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Tuesday, 16 September 2014

The Drawing Board

 “The world is all gates, all opportunities, strings of tension waiting to be struck.” 
(Ralph Waldo Emerson).

I wrote this blog post as a final assessment piece while studying my design diploma (which I graduated from earlier this year). Originally this article was to be published on a blog set up by the design school but unfortunately the blog never eventuated. So I am posting it here instead. So many thanks to the illustrators who assisted with this article. I have had an amazing 8 months post study finding my feet as an emerging illustrator - the illustrators in this article have inspired me and my journey immensely! 
- Lou (September 17th 2014)

The following article was inspired by three interviews with Melbourne illustrators Elise Hurst, Laura Wood and Andrea Innocent in November 2013. Three other Melbourne illustrators reviewed the article in January 2014: Jody Pratt, Richard Morden and Claudia Rowe. The latter three have also been quoted to add their thoughts into the mix.

By Lou Endicott

So here I sit on the edge of being thrust out of my tertiary graphic design course and into the work force as a professional in the field of illustration and design. This is the time to consider the opportunities that lay ahead and to invest in the opportunities already at hand.

My choice to specialise in illustration is an obvious one. I draw everyday. It’s the first thing I look for in a design. I get unexplainable peace, joy and satisfaction working on illustrations with both traditional and digital media. I have long dreamt of being a children’s illustrator and working on books, editorials, posters and branding for children’s products.

After researching the working life of illustrators and talking to a variety of artists themselves (at markets, exhibitions and via email) it is apparent that making a living as an illustrator is filled with challenges. The field itself is flooded with talented practitioners. There is also the idea of the world of printed media diminishing in demand with the advent of this technological age and the popularity of e-readers.  Illustrators must also consider the prospect of working long hours alone without the team environment that a graphic design studio (or any full time office) might provide. They are freelancers, self-promoters, and small business managers and are continually trying to prove the worth of the work that they do. Melbourne illustrator and author Elise Hurst paints the picture beautifully: “You will blown this way and that, following your own zephyr, and, despite all the difficulties, experience a satisfaction that few others will”.

My illustration of Elise Hurst 
“You will blown this way and that, following your own zephyr, and, despite all the difficulties, experience a satisfaction that few others will”.
(Elise Hurst)

Without passion, there would be no point in pursuing this industry.  For me personally (having already had another career) shifting to this dream of illustrating was a matter of following my heart and my inner drive.  I found this to be familiar story with Melbourne illustrator Laura Wood: “I started doing this work later in life, after already having started a career in a completely different job. But I wasn't happy and one day I decided to change my path because I realised I couldn't do a job where my heart wasn't there. So I allowed myself to dream again and for the first time I let my heart choose instead of my brain.

Choosing the heart instead of the brain is not everyone’s idea of a dream job. Illustrators need to be resourceful and unashamed of bravely shouting to the rooftops about what you do to strangers. With the digital age well and truly being at the core of business we are faced with an opportunity to promote our work and be seen on both a national and international platform.

Self-promotion is paramount in this field – particularly when starting out. Earlier this year after following Laura Wood’s blog I noticed that Laura had started an online presence as an illustrator while still studying. Her journey from student to professional was beautifully documented as she emerged into the industry. Her online presence is hard to be missed. 

My illustration of Laura Wood
"I allowed myself to dream again and for the first time I let my heart choose instead of my brain.
(Laura Wood)

Living in the digital age means that illustrators have the opportunity to promote themselves to a wider audience. “Through the Internet we have now the possibility to put our work under the eyes of creative directors all over the world in matter of seconds and without spending a cent,” says Laura Wood “I think it's fantastic.” Elise Hurst agrees: “Online folios are The Best.”

I followed this example of self-promotion and began to create an online presence with my own Facebook page, an Instagram account and a blog to document my own journey.  Recently I joined Twitter to connect to other illustrators globally and take inspiration from their own process of self-promotion and work generation.  It was through this Twitter account that I noticed how many illustrators are selling their own work online. I have followed suit and started selling my own work through an Etsy shop. This work has lead to my first commissioned piece and got me thinking about diversifying beyond just prints.

Elise Hurst would agree that diversity and selling your own works is part of creating opportunities for yourself. Apart from simply illustrating, she is also a highly acclaimed author and has also hosted several exhibitions of her work.  It was at her last exhibition “Tiger. Hare. Girl. Bear.” that Elise shared her thoughts on her work and process. “I create what I want to see. I always keep journals.” “But how do you get your work out there?” I asked. To which she replied “It’s good to be brave and go out to talk to people.” Richard Morden agrees with this statement and adding “Some of my most interesting and rewarding commissions have resulted from personally contacting people I thought could use my illustrations and showing them samples.”

My Illustration of Richard Morden
"Some of my most interesting and rewarding commissions have resulted from personally contacting people"

Like any industry, talking to other people about the job and its challenges and rewards can be a huge help – and not just for those starting out like myself. Networking is as important in this industry as in any other. Being an illustrator can often mean long hours spent alone working on pieces and interpreting briefs.

After Laura Wood pointed me in the direction of Illustrators Australia (a not for profit group) I began to understand the importance of a professional community that provides a network for illustrators. Wood says: “For a freelance illustrator like me, Illustrators Australia is a good reference point able to provide support and exposure. Also, being involved in such a community is a great opportunity to meet other people that share the same passion for illustration.”

After recently joining Illustrators Australia myself I had the opportunity to ask Vice President Andrea Innocent some questions. “It's like being represented by an agent in a way however you have the ability to have a real say in how IA is run,” she said. “ IA also is a terrific resource for information, pricing and contract examples can be downloaded from the site and there are lots of other illustrators available to chat to about all sorts of things to do with illustration as a career”. 

My illustration of Jody Pratt
“Don't be afraid to get involved with IA, we don't bite!”
(Jody Pratt, Illustrators Australia President)

The opportunity to ask other professionals for advice is clearly worth every cent of the membership fee to an organisation such as IA.  Jody Pratt, president of Illustrators Australia adds in here: “Don't be afraid to get involved with IA, we don't bite!”

The Loop, Linked In and Behance are some examples. As is The Style File – which is a website that promotes the works of book illustrators in Australia. Elise Hurst is a member and shared with me the benefits: “I think it is great for new illustrators and publishers hoping to find a fresh new approach. Because there are a lot of illustrators on the site - it's always worth a publishing house having a look through.” It’s clear that to gain work emerging as well as practicing illustrators must find exposure.

From this ongoing research it is apparent that making a move from student to professional is one that needs to have started well before graduation. But finding actual work as a freelancer requires a large amount of self-motivation and drive. This is where an agent may help. I asked Andrea for her thoughts on illustration agents and what services they can provide.  Her advice? “Surviving on your own and working freelance is definitely possible but it requires lots of work and marketing by yourself, whereas an agent can promote you as well as put you forward for jobs that suit your style and voice.”

My illustration of Andrea Innocent
"Surviving on your own and working freelance is definitely possible but it requires lots of work and marketing by yourself"
(Andrea Innocent)

It can be daunting looking at all of the illustration agencies in Australia and internationally. However, having an agent can be a gateway for work. Laura Wood’s would agree: “Having an agent for me has meant getting work and recognition from bigger and more prestigious clients.” Elise Hurst explains how an agent makes her life a little easier: “I love my agent, Jacinta di Mase, because I hate to do the negotiation and chasing work of a job.”

I have started to investigate the many illustration agencies in Australia and overseas. Some agencies require a minimum years of experience. However, there are some that have their books open for consideration. These agencies are ones I am considering approaching before I graduate. Andrea Innocent encourages emerging illustrators to just go for it: “In terms of approaching illustration agencies don't make the mistake of waiting because you don't think you're ready or your work is not good enough yet, let them be the judge of that, just call them! Most agencies are very excited about seeing new work and are ready to give you some super useful advice as to where they think you might fit in to the mix”.

If you have clients wanting you to work with them research indicates that you are an asset to an agents books and representation might be the next step. Elise Hurst would agree with this research: “If you get some work offered to you and you are not confident negotiating for yourself, that is an excellent time to talk to an agent. You are much more likely to secure an agent if you have an offer on the table, then if you are starting out and you have no work behind you.”

With the digital age truly ingrained in our popular culture images are easily sourced – often for free. The price of original work has also been lowered in this competitive market. To stand out in this online market place it seems that illustrators need to look for gaps in the market place. Says Andrea “Having a particular style or technique that makes you unique can give you an edge and hopefully you will be able to command higher prices for your work. It helps to also be a really nice person to work for.”

So once a style has been defined and a body of work is created, what opportunities can be created? Elise suggests: “You can print your own work and get noticed, make web pages and eBooks, blog, tweet… In the end you just have to get creative and proactive and work out how you are going to earn money for the time you spend. Although there is a lot to be said for social media, I think the biggest asset of an illustrator is doing great work and a lot of it. The challenge is to find that work.

What if you choose to work for yourself? The idea of self-publishing children’s books has been playing on my mind for a while. There is lot of online services that allow you to publish your own material. However, it seems that actually promoting your own work and marketing it to customers requires a whole different skill set. Elise Hurst confirms this research: “Creating the book is only a small part of selling a book. That is why I definitely choose to go with publishers. It takes enough of my time writing and illustrating, without trying to pick up another 6 part-full time jobs too. Basically, if you aren't willing to learn to do everything (editing, layout, researching printers, organising the print run, freight, storage, distribution and marketing) then you end up paying a whole lot of people to do aspects of it for you. That's a big outlay for a product that has no guarantees of selling. You don't have to sell through mainstream bookshops though. If you have a way of selling directly to people it is a different story. You will still be doing a lot of work though!”

Claudia Rowe illustrator and self published author of “Where the wild bums are” and “The Hungry Bum” explains the learning curve of making your own books: “Self-publishing feels like a slow build in a lot of ways; starting as a complete novice and learning slowly about all the aspects along the way or not learning! Not even realising what you have to learn until confronted with it.” But she would add there is a freedom and “You can be as innovative and/or anarchic as you like!”

My illustration of Claudia Rowe
“You can be as innovative and/or anarchic as you like!”
(Claudia Rowe)

The advice from these illustrators strengthens my resolve to create my own opportunities right now – to network, to promote and to go forth bravely with the spirit of adventure, self belief and creativity.

The creative life is not for the faint of heart. It is filled with obstacles and challenges. But who better to overcome these challenges than those with creative resourcefulness and know how. I guess when it comes to creating new opportunities in this industry it will always be back to the drawing board for me.

Lou Endicott (January 2014)

Self Portrait

You can see the beautiful work of the illustrators referenced in this article via their websites:
Richard Morden:

To check out the work of many amazing Australian illustrators or to enquire about becoming a member of Illustrators Australia follow this link:
Illustrators Australia:

To follow my own journey as an illustrator:

twitter: @louendicott
instagram: louendicott_illustrator

1 comment:

  1. Those are great advice. And the best part of it is that more people will see this and try to incorporate it into their strategies, whether for promoting their art or simply increasing their online presence. It really boils down to the basics: be in one, then be in many, and the audience will see your work more times over. Bottom line, you just don't let them miss your stuff. Anyway, thanks for sharing your thoughts on the matter. Cheers!

    Ann Boone @ Apex Business Team