Tell me about your first gigs in illustration
At this Thursday's Critique Arena, I had a really eye-opening moment when Lee, Jake, and Will said that if you're making it into the sweet 16 with some regularity, you're ready to start advertising for work. Previously, it had not occurred to me that I could be ready for that. Thanks for the hint, guys!
So I can make a decent illustration now. My style is evening out.
But I don't know anything about how a job happens. I've done zero paid illustration jobs so far. I want some basic practice in what a client's work flow might look like, working with an art director & editor, contract negotiation, working on multiple pages on deadline, how to proof and edit for print, etc etc etc.
I want some small-stakes projects to warm up with. A few pages, a character. I'd love to hear from folks who are just finding their legs, like me. How did YOU find & navigate your first gigs?
PS also next week I'll be talking to a creative director acquaintance about some interior artwork for a d&d-style game book. I worry that I'll be frustratingly naive about expectations.
@valerie-light thanks for posting this! This has been on my mind a lot, I too feel I’m drawing near to be ready to acquire some work but the thought is a little intimidating! I’ll be hanging around here to see what people have to say!
AngelinaKizz last edited by
@valerie-light there’s set of classes posted in regards to becoming a successful illustrator. It’s very interesting, and I’m finding a lot of great takeaway from it. My eventual goal is to send in portfolios to publishers, but I know I’m not quite ready yet. I know I can draw, but I want to get stronger at my color pallets and clearly depicting dynamic stories.
Maybe I should submit this as a question to for the 3PP podcast instead? Anyone know how to go about that?
@valerie-light yes go to the podcast page from svs site click any of them and there should be a link that says ask a question, great idea!
@valerie-light but I can't believe no ones chimed with experience yet?! I know many svs-ers had to have gotten gigs!
Melissa_Bailey last edited by Melissa_Bailey
@valerie-light oh boy ... this question is multifaceted, really. And a comprehensive answer would be really LONG.
So I'll try for a short answer!
I've been freelance illustrating for about 12 years now. When I started out, I was desperate to find work -- not the best situation and one I wouldn't recommend if you can at all help it! -- so I signed up on Elance and that's where I got my first illustration jobs. (Elance has since become Upwork.) On a site like that, you're probably not going to get paid anywhere near industry-standard prices (I certainly wasn't) and most of the clients aren't industry professionals so both freelancers and clients are usually in the same boat -- learning as they go. If you're looking for experience, though, that's one place to get started. It did give me experience in communicating with clients, managing my time, and delivering projects by the deadline.
That being said, I no longer work on Upwork. Now, jobs come to me through SCBWI, my website, social media, and referrals. I'm also trying to transition to working with bigger publishers so my next step is finding an agent -- I'm doing my homework and have a list of agents to submit to, but since I don't currently have an agent, I'm not the one to ask about finding an agent.
If you have a game plan and know exactly what kind of illustration jobs you want to pursue, you would be further ahead focusing on that industry, rather than scrambling to find just any illustration job, like I did when I started out. For example, if your goal is to become a children's book illustrator, learn all you can about how the children's book industry works and try to network and make some contacts with editors, agents, art directors, and publishers. Yes, that's a broad net and a slow process. Start by joining SCBWI (the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) and take advantage of the resources they provide, including conferences and webinars that will put you in touch with those editors, agents, and art directors. (There are similar organizations in just about every illustration path.)
If you're looking for advice and tips about being a working illustrator and the business side of things, a great resource is Will Terry's book What They Don't Teach in Art School: An Illustrator's Guide to Making Money in the Real World.
Other quick tips:
Check out YouTube. Watching artist channels has broadened my understanding and knowledge of the art business, as other working artists are sharing their unique experiences and what has worked (and not worked) for them. A few that I've really enjoyed: Kendyll Hillegas (who works primarily in editorial and food illustration), Art Business With Ness (by this forum's very own @NessIllustration), Anoosha Syed (who is a children's book illustrator), Bobby Chiu (really love his artist interviews), and Illo Chat (which is also a podcast hosted by two professional children's book illustrators).
Listen to podcasts. There are some really informative ones out there, and they're fun to listen to while you're illustrating. There's Three Point Perspective, Illo Chat (mentioned above), and The Illustration Department Podcast, to name a few.
Take a few SVS Learn classes. A lot of your questions are answered there, especially the ones about work flow. I've personally enjoyed the Jump into the Studio interviews with different working illustrators.
Mine the resource you have! You know a creative director -- if they're willing and have time, they will be able to give you practical advice and answer many of those questions.
"Hire" yourself. If you want to know what the work flow is like, you need to have the actual experience. If no one is hiring you yet, give yourself a small illustration job. That will help you figure out a work flow that works for you and it will also give you an idea of how long it takes you to do an illustration ... and areas where you are struggling and could use some help. If you need the accountability, ask someone to be that accountability buddy, or approach an illustrator to see if they would be willing to mentor you. (They might ask to be paid for that, as their time is limited and valuable.)
Okay ... it happened as I feared it would ... this answer got really LONG even though I tried to keep it short! There is SO MUCH to your question and I honestly haven't even scratched the surface. Will Terry wrote a whole book about it! Hope this can get you started. If you have any questions, feel free to ask. And have fun jumping into the illustration pond!
@melissa_bailey I was hoping you'd respond! You've always got such thoughtful insights to share here. Thanks for taking the time.
Point taken about the chaos of things like Upwork (and fivr, etc.) I have a flexible freelance day job I can fall back on, so I'm not tempted to cram my calendar with those low-pay low-reward structures. I want to be intentional about this.
Are magazine illo submissions something that would fit what I'm looking for right now? I know about Highlights, Ranger Rick, Kazoo, but haven't looked much into this yet.
I am just beginning to explore SCBWI. Joined recently, and spent some time today uploading some work to their site and filling out my profile. Are you finding work from people searching your profile, from the blue boards, or from the events they host? Their site has so many resources I'm getting lost in everything they have to offer a newbie like me.
i did just sign up for a May 21st SCBWI Illustrators Intensive webinar (with Will Terry and others!)
Melissa_Bailey last edited by
@valerie-light you're so welcome and glad you found it helpful.
I haven't done any illustrations for magazines, so can't give you any insights into that -- maybe others in the forum have and can chime in.
Awesome that you're taking advantage of what SCBWI has to offer! Most of my work has come from people finding me in the illustrator gallery. I have gotten some work from connections I've made with people in my SCBWI region. Reach out to your region, see if they have a Facebook group or ListServ you can join, if they have local shop talks, conferences, or webinars. I found my critique group thanks to my region's ListServ.
Just got an email about the Montana Illustrator's Extravaganza from the regional advisor and I'm thinking about signing up. Is that the one you signed up for?
@melissa_bailey Great! I saw the Montana one set for May 14 and 15
But this one from the Carolinas group fits my schedule better- the Illustrators Intensive day on May 21. https://carolinas.scbwi.org/30th-birthday-program-details/