Last updated on January 31st, 2023
Every expert was once a beginner. It’s quite true as one has to start from the beginning to being called as a pro in any relevant industry. Similar is the case of a newbie illustrator. The journey from being a newbie to seasoned illustrator depends on the development and hard work you put in your designs and skills. In this article, you will get to know what it takes for a newbie illustrator to become a professional in just a few steps. Have a look.
Being paid to illustrate and design seems like you are shooting for the stars, though it’s also more plausible than you might first think. Every paid illustrator started off as a newbie who had no clue where to begin professionally.
Maybe they drew as a hobby or majored in an art course, or even began completely from scratch. Though everyone’s career paths are different, they share in common a set of habits and skills that helped them turn their talents into revenue.
What does an illustrator do?
Before you start on your journey to becoming a professional illustrator, you need to know what the job generally entails.
As an illustrator, you will be helping to make writing and other products more attractive and easier to understand by creating drawings, diagrams, or paintings for them. These illustrations could be on greetings cards, brochures, books, packaging, advertisements, and many other things.
Within the role of illustrator, you will have to follow briefs, liaise with clients to make sure they are happy with your designs and work with them to change them if necessary.
You also need to work to a deadline and budget, decide what kind of style will be right for the illustration, and be able to draw by hand or use specific illustration software or infographic tools.
You may choose to specialize in one type of illustration, or you might become a freelancer so that you can have more control over selecting the jobs that you do.
If you choose to be a freelance illustrator, you will need to make sure that you have some business, marketing, and finance skills so that you can run and promote your business.
Let’s Look At The Five-Step Journey From A Newbie To A Professional Illustrator That You Can Start Following Today
Step 1: Practice
If you are a true newbie with no experience in drawing or design, the best thing that you can do on your journey to becoming a professional illustrator is practice. It isn’t a step that you can rush through or take shortcuts in, rather you’ll have to work hard and keep going.
The time that you take to practice and improve on your craft will also be the time where you explore all different art styles until you find your own style. However, before you get to the stage, and even after you do, don’t be afraid to try out new things.
Use different media, from canvas and paint to your camera, or maybe your computer or drawing tablet. You’ll eventually strike gold and find one that you prefer to use.
A timeline can come in handy to help keep you accountable and motivate you to practice daily in this particular instance. It can be helpful to pick certain topics or objects that you can work through, or ask friends and family members for ideas or briefs.
A great timeline is useful to get you to think creatively and work out how you can do something that you love that also fits the brief. Creating a timeline is seamless using a timeline template on an online platform.
For more tips and pieces of advice, you can refer websites like Designhill. If you want a more structured approach to learning and practicing your craft, you may want to take a course or a degree in an illustration or a graphic design based topic.
Although it’s not necessary, it can be an excellent way to develop your work through assignments and the criticism and advice you receive from tutors.
Step 2: Create A Portfolio
A portfolio is necessary to start a career in illustration because it is there to show prospective clients – what you can do. Since it’s a showcase of the things that you can do creatively, not only should it show your best work, it should also be updated regularly.
More often than not, portfolios are digital and contained on a website. To ensure it looks professional, it is a good idea to hire a professional website designer who can display your work properly.
Ensure that some of the work you showcase is work that you have completed for a client so that future customers can not only see your skill but also what you can achieve in a tight timeframe.
Below are examples from Stefanie Brückler, illustrator and graphic designer, and her dynamic and creative online portfolio:
If there is a particular type of illustration work that you want to focus on in your career, make sure that you showcase it in your portfolio. However, if you want to attract more clients, try to show only what you are capable of doing.
A graphic design portfolio should show you at your best and what you are capable of, so leave out anything that you wouldn’t want to be hired for.
Step 3: Utilise Social Media
One of the greatest tools that you can use to get yourself noticed is social media. A portfolio is essential to show potential clients what you can do, but social media can help potential clients come to you.
Leveraging social media as a designer, not only can it help you to attract people who want to work with you but it can also help you to build up a community of people who love your work. Every time you post, you will reach more and more people, building up an audience and a client base.
Take a look at the Instagram of Tom Noske, a digital artist and photographer, whose account helped his rising to success:
Social media is also a great place to find like-minded people that you can bond with and share tips and advice.
If you are a freelancer, working by yourself can lead to blocks and pitfalls, so having other creatives that you can reach out to may make a huge difference. Communities such as DeviantArt, for example, are go-to places to be inspired by fellow artists.
Such platforms may also provide experienced advice on how much you should charge for commission fees and other handy tips. You may even return the favor if you ever get offered work that you know would better suit someone else, and you could pass it onto them accordingly.
Step 4: Learn How To Take Criticism
When you share your work with others online, criticism is inevitable. Every artist has their own style which means that somebody might have some different ideas about your illustrations.
However, criticism isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially if they are constructive, as this can help you to grow and improve.
As you are learning your craft, it is important to listen to what those around you have to say. If you are doing a course, your tutors can be very helpful, and give you advice about how you can improve.
At the same time, you don’t need to listen to every piece of advice that people give you, as not everyone will have the same opinion.
Your illustrations should also stay true to your unique style lest you become a copy of other artists’ work. Weigh up the advice and criticism with your own judgment rather than tipping the scale in the favor of one party.
If the negative comments aren’t constructive or helpful, it’s best not to listen to them.
Sometimes people may comment on social media just to try and drag you down, and posting your work online means that you have to be prepared for a mixture of good and bad comments. You can’t control what people write but rather how it affects you.
If constructive criticism comes from a client, this is something that you have to consider more carefully. It could be that the illustration you have created for them doesn’t entirely fit in with the brief that they set or the idea of what they wanted.
If this is the case, then you may have to work with them professionally to discuss what changes they would like.
Step 5: Present Yourself As A Business
There is a lot of work that goes into being an illustrator that isn’t to do with creating and designing. To be successful, you also have to find ways to promote yourself and be financially sustainable by selling your art.
Social media might be a good start, but you will potentially have to go further than that, building up your website, setting up online lead generation forms, and kicking off a professional blog.
One other important aspect of seeing your work as something with monetary value is not agreeing to do any work for free or for exposure. Exposure is a risky trade-off as it rarely amounts to revenue, and if your work is of good quality, you shouldn’t have to work for free.
It can be challenging to work out what a fair fee is for the work that you do, but once you have done your research and come up with a price, stick to it.
Personal finance is another vital element of working in illustration. When you are starting as an illustrator, you need to make sure that you have enough money to sustain yourself until you start making money from doing what you love.
Sometimes it can be a good idea to keep your old job or work part-time elsewhere while you find work in the sector. If you are self-employed, you will also need to learn how to use spreadsheets to keep track of profit and loss.
Becoming a professional illustrator is a step-by-step process, but with patience and hard work your dream is more than possible.
The practical steps you need to take are to practice, find your medium, and set up a portfolio of your work early on. For ongoing success, think about using social media to boost your visibility and join a community where you can receive helpful criticism from other artists.
Once you’ve followed these steps, you’re well on your way to establishing yourself as a business and turning your skills into a blossoming career.