This is a good question, dear Anon, to which the (very) short answer is: you’re never ready. And if you are, you’ll never know it. So just do it.
The (super) long answer is this. If you don’t got time, skip through this whole thing and just read the paragraph above.
Honestly, dear Anon, there is no point in worrying whether or not you’re ready. You might be totally ready, yet nobody will hire you. On the other hand, you might not be ready at all, and then BOOM a job offer came round. Working professionally has nothing to do with being ready, and has to do more with persistence, courage, confidence, and (most of all, actually) luck.
Here’s a tautology. If you’re not sure what a tautology is, I’ll save you the trouble of looking it up- a tautology is a something that is TRUE in any circumstances. Put it in under any condition and it will remain true.
So here’s a tautology: For every piece of art/drawing/anything you make, there will be at least one person on this planet who will HATE it, and there will be at least one person on this planet who will LOVE it.
Using that logic, when are you going to say you’re “ready”? When you have more people liking your art than disliking? How would you know? Would you survey the entire earth’s population to get a concrete result? What age group are you going to survey? The search of an answer to “Am I ready?” is as fruitless and endless as the search to “What is the meaning of life, the universe, and everything else?” My advice to you, dear anon, is to stop asking yourself this question, and by God, just show your work to anyone who has the time to take a look at it.
So go forth and compile your portfolio and send it to all the studios you can find. It’s cliche but, what’s the worse that could happen? You not getting hired? If you don’t send it to them, you’re not getting hired to begin with.
I know it’s all a bit abstract and philosophical, so if you really, really must get a concrete answer to “How do I know when I’m ready to work professionally,” how about this:
When you can put a little bit of your ego aside to draw something that somebody else (who’s paying you with real money) wants you to draw, even if it’s something you don’t particularly enjoy drawing, something you don’t think you’re very good at, and, most importantly of all, even if you don’t feel like drawing anything at the moment.
Working professionally means getting something done. On time. As requested by the client. If you’re not capable of doing this, like I see a lot of people on DA offering commissions and then taking years to complete the commissions even though they’ve gotten the money upfront because they don’t feel like drawing, then maybe you’re not ready.
I’ll tell you a little story- when I transitioned from physics to storyboard, I quit my teaching job at the university and began sending my portfolio to 12+ studios. I hear nothing back from any of them for a month, until one day some dude over on Spider-Man asked, “hey, you wanna try out a test?” And so I did. I spent an entire week locked up in my room to make sure that goddamn test looked good, and it got me hired.
Was I ready at the time? I don’t know. I wasn’t thinking about it. All I know was that I had quit my job and I need goddamn money to make ends meet, and the only logical next step is to send out my portfolio to as many studios as I can and hope one of them is desperate enough to pick me out. There was no time to worry about whether I was ready. If I get hired, I figured that means I’m ready.
So I got hired. Did that mean I was ready? Fuck no. The first month or two there on the job I was constantly freaking out about not being up to par with the standards of the other artists working there. I have never drawn superheroes in my life. If everyone is 7 on the scale of 1 to 10, I was like, barely 1. I had to learn a lot and learn fast or I’d get fired. I stayed late every day, coming in at 10am and leaving at 1-2am, I’d come in on weekends, I studied everyone else’s boards outside work hours, I studied how the other artists simplify their anatomy so they can draw fast, I studied how they stage their shots, how they choreographed the fights, I studied the kind of shots and flow that my director likes, I learned how to draw JUST ENOUGH and not dwelling on the details. I basically had to relearn everything I know about drawing, because the way of drawing I was comfortable with at the moment, ain’t gonna cut it.
In hindsight, those are the kinda things I should have done BEFORE I got hired. If I had done all those things prior, I would have been MORE ready when I got hired. But before I got hired, nobody told me to do that, and I sure as hell wouldn’t have been able to figure that out myself. So really, the question of “Am I ready” is moot point.
That was last year. Luckily I had a really patient director who’s willing to put up with all my shit and my bad drawings and my lack of speed. I am much better now, after about 10 months working with the Ultimate Spider-Man crew.
About 6 months into USM I was offered to take test on Korra. THE EFFING LEGEND OF KORRA. So of course I took it. I’ve had some experience, I’m ready now, I thought at the time. I turned the test in never heard from them again. It was only after some haranguing from my part that they told me that they’re fully staffed. I was definitely not ready. The test I turned in was, in fact, utter garbage.
When we had a break after season 2, I was offered a 2-week gig at Warner Bros to help clean up boards for one of their DTV projects. It was only a two-week gig, and I’ve had about a year worth of experience under my belt, so I made a nasty grin and said, hell yeah I’m totally ready for this one. Nope. Those two weeks were quite hellish, and I had to learn a lot of different things again on the spot. I survived the two weeks and they never called me back to help out again, which meant I survived but didn’t impress.
I am now back on Ultimate Spider-Man, and still struggling everyday. The point is, my dearest Anon, you are NEVER going to be ready. Ergo, there is no point contemplating that silly question and just bloody go for it.