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How To Be An Illustrator

Updated: Mar 6, 2022

A Look Back At My Early Career, How I Got My Very First Clients and How I Built My Portfolio

McDonald's 2011

I was in my first full year of illustration and an email landed unexpectedly in my inbox from an advertising agency. You have to bear in mind that at the time, my portfolio was extremely limited, and I had only done a few promotional emails out to select people. To have this offer of work with such a huge brand was a massive deal for me. It made me realise that this new direction for my career had legs, and I could actually make a success out of it.

How Did I Get Such A Huge Gig So Early On?

As mentioned above, my portfolio was very basic. I had nothing particularly outstanding, but I suppose I had a look, that, at the time, was appealing to Art Directors. It was hand drawn, but digital. I particularly loved to draw animals like these

Animals, 2012

They became incredibly popular, and helped me establish myself on Etsy. It was this style of work that I would email/post to magazines, advertising agencies and publishers in the hope that someday, someone would take the bait and hire me.

And they did.

My promotions were working.

Nowadays, I'm not sure email or post marketing is needed. If you have a social media presence, especially Instagram or Twitter, you can reach clients. Be present, consistent and positive and you can be found by the right people.

Vintage Party Games, Quarto Books,2012

Building My Portfolio

Over the years, my style has developed from the above to now illustrating children's books full time.

My portfolio consists of a good mix of illustrations for children and patterns designs and I always try to remember to only put out work into the world that I want to do.

Wilderness Bear and Back To School pattern, both 2017

Your portfolio can contain hundreds of pieces of work, but if you have a mixture of all different styles, or if some is executed less well than others, it may put clients off.

Even though I do pattern design as well, my designs generally sit quite well next to my children's illustration work. I am confident that I have a cohesive look that I am projecting and that clients will be able to see what they need with ease.

Auzou Publishing, 2020

My advice to young illustrators is to focus on your style, your techniques, your 'brand' and put that out into the world. I'm seeing so many students yet to graduate who are utilising Instagram to it's fullest, and who I can see are going to have very bright futures.

Be confident, and be consistent. Don't expect things to come your way quickly or easily. Be open to opportunities, but don't work for free. It weakens the market for the whole industry.

Learn new skills. be excited and be supportive of others in the world of illustration.

How Else Can I Get Work?

Lets not be naive and fully rely on the magic of social media to bring people our way. It's not going to happen.

Here a some other top tips I can give to find your first clients:

  • Make a list of dream clients or brands you really want to work with.

  • Research them, and see if they have an Art Director you can connect with.

  • If it's editorial you want to get into, look at magazines in shops, and make a note of names. See if they have a submissions guide on their website. So many do today.

  • Follow the guidelines

  • Make collections of work or illustrations aimed at those dream clients you listed earlier.

  • Pitch the work to them!

  • You have nothing to lose and everything to gain!

Good luck!

Connect with me on Instagram where you can message me if you have any more questions.

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