Frequently Asked Questions :: Making Illustration Your Full Time Job


{Recent illustration work in progress}

I have decided to start a new category on my blog called Frequently Asked Questions. I get emails + tweets pretty often with questions, and many of the questions people ask me fall into specific categories. So I’ve decided to address some of them here once a week or once every two weeks. I’ll take one question at a time. If you want to read all the questions + answers as they accumulate, you can jump to the Frequently Asked Questions category here.

{Disclaimer: the answers I offer are based on MY experience. When I am speaking about art and illustration, I am not speaking for all artists and illustrators, just myself.}

Today’s FAQ: I really want to make my illustration work a full time job, but I have no idea how to get there. What do I do?

My answer:

There is no one clear path to making illustration your full time work! Here are some suggestions for getting your work out there:

1) Build your portfolio with work that you are proud of and work you’d like to do for potential clients. In the first few years of my illustration career I had very little work. So I spent most of my free time outside my job (I was still working part time when I started as an illustrator) making art that I thought would appeal to potential clients. Soon enough, this work led to jobs. And then jobs led to more jobs. Don’t wait for work to come to you.

2) Use social media to tell the world about what you do. Start a Facebook fan page, a Twitter account and a personal blog. Post pictures of your work and link to them every single day. Tell people your story. Show your humanity. Build a base of people who like what you do and are likely to share it with others. Many of the first jobs I got were from connections I made through the internet. This is still how I get most of my work today!

3) Build/design a beautiful, clean website that highlights your best work. If you can’t do that yourself, pay someone to do it. This is such an important investment. Many art directors will judge you based on your website (or whether you even have one), not necessarily the quality of your work.

4) Show up + network. Go to design, art and illustration conferences and talks. Get over your shyness and interact with people in the business. Support other artists and illustrators. Make friends. Be a nerd.

5) Write down a list of your dream clients or projects. Figure out ways to make connections with those clients. Tweet at them, like them on Facebook, find someone who knows someone who works for them. Take risks.

6) Sign with an illustration agent. This is not for everyone, but working with an agency can be a fantastic way to get new work + manage complex contracts. I work with Lilla Rogers Studio. Much of my work comes through them (clients find me through them). They also handle all my contracts (I don’t ever have to deal with money or weird difficult conversations with clients). They promote my work and provide enormous support.

7) Consider licensing your work. Get a booth at a show like Surtex. Contact companies that license artwork. But always make sure these are companies with whom you will be proud to have your work associated.

8) Work your butt off. Being a full time freelancer requires enormous sacrifice. No one is hustling work for you. You need to do that yourself. Sometimes that means giving up parts of your social life in order to prioritize and promote your work. Sometimes that means spending your extra money on a new website instead of clothes or dinners at your favorite restaurants.

9) Be as original as you are able. Develop your own style or set of styles. Be your own person. Art directors are looking for fresh work that is new and exciting. They want your unique perspective on the world. Show them what that is.

10) Be patient + positive. Making illustration your full time career takes time and enormous amount of hard work. Very few people get there right out of school or overnight. Stay positive about your own work + path and support others in theirs.