Illustration is a really varied and scattered livelihood, a clinic which takes several forms, sometimes even difficult to specify, and it is very unlikely the professions of any 2 illustrators are equally. It is mainly freelance work in which an illustrator moves from 1 opportunity to another, often in an erratic manner week and certainly inconsistent during a working life. If nothing else, markets, technology, culture, personal abilities, and interests will alter and develop all of the time. That is the very first issue to know about, particularly when giving or receiving particular information –every artist’s expertise and circumstance differs. The most I can do is to reflect on overall principles gleaned in my successes and failures through time, hints which may be somewhat universal, encouraging and useful.
Possibly the first and most important suggestion is one which applies to all work: appreciate what you do, to the extent it is a joy to go beyond the call of duty. Creating work that’s more than adequate, that surpasses expectations and also the requirements of their customer, has been something I’ve not only attempted to perform but heard to like doing. I seldom think about any occupation”run-of-the-mill” or simply”bread-and-butter” when I could help it. Given energy and time (admittedly not necessarily offered!) I love to deal with every creative job as a exceptional experiment and do not always opt for the simplest solution, or even the one depends on present abilities. Each bit of work must involve a part of invention or publication difficulty. Here is what I’ve come to know as”doing your best.” It is about trying to perform somewhat better than your very best. I have always been amazed at the consequences, which in turn has fed my self-confidence within an illustrator.
It also describes my success as a creator of picture books. When I entered the genre, I was really interested in hard both myself and this particular story form instead of executing great, secure and”appropriate” examples based on an agreed fee or royalty.
I had been inspired by other musicians and authors with similar goals, creating artistic issues for themselves, and investing apparently unnecessary hours for very little pay, occasionally reaching just a small crowd, in a genre that is often severely overlooked and at times disrespected (true also of SF example from a mainstream perspective ). That did not matter: what most worried me was that the prospect for some experimentation which might not have been possible in the larger commercial end of the spectrum, at which greater pay generally equals less imaginative liberty. For the identical reason, I dedicated most of my power and fire early in my career to small-press science fiction, since it provided the best chance for artistic advancement, bizarre visual struggles, and finally was where I could fine my technical and technical abilities as an illustrator at the lack of formal instruction. Making almost no cash, mind you, though it’s repaid in the long term. I have learned to be patient and stay with it!
So it is extremely important to pursue challenging work, and smaller jobs can be equally as important as high-profile kinds for this reason. Although people tend to be impressed by means of an institution with high profile jobs (especially picture ) possibly my most important accomplishments are small landscapes and portraits painted in my parents’ garage during my early twenties, work which remains unexhibited and unpublished.
That’s also true of one of my very first”tasks” as a teenager, an illustration for the Writers of the Future anthology that needed to complement a story about a time traveler who kills kittens!
Technical competence as an artist is, of course, essential, but this is only ever a tool for the realization of ideas; without a strong imagination, the display of skill is just that–and “style” is interesting only if backed up by content. Too much illustration looks great, but leaves little resonance in the mind; it’s brilliant in style yet thin on conceptual relevance to real-life concerns.
It helps to remain interested in all forms of art and have a good grasp of art history as well as some knowledge of art theory, both past and contemporary. Understand the relationship between art and life. My own background is quite academic, and although I initially worried that studying art criticism might have been a bad choice (having no real idea what I wanted to do as a career), it’s actually been very useful. A knowledge of history and theory, and interest in art beyond making attractive pictures: this can really boost your artistic thinking. Developing a visual sensibility and vocabulary, rather than just technical skills, means that you can be perspicacious enough to deal with many different projects and find original solutions.
As long as you are doing something, even if it isn’t successful, you are not wasting your time. The greatest achievement of so much creative work is simply finding time and dedication to do it, especially when it seems difficult and less than enjoyable, particularly as almost every project seems to involve some kind of confidence-wounding “crisis.” Good ideas and talent aren’t worth much if they aren’t put through the wringer of actual hard work. Ideas are not really ideas until they are translated into labor. Failure is also an essential prerequisite for success.
Pay attention to criticism, and don’t pay attention to criticism! At the end of the day, you are the ultimate judge of your own work, so learn to be critical in an affirmative rather than negative way. All creators–if they are any good–suffer from periods of disappointment, even depression with their own achievements (or lack thereof); that’s perfectly normal! Just keep going, if you want to cross that threshold. You also never find out if you’ve really failed until you actually finish a piece of work. Each success, regardless of quality, will build confidence, and confidence is the key. You also need to protect that sphere of confidence from unwelcome opinions or minor setbacks.
Draw, Draw, Draw and Then Draw Some More
Finally, for anyone interested in being an effective artist, illustrator, designer, even a film director–you should really learn to draw well. It’s a valuable foundation, something you’ll always use, regardless of technology or genre. Drawing is more than just wielding a pencil with precision, it’s a way of seeing well, something that takes several thousand hours of practice, and even then, never entirely mastered. Good drawing is a timeless skill, infinitely adaptable, and will never become passé. My entire career rests on my ability to draw well, to think effectively using simple pencil marks. All other visual skills and techniques, from oil painting to CG animation, are elaborations of this fundamental skill.
Tips on Getting Published
Being a competent artist is one thing; getting published represents a rather different set of problems. The most important advice I can offer is this: please consider the publisher. What can you offer them with your work? Research the area you are interested in and know what a prospective editor might be looking for, what other work is out there. A picture book text might be as brilliant as its potential illustrator, but if it does not suit the list that a publisher is pursuing, both are quite likely to be rejected. Unfortunately, publishers do not exist to supply a canvas for free artistic self-expression–I wish! –they are primarily a commercial business. Many young artists don’t pay enough attention to this important fact.
Be aware too that there is a”civilization” of illustration in any genre that you need to be familiar with (which can vary from country to country). One good way of finding out about this is to study recent works that have won major awards and think about what they have in common. Recognize trends, but don’t bend backward to imitate them, or try to be something you’re not. Rather, look for the point of intersection between your creative interests and the kinds of books that are being successfully published.
As a contemporary illustrator, you can accomplish a lot by having a very good website and a well-presented folio. I would keep both of these quite simple, showing only your best work; young artists always seem to err (as I did) on the side of excess. A good folio needs only about twelve pieces–be very selective. These should represent technical skill and diversity, color and monochrome, and especially anything featuring human figures, something editors usually look for. Where possible and appropriate, it is good to arrange a face-to-face meeting with a relevant editor or art director. I’ve personally found this very useful, to get to know each other as people rather than less memorable e-mail or web addresses. Success as an artist, especially in publishing, has much to do with warm relationships. But don’t believe anyone who says”it is not what you know, it is who you know”–it is what you understand and who you know.