06 Mar Q&A: Everything You Wanted To Know About My Illustration Career
Posted at 11:07h
In early February I put a call out on Instagram Stories for your questions for a future Q&A blog post. What have you always wanted to ask an illustrator or freelancer, and you came back to me with some great questions.
Below, I have answered each question in turn, some of which overlap a little. It was a real pleasure to answer such in depth questions from you all.
James: What is the first image I remember that made me want to be an illustrator?
I actually don’t ever remember a particular moment or image that made me want to be an illustrator. I fell into the career after my studies, however, I always liked picture books growing up and my mum was an excellent artist and textile designer too.
Lea: How do you price work for clients?
This is a broad and difficult question to answer, Lea. Mostly, it comes with experience. I will also suggest joining the AOI so that you can gain access to their pricing survey which will give you a fair idea of how to price for a variety of projects in all major markets. Be aware also, that designing with an agent or studio means that you only get a certain percentage. If you are representing yourself, my suggestion is to alway price higher and be willing to negotiate a little, but NEVER undersell yourself or YOUR skills.
Michelle: Which MATS class is most useful for someone starting out as an illustrator?
For those that don’t know. Make Art That Sells
is an online collection of e-courses run by US agent, Lilla Rogers. Courses available include MATS A, MATS B, Home decor, Illustrating Children’s Books, Bootcamp, and new this year a bunch of other courses including one about illustrating faces. I have taken each class once, and for beginners I suggest starting with either Bootcamp or MATS A which covers markets including fabric, home decor, children’s books, wall art and gift.
That course boosted my confidence back in 2014 when I took it, and I ended up selling one design I did via a studio, and got many jobs off of the work completed in the class too. I recommend this class to a lot of new illustrators and designers.
Besides MATS, what tips or resources would you recommend for building a portfolio from scratch?
I have a written a blog post here
about key themes you should have in your portfolio if interested in art licensing.
If going into editorial, make sure you have illustrations of people as well as objects.
Look at whats out there in magazines, books and on blogs and websites, and interpret the perpetual themes in your own way.
What is something you know now that you wish you did when starting out?
To be confident and assertive from the start. Nerves really can hold you back in life.
Hally: Have you always wanted to go into illustration and did you naturally find a style that sets you apart from other artists, or did you find that difficult?
The honest answer to this is no, Hally. I studied Textile Design in London, and despite studying this I wasn’t sure where I fitted. My work was considered more illustrative than my peers, but I didn’t really know, or see illustration as a career option. It took a few years to find my own path into the subject, and many more years after that to find a ‘style’ that suited me. However, even that changes often.
What do you enjoy most about being a freelancer and is there anything you find difficult?
I enjoy the flexibility of everyday life that working for myself brings. I can start a little later, take an afternoon off, meet a friend, or go to a museum, because I will always make up the time in my own way. Some days are harder than others, and I am particularly prone to procrastination. I find though, that the act of doing one creative thing, then inspires me to do more, and suddenly, a whole day has passed and I have been busy and completed a lot of tasks.
Ashley: What sort of income streams do I have?
This is a great question and one that I think is important to answer. As a self employed illustrator income is key. I don’t have a monthly salary and haven’t for many years. My income now comes in from many different sources which I have to keep track of.
– Shop sales – Etsy and Not On The Highstreet
– Commissions – Books, magazines and other
– Licensing deals – Greeting cards etc from my agent
– Monthly or quarterly royalties – stock images, print on demand sites etc
– Occasional face-to-face markets
– Instagram ads
In 2018 I am also considering other potential income streams including a possible online course.
Amy: How did you reach the volume of followers that you have? Are there any steps you took?
I presume, Amy, that you are enquiring about my number of social media followers, particulary in Instagram?
In November 2014, I had just over 2000 and decided to take a class by Hilary Rushford
on building your Instagram. I don’t know if it was that helpful, but after implementing a few tips, I noticed a steady increase in numbers. Posting regularly, and being consistent is key too. I know that my friend, Emma Block
does a workshop in London occasionally about this very subject.
When did you have a breakthrough moment in your illustration career?
One of my best and earliest big commissions was with fashion brand Ted Baker, and I consider that to be a turning point in my career. It got my name out there more, and it was great to see my art in stores worldwide. Moments like that are great, but may not happen for many years for most illustrators. You have to treat every commission you get as special, and put 100% into each job. Only put out there work which you ultimately want to do.
Is it enough to rely on illustration as a career?
YES! If you don’t undersell yourself, and you must consider leveraging your art and skills across many different markets.
Fiona: What is your experience with different illustration agents?
Kath: Agents and representation. Do you have any advice?
Kath and Fiona, I hope you don’t mind but I bundled your questions together as they were the same subject.
Broadly speaking, it’s a real challenge to find the right agent, and so many new illustrators, like me at the time, will sign with anyone who flatters them even a little. Many times, you may not be suited to the client base of the agency, or maybe there are too many artists for you to be noticed. Maybe, you should just represent yourself, learn everything you can about pricing and contracts, and be done with the idea that only illustrators with agents are the successful ones. This is simply not true. I know many, unrepresented illustrators who are incredibly successful!
I can’t say if agency representation is right for you, but don’t dive in, do some research, speak to other artists and see who their clients are.
Tenille: How did you go about getting representation? Did your agent find you or did you solicit numerous agencies?
Tenille, please read the above response to Kath and Fiona’s question about representation. In terms of finding one, I was not approached directly, and have always undertaken it myself to email agencies I admire with a submission. Always follow the website guidelines for submissions if there are any.
Lesley: Your style is really original. What has inspired you and have you always drawn this way?
My style has changes a lot over time. Getting a Wacom tablet helped me to develop my handwriting, and last year I also got and iPad Pro which has enabled me to develop my style further and also to be more efficient with my designing.
Thanks to everyone who contributed questions to this post. I really enjoyed answering them and I hope they may be of use to some of you out there.