I might be at a crossroads (looking for feedback, advice and peer support)



  • Hi all,

    I am writing this post to try to bring clarity regarding where I stand in my creative journey. I feel that external feedback would be super important for me right now. Here is a quick summary of my past year:

    1. I quit my full-time job ( service designer in a creative agency) after 4 years, because the working conditions were terrible from a life-work balance perspective

    2. I invested more time in leveling up my illustration skills

    3. I started working as a freelance service designer to support myself

    4. I started getting a few private illustration commissions and got very excited

    I can't see myself working as a service designer in the future, it's not what I want and I know it far too well. I do enjoy some aspects of it, but it's definitely not something I am ready to die for πŸ™‚ What I've always wanted to do my entire life is drawing, illustrating, and making art, but I wasn't allowed to pursue that career early on. In order to limit the damage, I picked something that was relatively close to it, but now it's time to get back to plan A. I am deeply committed to transitioning towards a career in illustration, no matter how long it will take me, while I am aware that these design jobs are providing me with a nice income. My main intended focus is children's books.

    After working on my skills for a couple of years, my main doubt is: am I ready to try and send out my work to editors/agents? Is my work professional enough? At the moment, I am slowly and steadily working on some pieces to complete my portfolio, developing a few concepts in parallel. I want to get to a nice and curated selection of around 15 images and I have a list of concepts that I am developing. The ones that I haven't finalized yet are mostly sequences and they are based on text, because I want to improve my storytelling skills and show that I can achieve consistency in my work.

    Once these new pieces are finished, I have a plan to start sending out my portfolio.

    You can see a selection of my work here: https://www.behance.net/elenamarengoni (keep in mind that this is partial and other pieces are in the making)
    Some of my work in progress stuff is here: https://www.instagram.com/numi.illu/
    Attached below is an image I am very proud of.

    Shall I continue with this plan? Am I nuts?
    Do you see any major weaknesses in my work?
    Things that could/should be more prominent?
    Opportunities to make my work shine a bit more?

    I would love your advice and honest feedback on this: no worries about hurting my feelings, this is all about my art and not me as a person πŸ™‚

    Screenshot 2020-05-27 at 14.22.19.png



  • @Elena-Marengoni I think your work is professional, and you need to keep producing more work so that you can choose your portfolio pieces.

    SVS has a class that you might want to try - Making Money in Illustration, parts 1, 2, and 3. I keep calling it the Business of Illustration class. It's really great for filling in all the parts artists don't think about. It will help you plan for your business. It helps to define potential clients, thinks like that, and it is very concrete.

    I certainly relate to the question of whether I'm nuts. I thought in 2020 I had a goal of sticking to illustration for more than a month, but now it's the reverse: I need to make sure I'm not going to let this drive overtake everything else. It's strange to work in something I have had no success in and yet be determined to do this kind of work the rest of my life anyway.



  • @Elena-Marengoni I completely relate to your situation. I worked as an interaction designer for 10 years before switching to do children's book. My main reason is also related to hard to get life/work balance in the world of design & technology driven work environment.

    I do not think you are nut, and it is a matter of time that you will make it if you keep doing it. Everyone's journey is different. I am sharing a few things that helped me to get where I am now - finished one children's book, signed with an agent, but far from making a living with illustration full time. I hope this make sense to you.

    1. Practice as often as you can on the craft.
      Set aside time to draw everyday, if you can, or at least as often as you can. For me it really shows after over 2 years.

    2. Podcasts are great way to get industry knowledge. That really helped me to know what I am getting myself into :-). Here are a list of my favorite podcasts.
      https://illustrationdept.com/podcast
      https://picturebooking.libsyn.com
      https://lgbpodcast.libsyn.com
      And of course, our all time favorite 3 point perspective

    3. Get personal feedback on your work, and invest on courses/workshops that help you to level up.
      Svs forum is super helpful of getting concrete feedback on single pieces I am working on during the last 2 years or so. I have attended a few interactive courses with svs as well, everytime I did that, my skill levels up visibly. I also recommend getting portfolio reviews from people working in industries, or other experienced illustrators.

    4. Reaching out, be part of the community
      In the begining of my artist journey, I did not know anyone who does what I want to do. It felt very lonely, and I was self-doubting a lot. It really helped when I started to have illustrator friends, both in real world, and online. I felt normal, and it made me feel comfortable calling myself "an illustrator", even though I was not making money at all with illustration by then. The trick is to teach your brain that if you do illustration most of the day, then you are an illustrator - money does not define your profession, what you do with your day does. My brain is more productive when I accept myself as an illustrator, and stop having identity crisis every second week.



  • @xin-li Thank you for writing all this out, especially #4. It is very important, I think, and I didn't realize it. @Elena-Marengoni is probably surrounded by service designers. Right now, it is hard for me to admit what I do all day to others, because it makes no sense to them.



  • It looks to me like you are well on your way. Your work is great and you already have experience working with clients so you probably understand how to work with people in that type of field. It looks to me like you just need to put yourself out there and and the work should follow. Maybe look into getting a rep or agent and start getting work that way? Best of Luck 😺


  • Pro

    @Elena-Marengoni Your work is definitely good enough, you're not nuts, and go for it! For the quality you're already there, just keep going until you have a selection of 12-15 pieces all in the SAME style, exhibiting visual storytelling (not just pretty picture) and showing a variety of characters and most importantly children. Looking at your work right now I think you're not showing enough storytelling. Try to make a few book spreads for your portfolio. You can pick a favorite fairy tale to illustrate for example πŸ™‚ When you've finished your portfolio send it EVERYWHERE! You got this!



  • @Elena-Marengoni I think you're at an excellent starting point to begin this journey. You got some really great advice above from people who are further down the road than me but I would agree that persistence and determination are key. I really like what Xin Li said about 'money not defining your profession' - a lot of it is a question of mindset. Good luck πŸ™‚

    www.rachel-horne.com
    @rachel_horne_art



  • @xin-li

    I am not the original poster, but THANK YOU for the podcast recommendations, I really love them! I’ve been looking around for good ones and it felt like wading through a sea of options!

    There’s definitely a lot of good info in all three and I’m excited to spend some time unpacking it and implementing it.



  • @carolinebautista thank you for sharing this and yes, that's a great recommendation! So far, I have mostly resorted to SVS courses to level up my skills and deal with the technical sides of illustration, but I think it's time to try out those as well! I can definitely relate to the strange feeling of having to juggle between multiple jobs (and multiple 'selves' in a way), I wish you all the best on your creative journey!!



  • @xin-li woah! Thank you so much for sharing these thoughts. I couldn't agree more! You are right, these things you are mentioning are super important...and I'd say I have started doing them all and I am trying to invest more in being part of a community (SVS, but also at a more local level, where I'm based). I love what you said about learning to call yourself 'an illustrator': I felt invincible for a second just by thinking about it haha πŸ™‚



  • @K-Flagg thank you! πŸ™‚ Yes looking for a rep (and, more in general, showing my work to agents or editors) would be important at this point... I started listing out interesting contacts, I will definitely continue and start to reach out in the coming months!



  • @NessIllustration thank you! Great recommendations and reminders! Work that showcases storytelling abilities is definitely a priority for me at the moment, because it's something I want to practice and strengthen a bit more. I have recently picked a book I really like and started making thumbnails in order to put together 3 different spreads. Thank you again for sharing this, I am feeling super energized right now!



  • @Rachel-Horne thank you so much! I am definitely not going to give up! This is THE one thing I have always wanted to do since I was a little kid. At some point, I thought I would forget about it, get a 'proper' job and so on, but it's more than obvious that my nature can't be changed and I will always try to come back to art, no matter what :):)



  • @Elena-Marengoni I am glad you find my thoughts helpful. One thing I forgot to mention which might be super relevant for you: I find the work experience /mind set of interaction design is very useful when transiting to do illustration. For example, a holistic approach to problem solving, be empathic to end-users, listen the voices of all stakeholders, skills of rapid prototyping, skills of communicating with clients/other stakeholders, many things we do all the time with interaction design /service design projects are very applicable to the busniess of illustration. The tangible things we make with interaction design is very different from Illustration, but the way of thinking has so much in common.

    So you are not starting from scratch, you can bring so much from your past expereicne. It took me a year or so to connect those dots. But once I understood this, it really helped.



  • @xin-li that's true! I've experienced this in the past months when I was working on a couple of private commissions. Even though they were acquaintances of mine and the relationship was super friendly and everything, it was very easy for me to do things like putting together a proposal, aligning on the expected result, discussing options... it's what I've been doing for the past few years working with clients (on extremely complex business problems sometimes)...it felt so good to go through more or less the same process in a context in which I am in love with the project as well πŸ™‚



  • I love your work and my advice would be to yes send out your work to editors/agents, if you get any feedback at all that is so valuable. Keep a list of who you send stuff to and then in 6 months you could go through the list again with a fresh set of images or a postcard if not email. Sometimes it just takes one image to grab someones attention, who thinks you could fit their project.

    Keep up the great work


  • SVS OG

    Elena, I am late to this discussion, but just wanted to encourage you as well. In addition to what the others said, I see where your work fits into the Italian illustration continuum and also know the particular challenges of finding paying work in Italy. But you also have an advantage over a lot of Italian illustrators: Your excellent English is going to be a big help in entering into a much bigger, international market. But you probably already know that, since you are here!

    I know that some European illustrators have been told that their work fits into a particular culture, so it at least helps to be aware of the differences. Then you can modify your style, or not, as you wish. At least it would help you decide who to pitch to.

    I am not as far along in my journey as some of the others, but along with the others I would like to encourage you to find other illustrator friends in real life. Have you ever attended courses specifically for book illustration here in Italy, for example? I do think it helps! Along those lines, now that the regions are back open, we are not far apart and could meet now and then!


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