How many times have you asked yourself, “Do I really have what it takes to be an illustrator?”. If you’re like me, this is a question that comes up regularly. It used to cause me a lot of stress because I would just assume I didn’t have what it takes.
However, I’ve learned that being successful as an illustrator isn’t always about the education level or the amount of raw talent someone has. A huge part of succeeding in illustration is developing the right skills.
It takes a lot more than just being good at drawing or painting to be an illustrator. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good to have advanced technical skills to create artwork, but there is more that goes into building a successful illustration career than making artwork all day.
The list of skills I’ve compiled is by no means exhaustive, but it does include some key skills that will help any illustrator on their journey towards growth and success.
This one is big. As a freelance or independent illustrator, you will not have anyone keeping you accountable during “working hours”.
It is important you learn to set goals for yourself. Giving yourself goals and rewarding yourself for victories will help you stay motivated and have fun while doing it.
One thing I do to stay motivated is remind myself what I want. I made a list of what I want to achieve in my illustration career so that when I feel low, I can review the list. It reminds me what I’m working toward, why I’m still illustrating, and that I still have a ways to go.
The thought of arriving at an exciting long-term goal really keeps me going.
Enjoy what you do. This one may seem obvious, but it can be tricky.
Whether you like it or not, clients will hire you based on the illustrations they have seen you do. Chances are, if you start creating pet portraits, people will start hiring you for pet portraits because they’ve seen you do it before. This is an amazing way to generate work…unless you don’t actually enjoy pet portraits.
When you’re an illustrator that’s new to the scene, sometimes you have to take jobs that pay the bills even if they’re not what you ideally want to continue doing.
Regardless of the jobs you take to make money, it’s important to make time for what you love and promote the work you see yourself doing in the future.
You will last a lot longer in the illustration industry if you enjoy the work you do because it won’t feel as draining.
The dream is to get hired to make the artwork you love.
Old-fashioned patience…it’s hard for everyone.
But, I feel like illustrators are more keenly aware of the time they spend waiting. Especially when waiting on contracts, commissions, email responses, and agencies getting back to them. Not to mention the long-haul wait for notable contracts, wide-spread recognition, or a big break that will skyrocket their career.
It can be so tiring waiting on other people, especially when it concerns a potential job opportunity. However, I guarantee that if you learn how to wait and keep working through the uncertainty you will be more relaxed and happier.
I’ve spent many hours stressing while waiting for all kinds of things. And I’ve discovered my stress doesn’t actually help the situation. I know, right? Crazy.
When I was younger, I thought the pathway to an art career involved zero IT skills. I imagined myself painting all day and then dropping the canvases off at the gallery where they would be shown. I could not have been more wrong.
Even though I’m in the age of technology, I’m no good with computers and I’d rather make lists and take notes on actual pieces of paper.
This is something I’ve had to get over because I’ve come to realise that I either have to hire someone to do all my tech stuff or I have to learn how to do it myself. Seeing as I didn’t have a budget to hire someone, the answer was obvious.
In the long run, the more IT skills you have, the better equipped you will be to communicate with clients, grow your business, and handle all your own affairs.
A desire to learn.
Cultivating a learning culture in your career will help keep you on your toes and keep your work fresh and relevant.
You will also be able to stay on top of breakthroughs in the industry and stay competitive in the market.
I encourage you to enrol in classes, watch tutorials, and research topics you know little about. Learning can only help you in this industry.
Very much like continuous learning is continuous improvement. They go hand in hand in my mind because the more you know, the more informed your process and work will be.
As an illustrator, it’s dangerous to get to a point where you feel you’re done improving.
If you feel you’ve reached the hypothetical summit of your career, there is nowhere to go but down…OR a taller mountain. The mountain of improvement.
I realise how cheesy this sounds. But it’s true. Pushing yourself to think of ways you can improve beyond your comfort zone gives you an edge that could help you produce your best work.
You don’t have to be incredible in every social situation but having a few people-skills might help you make lasting friendships and strong connections along the way!
Don’t worry too much about this one though. You just make your best work and be genuine. You’ll do fine.
It is often said that people will fall in love with your work, not because of what you do, but because of why you do it. It may sound cheesy, but I think there’s a lot of truth to it.
Personally, I enjoy and appreciate artwork more when the artist has given background or been vulnerable.
I can respect work more when I know there is passion, emotion, or specific thought behind an illustration.
People want to see your work, but they also want to know the person creating it. Your personality, likes, disliked, and quirks make your artwork unique and that’s what people want to see!
That’s all for now…
It’s been fun writing this blog, but it’s also been challenging because I know myself and I know I have room to grow in ALL these areas!
So, don’t get down on yourself if you feel like you’ve not been the poster child of the illustration industry.
As always, please reach out if you have any questions and feel free to SIGN UP for my monthly NEWSLETTER if you enjoyed this article!