Five ways to connect with a creative mentor


A teacher may be able to recommend a mentor – or he could become one. (Photo Photo by Monica Melton / Unsplash)


Gil Ashby figures he has mentored thousands of young people, through his career at College for Creative Studies and outside it.

The illustrator joined CCS in 1999, and was its first African American department chair. Ashby  always strives to give mentees “the notion that they have power within themselves,” he told an audience at the Detroit Institute of Arts in February. He appeared with one of his mentees, and with artist Hubert Massey, one of Mint’s co-founder.

Ashby has an impressive track record of illustrating graphic novels and children’s books and more. Read more about him in the Society of Illustrators award and feature. He has helped many CCS students with their careers.

So how does an emerging artist in Detroit land a mentor? Mint asked Ashby and the DIA panel. Here are five answers, two of them from Ashby and the rest we added ourselves:

  • “Be curious,” Ashby said. Ask questions at panels and webinars.  Seek new information and new people. Read up on the speakers beforehand. All this will make you a standout.
  • Be kind.   Your chances of landing a mentor improve if you volunteer regularly because you will meet new people.  They also improve if you bring homemade cookies to the meet-up, or offer to help your teacher after class. People are more likely to help those who are helpful.
  • Get out there. “Go where the action is,” Ashby said.  Now that things are opening up again, show up at gallery openings, at artist talks and creative group meetings and “that person will reveal himself.”  Or try Creative Mornings, the Detroit Fine Arts Breakfast Club or a university club or organization. 
  • Know what you need.  Identify the essential insights or assistance you hope to gain. A mentor could help you hone your artist’s statement or search for a job. You may want a mentor who can help you set up a website, or connect you to the decision makers at an influential museum. Or maybe you want someone who has a studio full of tools and equipment. Be clear what you are seeking and ask for a short – 15 to 30 minute – conversation about it.
  • Search online. Seek mentoring organizations and organizations local, national and international. Re:create offers free virtual mentoring for graphic designers, creative directors and more.  Detroit has many youth mentoring organizations, some based on athletics or geography or other topics. Search the National Mentoring Partnership’s database to find one.  Or look on LinkedIn and spend some time creating your professional network too.

Want more advice? Read this excellent guide to landing a mentor by Barking Up the Wrong Tree  and five tips for choosing the right mentor. Or follow these  step by step instructions on researching and approaching a professional mentor who’s a stranger, offered by coach Sabina Nawaz.  

Share your mentoring ideas with us in a comment, or send us your suggestions.