What's my style? Who's my audience?
I'm brand new to this community and this is my first post. I'm in a bit of a panic mode and could really use some advice from other illustrators and designers out there.
So something I keep hearing from everyone in the industry is that you need to know who your audience and dream clients are. My problem is that I enjoy so many different subjects, styles, and mediums, and would go crazy to limit myself to just one or two niches. I like doing realistic portraits, horrific creatures and monsters, scientific illustration, simple graphic work, cartoons and kid-friendly work, and everything in between. Therefore I have a lot of audiences and my dream job is being a freelancer who can work on this wide variety of projects for different clients.
Despite my best efforts, my portfolio and social media look like a bit of a mess and like the work was done by a bunch of different people. I currently earn some side income through a variety of things: editorial illustration, graphic design, being a part time tattoo artist, and selling my work at art festivals; but I’m nowhere near “quitting the day job” level of illustration. I worry that my all-over-the-place approach makes it seem as if I don’t have my own style (or that I have 10 different styles?) and it makes me less hire-able to prospective clients because they don’t know what they’re going to get, or if a children’s publisher visits my work and they see a demon sitting on a pile of bloody bones that it will put them off even if some of my other work is perfect for them.
Is it unrealistic to be this Jill of all trades? Should I limit myself? Should I create different websites and social media pages for the different sorts of things I make? What about when things over-lap?
I graduated with a BFA in illustration in Dec 2017 and my school experience was generally positive. I excelled in my classes and my instructor’s expressed to me that I was doing good work and told me they had no worries about me getting work and succeeding in the real world. However, since graduating I feel completely scattered and discouraged, and am constantly worrying that I’m doing everything wrong. Any advice? Does anyone else have this insecurity?
I look forward to pouring through these forums and getting to know everyone!
Hi Julie! Welcome to the forum.
The standard wisdom in terms of multiple styles is that you can have as many styles as you feel comfortable with as long as
A) all the work is good and
you have enough examples of each (a minimum of 8-10 works).
What I see in your portfolio is actually a good consistency in terms of mark-making (it DOES all seem like it´s done by the same person!) but it´s not clear at all who your audience could be. If you want to earn decent money with illustration, you`ll have to identify your market or markets more clearly and target them more aggressively. As much as it´s nice to experiment on different genres, the competition on every single illustration market is too high to be half-hearted about it.
At the current status, I can see the tattoo work being up your alley and that is probably the strongest “audience” identifiable in your work. Children illustration is practically absent in your portfolio, so that´s would probably be a long haul - also most ADs in that field would be put off by the more graphical work on your webpage. I also cannot really see many examples of scientific or editorial illustration. There is a demand for portraits in editorial (and maybe also, to some extent, with private commissions), and you could think about ramping that up. You´d need to put in some celebrity portraits and different styles of portraiture (black-and-white, line only, comic style, full color). I’m not familiar with the market for horror apart from concept art for games and films - but that is a very specific field with very specific requirements.
Art licensing is something you could consider - there is a course about it here on SVS that is pretty enlightening.
In essence, if you plan to earn a living with illustration you need to face an analysis of the market demand: who commissions art? What type of art? For what use? What are other artists in that field doing and how? Having more than one market or more than one style is not an obstacle - it´s just an enormous amount of work to keep up portfolio and promotion in more than one market.
Also, I may be wrong, but I think the best paid jobs generally go to specialists rather than generalistis. I work part-time as art director, and if I have a high budget for a specific project I will generally go for the illustrator that does that at top quality - and he/she is generally doing only that kind of illustration. It´s just very hard to be top game in more than one genre or style.
TessaW last edited by
Hi Julie. I'm not a professional, so my perspective comes purely from looking at and admiring other artists and illustrators. As of now, your portfolio looks like it's catered toward adults, who are slightly edgy and like fantasy, nature-y things- this is mainly based off of the subject matter in your website. That being said, I think that you could definitely lend your style toward other markets and age ranges; I can see you doing a wide range of things. Book covers, editorial, children's books, tarot cards, gallery work etc, but you would need to have subject matter suitable to other markets represented on your website.
Diana Sudyka may be a good artist to look at as she seems to cater to a variety of markets.
@juliekitzes I definitely have the same concerns and fears. There are certain subjects I don't want to do, but a lot I do want to pursue. I graduated in an Art and Art History program (degree and diploma in the arts), but I specialised in Photography and Print Media not Drawing and Painting. And due to some major health crisis over my 20's I have the content I want but not the technical skill to create them yet. And "yet" makes me feel very behind and I question if "I can catch up". But I am a fighter, I don't give up and you got to be patient with yourself. So to hear you have just graduated in Illustration, I was like "wow" and you have side jobs getting out there and with teachers that supported you. With those experiences, in a different way your ahead of me.
I don't think you need different websites, but each page you could highlight a favourite subject and style you like to work with in that subject. Also remember not everything needs to go up, pick your favourites and best ones. That way prospect clients see you can do a variety of things but focus on the area their into. I'll take a look at your page after writing this.
Anyways your not alone. I think in time, with more creating we discover our subjects and styles, but their not static, you are growing so will your style.
p.s I saw your website, your art is very striking. So I agree with what I said above about subjects in different pages. However I did notice your text is in light grey tone and was harder to read. So I'd suggest a darker grey or black.
lei last edited by
From first impressions, I can't see anything to worry about. Even though you work across different mediums, a quick glance at your website and instagram accounts shows a really consistent 'hand' and style to your work. It does all feel like it's the work of one artist.
Can't believe I'm writing that as I often have the same panic myself about my own work.
If I'm pushed to point something out, then there's an instagram post of a watercolour mouse reaching out which is slightly more 'traditionally cutesy' compared to your other work which all seems to have an edge to it.
But still, it's clear you doodled that in your own style. It wouldn't confuse me at all.
What would help is to segregate your website portfolio into sections, if you wish to showcase childrens' illustration together, tattoo work together, etc.... and just remember you don't have to show EVERYTHING in your portfolio, only pick your strongest work that you want to get more of.
Social media accounts can be more experimental, most people are OK with that.
But definitely see what others on the forum say, they're super helpful here.
DOTTYP last edited by
Hello julie I think a lot of us feel the same way.I love horror themes too ,but I know what you mean about it putting people off and I was thinking of putting them in a separate gallery or page. I really loved your portfolio and your and your horror work is really cool,and you have amazing designs, so maybe just different sections or instagram pages would work.
@smceccarelli Hi Simona,
Thank you so much for the feedback. It's a great relief to hear I have consistent mark making as this is one of the areas I was panicking about.
The more I've gotten into tattooing the more I've begun to hate the entire industry because there's so much drama and resentment among artists, so I don't really see a long term career there. By contrast the illustration community is one of the most supportive I've ever encountered.
I also agree that my work isn't particularly suited towards children. I've had people tell me it is to which I never understood but tried to lean into (very unnaturally) so it's good to know I'm not crazy. Ha ha.
I guess I'll make it my goal at the moment to research companies that would be interested in licensing my type of work (because I'm not really the American Greetings type), and trying to figure out how to narrow down my market to at least a range that I can dedicate marketing time towards.
Thank you so much for your thoughtful feedback. I really appreciate it.
P.S. Checking out your website now and am very impressed. You're a role model for consistency and I'm going to use you as an example for myself of how to build a targeted portfolio.
@tessaw Hi Tessa,
Thank you for having a look at my work. I'll be sure to focus more on the subjects I'm putting out there. I really like the idea of doing a tarot card deck now By the way, I had a look at your instagram and you could fool me - your work looks very professional and I would not have been surprised to find out you work in animation or story boarding. Your Inktober compositions are really impressive.
TwiggyT last edited by
I could nearly have written the same post. I want to get jobs in children's book illustration, but I also want to do graphic novels...and I love doing pointalist ink drawings that look nothing like my illustration portfolio. sigh
Anyway....I think your work could easily be geared toward the fantasy or horror markets. With a few changes I could see some of the work on your website being books covers for those genres.
@heather-boyd Hi Heather,
It's refreshing to hear that there are others who share these anxieties. Your story is so similar to mine! I also had health crisis throughout my 20's (and still do unfortunately) that made me "fall behind" in life and worry about catching up. I had to have 6 brain surgeries in 4.5 years and it totally derailed everything. I'm 30 now and it was nerve wracking at times to be the older student in college surrounded by a bunch of 18 year olds.
I'll definitely take your advice to heart about not needing to post everything. I'm pretty good at limiting my website, but Instagram feels like a black hole where the pressure is on to keep chucking things into it for fear of disappearing.
Also thank you for the feedback on the grey text - I think I can fix that pretty easily.
I'm so thrilled to have found these forums. Everyone is so thoughtful and encouraging. Thanks for taking the time.
@lei Hi Lei,
For sure, I think the overall feedback I'm getting is the need to make portfolio sections and be more selective about what I post. It's very relieving to hear that you think it all looks like it was created by the same person though.
Thanks for your feedback!
@dottyp Thanks Dotty!
@twiggyt Hi Twiggy,
It's neat to know that so many of us have this struggle. Looking at your Instagram account I see that your work definitely fits in with children's illustration. However even the pointilism baby elephant still looks like it's your style - just approached differently. Perhaps as the artists we see more differences in our own work than others do. At least that's my take away from this thread.
@juliekitzes Thank you - I don’t think I can be a role model for anything, let alone consistency Truth is I dab in a million different things too. I´ve done a fair amount of 3D modeling, a lot of concept art, portraiture in oil, caricature, animation, I even made a short graphic novel a couple of years ago. And you wouldn’t imagine I have a secret identity doing minimalistic vector illustration for corporate clients (and enjoying it quite a bit, actually). The freeing things is that you can do whatever you want as an artist....you are simply not compelled in any way to put it into your portfolio. I decided to freelance only as children illustrator, so I have a public profile only as children illlustrator. If I manage to reach the point where I can write and illustrate my own books, I may one day give up the idea of a portfolio geared to illustration jobs. A portfolio is only a marketing tool, it´s not an identity profile of you as an artist....
@smceccarelli Ha ha, that may be true but at least you're giving off the right impression to outsiders. That's a very good point about identity. I think especially with things like Instagram I get caught up in the "hey, look at all the things I can do and look how often I'm doing it and don't stop looking at me because I need to stay on everyone's radar all the time or you'll forget I exist..." I'm very quiet and chill in real life but when it comes to art online I become that kid in class that won't shut up and needs constant attention and validation. I think it's because I'm at a point where I'm putting a lot of work in to my art and marketing but not getting enough jobs and my massive student loans from art school are weighing heavily on me. I work hard, but I need to learn to work smart.
TwiggyT last edited by TwiggyT
@juliekitzes I think you're right. I'm definitely my own worst critic.
I'm not sure if a person can be artistic without wanting to try everything...as demonstrated by all the art supplies I have and don't use.