It's been almost 4 years since I started my career as an illustrator and as you might know, I didn't go to art school but studied law instead... So I had to figure out a lot myself. And in doing so I learned some important stuff along the way. I wouldn't have wanted to miss out on this experience, but there are some things I wish I'd known or realized earlier on. And here they are!
Photo by Aline Bouma
1. Perseverance is everything
There are multiple things that make a great illustrator. For instance: talent, practice, self-motivation and perseverance. You will need perseverance if you want to get an illustration career off the ground. Because it will be a lot of work, a lot of practice, a lot of putting yourself to work (no one else is gonna do it for you ). And also a lot of feedback from clients, from your peers and criticism from yourself (know that inner voice?). But by not giving up, getting yourself to work keep going...
2. There really is no point in comparing yourself to others
I’ve heard this so often before and always thought ‘yes makes sence…’ and 5 minutes later I’m on Instagram looking what other illustrators are doing and comparing myself to them. But it makes no sense to compare yourself to other people for two main reasons. 1: They might have way more experience than you do. They might be working in the industry for 10 or 20 years already. And if that's the case, of course they would be better at certain things than you are! They’ve had a lot more experience than you do and a lot more years of practice. 2: You have your style and others have their style. If your style is different from the norm or what’s in fashion, that’s not a bad thing at all. It makes you stand out of the crowd. And since everyone's style is different, there’s no point in comparing… So just keep that in mind the next time you're comparing yourself to a fellow creative.
3. But do learn from others!
The above doesn’t mean you can’t learn from your peers. When I’m stuck in a certain part of a drawing and not sure how to approach that part, it can help to look how other illustrators tackled that aspect. For example, I like drawing backgrounds with a city landscape of streets and buildings, but sometimes have difficulty transferring my ideas to paper. So I bought a book with illustrations of buildings to see how other illustrators approach this. Please note: This is not the same as stealing. Artist have been looking at the work of their peers for inspiration for centuries! And if great artists like Rubens and Rembrandt did so, why shouldn't you? Just make it your own and use your own style.
4. How to digitalize your work properly
The kind of paper you use when digitalizing your work, makes all the difference. More than the actual scanner itself I think. I work on super smooth hot pressed paper, also called ‘satiné’. It scans very well and is sold by multiple brands, like Canson and Arche. When the drawing is scanned, I edit it in photoshop to make the background a clear white and enhance the colors. It really makes all the difference if you want to share your work on social media or your website.
5. How to ask the right price…
This is always a delicate subject and a hard one. Because you want to charge a price that covers the value of your work but you also want to take into account your the budget of your clients. Let’s just say I underpriced my work for a long time. When making a quote, you should not only take into account the hours of work, but also the value and the license you’re giving the client (more on that below). Sources that helped me to get a better understanding of pricing are the amazing blogposts called Moneytalks that Miss Magpie Spy wrote about money and the fee calculator of the Association of Illustrators (AOI)! If you’re not how to price your work, do research, talk to other illustrators or join the AOI.
6. How to license your work
When you sell your artwork, you agree with the client about the license that’s coming with it. In the license you define the rights the client will get. For example: printing, using it online, for what purpose, time and location (using it only in 1 country will cost less than the whole of Europe). It is very unusual to sell your complete copyright! Do keep that in mind. If you google 'licensing artwork', there’s a lot of info about this out there!
I hope this was useful to you! Let me know in a comment below or on my Instagram if you have any questions.