The painting/drawing/illustrating makes up probably less than half of what is required to be an illustrator. Freelance lifestyle doesn’t suit everybody; it’s very solitary, extremely hard work (particularly when you are starting out) and there may be years of seeing your friends in regular jobs progress with their lives, have holidays, get a car, a house, do the things that you’d want to do. It’s at times like these that you ask yourself “why am I doing this”, and so it has to be something you really enjoy doing. If you don’t enjoy the process of making art or working with publishers, it’s not going to be worth it!


So, what I’ve learned is that if you have a little voice inside saying “I want to be an artist” or a film-maker, or in a band, then it’s probably going to keep whispering in your ear, all your life, until you at least give it a go. It’s not necessarily the most talented musicians that end up in bands, or the most gifted artists that make illustrators, it seems to be those people that keep pushing and pushing, and don’t give up.


When starting out I would recommend that people try and keep in touch once leaving their course. On a practical level it means that you can continue to share resources, or a studio even, but also you can recommend each other to potential clients – and importantly STAY SANE. You may find it’s easier to get an exhibition at a gallery as a collective too. If you get a group of productive artists working together, it’s easier to pull people in: people like the idea of collectives, particularly ones that cross disciplines (which again can be a huge practical help when putting on shows, designing websites, promoting etc.)


I’d recommend trying to get an agent (although that in itself can be very difficult: see my other FAQ on getting an agent!), as they will give constructive feedback and know exactly who you should see. They take a cut (between 15-30% depending on what it is you are working on) but trust me it pays for itself. Also try and search out as much criticism as you can, praise is nice, but it doesn’t make you better – criticism can be the fuel that drives the motor. As Becket said ‘..Try again. Fail Again. Fail Better’. I’ve made a LOT of mistakes, and I still make them. I’d say to students, if they can face doing it, try getting rid of all of your work after five years – it MAKES you fill up your portfolio again, and stops you sitting back on the work you’ve already done. Keep busy!


It’s important to say that those who study art at college or university have a number of potential avenues for future careers that perhaps they wouldn’t expect. For example, of the 10 or so people I still keep in touch with who studied illustration with me at university, they have found jobs in everything from graphic design, to teaching, one has become very successful designing games (such as Project Gotham, 007), and another works as an animator (he worked on Coraline, Corpse Bride etc). I became a curator in museums and galleries on the back of my art degree.

How do I become an illustrator? | 2013 | FAQS