There is a vast difference between commercial artists/illustrators, and those practitioners who are fine artists, performance artists and conceptual artists. I am always working directly for a client, in response to a text or a brief, whereas fine art approaches image making from a very different angle. I like the dependence upon other people, the collaborative side of it, and the constant feedback that comes with working with writers and publishers.


I first got on the art scene following a small exhibition at a council run gallery in Richmond, London. The local authority run art and gallery spaces are usually crying out for people to fill exhibition slots and spaces. It might be best starting with contacting such galleries. I was living in Twickenham and got an exhibition at the Riverside Gallery in Richmond through the curator there. We had over 4,000 visitors, and local press, which attracted the attention of a publisher.


There’s often a temptation to do work for free, I’ve seen adverts by small publishers out there saying ‘work for us and get your illustrations published’, or ‘opportunity for graduate to get work published’. I’d be very wary of this sort of thing. It can help to have published work in your portfolio, but such projects can be low profile, very badly paid, and they are basically trying to get artists to work for free which I think is wrong, and can ultimately go against you.


The web is a powerful tool, and if you have the resources to build a website it helps. If you are still in touch with other artists you could pool your resources and form a collective, perhaps showing your works together on the same web site, or exhibiting together. People are more likely to look at several unknown artists exhibiting than one – and if you send a URL to people showing a link to a collective then it will feel a lot less like spamming than if it’s just your own website. I think ultimately the thing that attracts attention is your drive to be inventive, and so be innovative in the way you show or advertise your work. Remember, though, that you have to get your message across fast and easily, as curators, art editors etc. are normally buried in work and have little patience for a web page taking 30 seconds to load.


Hard copy advertising can sometimes be useful. Years ago I sent out hand made packages containing prints of my artwork to numerous publishers, each package with hand made and illustrated labels, hours of work but only one publisher responded – luckily they’ve been giving me lots of work ever since. When I first started I made small toys which acted as business cards, which also got me work. Most business cards go straight into a drawer or roller-deck, but I remember going around Penguin Books offices and I could see staff had stuck my little toy cards on top of their PCs. I didn’t get any work from them directly, but I know that visiting editors etc. noticed them and asked about them. In the early days it was quirky little things like that which really help. Anything that makes you stand out.


You need to think about marketing yourself (and I hate the word ‘marketing’ but that’s what it comes down to). It’s important to think ‘what am I selling here, and why would people want to buy it’. At the risk of sounding cheesy, the thing that publishers are interested in is ‘you’ – that’s your brand. You have to accept that there is always going to be someone that can paint or draw better than you can – that’s just life, but what they don’t have is all the things that go to make up ‘you’. So it’s a case of getting everything that floats your boat down on paper, and letting other people see who you are, and hopefully, they’ll like your little world as much as you do, and they’ll want to commission you to get a slice of your individuality into their brand.


Most importantly – don’t give up!

How do I get work as an illustrator? | 2013 | FAQS