When I was in High School I was quite fortunate in that I was already trying to find marketable skills that I could leverage for personal gain once I left school. I do have a certain practical side, which lead me in this direction, but at least as much a reason as that was my mediocre talent level. I had friends who were much better natural artists than me. I have another friend who was, he’ll pardon me, even less of a natural artist than I was, but now works on feature animated films in Burbank. My point is that one must, as a creative sort, figure out what area of expertise he wants to develop. That focus should be guided somewhat by what is valuable in the marketplace, and what skills you are likely to acquire before you get a studio gig.
There are many lucrative areas of visual art and design. There are more small businesses needing logos and business cards than there are pigeons pooping on my car. Quality architectural renderings are often in demand. Some areas are a bit saturated however. The bar has been raised on 3d modeling, with Mudbox and Z-Brush allowing exponentially more detailed models, and new Kinect-style scanners allowing physical model scanning to become cheap and common. A common texture ‘trick’ is to paint them, or at least paint over them, using Chalk brushes in Corel Painter. Use more vibrant and diverse colors that you’d expect for a given surface and your models will come out looking more lifelike.
So back to the point: find out what marketable skills you can develop to make yourself interesting to potential employers. Just being a good illustrator isn’t really going to cut it. Being a graphic designer that can’t do illustration or custom artwork is going to put you at a disadvantage. Work now to rectify this. Color theory is going to be valuable in any area of visual art. So are the rules of composition. Knowing where to put detail, where to put more color, more movement, leave parts unfinished to draw the attention to another part; these are things that are universal.
It is always beneficial to ask the advice of those who are already professionals. Very often they will prove more than happy to oblige with feedback and advice on your career and sometimes your work. I learned huge swaths of valuable information on the Sijun forums from some of the best artists I’ve ever seen. Involve yourself in the community. And for God’s sake, don’t go to art school and punk around smoking and partying and thinking you’re a great artist. The best artist, when combined with a big ego and a bad attitude, is the very person I *don’t* want on my team.