Creating an image
In my opinion, the question of the day should always be, "What should I be doing?"
A lot of illustrators never have lift off because they refuse to think long-term. They think if they put themselves out into the world, the work will find them! That's the farthest thing from the truth. You must consistently lay the ground work for tomorrow by living the life of a successful, working illustrator TODAY!
- Create a portfolio of your work, and add to it weekly.
- Create a professional looking website portfolio, which contains only your very best work to date. You may want to consider having two separate portfolio websites, one for graphic illustration and one specifically designed for showing your Children's Publishing illustrations, like illustrator/graphic designer Aja Wells. Your websites should be kept separate, for a plethora of reasons!
- Always keep a stock pile of ideas on file, and take time to replenish it constantly. You may be working on a paid assignment when an awesome idea for a Picture Book floods your mind and gets your blood pumping! Stop for a minute, and jot down highlights to help refresh your memory later and then place the note in your "ideas" file. When you have completed your paying assignment, you'll have great ideas waiting in the wings. Soon, you'll have a reputation as someone who never misses a beat, and is constantly in creative motion, like my friends, Ginger Neilson and Cyn Narcisi!
- Develop a daily routine. Get up and dress as if you're going to work! It will remind you that you are a professional, even when you don't have a paying assignment.
- Use your assignment-free time wisely. It's easy to feel sorry for yourself when paying jobs seem to keep passing you by! If you were sitting in an office, would your manager allow you to sit around and whine or would he/she tell you to get back to work on finding new ways to bring in clients?
Free time is opportunity time! It gives you the chance to update your websites, help other illustrators, try new techniques and mediums, take on-line classes, or create that dummy-book you've been longing to work on! It's an opportunity to do ALL the things you don't have time for when you have a PAYING job with a deadline!
- Keep a calendar nearby. Schedule time each week to look for more work by sending out samples, postcards, and resume's.
- Always have six irons in the fire! Yes, that may seem like a lot to juggle, but chances are, five will either get turned to dust or put on hold.
- Keep excellent records of places where you've applied, what you sent, and who you addressed it to. (I keep separate folders for each project.)
- Avoid illustrating books for new, self-publishing authors. (authors, please refrain from sending me hate mail! I acknowledge that there are exceptions to every rule.) The truth is, most can not afford to pay you as a publisher would. They have no concept of the time involved in illustrating a picture book, and most rely on you for every step of the production process (extremely time consuming).
In the end, you will average about $3.00 for every hour you painstakingly put in, hand-holding your client through each dramatic hurdle towards completion. When you're done, you'll have invested tons of precious time (that you can't get back) in a book that the author must then self-promote to family and friends. Most never see a bookstore shelf, and it is seldom considered a publishing "credit" by the publishing business. Don't make the mistake of thinking, "Well, it'll help me to build my portfolio" (I've heard this a hundred times). You can do THAT on your own, using common sense and all that you've learned instead of taking art direction from an author who knows nothing about illustrating books! The illustrations you produce on your own will be much stronger and more challenging, just ask my friend Sam Kirkman!
- Pay it forward. You will find that professional illustrators are a caring, sharing bunch! You'll receive an abundance of help along the way, so be prepared to give back, like illustrator Gina Pfleegor. Gina has given me countless lessons in "illustrator etiquette", jumping in with much needed assistance whenever I hit bottom. (Yes, even I need a pep talk now & then!) You'll gain a good reputation and you'll make connections that you never dreamed possible.
Don't ever be cocky or stingy with information, experiences, or lessons. It will come back to bite you when you least expect it! Mr. Murphy's law almost guarantees that you will find yourself in the same on-line critique group with someone you ticked off! What if someone you slighted gets published and you need their help someday? You never know how the chips will fall, so BE NICE!
There are many websites to help you with the process of getting illustration assignments and knowing what to do when it happens. None of them compare to a live person, who is willing to walk you through this difficult (and sometimes scary) time. For this reason, I strongly emphasis joining the SCBWI, critique groups, and creating personal contacts.
Blogs have become one of the greatest ways of meeting other illustrators. You can learn about their process, their current projects, and their personal journey. Some of my personal fav's are; Kelly Light, Becky Driscoll, Wilson Williams, and Sherry Rogers (to name but a few).
Twitter has also become a popular tool for keeping up with and participating in the community of children's book illustrators. I highly recommend you try your hand at both, as a means of getting people to visit your portfolio website. Traffic to your site can lead to freelance opportunities that you don't have to spend time hunting for, leaving you more time to do what you love most, drawing!