How to Navigate Your First Illustration Jobs


  • SVS OG

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    Art by Carlianne Tipsey

    Being a working illustrator means wearing several different hats -- you have to be great at your craft, but you also need to know how to work with clients. How do you negotiate rates? How do you communicate with them and keep them happy? How do you best fight for your vision and your favorite concepts? And what do you do if you don’t get paid? Jake Parker, Lee White, and Will Terry discuss the answers to these questions and more, and offer their best take on a structure that every new illustrator should learn from and adapt when taking their first client jobs.

    Click here to listen and to read the shownotes.


  • Moderator

    I absolutely loved this episode! Great content and humor. Learned lots and will definitely listen to it at least 2 more times. πŸ™‚



  • Thank you guys for recording this episode! It was really interesting and helpful.

    I'd like to learn more about finding those early client jobs. The list in the show notes (t-shirts, jewelry, podcasts, fanart commissions, minis design, etc.) is super cool, and I'm curious - what is the best way to find those kinds of clients? Which rocks do I need to look under? How did @Lee-White connect with the dentist who wanted the motorcycle-riding tooth?

    Is there any content, either in the SVS classes or in the podcasts or on Youtube where this may have been covered in more depth?

    Thanks so much!



  • This was a great episode! Really helpful in general as your first gig is always a scary time. I would love to see what some of the early sketches you guys send in, and especially the presentation that Lee makes looks like.


  • Moderator

    @carlianne Lee had mentioned his organized PDF presentation in a different podcast and I just utilized that idea to turn in some rough sketches for a job, and not only did it make it more organized and easier to send but it also made everything look so professional. AND it made me feel like I had my sh-stuff together.πŸ˜ƒ



  • That's so great! I'd love to see it if you're able to share some day.



  • I love Lee's presentation method for communicating with clients. I got my first illustration job not too long after taking Lee's book cover class last year. The whole method made me look so professional, and my first editor actually thoguht I had years of working experience (she kept asking me what other books I have done, and I kept avoiding to answser the question until our project was almost done).

    I actually sent the editor an image of my past work, which included thumbnails, rough sketch, color study and the final art. In this way, we have the same reference when we use the phrase "rough sketches", "color studies", and "final art". This is not so nessasary to do if you are working with an established publishing house. But if you are working with a self-publishing author, this might be very helpful - most of people have no clue how illustration process looks like, and most of non-artists do not understand the difference between "sketch" and "final art" until they see it side by side.


  • SVS Team SVS Instructor Pro SVS OG

    @baileymvidler It was an ad agency that I was working for on the tooth illustration


  • SVS Team SVS Instructor Pro SVS OG

    So glad to hear the process I am teaching is helping you guys! : )



  • @carlianne I have communicated a bit with Braden that I will do an informal talk on "How I did my first illustration work" (we have not settled with a scheulde yet πŸ™‚ . I can show how I uses Lee's presentation method.



  • @xin-li that would be really cool.



  • Where can I find @Lee-White s book cover class that @xin-li mentioned? It's not the first time I've heard about this class but couldn't find it in the courses? Thanks.



  • @Rachel-Horne It is a interactive class only I believe. I highly recommend it if Lee and Jaime are running it again.



  • @xin-li ah ok, I see, sounds like a good one to do! πŸ™‚



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  • This was a super informative episode. All of the questions you need to ask before accepting a job were super helpful. I wouldn't have thought of half of those- especially not while sitting in front of a client.

    I can't wait for @Will-Terry 's kickstarter! I want all that good info in highlightable format! Thanks again!



  • Hi @Lee-White, is COVID-19 hurting your new business studio? Are you thinking of going online to sell art with your booth attendees to help with lease costs? Just wondering if the lessor is working with you? Wondering if you have Force Majuere clause in your lease agreement entitling you with relief...


  • SVS Team SVS Instructor Pro SVS OG

    @Jeremy-Ross Thanks for asking. Luckily this hit right as I was getting set up. So I was able to get out of the lease and didn't lose even a penny. They are holding the gallery space for me and I'll re-sign the lease once all this is behind us (hopefully sooner rather than later).


  • Pro

    @Lee-White Wow that's really cool, it's best case scenario! They're holding your spot but you don't have to start renting until things are better. I'm so glad for you!



  • Great news @Lee-White, thanks for checking back in!


  • Moderator

    @Lee-White @Will-Terry @Jake-Parker Your discussion about the nature of the monthly prompts here on SVS was really intriguing to me... Will's comment that the prompts might be less about responding to material and more about originality of the concept was a real eye-opener.

    Yesterday, I attended my monthly SCBWI meeting (virtually on Zoom, of course) and Lauren Rille, Art Director at Simon & Schuster, led a workshop on the process of picture books. It hit me that there is a LOT of Art Director/Illustrator discussion that happens throughout the process of illustrating a text. She showed us several examples of books she's worked on through the Thumbnail/Conceptualization/Pagination/Book Map/Galley/Color process and how the illustrations changed from the beginning to the end, as well as the kinds of notes that came from her (as Art Director) and the Editor. She even shared with us some of her own challenges (I had no idea that book covers got voted on by 50-some-odd people--including salespeople!!--in giant Cover Meetings, and even though the Art Director might be confident in a particular cover it still might not get approved...). It taught me that even Art Directors can be absolutely sure about something and it will still get changed...

    It was incredibly enlightening, and made me realize that no illustration happens in a vacuum. Picture Book making is a continual collaborative process with lots and lots of responsive iterations over and over again. And it also made me realize that the mini-responses you provide during the Critique Arenas are literally the beginnings of that kind of back-and-forth process. And that the process itself always makes things better in the end.

    I'm wondering if perhaps there might be an opportunity to have a prompt with a bit more guided parameters--like making a black and white spot illustration specifically for a Middle Grade or Chapter Book, or three sequential images showing before/during/after, or a single character design expressing three different emotional expressions/poses/actions in a narrative, or illustrating around text on a page (like a Galley page), or working within a specific size or color palette. It seems to me these might be the kinds of things Art Directors might ask their Illustrators to do as part of the process. Lauren Rille gave us examples of each of these exercises that she had even her most seasoned, experienced pros do for her. And how they were important and helpful to the final work. It could be a really interesting experience to do a mini-deep-dive for a monthly prompt someday.


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