Art in the Professions
So, what is Illustration & what do Illustrators do?Illustration is: commercial art! That means an illustrator is an artist who does work for money. They take on commissions and follow briefs set out by their clients to create a piece of work with a purpose.
Illustration is: storytelling! Book covers, movie posters, CD/DVD cover art, graphic novels, children & picture book illustrations, magazine & newspaper editorials, concept art, character design & storyboarding all fall into the category of illustration. Illustrative art is art with a narrative element, so a piece can either be one stand alone image or run as several in a cohesive set.
Education:There are degrees in Illustration and while they may not teach you a great deal about art, you will learn how to work and conduct yourself in the industry. It’s not necessary to have one of these degrees to be an Illustrator; however, it can have its advantages, such as teaching you about the following:
Agents:Many an Illustrator has an agent, and there are times when some people find them very useful. They are essentially the middle men between the artist and the client, managing--among other things--the contracts, rates of pay, and legal jargon that many people can find overwhelming (especially at the beginning of a career or during busy work periods).Art directors, publishers & individuals looking for concept art, book illustrations, editorial (magazine and newspaper) illustrations and more will generally come to an agency to try and find an artist to match their need. There are many agencies out there that often tailor themselves to specific genres in illustration, and take on artists who are specialists in that field.
Agencies will generally take anything from around 30-40% of every commission they get an artist as a fee, so it’s best for an artist to decide whether they think the job the agency does is in their best interests or if they are secure in managing themselves as freelance.That being said, many an agent won’t take on an artist who has no experience finding work for themselves, and so a year or two of freelance work is often necessary to begin with.
Setting up as Freelance:Working as a freelance/sole trader means working completely independently on such things as managing your own books/finance, finding your own commissions, marketing yourself, and writing your own contracts.The first thing an illustrator needs to do is research the tax procedures of their country. As a freelance artist, they are self employed and need to manage their own taxes, so knowing the regulations through and through are essential before setting up.
Warning! You may be subject to fines (or worse) if you don’t adhere to the tax rules of the country you are working in, so if you are working as a freelance artist, this step is very important!
Portfolios:A portfolio is a creative CV/resume, telling the world not only what an artist is capable of doing, but also what they are willing to do.Portfolios are often adapted to suit different audiences, just like a regular CV/resume is changed to best sell a worker to a potential employer. This means illustrators can often spend a lot of time organising and reorganising work in their online portfolios as well as keeping several different hard copy (‘real life’) portfolios on hand. Research is ALWAYS essential before approaching a client to make sure the work shown is relevant and no one’s time is being wasted.
Clients:Working freelance means finding all your own clients – and it’s not as easy as just putting your work on a hosting website and having clients come asking for commissions.Illustrators have to take a proactive approach and go out of their way to find people who could potentially employ them. Sending emails, links to their portfolios, and even the financial commitment of sending out hard copy samples of work to art directors and editors are all ways artists use to make themselves known to prospective clients.
Giving themselves an edge and keeping themselves on the radar of industry professionals long term without becoming a nuisance are all challenges an illustrator must face. Networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook, & Pinterest--along with work related blog sites, a professional website and portfolio websites--are all tools that the modern illustrator must utilise in order to get the very best scope for their work.Recently, illustrators have been taking a more authorial approach to their work; that is to say, taking charge of the content of what they are creating, rather than having the input from an editor, director or author. Now, illustrators are finding they can (at least in part) supplement their income through the sale of self published art books, comics, zines, prints, merchandise and more, becoming almost fully independent creators.Of course, illustrators may take on private commissions with individuals as well, where all the same rules of conduct and contracts apply.
Contracts, Copyright & Licensing:A contract is the legal, binding agreement between an artist and client that details their responsibilities; essentially, that the artist will create work to the requirement of the client on time, and the client will pay the artist the agreed amount on time.Contracts should ALWAYS include a licensing agreement: how, where, and how long the image/s will be used and whether any variations of the work are authorised. It is important to know that this is not the same as selling the copyright: copyright is owned by the creator of the image/s unless it is specially stated otherwise and signed over to another party. It is generally advised NOT to sell the copyright of a piece of work, although there are always some exceptions.Contracts are just as important to understand as tax regulations, as they are the protection an artist (and client) has should either fail to meet the agreed terms, or indeed, flout them.
Competitions & Charity work:Illustration and design specific competitions run globally and winning one can be an impressive addition to an artist’s creative CV, though some of the more prestigious may require an entry fee.Competitions are also a great way of finding professional, industry specific briefs should an artist need help in bulking out their portfolio, which can generally be accessed for free!Sometimes, artists will be approached by, or will notice a call out by, charities that want or need an artist’s creative input. Weighing up an often already overwhelming workload and whether or not they think they are capable of anything extra is a huge deciding factor in accepting to do work for little or reduced pay.Generally, charity work is the exception to the golden rule of never working for free, thought this doesn't mean an artist has an obligation to do so.
Building a Reputation:It is important that a professional artist conduct themselves appropriately when online. Whether it’s on a social media, blog, portfolio site or otherwise, all interactions should be treated as they would be with a person in real life. That means being polite, conscientious, and professional – a good reputation can get you far; people want to work with those who are respectful and pleasant, not rude, haughty or inconsistent/ flaky.It is not unheard of for artists to be black listed should they fail to meet deadlines or treat the clients or work disrespectfully, so a professional manner is essential at all times.And so, in conclusion: illustration is art with a purpose, while illustrators themselves are hard working, adaptable, market and tech savvy artists who earn their living creating many of the images we see around us in our everyday lives and a lot of the ones we don’t. --