In this blog post I thought I’d delve into how I started out getting jobs as an illustrator. Hopefully this will give you some insight into how to start out yourself and make the most of opportunities that come your way.
I graduated from the University of Southampton with a 2:1 in BA(Hons) Graphic Arts, specialising in illustration, and was fortunate that during my time there, I was commissioned and employed for my illustration skills.
My very first (paid) commission was for Oh Comely, a bi-monthly women’s magazine. While I was very lucky to be given this opportunity, especially while I was still studying, it wouldn’t have come about if I hadn’t taken part in HiFest (Hastings Illustration Festival) where the art director spotted my work. By going to HiFest, not only had I managed to sell some of my merchandise, meet fellow illustrators and generally have a great time, I also managed to get my illustrations out there for people to see. So, while illustration festivals can be a costly investment, in my opinion, the experience more than makes up for it and there is always a chance that work may come out of it. Just be prepared to (probably) only make back the money you invested as often you need to: pay to have stock made, cover travel expenses and buy a table space.
Other work I got whilst at University wasn’t paid and while I’d never advocate working for free, in this instance it was for a society at my University who didn’t have a budget for illustrations at the time. I was able to create whatever I wanted, as long as it was related to a particular theme, and it meant that I was able to create work for my portfolio alongside projects for University. However, it did pay off in the end as they reached out to me later and commissioned me to create some promotional materials for them. This all started by getting in touch with the society’s president and talking about a collaboration. If you’re still studying, why not reach out to a society you’re interested in and see if you can collaborate with them in some way? Many of my classmates also put on their own events, created posters and worked for the student magazine. These all helped to build up their portfolios and got their work up around University.
Another opportunity I got whilst studying was to work for Wessex Social Ventures, a social enterprise, as an illustrator/designer. This came through the University’s internship scheme and I initially worked for the company for a couple of months over the summer. I was employed by the company and I created the illustrations and graphics for them, including promotional, informational and branding materials. The only difference from freelance work being that my work did become the property of the company. I thoroughly enjoyed this role and it led to working part-time for them throughout my final year at University. Now, I doubt this same opportunity will be open to many other students but it is always worth seeing what job opportunities are around.
Since leaving University I’ve tried to be prolific in getting my work ‘out there’. This involved setting myself my own briefs, a great way to build up your portfolio, posting to my blog and social media and also sending out promotional materials (i.e. postcards and business cards). I also got in touch with several magazines and websites that I felt my illustration style would work well with. It might be worth going to your local newsagents and seeing which magazines have illustrations in them. Usually you can find some contact details for someone in the art department or a phone number to call. From there make sure you’re polite and ask if they take portfolio submissions. While this can be an arduous process, it can pay off- just don’t pester people if you don’t hear back from them. This is the most recent way I’ve been able to make contacts and get some commissions.
So, to summarise, here are some ways you could find work as a budding illustrator:
Visiting/participating in art festivals
Working with groups who have similar passions to you
Working for charities and other non-profit organisations
Finding job opportunities at your University or local to you
Marketing your work through promotional materials and social media
Hopefully you found this interesting, if not helpful in some way. Thank you for reading and please let me know if you have any helpful tips for getting jobs as a budding illustrator. Leave them in the comments below or send me an email!