Conferences and Networking

As a freelancer, working at home has a lot of benefits. But one drawback is that I spend most days holed up in my little cave and isolated from the outside world. (Weather…what’s that?) The busier I am, the worse it gets. So when my time and budget permit, I go to as many conferences and art-related events as I possibly can. Its my only opportunity to network and hang out with other creative types.

The more I grow as a professional, the more important I find such networking becomes. Talent will only get you so far. Passion and personality are just as important, maybe even moreso.

Plus, since many of my friends and relatives struggle to understand exactly what I do for a living, its refreshing to chat with other creatives who “get it”. It’s great to make those personal connections with other people in the biz. And at every event I always pick up great tidbits and tricks that I can take home and use in my business. And if I’m lucky, I occassionally make a connection that leads to paying work down the road. The travel and registration costs aren’t cheap, but the connections I make and the knowledge I gain almost always make the trips worthwhile.

I’m still pretty rusty at networking. Like many freelancers, I’m more comfortable by myself than I am around other people. I’m not great at small talk. But with every event I attend, I learn more and grow a little more confident. And I always walk away better for the experience.

In the last month I’ve attended two events, the Reubens and Flashbelt.

In May I traveled to Orlando for the Reuben Awards, a yearly event held by the National Cartoonists Society. Thanks to the kind sponsorship of illustrator Tom Richmond (pictured, left) I have the honor of being a member of the NCS. I’ve attended chapter events in the past but this was my first time at the Reuben’s. For two days I walked among some of the world’s greatest living cartoonists, which was a little intimidating but also exciting.

I had a nice chat with Stephen Silver, from whom I’ll be taking an online character design class this fall (check it out at I also shook hands with C.F. Payne, Sam Viviano, Dave Coverly, Chris Browne, and many other talented folks from all over the country. Everyone was very friendly and it was an honor just to be there. As you migh imagine, cartoonists are a fun bunch to hang around.

By the way, congratulations to Tom Richmond on winning another Reuben Award for Magazine Illustration. This is his third, I think.

Earlier this week I attended Flashbelt here in Minneapolis. Flashbelt is a large conference for programmers, designers, and animators (like me) who use Adobe’s Flash software. The seminars ran the gamut, but there were some good ones on promoting yourself as an artist and on being successful as a freelancer. Even though I’ve got ten years of freelancing under my belt, I still learned a few things about improving my self-promotion efforts and strengthening client relationships.

There were also some fun afterparties where I had the chance to chat with lots of fun artists and animators, many who live right here in the Twin Cities. It was fun to hang out, share tips/advice, and hear about what’s going on at some of the local agencies.

Next up is Comic-Con in July. I attended again last year and had a blast. Unfortunately I probably won’t be able to go this year. But I’ve heard great things about the HOW design conference later this year. If any of you readers have ever attended, please leave a comment and let me know what you thought.

Now get out there and network!