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Tips for Aspiring Illustrators

Sonal Panse,

There are many things I wish I knew when I started as an illustrator. I've compiled some of them here, and, if you're just stepping into the illustration field, I hope you find this list useful -

1. Hone your craft:

  • Learn how to get anatomies and perspectives right. If you can't draw, it shows, no matter how you try to pass it off as your style. Get the basics right first.

  • Draw everyday. Draw babies, children, teens, older people. Draw animals and birds. Draw buildings and landscapes. Draw objects, fabrics, vehicles, machines, and everything else you encounter. Draw from your imagination.

  • Learn how to show the same character in different situations, engaged in different activities (show movement and action), and showing different emotions.

  • Learn about effective picture composition. Consider the views and perspectives that could make the picture more interesting.

  • Learn how to portray light and shade.

  • Learn about color theory.

  • Become proficient in using different media – water-color, gouache, acrylic, oil, pastel, ink, digital, etc.

  • Develop a style, but don't restrict yourself to it. Be versatile.

  • Keep a track of how long you take to complete an illustration. This will help with your pricing.

  • Do not expect it to be easy. Keep in mind that you will have to do a huge amount of work before you have anything worthwhile to show. Have patience.

2. Learn and develop:

  • Study the works of other illustrators, past and present, and learn what they did right. Do not copy anyone's work or style though. There is no point in getting in this game if you can't make your own mark.

  • Learn how to use different art software. If you can't afford to buy it, look for open source alternatives. There are many out there and, in the end, it is the skill you have that really matters, not the tool.

  • Learn how to build a good, easily navigable website and set up a well-designed blog.

  • Learn how to display an effective portfolio, with each section neatly demarcated. Only show the works that you want to get hired to do, and only display your best, online and offline. Never apologize for anything - if it is worthy of apologizing for, keep it out altogether.

  • Learn how to explain your artwork if asked. Why did you do something? How did you decide on a particular composition and so on.

  • Learn how to write engaging and informative content that will attract visitors to your site.

  • Learn how to use social media to your advantage.

  • Make sure that your online profile is 'clean'. It is generally advisable to avoid putting anything out there that you may not want a prospective client to see. You can't shrug it off as 'private life'. Things in your private life can often influence or affect your professional life, and people may be reluctant to take a chance on you if you come across as unreliable or unpleasant.

  • Read a lot – books, magazines, blogs, websites, etc. Listen to podcasts and watch videos. Don't restrict yourself to just art. Try to become a Renaissance person. The more rounded and diversified you are, the more work opportunities and positive experiences you will have.

  • Learn about business, finance, and marketing.

3. Research:

  • Research the different markets that require illustrations – publishing, greeting cards, giftware, games, etc.

  • Search online and offline – look up publishers' lists, sift through books and magazines at online and offline book stores, buy the Writer's Digest books, visit websites and blogs, connect with prospective clients on twitter and other social media sites, and set up Google alerts.

  • Note down the businesses you want to work with, note the type of work they generally use, and read their submission guidelines, if they have them; if they don't, email and ask for them.

  • Note the names of the editors, art directors, and art buyers that hire illustrators.

  • Build up a mailing list – a different one for a different genre.