Welcome to the challenging career of illustration: a field that offers great personal satisfaction and creativity offset by unreliable income and unpredictable employment. Illustrators are an independent and interesting breed of artists with a wide variety of interests and skills. On this site you will find information and advice on careers, marketing, portfolios, organizations, networking, resources and supplies for illustrators.
There are many different types of illustrators: children's book illustrators, science fiction illustrators, comic book artists, fashion designers, theatrical and costume designers, animators, video game artists, toy and game designers, product and industrial designers, fantasy artists, scientific illustrators, muralists, fabric and pattern design, greeting cards, scenic designers, prop makers, and many others. Illustrators may work in traditional drawing and painting, sculpture, multimedia, and digital media. The most successful illustrators often work in several different fields, along with creating and marketing their own personal work. A successful illustrator is constantly refining their skills to reflect the changes in communication, technology and the rapidly changing needs of visual communication.
This book is the single most important resource for you as an illustrator and I highly recommend it: The Graphic Artist Guild Pricing and Ethical Guidelines, affectionately known as GAGPEG.
I hope you find the information, links and resources on this website to be useful on your quest into illustration. Good Luck!
While there are some staff positions available, most illustrators work as freelancers or independent contractors. Career possibilities include children's books and magazines, book covers, graphic design, botanical illustration, maps, murals, theatrical work, comic books, cartoons, editorial cartoons, medical and scientific illustration, greeting cards, toys, puzzles and games, surface design (wallpaper, wrapping paper, fabric), advertising, and fashion illustration.
Illustrators can work for magazine and newspaper editors, publishers, television companies, game companies, advertising agencies and design groups. You may also consider pursuing a career in games, animation, multimedia or special effects design for film and television. Related fields include work as a web designer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, editor, or publisher. All fields require a professional portfolio of work directly related to the field. If you scroll down this page you will find links to information and resources on many different fields of illustration.
Freelance work can be very part-time to more than full-time employment, but there are no benefits, retirement or insurance. Staff positions are rare these days. Even the most successful illustrator can find that their current style is suddenly unemployable. Many illustrators work full or part-time in another field to have a reliable income and insurance benefits.
Diversity is the key to surviving as an illustrator, so keep your options open to all possibilities. You may need to market yourself under different "pen" names and websites to keep your illustration identities separate. If you are interested in working in the field of children's illustration you will have a better chance of getting published if you can both write and illustrate at a professional level.
Don't forget to develop your own personal work - you will find inspiration there that will spill over into your paid work and you may find that your personal work is marketable, too. Explore new media, materials and ideas on your own to keep the joy in creativity.
While traditional drawing and painting skills never go out of style, it is wise of you to keep abreast of new technologies and trends. Re-inventing your style and techniques over time will keep your work lively and vibrant. Be true to your inner vision while adapting to the ever changing entertainment and publishing.
A portfolio is an important part of your marketing as an illustrator. While face to face interviews are rare these days you should always have an updated portfolio prepared just in case. You will need one if you attend any sort of professional convention, artist's meetup or critique session.
A professional portfolio and should focus on one aspect or genre of illustration only. If you have multiple interests or styles then create separate portfolios for each genre. Only put your very best work in a portfolio. 8 - 12 pieces is a good number to aim for. Art directors will remember you by your worst piece in the portfolio. Replace old work with new frequently. If you are just out of school you may need to work on developing enough pieces to fill out your portfolio. Your portfolio should be cohesive in content and style.
Start out with your strongest piece and end with a strong piece. It is better to have a smaller number of great pieces than padding out a portfolio with weak artwork. Include a page or two from your sketchbook. (You ARE keeping a sketchbook, aren't you? If no, then you should be!) Don't make excuses for your work when you are showing it to an art director - let the work speak for itself.
Don't include work that you wouldn't enjoy doing - invariably those will be the kinds of jobs you get! Think about your intended audience - if you are looking into putting together a portfolio for the children's illustration market then leave out the violent fight scenes from your fantasy gaming portfolio. Likewise, don't put cute, fluffy bunnies in pajamas in your portfolio that is aimed at political satire.
I recommend going with a small portfolio - don't waste your time with the 24" x 36" portfolio you have leftover from art school. Make sure it is small enough to be easy to manage and big enough to show your work off well. Don't put original artwork in your portfolio. Make sure your prints or copies show your work in its best light. If your portfolio sleeves are getting scuffed or worn then replace them or get a new portfolio. Whatever you use needs to look professional at all times. Another option for a portfolio is an Ipad or similar tablet. If you have a cover or case make sure it is professional in appearance and keep the screen free of fingerprints and smudges. Edit your electronic portfolio in the same way you would a paper one.
Include some extra copies of your work in your portfolio so you can hand them out as samples. You might also want to include business cards and a list of clients (but only if they are relevant to the particular field you are working in). Make sure your name and contact information are on EVERY piece. If you are including collectible card game artwork don't bother putting the actual cards in your portfolio - they are too small to be effective samples, although you could display the printed card next to a full page print of the artwork.
Avoid gimmicky presentations - you want to present yourself as a professional. The same goes for high-tech presentations unless you have a physical portfolio as a backup! Printing technologies have gotten inexpensive enough that you may be able to afford to have portfolios printed to give away.
Don't do pieces for your portfolio that are what YOU think an art director, publisher or general public is looking for. You need to discover your own strengths and interests which will make your pieces both stronger and more personal. Showing published work isn't necessarily in your best interest if it is weak, it is better to show your strongest work even if it is unpublished.
Group your works in a logical manner - try to group all your vertical pieces together and then your horizontal ones, or print them out so that they all fit in the portfolio without having to turn it constantly to keep the work upright. Your pieces don't need to be matted but they should be neat, clean and fastened so they don't slide around. You could add a subtle color for backgrounds and or borders to tie the pieces together.
If you aren't sure your work is of professional quality then find an illustrator or teacher that can help you pinpoint your weaknesses and strengths. Everyone will have different opinions on which pieces should or shouldn't be included so weigh their input against your own judgement. Publishers and editors don't have the time or interest in encouraging amateurs.
A portfolio should be a living, changing creation that represents you and your work at your current best.
Set up a regular marketing campaign and mail color copies, postcards or printed samples of your very best illustrations to publishers or companies that you would like to work for. Do your market research first! Your samples must be applicable to the company you are sending them to. Some art directors will look at emailed samples but every company and art director has a different policy. Whatever method you use to distribute your samples should be done on a regular basis - for some illustrators it may be a new sample every month, for others it may be quarterly. I once had a book illustration job offer based on a postcard I had sent the company 13 years prior - they had held onto it until the right project came along.
DO NOT send slides or original artwork. Make sure every sample and communication
has your name, address, phone number, email address and website address on it. You might also enclose a cover letter, a response card (stamped and addressed) and/or SASE (Self addressed stamped envelope). Make sure your contact information is up to date and that you have the contact's name spelled correctly. Mail a sample to yourself to make sure it survives the mailing process.
You don't need a formal resume but a list of previous clients in a related field would be a good addition, as is a business card. Keep track of what you have sent out, and what response you have gotten. Even with a SASE there will be many companies that you will never hear back from. Email submissions may not get a direct response either.
In some fields you can attend conventions or conferences that allow you to show your work to publishers or editors, usually by appointment. While you don't need to wear a three piece suit and tie, you should still consider what you are going to wear - at the very least be neat and clean. Be punctual about your appointments and remember your manners. Practice a firm handshake - it really does make a good impression. Don't worry if you are nervous about showing your portfolio - let your work speak for itself and use the process as a learning tool. SCBWI
(Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) hosts national and regional conferences that are a good opportunity to meet editors and publishers. GenCon
are two of the biggest fantasy and gaming conventions where you can show your portfolio, meet with art directors and network with other illustrators. Spectrum
is a annual published exhibit of juried fantasy art and they have an annual convention Spectrum Fantastic Art Live.
There are some illustration directories where you can advertise your work:Childrens Illustrators, Picture-Book, Worklife, Folioplanet, The Ispot, Workbook, 3x3 Illustration Directory, The Directory of Illustration and its sister sites: The Medical Illustration Sourcebook, andPlay (Illustration and Design for Toys and Interactive Games). Contact illustrators who are using the directory you are interested in to see if they have gotten work from the site. If the directory publishes a print version you may be able to get copies of your printed page to use as samples.
Always carry business cards with you. You never know when an opportunity will come along.
Yes, you should have a website for your illustration work. A website functions as an online portfolio and is a vital necessity for illustrators today. You can design and maintain the site yourself or hire a professional to design and update it for you. It does not have to be fancy or complicated but it should look polished and professional. Keep the design simple so that your illustration work is the star of the page.
A professional website is for your illustration work only, and you may eventually find that you need several different websites if you have a variety of styles or fields that you work in. Make sure your professional site is well organized, well designed, quick to load, and easy to navigate. Avoid flashy graphics that slow down and distract your viewers from your work. Keep the site updated with new work while taking down old or outdated pieces. It will look more professional if you buy your own domain name instead of relying on free sites that display advertising.
You may choose to show your work via a commercial illustration showcase such as The Ispot
, Children's Illustrators
, or a cooperative site like PictureBookArtists
Do you need a blog?
A blog isn't necessary but if you have the time and interest in maintaining one it can be an interesting addition to your web presence. A blog can also be used as a stand alone website and online portfolio or combined with your illustration website. Post original articles and artwork on a regular basis. Showing the steps from thumbnails to sketches to finals is a good way to show your working methods. Here are some examples of illustrator blogs:The Dust of Everyday LifeDrawn: The Illustration and Cartooning BlogDrawerGeek
(not a traditional blog but more like a blog of drawings)Other options for online marketing tools include Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook Business or Fan pages, and Etsy shops.
The key to making any of these work for you is to keep your content updated regularly with your new work.
If you are unpublished or have just a little publishing experience it is actually harder to find an agent than it is to get published. You do not need an agent when you are getting started in the field. As your career develops you may consider looking for an agent but many illustrators manage their careers on their own. The internet has changed the market in many ways so that you can live anywhere in the world and still be a viable employee.
Once you have some experience then you will need to decide if the 25 - 30% that an agent takes from your earnings is worth it. Can an agent bring in enough more work, or negotiate better pay to justify it? You are the only one that can make that decision for yourself. Even if you have an agent you should still educate yourself on copyright, contract negotiations, and current trends.
In the current economy some agents have added more illustrators to their stables in an effort to widen their marketing, while other agents have cut back the number of artists that they represent. Study the group of illustrators that are represented to see if your work fits in with the general feel of the agent and yet is unique enough that you aren't competing directly with their other artists. Contact artists who are represented by the agency to see how the experience has worked for them.
If you are accepted by the agency make sure you understand the terms that you will be working under. Will they get a cut of your pay if you find new clients on your own? What about clients you have worked for in the past? What costs are associated with working with this particular agency? You should not have to pay an agent up front but you may have to cover some or all advertising costs associated with their mailings, web page or illustration directory pages.
For most freelance work you do not need a formal resume. If you are just beginning in your career then don't worry about a list of clients - let your work speak for itself. You will want to include a list of clients, in a related field, if you are an established illustrator.
Some unscrupulous publishers or individuals will try to convince you to work for them for free, "for exposure", "for experience". Your time is better spent developing work on your own for your portfolio and website.
Your resume does not have to be complex, nor should it be more than one page. Always include all your contact information. A client page can also be added to your website. Make sure your resume has correct spelling and grammar. Use a simple typeface and clear graphic design.
This depends on your learning style. Some illustrators have degrees in art and have found art school to be a valuable resource and learning situation. For me, that was the best choice and I was able to take classes in a wide variety of areas including painting, drawing, life drawing, sculpture, woodworking, metal work, jewelry, weaving and ceramics along with many classes in illustration and a regular university education. I've found that this wide skill set has made me a better illustrator and artist. If you do choose to go to school for illustration look for a school that has a strong program in both basic art skills and illustration classes.
Other illustrators are self-taught because they learned best that way. Other illustrators have taken a middle road by taking specific classes but not working towards a degree. You need to decide what works best for you. Most illustrators end up learning new skills during their whole career. Very few schools offer courses in the business of illustration so you will have to teach yourself those skills on your own. It is a good idea to take basic business and accounting classes. One of the most valuable classes for illustrators is life drawing.
Whichever road you take you should also have a back-up or alternative career in mind. Very few illustrators can start out working full-time in any illustration field unless they happen upon a staff position, which are few and far between. You are going to need some other career or job to support you while you develop your career as an illustrator. Freelancing may never be a full time career or it can vary wildly from months of nothing to times of overlapping more-than-full time work. If you are young, then concerns like dental insurance and health insurance may seem inconsequential but they really are important. Some freelance illustrators have their second or part-time job in a creative field but other illustrators find that working in a non-art related field helps keep their creativity level high for their illustration work.
Oddly enough it isn't just talent that guarantees you success. Talented illustrators are a dime a dozen and most of them aren't going to succeed in this field. I've seen estimates as that as few as
only 1 percent to 10 percent of all illustration students will succeed as professionals.
Illustrators that work freelance need to have a strong sense of self-motivation. You will need a good head for business and be very organized. It is good to have a thick skin for criticism and a dogged sense of perseverance. You need to be knowledgeable about your areas of interest and also know how to negotiate contracts and understand copyright law.
Your art skills have to be professional quality with the ability to work fast in both color and black and white. You need to be flexible with making changes at any stage from sketch to final art. Your figure drawing skills need to be top notch. You need to be able to draw people of all ages, genders and types in movement and at rest. You need to be able to draw animals, architecture, costume, landscape and interiors. You also need to develop research skills especially for science and historical illustration.
If you feel that you need an artistic muse or that you often run into "artist's block" then the field of illustration isn't for you. Publishers aren't going to wait around for you to be "inspired".
You have to be willing to keep learning and growing as an artist through all your career. Don't depend on one style of illustration to keep your career going. Take classes, experiment with new media, expand your strengths and keep growing as an artist. Diversify your areas of expertise so that you can survive the vagaries of changing needs and tastes in illustration.
The most successful illustrators are the ones that persevere. They have a good head for business and can work in a timely manner, following directions and being pleasant clients. They can weather the unpredictable nature of freelancing and balance their personal and professional lives.
There will always be a need for illustrations done with traditional materials BUT you should know how to scan and color correct your own work, and send sketches and final art via email. It also helps if you have some knowledge of digital illustration for making changes on final artwork. It is becoming more important to understand the basics of digital illustration and how to prepare your files for publication as many publishers are expecting these skills from their illustrators. You should understand the basics of file management, color correction and calibration and printing requirements.
I personally feel that every illustrator needs to be trained first in traditional materials and techniques. Then if you choose to further your studies in digital painting you will already have the basic skills you need to transfer to a new medium. Digital art is just another tool in your arsenal. Traditional training will also allow you to keep working in case of a technical disaster. You need find a happy medium that lets you work in a method and style that works for you but still keep abreast of the rapidly changing face of technology in illustration today.
Learning and mastering digital art techniques and new software is one way to keep your skills and style developing in new directions. Working both traditionally and digitally can give you satisfaction and accomplishment in both areas and make you a more well rounded artist and illustrator.
Luckily the internet has enabled illustrators, who normally work in isolation, to connect with each other. Look for message boards, facebook groups, LinkedIn groups, forums and listservs such as PicturebookArtists
, Guild of Natural Science Illustrators,
. Sci Art
is a list serv for Natural Science Illustration. Book Arts
is another book related list serv. Many of illustration directory sites also have active forums.
Illustrators are friendly and helpful but be considerate of their time. If you contact them individually keep your requests short and to the point and realize that they may not be able to answer right away. Check their personal website to see if any of your questions are answered there. Be polite, and make sure you thank them for any information or feedback that they give you. I have found illustrators in all fields to be very generous with advice and friendship.
Join professional organizations and attend their conferences. There may be opportunities to show your work to an art director, display your work, have a professional critique, and meet up with other illustrators, publishers and editors.
Pay varies widely in this field because of the freelance nature of it. The annual salary for a freelance illustrator has many variables and can vary enormously from year to year or even from month to month. Many illustrators have part-time or full-time jobs in other fields so that they have a reliable income and source of insurance.
Statistics for illustration income are hard to come by as many sources lump all artists together. The Bureau of Labor Statistics maintains their occupational outlook handbook online with the Arts and Design category here
. "Through 2014, employment opportunities are expected to grow as fast as average", according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics , "though competition in all art and design fields is generally quite keen. The outlook is most favorable for multimedia artists as the demand for special effects in movies and television, animation, and video games increases."
Unfortunately, illustration fees in many fields have become stagnant over the past 20 years and in some cases are actually less than what they were 20 years ago. Every illustrator has times when there is no work coming in and some illustrators will occasionally have so much work at times that they have to turn it down. Book publishing ventures rarely produce royalties these days so the advance payment you receive as an illustrator may be the only payment you get. Beware of work-for-hire contracts as you will give up all your rights to the image.
Pricing is a complex art in its own right. There are many variables in determining pricing for illustration work such as complexity of the job, the amount of time available, and most importantly which rights are being licensed. You need a thorough understanding of copyrights, and your rights as a creator before you can begin to negotiate pricing. You also need to understand the various types of licensing and how that can affect your future earnings.
The best print resource for pricing illustration is The Graphic Artists Guild Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines.
While doing pro-bono work for a worthy cause is a noble gesture, it is foolish to do work for free or reduced rates for "exposure", "publishing experience", "a share of the profits" or "a favor for a friend". You need to value your own time, energy and creativity.
Mark Monlux has some great tutorials on pricing, negotiations, a sample contract, invoice tracker, and a project tracker
Phyllis Cahill has some guidelines for pricing
in the Children's Illustration market
One factor that may be in your favor as an illustrator is that you can choose to live somewhere with a lower cost of living because you can communicate and deliver finished art via the internet.
Networking is an important part of being an illustrator, whether you are a freelancer or a staff artist. Joining professional organizations and associations is a good way to find out about job opportunities, marketing methods, conferences, portfolio reviews, and technical advice while giving you an opportunity to meet other illustrators, authors, editors and publishers.The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators
"The SCBWI acts as a network for the exchange of knowledge between writers, illustrators, editors, publishers, agents, librarians, educators, booksellers and others involved with literature for young people."Graphic Artist's Guild
The Graphic Artists Guild is a national union of illustrators, designers, web creators, production artists, surface designers and other creatives who have come together to pursue common goals, share their experience, raise industry standards, and improve the ability of visual creators to achieve satisfying and rewarding careers.Association of Science Fiction and Fantasy Artists
ASFA was organized for artistic, literary, educational and charitable purposes concerning the visual arts of Science Fiction, Fantasy, Mythology and related topics. We are dedicated to providing a communications link among our members, as well as providing helpful information and technical assistance.Canadian Society of Children's Authors, Illustrators, and Performers
The Canadian Society of Children's Authors, Illustrators, and Performers (CANSCAIP) is a group of professionals in the field of children's culture with members from all parts of Canada. For over twenty years, CANSCAIP has been instrumental in the support and promotion of children's literature through newsletters, workshops, meetings and other information programs for authors, parents, teachers, librarians, publishers, and others.
the professional association for design, is committed to advancing design as a professional craft, strategic advantage and vital cultural force.CAPIC
CAPIC was founded in 1978 as a national, not-for-profit association dedicated to safeguarding and promoting the rights and interests of photographers, illustrators and recently, digital artists, working in the communications industry. Starting as a single group in Toronto, CAPIC has grown to six chapters, spanning the country from Halifax to Vancouver, with a membership of over 1030 Comic Book Legal Defense Fund
The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund was founded in 1986 as an organization dedicated to the preservation of First Amendment rights for members of the comics community.Association of Illustrators
The AOI was established in 1973 to advance and protect illustrator's rights and encourage professional standards. The AOI is a non-profit making trade association dedicated to its members' professional interests and the promotion of illustration.The Illustrators Partnership of America
is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the business of professional illustration.
ArtPACT is a new organization
that will be an online resource for illustrators, at first focusing on the fantasy, sci-fi, horror, and comic book genres. heir website is still under development but they have an active facebook
page. Society of Illustrators
The mission of the Society is to promote the art and appreciation of illustration, as well as its history and evolving nature, and to encourage high ideals through exhibitions, lectures, education, and by fostering a sense of community and open discussion.Association of Medical Illustrators
The professional objectives of the AMI are to promote the study and advancement of medical illustration and allied fields of visual communication, and to promote understanding and cooperation with the medical profession and related health science professions.AIGA
the professional association for design, is committed to furthering excellence in design as a broadly-defined discipline, strategic tool for business and cultural force. AIGA is the place design professionals turn to first to exchange ideas and information, participate in critical analysis and research and advance education and ethical practice.National Center for Children's Illustrated Literature
The NCCIL provides recognition of the artistic achievements of illustrators and gallery exhibitions of their works. Additionally, the NCCIL designs educational programming that relates to illustrations in children's literature in order to stimulate creativity, promote literacy and to increase appreciation for art.Children's Book Council
is a nonprofit trade association of publishers and packagers of trade books and related materials for children and young adults.The American Library Association's
mission is to promote the highest quality library and information services and public access to information. ALA offers professional services and publications to members and nonmembers.
American Society of Botanical Artists
is dedicated to promoting public awareness of botanical art and to encouraging the development of this continuing artistic tradition. (The site appears to have last been updated in 2010)Association Europenes des Illustrateurs Medicaux et Scientifiques
Showcasing the work of Europe's best Medical IllustratorsInternational Association of Astronomical Artists
The object of the IAAA, as a non-profit foundation, is to implement and participate in astronomical and space art projects, to promote education about astronomical art and to foster international cooperation in artistic work inspired by the exploration of the Universe.Vesalius Trust for Visual Communications in the Health Sciences
The Trust strives to develop and support education and research programs in the field of health science communications.Guild of Scientific Illustrators
is a non-profit organization that sets high professional standards, provides opportunities for professional and scholarly development, encourages and assists member networking, and promotes itself to potential clients and the general public.Institute of Medical Illustrators
Professional association in the United Kingdom focusing on clinical photography, art, graphics and video in healthcare.Medical Artists' Association of Great Britain
Our trained members possess the specialist combination of technical artistic ability with a comprehensive knowledge of medicine and science, thus providing a smooth communication between artist and client. They are skilled in numerous fields ranging from traditional and digital illustration to facial reconstruction for research and forensic science.National Cartoonists Society
The National Cartoonists Society is the world's largest and most prestigious organization of professional cartoonists.
Greeting Card Association
is the trade organization representing greeting card and stationery publishers, and allied members of the industry.
Publishers do not
want to see illustrated manuscripts unless it is illustrated by the author (and then only if they are capable of doing professional quality illustrations.) Spend your time working on your own portfolio and mailing samples instead. Send the would-be author to the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators
site and The Purple Crayon
Self-publishing is another venture to be very wary of. If you can get the author to pay you up front you might consider taking the job but make sure your contract is very clear about deadlines, number of changes to artwork, author input, specific rights and licensing. Do your research on both author and the self-publishing house to make sure they are legitimate. Preditors and Editors is a useful site for researching various publishing entities.
The best things to do are to draw and read! Take as many Art and English classes as you can while you are in school and see if you can find some Art classes through your local park district or community college children's programs. If you can't find any Art classes, then check out Art books from the library and study them. Go to museums and look at the artwork there - much of art history is really illustration
Spend a lot of time at the library, looking at children's books and magazines, both old and new. Look at the pictures and decide what you like and don't like, how are books different for little kids and older kids, how could this picture be better? When you go to college try to find a school that has a good illustration program but also plan on taking other classes, too.
You need to know some math and business to do your own record keeping, history to give you a good understanding for illustrating other time periods, science if you are interested in drawing people or animals. English classes are good especially if you want to write your own books some day.
Working in a library, or a bookstore could be a valuable experience for you. Some libraries take young volunteers to do work at libraries, you might ask your school or town librarian if there is anything you can do to help them.
Carry a sketchbook with you all the time and draw from life. Copying from books and photos is a good way to get started but eventually you will want to be able to draw using your own ideas. You need to be able to draw people of all ages, animals, buildings, landscapes, furniture, all from different viewpoints and perspectives.
Most illustrators get started by slowly building up a portfolio of their highest quality work, then sending out samples (never originals) to publishers. Ask your librarian if they have a copy of the current edition of Children's Writer's and Illustrator's Market
- there are some young author and young illustrator markets listed in it. Most of these don't pay anything but they would be a good way for you to get experience in being published.