I’d rather say it right now : illustrating is a REAL JOB.
It is not an easy way to make a good living, far from it.
If you’re thinking « I like to draw, I’ll do it my job » you have to stop now !
As an example, I like to cook but I am nowhere near ready to spend 10+ hours a day cooking on order (if I ever am hired), and getting criticism about the shape of taste of what I do with my heart.
Of course, some might say we’re very lucky because we have fun in our job.. unfortunatly that way of thinking leads way to often to « So that’s normal if you’re not really well paid ( if at all ). »
General understanding would be that we should compensate the arrogance of living from our art with living poorly. It’s the caricatural image of the cursed artist and it still has a long life in front of it.
Of course it’s a privilege, but it’s a privilege hard earned. As any other job it requires learning, but when another standard job only takes a few years to master, being an illustrator demands a lifetime of training, with huge sacrifices often. If one wants to live decently with it, he must stop counting hours, doubts or years of struggling ( 6 usually).
What’s makes it worst is that we can never be sure about the quality of our work.
Some think they’re as good as their idols when they’re not ( like really not ) and other will doubt all their life even when they’re super talented.
Learning how to see
That leads me to the first primordial point : The Eye.
Our way of seeing evolves all our life, sometimes faster than our abilities. And that’s how, suddenly, an artwork we were so proud of earlier becomes blatantly ridiculous. That’s a real issue when we’re always swinging between overconfidence and low self esteem.
Of course, sometimes you will think you’re really bad and it’s gonna be the truth, I don’t think it’s a catastrophe, it only means it’s gonna take more work.
You have to train your eyes alongside knowledge and gesture. Keep in touch with what are other artists doing, learn a bit about art/illustration history.
[stextbox id=”warning”]Some might say the difference between an amator and a pro is that the pro is that the first one waits inspiration to start working : That’s totally true. [/stextbox]
One can wait days, weeks, years even while waiting for inspiration to hit them and that they’re gonna be so good when it comes. In the same time, the hard workers progress a bit more each day, stocking knowledge and confidence and then comes a day when it’s to late to reach them anymore.
I tend to think that you always have to reach for being the best at what you do. That won’t always work but being content often means you will regress.
If you’re still there, maybe we can start really talking about serious tuff about how to be an illustrator.
Illustrating Is Communicating
Illustrating is, before anything, communicating. You always illustrate something, you’re the link between an idea and a reader.
You really have to make a difference between illustrating and drawing.
Being a good illustrator doesn’t always mean being a very good drawer, in an academical way. It means creating images that can support the story they illustrate as well as calling to people general imagination.
That means being skilled in graphism, color, composition and having a good knowledge of the aimed readers.
Of course, I can only talk about what I know so I will tell you how I live the illustrator life.
Before anything, I am a technician. What tickles my interest in drawing is the challenge, the will to learn always more, to try new things. I would not say I do not care about what I draw because I solved this question long ago but I know that I would always find a way to have fun in what I do.
Main reason is me having very good relationships with my editors.
Which leads to
Creating and presenting a portfolio
A portfolio should be composed of 10 to 30 pictures. More won’t change anything and less is definitely not enough.
Your work should always be coherent : An editor wants to at least have an idea of what he should expect for the final result.when he hires you.
Show only work that you like or you might be hired to draw things you don’t like.
For the same reason you should only put recent artworks.
HONNESTY. I strongly believe that emotion goes through illustration. You should really only show images you create because you like the subject and technique rather than what you think is trendy or what editors might like.
Don’t Argue !!! Your works has to do the talking. Do not brag. Do not apologize neither. If you think you can do better DO IT. And if you’re being told that your work requires a bit more maturation, don’t take it personnaly. Editors certainly don’t have anything personnal against you. If they tell you to work a bit more, it’s as much their interest than yours.
If you’re asked to to some try outs, why not, as long as it’s not free work in the end.
Graduate or not, nobody gives a dime.You are gonna be only be judged on your work. Nobody ever asked me about my formation, therefore I never mentionned it. It’s not your age or your scholarship which interest a publisher but only your ability to sell his/her book. Not only any book but HIS book.
That’s also why a « no » from an editor doesnt always mean your work isn’t good but only means that it doesn’t fit what he/she is looking for right now.
It’s also important to remember that you will be considered as a pro right from the beginning. There’s no such thing as an trainee illustrator status. You will have to learn to swimm directly in the big pool alonside the big fishes so act like a pro.
LISTEN !!! If somebody takes time to give you some advices that is not to destroy you. Advices are always welcome if they’re given politely and respectfully .
You should have something to leave editors you meet. Especially during a convention . They see hundreds of us, it doesn’t cost that much to leave a beautifull business card or artbook.
Promoting your work
With new technologies and social networks, the ways to show one’s artworks have totally changed since those last 15 years.
Before, It was almost impossible for an illustrator to live anywhere alse than in the same city than their publishers, especially in France . You could still do small works but if you were in for the big game, you had to be able to meet people regularly. And it was really impossible to work for oversea publishers.
I will not talk about email here because I really do not know enough of the market outside of France. I have an agent who does all the hard work for me in Youg Adult book market and my reputation is usually enough for the comic books market.
The few times I tried the french routine of mailing publishers I found myself in front of closed doors.
For me, what worked was to attend conventions and make myself visible.
I have a FB page, where I only publish my work, because sometimes, an editor will reach me through it and I don’t want him to see anything that looks like a LOL ever .
I also have a Twitter account, linked to my tumblr account, I also have a deviant-art galery, as well as a concept art one, comicartfans and cgsociety.
It might be a lot, but I had job offers through each one of them.
In illustration, I think it’s important to occupy the gameboard. Stay visible.
That’s mostly it.
Believe in yourself, stay focus, listen and have strength.
And you can ask anything on the comments.