-job resume, just remember – Symantec’s CEO has his World of Warcraft level 70 Paladin and raid history on his. It’s all about knowing your audience.)
Artist Resumes for Art Positions
One of the largest struggles that visual artists find when getting into the workforce is that resumes are inherently a text-based pursuit, which is entirely antithetical to the purpose of visual art. You’re supposed to see art; examine, adore, and experience it – and that’s hard to do with no more than one page and a handful of words.
So – visual artist resumes… how and, more importantly, why do they work?
As an artist, you know that a well-designed page is easier and more enjoyable to read than an unformatted block of text. This is where your visual skills allow you to shine – experiment with color combinations, weight and spacing of text, and find something that you feel communicates a bit of your personality.
That said, don’t over-design your resume; you want your information to be easy to read, after all. Keep the general vibe of the company you’re applying for in mind, and don’t let form overtake function – but a little bit of design work can go a long way towards making your resume stand out.
Make It a PDF
These days many job applications are submitted electronically, and that can wreak havoc on a nice design. One way to get around this is to save your final resume as a PDF–this gives you a little more assurance that your resume will look the same whether it’s viewed on a screen or printed out on paper.
There are loads of potential document types you could save your resume as, but only one is regularly considered “correct.” PDF documents are universally used in most industries for a few reasons:
Put Together a Portfolio
Like a resume, you can have a master portfolio that contains a sample of all your best work, that you can then further filter down to suit the job you’re applying to. One of the best tips we heard from artists was to tailor your portfolio to the work. In their words, “Don’t submit landscapes for a character design position.”
A separate portfolio document lets you show past work in a way words can’t convey. Don’t have a portfolio? We found (perhaps too many) digital artist resume examples, spoke to several digital and freelance artists, and collected the most successful tips and tricks for artists who need to show their work to a potential employer.
If you’re an older artist, you might remember the days when a portfolio was a poster-sized, meticulously-curated binder that you awkwardly wrestled to every interview. While the digital portfolios of today are a little less tactile, they’re also infinitely more portable, and way less likely to need their own bus seat.
The great thing about a website is that a link takes up very little space on a resume.
Your website can be simple, but it should be well-organized and easy to navigate.
Specifically, being well-organized means that it shouldn’t be cluttered. Stick to the important design basics – it’s best to try to keep things crisp and clean, including some white space (~5-10% of the total page).
Like a webpage, socials can be included on a resume without taking up much of your valuable space.
Just be sure to keep things PG and work-appropriate when linking to socials – this is where you want potential employers and clients to find you, after all.
While everyone and their cat has an Insta or a webpage these days, this last option is a bit less common. Many freelancers and independent artists opt to include an additional PDF with links to all their work. This allows you to do a few things:
First, you can save space on your resume for skills, education, and experience. Second, you’re able to categorize and organize your work in the way that tells the story you want. Unlike a website or social media, you have control over the order in which they encounter information.
And finally, this allows you to link to any place where your work has been purchased, published, or critically reviewed – employers love to see hard evidence, and that outside validation is a real feather in your cap.
If you want to hear some excellent tips from a professional artist, take a look at this tweet chain from Alex Jackson, a 3D character artist at Bungie. They go over (with images!) the importance of design and layout for resumes, how to create resumes for software and AI to scan, and other tips to help artists get their resume in front of a hiring manager.
This all boils down to a few key things. Realistically, a job application is a job application and the same general advice applies to art jobs and non-art-jobs alike: Create a simple resume, build a website or social media presence where you can store a portfolio, and tailor your materials to the position. Use the tips above, don’t get discouraged if things don’t go your way on the first try, and most importantly, be creative. We all know you’re good with creativity; otherwise, you wouldn’t be here – so use your imagination to set yourself apart.