Home > How to > How to get started as a professional Illustrator

How to get started as a professional Illustrator

Many aspiring illustrators often ask me how to go about getting started in this industry. Here are a few pointers that I hope will help you out.Firstly, it is very important is to understand the difference between doing “art” for yourself and doing “art” that is “commissioned.” Once you understand that, you are half way there.It is really important in my opinion to develop a unique style. Often when I am showed student’s portfolios and there are several styles of work in the same book. This is often required in schools that teach illustration and want to have you explore various styles. That’s great for school but I would stay away from doing that in “the real world”. First, it makes it hard to recognize your particular style and second it does not give a recognizable look or signature to your work. Art directors are always looking for a certain style at any one time and tend to associate one particular style with one particular illustrator. Even thought you might be great at a few styles, I still stress the importance of choosing just one to focus on.When preparing your portfolio, either hard copy or website, I suggest that you sit down and go over all of your work. Study it and see which style appeals to you the most. The chances are the one you like and enjoy working in will be the one that is the most successful for you. When an illustrator enjoys working or has a certain energy it does shine through into their illustrations no matter what the subject matter is. If you just got on with what you believed to be a commercial style that you don’t personally have some sort of emotional reaction to, then you may not enjoy it as much. Illustration can be a lonely career, don’t waste your time on something that you have no feeling for – again this will always be reflected in the work.Once you have chosen your style. It isn’t such a bad idea to make sure you have enough work in that particular style. In my experience, you might have to come up with a few new pieces for your portfolio. The more you work in a particular style the better you become. A great way to get ideas for new illustrations is to look at existing editorial articles. Pick up any magazine from your local newsagent, if you don’t have any lying around or find something on the web. Work on articles that interest you as well as articles that don’t. You rarely get to choose in the subject matter or content of the piece you may get hired to illustrate. You might be surprised at the great work you come up with on the articles that bores you to death. Sometime a challenge will bring out the best in you and get the creative juices flowing. You don’t need to just stick to editorial for inspiration but I think it’s a good place to start and it’s the same advice that I often give to new illustrators when I take them on.Once you have a recognizable portfolio full of images you need to put them together in some kind of order. I would spread them out starting with what you feel are your strongest images first, then the rest and then end with a strong and memorable piece. For most book portfolios, I recommend that you show no more than 24 images to get started. I think that two dozen images are more than enough samples to really show your work. On your website, you can show as many images as you like. When creating your site, keep it as simple as possible. AGM launched its first website back in 1996 and even though we have revamped it about 5 or 6 times since, we have always kept it simple. Art directors and designers have so little time as it is, they don’t have time to sit through a fancy intro or listen to the music. They only have mere moments to scan through your site to see if you are the right illustrator for the job. I am not an expert on websites and therefore consult people who are, but I do know a thing or two about the business of illustration and trust me the simplest sites are the best!So now you have what you need to get started, its time to get started.If you can get yourself in with a reputable Agent or Rep that is a great start and of course from my point of view, that is the way to go. See my last post “Should an Illustrator have an Agent represent him/her“. If you are not ready to take that road just yet or you have no intention to be represented then you need to do the legwork and get your work out there and seen. There are many ways to market and promote yourself and you need to decide what is best for you and within your budget. Many illustrators make the mistake of thinking that if their work is great or they won a few awards that work will some how just start rolling in. This is not usually the case. It’s an awful lot of work to promote and market yourself but it’s extremely important.I have worked with many illustrators over the years and I can tell you first hand that if you work hard, remember to always believe in yourself and in your work, don’t take no for an answer and enjoy what you are doing, you will definitely succeed in this industry. Best of luck to you!

Categories: How to Tags: , , ,
  1. manjari
    February 27, 2008 at 12:01 pm

    Wow. Thanks so much for the insider info. Very helpful! I’m glad I stumbled upon this post; illustration is a field that I have been seriously considering. I have a lot of preparation to do. . .

  2. July 15, 2008 at 9:53 am

    Thank you for this strate forward blog, its nice to know that i’m doing the right things and belive in what i’m doing. Any guildance on how to tell if your approaching the right agent

  3. July 27, 2008 at 10:45 am

    Well, I think the personality, the genuine style of an illustrator can be recognized in several art ways (ejem, ejem, that´s me)
    Seriously, i like your comments.
    Greetings
    Waldo

  4. August 30, 2008 at 1:24 pm

    this was incredibly helpful to read – thank you!

  5. nick
    April 3, 2009 at 9:34 pm

    very reassuring to read this advice since it reaffirms what I had already thought about how to succeed as a freelancer. That last sentence was nicest, cheers

  6. April 15, 2009 at 5:44 pm

    So uhm, What techniques do you use to market and promote your work? I’ve been sending emails/ postcards and all that for years and I’ve made virtually no progress.

    • April 29, 2009 at 1:06 pm

      some times it takes a little fairy dust and some luck.
      keep at it, am sure eventually work will come in.🙂

  7. May 4, 2011 at 3:27 pm

    Great artical with lots of detailed information. Another option many people don’t consider is creating a product of your own. If the work isn’t coming in why not create something of your own which can be used to make money and as a portfolio peice. I am creating my own children’s book and writting a blog about the process http://childrensbookcreation.blogspot.com/

  8. September 13, 2011 at 1:53 pm

    Good Stuff! Thank you very much.

  9. June 5, 2012 at 4:28 pm

    The design for the website is a bit off in Epiphany. Nevertheless I like your web site. I might have to use a normal browser just to enjoy it.

  10. Tony Kamm
    July 25, 2012 at 11:20 pm

    I think for this article you might want to break it down into small paragraphs. A lot of people and myself included when we see such a large block of words we want to run and click on something more easily digestive. Does that make sense? Besides that, the information is sound. If I’m wrong, you can just ignore this comment, or deleted it.

  11. PTWBG@hotmail.com
    August 31, 2012 at 5:13 am

    Brilliant but so difficult to read! Some paragraphs and structure would really help the readability. Thanks Anna!

  12. January 24, 2013 at 5:27 am

    I actually Believe that post, “How to get started as a professional Illustrator
    Anna Goodson” was really good! I actuallycan’t see eye to eye along with you more! At last seems like Ilocated a weblog worth browsing. Thanks for the post, Bryan

  13. May 21, 2013 at 7:35 am

    Reblogged this on Wild Flower and commented:
    uhm…. I should really make my own style

  14. March 23, 2014 at 2:45 am

    I was reading your post with great interest. I am a film director. I recently directed my first full-length independent film, and I am working on my second project. I am interested in commissioning a set of illustrations that depicts scenes from the film (approximately 36″ x 24″). I am looking for illustrators who might be interested in working on this project and would appreciate any leads in finding interested artists. We are a low-budget production company, so I am looking for illustrators who are looking for experience and modest compensation.

  1. August 30, 2012 at 8:20 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: