I often receive emails from students and aspiring creatives asking me what the key to getting an illustrator is. Short of me performing a fast google search or placing a poll out on Twitter, I must check myself and realize thatyesI am really now a freelancer, creative and possibly I can provide a little insight. After all, people do gasp in amazement whenever I tell them exactly what I do for a living: ‘oooooh woweee’ they state, enthusiastically. Indeed, as I jump down the road, strangers provide high-fives since they shout: ‘You bloody made it! Sometimes I hear the Rocky theme song whenever I wake up at a morning. It will get a bit annoying occasionally.
Despite those items being a little exaggeration, and despite feeling like a small phoney occasionally, I am really making a complete time living as a freelance creative. Therefore, I’m here to inform all you’aspiring illustrators’ some things I’ve learnt about the path to getting one* (so I do not need to send dozens of emails saying the identical thing).
Do not hurry
Sure, you can find those bothersome sods who receive a commission out of Nike two days following their schooling, but the rest of us need to ride the waves of beating rejection and boundless creative spirit looking for. I have worked in some horrible jobs, and a few decent ones. I worked in commercial design jobs for more than ten years until I went . I attempted to become an illustrator right after graduating, nevertheless gave up a year after after questioning how I would manage a brand new toothbrush (I’m not kidding). And that is fine – it just was not the ideal time for me personally (and little did I know then other tasks would do me far larger favours in creating my personality and abilities ). I had no connections and I didn’t have a clue just how much time it would have to construct up the little reputation I have. The majority of individuals don’t respond to you or provide you some comments that could feel a small soul destroying. Do not get rid of heart however, some customers might not respond to your first contact yet may return to you with work a whole lot afterwards.
A career in example rarely lands in your lap as you are good at drawing. I was creating a personal portfolio of work for 3 years until I went . I spent evenings working on private job, I shipped off novels I’d written and illustrated to publishers and I participate in exhibitions. In all honesty, none of it’took off’ from the way I wanted but I began to learn that work was hot and was/wasn’t working.
For god’s sake, stop this needless snobbery about’Day occupations’. ‘But you quit your day job Lisa, what exactly are you about?!!’
Learn to compromise
It may surprise you that sometimes’well known’ companies offer less money than some smaller ones, all for’vulnerability’.
If doing any work other than illustration fills you with dread, you’re going to have to make illustration your business – and you’re going to have to mean business. By all means, paint pretty pictures, but if you want to make money you are going to have to research where your work fits in and create work that solves problems as well as looks good. Look for gaps in the market, trends that connect your work with certain industries and show in your portfolio that you’ve thought about how your work applies to the industry you want to work in. If you are to see yourself as a business, and if others are too, you are going to have to give yourself a title. Sounds obvious doesn’t it? But it took me years to realise that I needed to stop saying’I really do so on the side’ Are you currently creating work you want to sell or make money from? Are you actively seeking commissions? Then advertise it. Call yourself what you are: an illustrator. Sure, call yourself’a aspiring illustrator’ if you want a queue of people asking for free work, but if you want to be taken seriously start calling yourself what you are. Im not telling you to deny your ‘day job’ if you have one (or be disrespectful of that role), but I’m telling you to take yourself seriously.
Think about portfolio presentation
Admittedly I am constantly changing my portfolio as it’s always evolving, but ideally you want your work to be consistent. This can be through a ‘style’ of work that makes it recognisable, or creating categories of the type of work you do (eg. Packaging, lettering etc.) or through your ways of working and processes that set you apart in some way. Imagine you are your ideal client looking at your work. Would it be obvious how you could help them? I often find this hard to see with my own work so I sometimes ask other industry professionals to give advice on this.
Don’t be shy
A lot of advice I’ve received in the past made me focus too much on my illustrations (drawing style, medium, experimentation) and not the importance of a good network. Although a consistent portfolio is important, your main source of work will be through the connections you make. Most of my clients come back to me because I am pleasant to deal with*, over my particular style of work. Don’t feel afraid of approaching people, and don’t discount anyone – you never know who they know. Similarly don’t be shy about putting your work out there and advertising yourself. No one else will do this for you. How else will anyone find you?
Find a creative community
You may find being an illustrator incredibly isolating or you may enjoy finally having more space to create on your own. Either way, I cannot emphasise enough how important other creatives are. They not only share their insight into working on similar jobs, offer tips or give you a steer with fees, but they are also a great source of work. There are times I have been able to pass on work to other creatives and similarly they have passed work on to me. They are not competition, they are your allies. Go to talks, connect with people on social media, meet people for coffee.
Trust your gut
Even if a job seems good on paper, you may feel like something is amiss with it. Sure, give people the benefit of the doubt, but if patterns persist walk away. Protect yourself and your time – it’s hard enough making money and you need to avoid time wasters. Establish mutual trust and respect on both sides before a job takes place, and if that’s lacking walk away. Similarly, you don’t always have to listen to every piece of advice given to you by industry professionals – just because something was right for someone else may not always be right for you, so weight up advice with measured judgement.
You’ve never ‘made it’
Unless you become a world renowned illustrator, you never feel like you’ve ‘made it’. You are constantly repeating most of these steps on a monthly basis. Although a career as an illustrator can be incredibly rewarding, it can often feel a bit like chasing your own tail. Don’t confuse the feeling you get drawing in your sketchbook with the feeling of running a business. Unlike a career in design, there is less repeat work for illustrators because it is often more niche. Being a freelance creative is a somewhat temperamental career, all be it a fulfilling one. Never assume you will always have work, you need to constantly work at it. Be creative with how you find work.
It’s easy to look at your current situation and feel slightly frustrated that you’re not quite where you want to be. It’s easy to look at other illustrators’ work and believe that they’re bossing it, once the reality is that they do not inform you about all of the rejections they have had and they are hardly going to market their worst job. There are several distinct avenues to getting an illustrator – no 1 size fits all so work out your own course. Don’t rush and do not be so hard on yourself. Then, 1 day, possibly write a blog article on it… I will require a little more information myself .