mailbag illustration by bob ostrom

Mailbag: What can I do to begin an illustration career?

From time to time I receive questions from artists asking for advice. Sometimes when I feel the question will benefit a larger group I post it here on the site. Last week a former student got in touch and asked about becoming a professional artist in her area of interest. I know this is the first question many artists ask themselves when they are considering a career in art. It is a very big question but I tried my best to outline the basics for anyone who is struggling with this one. If that’s you, I hope you’ll find today’s post useful. Hang in there, try not to get to hung up on the small stuff and do your best to enjoy the ride. I know I’d give anything to go back and do it all over again one more time…

Q: Hi Bob, I’m wondering what I can do to begin an illustration career.

A: That’s a big question. I’ll do my best to give you the basics. Hopefully you’ll find these steps helpful:

Step -1 What do you want to do and who do you want to work with?

Answer this question first. Once you have figured this out you can begin shifting your art to reflect that vision. If you don’t answer this question you will be forever chasing something that feels elusive and out of reach.

Step-2 Assemble a body of work that reflects step 1. 

Your portfolio should show the type of work you want to be hired for. Remove the things that don’t reflect your goal. They will get in the way of you reaching your ideal client.

Step -3 Create a portfolio where you can show your work. 

Once you have assembled your work you need a way to present it. Start with an online portfolio. As you grow you will want to have places to post your new projects and let people see what you are doing. Social media is a great way to spread the word. Do not take this lightly. It is a huge step in getting hired as a professional.

Step-4 Find your audience. 

This one takes time and work but it is the life blood of any artist. Find the people who will hire you to do what you do best. For instance a children’s book illustrator would want to find publishers, game and toy makers, educational developers etc. Once that artist has found their audience they will want to get to know them and let them get to know you. Begin by attending events, connecting on social media, finding groups etc with those people. Be patient this takes time and can not be done all at once. It is a gradual process that needs constant attention.

Step-5 Promote your work and continue to improve your craft. 

Post your work regularly, to your social media sites, send updates and mailers to your contacts and send pleasant reminders and thank you notes to the people you’ve worked with in the past to let them know you are available. This is another one of those areas that need to be nurtured. The better you get at it the more opportunities you will create.

These are the basic building blocks. Obviously there is much more than just these steps but it will give you a good place to start.

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