How do you provide value as an illustrator

  • Hello all! First time poster here but I've been a lurker for awhile. 🙂

    I have a question that boggles my mind at the moment. I've been illustrating comic characters, superheroes, manga characters and such for the better part of 15-20 years off and on and never really "made" anything (to me) of substance. I would love to create stories but as an illustrator I wonder how do I create value with my work?

    What criteria would my work fit in that would be of service someone? How do you create work that people are willing to give you monetary compensation for providing value?

    I'm currently working in the marketing field as a web designer/graphic designer and I haven't even figured out how my work provides value there. I mean it does to an extent. It serves a purpose as advertising but to me that always felt hollow.

    How do professionals like Jake, Will and Lee and some of you freelancers define how you provide value?

    Jeremy Thomas

  • Pro SVS OG

    That is a really interesting and profound question, one that can have an easy answer and a complicated answer. The easy answer is to the question: “how do you create work people are willing to give you money for”.
    Take a look around and look at all things that contain art and people are willing to pay for: books, magazines, products, films, games. If you produce art of that type and at the same level of what is on the market, people will pay you for it. There are huge industries around these things, churning billions of dollars. You can become an entrepreneur yourself, selling your art “products” directly to the consumers, or you can work for one of the industries that does exactly that - and has (hopefully) all the machinery in place to extract the maximum value from art.
    If the question is, how do you find a sense of purpose in what you do, that´s complicated, highly personal, and - in the long run - the most important question to answer. Each person will answer a different way. For me, I decided to work in book publishing because books is one of the things I love beyond anything else. I truly believe books can change lives and can change the world. If I can make a child pick up a book and read, if she can learn something new because of an illustration I made, if he can laugh or smile, wonder or think or just enjoy a sliver of human creativity, I feel I have accomplished something worthwhile.

  • Oooh, what a juicy topic! Sorry if my response is a little all over the place. This is an interesting post for sure.

    Let me ask you a question, Jeremy: What has value to you? Let's start with art. What comics, superheroes, mangas, movies, songs, paintings, etc, mean something to you? If we move to a bigger picture, what in life holds value to you? Why?

    Boiled way down, in order for something to have value, it needs to solve a problem/provide a service. A Tesla might be a six-figure car, but if I don't need a car (don't have a problem) or want a Tesla (doesn't provide something) then that car is worthless to me. I need food (have a problem) and it provides nourishment, so food is valuable. If I wanted a dinner at a fancy Michelin star restaurant then it has value. If I'm alright with a can of beans from Walmart, the fancy restaurant is useless to me, but food, in general, is valuable. (Art is meaningful in general to our culture and development as human beings, so innately your work is meaningful, but as to how much, that opens a larger can of worms.)

    It's funny because I recently had to write a speech about what inspires me to create. It's all the art made by other people that has made me feel certain things, or change my view of the world and myself, or has left a lasting impact on me. That art is valuable to me. For myself as a creator, there is also the fact that painting in watercolor makes me genuinely happy. Drawing and seeing things from on the page makes me happy. Using images and words to tell stories makes me happy. My happiness is valuable to me, and I want to share that value with other people. I saw how the sharing of other people brought me something of value, and am now trying to return the favor.

    If we're going for a more profound outlook, then I'll share my belief that if you decide that what you do is valuable or purposeful, other people will see its value. I don't mean hubris and just declaring whatever you do is the best most perfect thing. More like whether it's checking someone out in the grocery line and making their day a little easier, or fixing the stove in someone's house to make it possible for them to cook dinner every night, or drawing something really cool that inspires people like you were inspired.

    Marketing might not be for you, but the job you do there provides value to the company via revenue and to customers by showing them something they might not have known they needed. Yes, there is a lot of distate of ads culturally as being shallow, and I personally kind of resent them, yet I can easily admit that I have purchased items or watched shows that were advertised to me and they did make my life better. (Literally last night my best friend and I marathoned a new show on Netflix that was plastered on the homepage. We had a great time that I'm positive I'll remember forever, and it wouldn't have happened if we hadn't seen the ad and picked that show)

    Whatever someone decides is valuable is valuable. Value is quanitfied by whatever someone is willing to risk. Sometimes it's money, sometimes it's time. And sometimes, unfortunately, it's lives. You can't actually decide what is valuable to other people, although you can look at statistics and trends and you can guess. Since you're in marketing, I assume you and those you work with are pretty good at guessing 🙂

    But I'd say the only way to truly create value in your work is to create work that is purposeful to you. What is worth spending your life on?

    People also love to place value in things that have already been deemed valuable. So if you say it is, then you just need to convince one more person, then another, then another, then others will follow. But first, you have to believe it.

    To me, art is magic. It can make people feel a little better, or a lot better, whether they are the ones to produce it or consume it. I've experienced both sides myself. That's some pretty goshdarn valuable magic.

    Your question is a very multi-faceted one that requires a very layered answer. Hopefully, I contributed something of value to this discussion 😉

    Thanks for posting this!

  • Hey Jeremy.

    I totally understand where you're coming from, as someone basically in the exact same boat, I think about this question a lot.

    I don't have a ton to add to what @smceccarelli said, I think that's a really good, succinct way of thinking about it.

    There's value as defined by others (which you might not feel yourself, but which nonetheless, others feel and are willing to shell out money for) and then there's the FEELING of doing something valuable, which has much more to do with a kind of inner purpose or personal mission. I think the important thing is to realize that these are two different goals which require different steps to achieve.

    For me, with my design work, I might not feel a sense or purpose when I'm working on a project, but I can tease that apart from the fact that this person one the other side clearly thinks for whatever reason that what we're doing is of value, either to them or to someone else. If I can at least intellectually understand that, it helps, but I have to be careful not to mix this up with my personal sense of what's valuable, otherwise I just get confused.

    Thanks for asking this question! It's always so great to talk about these things and hear how other people think about it.

  • @smceccarelli I completely feel this. Most of my life I felt the best when I can teach, bring a new perspective or concept to someone or introduce new ideas. I would love to do this through this medium. I just find it hard to tie and translate my own story into those concepts. But this does give me some insight. Thank you!

  • @teju-abiola said in How do you provide value as an illustrator:

    My happiness is valuable to me, and I want to share that value with other people.

    This statement hit me hard. I feel absolutely the same way. You hit a lot of points that I'm sure I've glossed over in my own self reflection over the past couple of years or so.

    Thank you for making me see things in a deeper more personal perspective.

    To answer: What has value to me? Personal growth, fulfillment and sharing adventures with others. I find that life is the best when we can have fun, learn and have healthy contrasting realities.

    What is worth spending my life on? That one is really hard to answer but on the surface level, If I had a to look back from an old age I could say anything creatively that helps me bring something to life. Be it characters with personality that reflects some emotional state I've or someone has lived or is living, or events that impact someone or people on a world scale level. I don't even know! That is a damn good question lol. I'll have to set that as a mediation question to go deeper in!

    And to your last statement: To me, art is magic. It can make people feel a little better, or a lot better, whether they are the ones to produce it or consume it. I've experienced both sides myself. That's some pretty goshdarn valuable magic.

    This! ALL THIS! Lol

    Thank you! I really needed to read this! I'll have to join the forums more often. I appreciate your input.

  • @robgale Thanks for your reply. You also gave a very good perspective on this. I think this hits the nail with my current life situation and my goal to be a full time artist. I'm right at the fork in the road on pause wavering back and forth between the feeling of doing something of value in my current work and thinking about how i can do more as an illustrator and feel like I am giving value. Both don't connect to me at the moment.

    I feel anyone can do my job. If you know some software, design/development rules and sprinkle in some personal style and you're probably at least average in the field. And to me that can be good. But I FEEL i can do more as an illustrator. I think my personal values want to come out creatively through my own personal work vrs my current state of (what I feel is) mindless to a degree.

    When you spoke about inner purpose or personal mission I think that is something I really have to dig deep on. Don't get me wrong, for a time I loved what I currently do. I just think I'm realizing that Its not something I want my final destination to be.

    Thanks for your response. It gave me some other questions to ask myself!

  • SVS OG

    I've been a minister for 35 years and have done scores of funerals over that time, some of which were of people very accomplished in their field. Nevertheless, inevitably at those funerals, when it came to evaluating the value of a person's life, the only thing that seemed to count for others was the love that the departed person shared, the strength of their relationships, and the way that departed person made others feel. What that suggests to me is that as any person decides which path to pursue in life, they should not only take into consideration what has value to society, and what has value to themselves personally, but what will provide them with the time and the opportunity to strengthen their personal relationships -- partners, children, neighbors, friends. That's what's going to last.

  • Everyone has given such deep, thoughtful answers so far... it has me thinking too (so thank you all). This topic is often on my mind, but I rarely take the time to distil thoughts into writing.

    I really like the analogy of humanity being like one human body, with each person being one cell. Each cell is deeply affected by the overall health of the body, and the body is consequently sick or healthy depending on the wellbeing of each cell. When it comes to art - a deeply impactful part of each cell's environment, affecting the inner-workings of this "body" - its general nature affects the health of humankind. For instance, today it seems that a lot of art promotes unhealthy ideas or substances, or is disunifying in some way. On the other hand, art can bring people together, promote better functioning societies, inspire virtue and good character, and glorify what is beautiful or pure.

    This bigger picture, which presents to me an idea of interconnectedness, makes me think that each person's art can have an impact on the functioning of the body of humankind. I personally really like the idea of bringing a feeling of reverence to art and depicting people in a way that shows their inner nobility, so that's what I'm trying to learn about these days.

    I love this topic and will, no doubt, be reflecting on it for as long as I'm able to make things. Certainly don't have it figured out yet...

  • @demotlj love this!

  • For me it is all about the people, I try to attract and focus on clients who I feel a connection with and like as people. And when I make them a business card or a presentation or an illustration they need I think of how much better it is for them to be going forward with something we both feel looks really good. And when I know I've made someone happy with my work, or I want to put the work in my portfolio that's value they give to me, I think I try to focus on what's in it for both of us.

  • @martha-sue Hi!

    Initially that's how I also felt when I started as a graphic designer. Especially working with a small start up that had passion for helping people. That is always a good perspective to have.

  • @kathrynadebayo This speaks volumes on how I also view art as a whole and how it fits with humanity. I love this.

    Interconnectedness is something i deeply value and hope i can translate through my work. Bravo!
    I agree this is one of those subjects that will forever be on my mind and in my spirit while I go through this journey.

  • SVS OG

    @kathrynadebayo This is an analogy I too, have used. I have come more and more to appreciate eastern ways of thinking (and more ancient ways of thinking in the west) that are relational. Modern western thought has become very "atomistic," focused on the individual, and has gotten away from our interconnectedness (although quantum physics and current environmental theories are thankfully moving us back toward an understanding of our interconnectedness.)

    I really like the way you relate this to art, and your analogy suggests why an important part of art for many people (and probably even more so for illustrators) is the response of the viewer. The artistic creation feels incomplete if it isn't shared, not because sharing it boosts the artist's ego but because the reason for creating a piece is to open the door to a way of seeing the world/one's self into which you invite others to enter.

    @jthomas Thanks so much for bringing this up. It's a really interesting topic.

  • @jthomas haha yes, I am a little early on with client work, having worked in house in the games industry for a long time. I guess some things are all shiny and new for me right now.

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