Monday, 19 January 2009

Saggy says ........

'Things I have learned in my life so far'

by Stefan Sagmeister.

This is a little gem, ok so he's a graphic designer not an illustrator but this is still of interest.
You can't help but warm to the the big Austrian self publicist. A mix of auto-biog, home spun philosophy, advice and insights into how both Sagmeisters mind and the creative industry works.

More books....

Ok so here's another couple of books that are worthwhile having:

'Inside the Business of Illustration' by Steven Heller (Author), Marshall Arisman (Author & illustrator) It's a worthwhile read, even though its over 5 years old. Some of the views sound a little dated, and you have to keep in mind that this is written from an American point of veiw. But having said all that Heller always has something intelligent to say and Arisman (the once wild but now tamed 'establishment' illustrator) has some deep insights and historical perspectives. This is what the burb says:

This guide to the ins and outs of today's dynamic illustration business tells budding illustrators everything that their teacher didn't know or their art director didn't tell them. Using an entertaining, running narrative format to look at key concerns every illustrator must face today, this book covers finding one's unique style and establishing a balance between art and commerce; tackling issues of authorship and promotion; and more. In-depth perspectives are offered by illustrators, art directors, and art buyers from various industries and professional levels on such issues as quality, price negotiation, and illustrator-client relationships.

The second book is more like a how to be an illustrator style tome. 'Illustration 101' by Max Scratchmann (real name? I doubt it!) This is a straight talking shoot from the hip style guide which is full of practical advice on all aspects of professional practice.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Two heads are better than one

In design two heads are always better than one. Never underestimate the value of someone to bounce ideas off/argue with. Before you set off finding someone to work with here are a few tips for finding the perfect partner in crime:
  1. Can I really spend 95% of my waking hours with this person?
  2. Do I like them?
  3. Do I rate their thinking/work?
  4. Can I hear them out?
  5. Can I be really honest with them?
  6. Are we better together?
  7. Can they do all the things that I can't?
  8. Are they at least as good as me?
  9. Do we want the same things?
  10. Do I fancy them ? (always a bad idea!)

Friday, 9 January 2009


Here is a screen shot of a simple invoice created in word. I'm sure you could create a much better design than this yourselves but it will do for now.
You can download the Word document from the 3rd Year Moodle site in the Professional Practice Section. Feel free to edit your copy and add an image or logo in the black square.

Starting up

This government site aims to help you understand some of the many things you need to think about when you're running a business, especially the main tax and National Insurance (NI) issues.It also points to some other important areas of the law which aren't the responsibility of HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC)

Going Global

It's easier than ever for you to get your work in front of art directors and editors of foreign publications and agencies with the wonders of the newfangled intraweb, so don't just consider the UK when promoting yourselves.

Get hold of magazines etc published abroad and start to contact the art directors.

Art directors love to work with illustrators in other countries it makes them feel exotic (even if you live in Manchester) Considering the size of the market for images is outside of the UK you'd be foolish to ignore it.

In the last year I think I've only done two jobs for clients in the UK but I've been pretty busy with freelance work (considering I only have 3 days to do it in) from Germany, America and Japan and I'm not even trying ;-)

Its also interesting to consider what doesn't sell in one market or country sells well in others.

See Zeegans advice on this also:

4. Make international connections
Networking without borders
With the UK economy apparently in free fall, what better time to start looking for opportunities further afield? Networking on a global scale isn’t tricky these days with a plethora of blogs, wikis and websites widely available, but why not go one better. Rather than spending the money on a new tent and a ticket for a rain-sodden summer festival, trade up and fly budget to a design conference. Make new contacts, add to your CV and meet with representatives of international design organisations to boot.

5. Going global
Working abroad can pay off
International study trips and exchange programmes have given many former students a flavour of the opportunities abroad. A number of UK design schools and the general design scene are held in high esteem internationally, so it’s relatively easy to get access to companies – assuming work permits and local employment restrictions aren’t an issue.

Moving from Dalston to Dubai may not be plain sailing, but the potential rewards and career prospects can outweigh the drawbacks. As with any new initiative, plan carefully and get advice from others who have taken the same route.

Tax and national insurance

Tax and national insurance info for freelancers (self employed )

Studio info

above photos of illustrator Adrian Johnson studio.

Sharing a studio could be an option for those of you wanting to stick together after college. You could still work separately or you could work on projects jointly dividing up aspects of the job between yourselves.

Here are a few links to bespoke studio spaces, there are plenty more available. Or if your very digital and your not going to chuck oil paint all over the place you could just rent out cheap office space.


islington mill

rogue artists studios


bankley studio

cow lane studios

craft and design centre studios

Post show blues 2 - illustration is easy

Illustration is easy

Creating illustration is easy (well it should be by now in your 3rd year) the difficult bit is getting business, the creative industry is diverse, and constantly changing with the whims of fashion and shifts in technology, it demands creativity, immense skill, business savvy, and a certain amount of sheer good fortune.

Illustration and design are fiercely competitive fields. Only people who are self motivated and determined will last. Its a cliche but (a true one) you will only get out what you put in; you need to invest in yourselves.

Keep promoting your work, tirelessly, you will need to push passed all the other graduates that are leaving or have left in past years PLUS you are now in competition with all the professionals too. It's a marathon not a sprint, pace your self, but keep going.

It’s important to keep creating your own self generated ideas and projects even when you leave college as these are your creative life blood. This continues to make you who you are as opposed to what others would like you to be and it enables you to move on and grow creatively.

Getting Down to Business

Besides your creative skills, you will need business and ‘people’ skills, this applies no matter what field of design you work in, but especially if you are self-employed (as nearly all illustrators are). Below is an overview of a few of the basic issues which you will need to address in your first few years after leaving college.

General Business Skills:

Budgeting, saving, taxation, planning, time management skills, negotiating and fees and licences/copyright are all areas you will need to master in order to become a successful freelance illustrator/designer. Use the information on this site to help you.

Communication skills:

It is also essential that your communication skills (talking to clients etc) are up to speed. By the end of your 3rd year you will have done quite a few presentations and spoken to art directors and illustrators, so there is no need to be nervous.

• Set expectations correctly, be honest, if you can’t do a job in the time the client wants tell them, and try to negotiate a more favourable deadline.

• Once you have agreed a deadline keep to it!

• Remember: being reliable and professional counts for more than being the most talented illustrator or designer. If you can, be both!

• Network and put yourself and your work about (don’t become isolated).

“There is no UFO full of art directors criss-crossing the night sky plucking up talented young artists and launching their careers. Young artists must invent their own careers project by project.” Kevin McCloskey.


Order images in a thoughtful manner. Start with a strong image and finish with a strong image. Don’t have too much in your portfolio, be selective. Format: A4-A2.
(see portfolio postings for more detail)


Contact, images, AOI, agents, mail-outs, direct contact/visits, web sites, shows, competitions etc etc get your name and your face about.

Commissioning procedure:

Generally the commissioning procedure will run something like this:
  1. After much hard work and effort promoting yourself...........
  2. Initial call/email from client explain the job and briefing you. Discuss fees and deadlines etc at this point.
  3. Thumbnails and roughs sent to client.
  4. Client feedback. (often a Art Director will have to run images by an editor)
  5. 2nd rough? total re-think or a few changes maybe patient!
  6. Client confirms rough is ok and gives go ahead.
  7. Art work sent.(before or on the deadline!!!)
  8. Feedback.
  9. Alterations ? (unusual in editorial but more common in publishing and advertising)
  10. Final artwork sent.
  11. Client accepts artwork.
  12. Send invoice.
  13. Get paid.(30 days + later)
  14. Job done :-)


See Fees & Finance postings

Rejection fees:

Usually 33% of agreed fee, after a few roughs have been produced or in unlikely event of client not using artwork.


Send one to the client and keep one for your own records and taxation purposes. Example invoice posted soon.


Combine a simple licence agreement within your invoice (see invoice and copyright postings).

‘How to speak to Art Directors’

‘How to speak to Art Directors’

Vicki Morgan & Gail Gaynin

Vicki Morgan and Gail Gaynin were good friends when they joined their agencies in 1995. Now Morgan Gaynin Inc., located in New York City's Gramercy Park area, represents over 40 international illustrators.

Most problems with assignments are a result of miscommunication. It is your responsibility to find out all that is necessary to do your job well.

Having discussed literally thousands of assignments, we have a good sense of the questions one should ask to ensure clarity. To find out how the people in question feel about communications with artists, we polled some of our favourite art directors, art buyers and graphic designers from all different types of companies.

Their pet peeves and suggestions for a smooth collaboration have been incorporated into this article. You might want to keep this page as a crib sheet for the next time you receive an assignment. In fact, to quote one of our contributors who reviewed this article, “Excellent guidelines! If only every illustrator could pin this on their wall it would be a wonderful world!”

“What’s in your mind’s eye?”
How many times has an AD said “I love your work. Just read the copy and then do whatever you would like.” Then you hand in your sketch ideas and hear “That’s not what I had in mind!”

It is your job to elicit these mental images during initial discussions with your AD. Be sure to understand the vision in his/her “mind’s eye”. If this is an editorial or publishing job, ask for a synopsis of the story or a run-down of the main points.

Ask what aspect of your work made you the collective choice?
This way there won’t be any disparity between what is expected and what you do. Know if there is a particular illustration of yours that they especially like.

Artists with various styles or techniques would be wise to discuss which approach to use.

Ask all about the specs for the job
The size, black and white or colour, how the finish should be submitted . Also discuss possible expenses up front so they can be included in the budget. Don’t assume time and money are padded.

When discussing due dates, rather than saying “I need two weeks,” say how much time you need for the sketch and then how much time for the finish after sketch approval. You are still getting the two weeks you wanted to complete the illustration and they can plan the sketch approval time accordingly. If you are also a designer don’t be afraid to ask if you will have any say about the type treatment or design.

Ask how the AD would like to communicate throughout the job
Email, fax, in person, phone or through the rep. Sometime Ads prefer to deal with a rep… or then again, some prefer not to speak with your rep after the business aspects are settled. If this is the case, keep your rep fully informed about the creative particulars so that any problems can be nipped in the bud.

Expect changes
Please note that in a previous paragraph we said “collective choice”. Depending on your field, the AD might need to answer to and appease a creative director, account supervisor, client, art buyer, editor, publisher, author … the list can be huge. (Remember this when you bemoan the erratic nature of freelance life!)

Ask who among these people will have to approve your work. When you sense there may be too many options for an easy consensus, ask for everyone to sign off on your work and insist that directions be conveyed to you by one designated person.

Think as a team player
You may be a freelancer, but creating a visual for reproduction takes teamwork. No matter what your opinion is of a provided layout idea, it is always necessary to first sketch what you have been asked to provide.

Often the idea you are being asked to visualise has passed through many layers of approvals and there is no flexibility for alteration. But certainly ask if you may also submit your own additional sketch ideas.

Along with these sketch ideas you might consider providing a few sentences about your thoughts behind the images. This will give the AD some helpful information to sell your proposals to the less visual team members.

Keep the AD informed of any unexpected problems
In case there is an illness, a personal emergency or changes on another supposedly completed assignment, keep your AD in the loop and you will most likely have an advocate for rescheduling.

To avoid problematic and unexpected responses, it might be wise to submit a few preliminary thumbnails and a sample finish just to be sure you are going in the right direction.

Attention to these points will only add to your joy of actually being paid to make pictures.

More gold dust

50 Insider Tips for Illustrators

Work smarter, and keep your head above water with these tips and insights from some of the top names in the creative world …

Some of today’s hardest working illustrators take time out to share their own top 50 glistening, information-packed gems of knowledge. Carefully mined from real-life experiences, these handpicked nuggets will ad an insider edge to getting on in your career. Get the low-down on starting your own studio, promoting your work, the pros and cons of agents, getting that portfolio working effectively, winning clients and new business, pricing jobs, inspiration and collaborations, and how to structure your working week to fit it all in …

Part 1: Getting started in illustration

1. An education in illustration

Many illustrators swear by the education they received as full-time art school students, while many others maintain ‘learning on the job’ is the best route. Steve Wilson, graduate of the University of Brighton Illustration BA course, notes, “I made loads of mistakes when starting out – there’s a lot that can’t be taught, you have to do it in practice…”

2. Putting education into practice

Picking your own way through the minefield that is contemporary illustration practice isn’t easy. McFaul, himself a graduate of Kingston University’s Illustration undergraduate course declares, “Although the education I received was second to none, I’m still under the impression that those of us that left education at that time were dropped off in the middle of nowhere blindfolded!” Watch out for the pitfalls.

3. The highs and the lows

Life as an illustrator can be rewarding one day and frustrating the next. Although it’s demanding being your own boss, it’s also an attractive lifestyle. JAKe, Illustrator, cartoonist and animator, explains: “I haven’t had a ‘real’ job for ten years – I’d find the structure too hard. One of the highs as life as an illustrator is that there’s nobody telling me what time to get out of bed!” Create a daily structure that works for you.

4. Working from home

Setting up a studio to work out of is a crucial first step. If resources are low, your first studio may well be where you live. Jody Barton, Illustrator with Big Active, having left his urban London lifestyle for a rural one, describes his space: “Two wobbly desks, two computers and a telephone – situated in the middle of nowhere. From my window I can see a truck on the way to the slaughterhouse.”

5. Your first studio

You’ll know when the time has come to set up your own studio away from where you live, because you’ll have problems: a partner demanding the spare bedroom back for visiting guests or the kitchen table heaving under the weight of a Mac, monitor, scanner, printer and other kit. You can’t set up your own studio until finances allow, but make sure you do it before it starts to affect everyone that you live with…

6. Turning a hobby into a job

Why work in Illustration when it can appear such a haphazard career choice? Jon Burgerman, illustrator and king of doodles, admits, “It can feel isolating, but it turns your hobby into a job.” McFaul, however, goes a little harder on his advice for aspiring illustrators: “Think lifestyle, not job.” Get involved in illustration because you love doing it, not because it appears a smart career move. Jody Barton states: “Make work that is your own, not what you think will get you a big fizzy drinks ad campaign!”

7. Ask for advice

Seek advice from those who have already set up a studio, ask questions of internet service providers and telephone companies, and view a number of rental spaces before you make a final decision. “My working environment,” explains Michael Gillette, based in San Francisco, “is a small cramped room, although I am moving to a new larger studio. I’ve always worked in chaotic places, but it doesn’t seem to affect my work.”

8. Technology – keep learning

Understanding software and hardware issues is a necessity. Become friends with a technical whiz-kid or learn how to keep your kit performing in tip-top condition yourself. The pros outweigh the cons of the digital era, as far as Michael Gillette is concerned: “The flexibility of illustration in the digital era is a huge bonus,” he states. “It allowed me to move from the UK to the US, after all.”

9. The taxman and the accountant

Enlist the services of a good accountant, one that understands the creative industries. Ian Wright, the London-based innovator, admits that his accountant has “bailed me out many times – he could be the key to my survival!” JAKe also advocates being organised from the outset although he admits to being a little lax: “For me it’s receipts in a shoe box until I really have to look at it!”

10. The software police

Don’t get prosecuted. Be street legal and avoid the temptation of using anything other than legit software. Update regularly, although in most cases you can skip every other version to save funds, and keep abreast of new software developments by reading magazine reviews and trying 30-day demos.

Part 2: Finding work

1. Issues, ideas and strategies

Decide what self-promotion methods work for you but, whatever you choose, avoid annoying the people you’re marketing to. Some illustrators advocate simple procedures: Patrick Thomas of Studio laVista, based in Barcelona, suggests simply, “Do every job as well as you possibly can – that’s the best way to promote yourself.” Jon Burgerman agrees: “The best self-promotion is doing great work and getting it seen.”

2. Portfolio do’s and don’ts

Your portfolio is a valuable tool, so prepare it well, keep it organised and look after it. Anthony Burrill, design/illustrator, offers useful advice: “Keep it simple, with a good mixture of self-initiated and actual commissions. Make it look professional – good quality print-outs on decent paper.” Steve Wilson suggests, “Put your hand in your pocket and invest in leather – your book, after all, will be going to big ad agencies competing against other illustrators’ portfolios for the same job.”

3. Online portfolios

Every illustrator needs a web-based portfolio, perhaps even more useful than a leather-bound one for reaching a wider audience. Richard May, co-founder of Pixelsurgeon and Black Convoy, reckons, “Better 20 large images than 60 tiny ones.” He adds, “Make sure that the presentation does your work justice – keep it simple and to the point.”

4. Attitude and commitment

Ian Wright advises hitting the streets and seeing lots of potential clients with your work: “Take notice of their reaction to your work, don’t be afraid to ask for advice – we were all new to the profession once.” Patrick Thomas offers clear-cut thinking: “Be prepared to work bloody hard if you’re going to get anywhere.” And Anthony Burrill quotes from one of his own letterpress self promotional posters: “WORK HARD AND BE NICE TO PEOPLE!”

5. Keeping contacts

Get a good database application or get used to using a digital address book and spend time keeping it up to date, because it’ll easily take up huge chunks of time later if you don’t. Miles Donovan of Peepshow explains his own procedures: “All my contacts are on my Mac and iPod and are regularly updated and backed up – all important!” Peepshow’s work-experience folk “phone round asking for names and emails of art directors, which is handy,” admits Miles.

6. Winning clients and business

There is no magic formula for getting the job, nor a wand to wave to ensure success. It can be down to luck, but more often it’s down to graft and persistence. Ensuring that your work is visible and is being seen by the right people at the right companies that are in a position to commission will help. Original work that is both brilliantly executed and communicates clearly will find admirers.

7. How to pitch

There are occasions when a phone call from an art director puts you in an interesting position. He/she explains that the agency is doing a pitch for a client and if it comes off, there will be stacks of work for you, all very well paid naturally. However, they need you to work frantically non-stop for 48 hours to win the pitch and can barely offer you £200. Think carefully about what to do.

8. Agents – pros and cons

There are so many factors for and against getting an agent, but the bottom line is that a great agent can get you work that you wouldn’t have time to chase or even know of its existence. “My agents in New York,” explains McFaul, “are worth their weight in gold, but I’m also very proactive myself.” Miles Donovan agrees: “They find work you wouldn’t normally get, command fees and offer support if things go wrong.”

9. Be aware of industry developments

Being aware of what’s happening in the design world is crucial, and keeping abreast of recent projects by other illustrators through news and reviews in magazines will help too. Checking sites such as Design Observer and Pixelsurgeon on a regular basis will ensure that you’re constantly up to date. These activities shouldn’t be a chore; they’re valuable research.

10. Successful meetings

Arrive early at a business meeting and make sure you’ve done your homework: know who you’re seeing and familiarise yourself with the client’s recent work. Large design and advertising agencies make this easy for you by having their own press releases bound and in their reception areas. Be organised, take a notebook and pen to the meeting and ask questions if you’re unsure. Be well groomed too – appearance does count.

Part 3: Managing your projects

1. What makes a great idea?

Knowing how to recognise a strong idea takes time and experience, although being aware of when your creative thinking is not up to scratch is a good start. A great idea will communicate your message without the need to talk it through. Remember, you won’t be there to explain your illustration to everyone who views it! Richard May’s straight-talking advice about how to recognise a strong concept is: “You just know!”

2. How and when to get ideas

There’s no sure-fire, tried-and-tested method that will guarantee you’ll always get a great idea, but that uncertainty and buzz you’ll get from the pressure of having to come up with one is quite some drive. JAKe, from his studio in East London, reflects: “On a good day, it feels like they come out of nowhere – just sketchbook and pencil and start loosening up and see what happens…”

3. From beer mat to mood board

Illustrators’ visuals/roughs vary as much as there are styles and ways of working. There is no rule-of-thumb to help here. Experience will determine how much work you’ll need to undertake to get your ideas across. Some art directors demand a high level of finish, others are happy to have a chat on the phone or via email and then let you go straight to artwork. Decide what’s best for your own way of working.

4. The importance of originality

To survive in illustration, you need to offer a unique take on the world around you – it’s your own visual language that will get the respect and the work from commissioning art directors. “There are far too many illustrators and designers churned out of colleges,” states Patrick Thomas. “You are competing in a very strange environment against a huge number of talented and determined people,” adds Jody Barton. “Make your own work!”

5. Making life a little easier

Having a game plan, understanding where you are right now and where you would like to be in 12 months’ time can help dramatically. Plan carefully, structuring your week and your month in detail. Decide when you’re going to make appointments to see potential clients, and when you’re going to spend time updating your website. Michael Gillette recalls advice given to him by another illustrator: “What have you done today to show the world that you exist?”

6. Getting the price right

When putting a price on your work it’s important not to panic. You can always take some time out to think about it. If you’re offered a fee over the phone, ask for five minutes to have a think about it and say that you’ll call back. Use your five minutes wisely: sum up against your previous experience, check against previous commissions to ensure that the fee seems fair. You can even make a phone call to another illustrator if you need a second opinion. If asked to name a price, you can always put the boot on the other foot and ask what the budget is – every job has a budget!

7. When to work for free

Nothing upsets illustrators more than discussion about free work. JAKe says: “You wouldn’t ask a plumber to fix a leaky tap for free …’It’ll look good in your portfolio, mate!’” Michael Gillette agrees: “Only do free work for charities – it devalues the whole industry if you do it for clients, so don’t do it.” Patrick Thomas, guided by his principles, states: “A job that has no production budget is simply not worth doing. I don’t regard making a piece of work against war, for example, as a ‘job’ – I consider it a moral obligation.”

8. How to command the best fees

Advice about commanding top dollar for your work varies from illustrator to illustrator. Jody Barton advises that it’s wise to keep in mind exactly what you do: “You are a professional, mostly with a qualification and sooner or later you’ll have bills to pay. Never ever charge less than £100 per day and, of course, much of the work you undertake will demand somewhat higher fees.”

9. Sticking to deadlines

Late nights working against the clock, working throughout the week and then straight through the weekend into the following week – illustration is rarely a nine-to-five existence, because some projects demand high levels of input to meet the deadline. Your professionalism is not only judged by your output, but also by your ability to deliver on time. “To miss a deadline for press is inconceivable,” stresses Patrick Thomas.

10. Delivering the goods

Whether it’s being available on the end of a phone or answering emails within a reasonable length of time, communicating regularly with your clients all helps ensure that you come across as a professional. If you want to work for a client a second time, make sure that their experience of working with you is a positive one. This isn’t rocket science, just common sense.

Part 4: Creative thinking

1. Research and development

Illustration isn’t an exact science: each illustrator has his or her own approaches to making images. However it works for you, it pays dividends to occasionally reflect upon your own working methods and processes. McFaul describes his creative process as follows: “Draw, paint, cut, scribble, splash, scan, photograph, coffee, phone calls, email, draw, paint manipulate, stare out of the window, laugh, fiddle, scan, manipulate, go out, come back, scan.”

2. Looking and learning

All work and no play makes an illustrator a dull boy or girl. Creative meanderings or visual wanderings off the beaten track can add untold pleasures to an illustrator’s archives and collections. Inspiration can come from anywhere: a colour combination spotted and photographed for later perusal, a torn discarded scrap of paper with part of a photographic image smudged but with a unique visual language. Be on a constant look-out for inspiration.

3. A life outside illustration

It isn’t healthy spending all of your time submerged in the discipline. It takes dedication and long working hours, but you need to emerge once in a while and live the rest of your life. Michael Gillette keeps his head out of illustration for references and inspiration: “I like old 19th century stuff at the moment – it’s better to be inspired by an esoteric reference than a contemporary one.”

4. Iconic inspiration

For most people there are key illustrations that define moments in their lives. It might be an album or CD sleeve: The Beatles Revolver or Radiohead’s OK Computer, for example, or a Martin Sharpe psychedelic poster or book jackets for Penguin classics. Whatever they are, these are important images that mark moments in our lifetime. As illustrators, we dream of creating iconic works – enjoy the dream!

5. Addictive illustration

Never satisfied, illustrators are constantly on the prowl for the next fix. Getting a job is a great high, and doing the job is another head rush; but like a junkie constantly demanding another fix, illustrators constantly strive to get their work into new fields. Ambitious illustrators yearn for an array of canvasses – Austin at NEW (also a Black Convoy member) wants it all: “More collaborations, more live illustration, painting, exhibitions, publishing and chaos!”

6. Collaborative projects

Working with other creatives opens up new possibilities and connections. “Sometimes it’s all peaches and cream, sometime it’s chalk and cheese – but it’s all good…” explains Austin. McFaul, a Cofounder of Black Convoy, has his own take: “It’s an educational experience that can open up many avenues, you can benefit from the opinions of others.” Neasden Control Centre agrees: “It’s healthy and keeps you fresh.”

7. Risk as a learning process

Stepping into the unknown, creatively, can give you a boost. Ensuring that the repetitive process of commission, creation, delivery and invoice is injected with moments of madness is important in remaining open to new ideas. Jon Burgerman explains a recent project: “I’m working with a Danish artist, Sune Ehlers, on Hello Duudle books. I’ve never actually met or even spoken to Sune, but the process of bouncing JPEGs over email yields new ideas…”

8. Playing around with new ideas

As well as working with others, it’s important to retain aspects of the ‘art school’ experience to your working methods. Take time out of commissions to make new things and use this time to really explore new ways of working. Bring new processes to your working pattern – if you normally draw from photographs, draw only from life; if you always create colours purely in Photoshop, scan lush colours hand-painted on watercolour paper … Keep experimenting.

9. Managing your time

Everything you do takes longer than you think. Watching the clock and wondering when you can ‘clock off’ is not an option for an illustrator – you are more likely to spend time wishing the clock wasn’t rushing ahead so quickly. With deadlines to meet and clients phoning, emailing and general everyday workflow issues, it really is sensible to map out your working day, and even working week, to stay ahead of the game.

10. Get into a routine

Have a structure to your day. Organise your time well, answer emails and open post at the start of every day, then get down to being creative. Anthony Burrill, illustrator/designer, explains why a structure helps his creative flow. “During the day I make and receive countless calls and emails. I am addicted to email but sometimes have to turn it off to get rid of the distraction.” It pays to recognise good working practice.

Part 5: Career development

1. Don’t sell your soul

It’s important that you enjoy what you do. Anthony Burrill, when asked about the lows of working in illustration, states: “I can’t think of any.” Others are more reflective: McFaul doesn’t enjoy “the solitude” and Richard May warns that “cash flow can be a huge problem if you’re not careful”, but Neasden reckons “there are no lows.” Only ‘do’ illustration if you feel a passion for the activity …

2. Job satisfaction

“Saying no and turning down work, and the money, can make you feel great, in charge,” states Ian Wright. Why would you say now when it can take forever to even be asked to undertake a commission? Michael Gillette explains why he says no: “When I get a sinking feeling when reading the brief and realise that doing the job will make me feel like a lesser artist.” Although he adds honestly, “This is sometimes negated by the need for cash.”

3. Giving something back

Away from the screen, the phone and the solitude, many illustrators enjoy a regular teaching slot working with students. “Teaching reminds me why I wanted to be an illustrator in the first place,” admits Ian Wright. Austin at NEW states: “I think it’s healthy. I like discussing ideas and meeting people who are excited at the prospect of doing something new, describing their world.” Jon Burgerman gives lectures: “They make me take stock of what I’ve actually done,” he says.

4. Getting a job in education

Interested in getting involved in some teaching? Start by getting a CV together and samples of work and send them to courses at foundation and undergraduate level. Explain in a covering letter why you’d like to get involved, offer to give a professional practice lecture to students about your own experiences, perhaps start by contacting the very course you studied on – after all, you’re a success story, aren’t you?

5. Building your profile

Some illustrators crave recognition by their peers. For many it isn’t enough to see their work in print regularly and they look to other methods and means of spreading their gospel. Speaking at conferences and live events, posting comments on discussion boards, writing to magazines and sending in press releases containing new works are all ways of getting your work in front of more people, but don’t overdo it – too much and it turns people off.

6. Maintaining your profile

Keeping clients aware of your latest work is a fundamental aspect of good marketing. A regular email newsletter with information about recent projects will keep people informed. Again, too much and it’ll have the opposite effect. “It kind of puts me off when I see people really hyping themselves,” states JAKe. McFaul has his own advice: “If your website doesn’t have a firm handshake then the commissioner will be shaking the hands of others …”

7. Extra-curricular activities

Careers in illustration are broader than ever. McFaul thinks that the edges are more blurred: “Boundaries between illustrators, photographers, designers, animators and artists are long gone.” The list of potential outputs continues to increase too. “I now like to do more of my own work,” explains Miles Donovan of Peepshow, “and then find an outlet for it. I just spent a month doing my own thing and then sold the lot to a T-shirt company in Japan.

8. Eat, drink, breathe illustration

Hard work and determination will pay off, but only if you have raw talent and a visual language that combines creativity, communication and, above all, originality to a high level. If you’re still at art school right now, use your time wisely: use the facilities and expertise to their breaking point, because you’ll never get another chance. If you’re out and working in illustration, ask yourself, “Am I giving it 100 per cent? Do I want this more than anything?”

9. Advice from those who know

It may be tough, but remember a few pearls of wisdom on dark days. “Try to keep a handle on what you enjoy about the process of image-making,” offers Jody Barton. “Don’t do anything half-heartedly,” adds Austin at NEW. Patrick Thomas at laVista believes, “Your own projects and sketchbooks will feed your commercial work and help keep you sane.” Finally, Miles Donovan warns: “Don’t let the computer dictate what you do!” Wise words indeed.

10. The last word

Illustration may be your entire world, but remember it isn’t for everyone. “Keep things in perspective,” Ian Wright argues. “Being paid to be creative isn’t essential to the world’s survival!”

Design graduate’s survival guide

Design graduate’s survival guide

This summer thousands of new design graduates are flooding into the industry, and competition for jobs has never been so intense. Lawrence Zeegen has some survival tactics to help you swim rather than sink

It’s that time of the year again. The next couple of months will witness a deluge of graduates entering the industry. Every bright young hopeful will be eager to make the right impression and get on the first rung of the ladder of success. In 2005 the Higher Education Statistics Agency reported that almost 57,000 students were enrolled on design courses nationally; arithmetic suggests that approximately 19,000 new designers emerge annually.

Staggering, isn’t it? So if you’re straight out of college and competing to stand out from the pack, here’s some advice that should help you get that first job.

1. Welcome to the real world
Understanding the industry
Before firing out emails, sending out CVs and cold-calling prospective clients, think long and hard about the best place for you within the design and creative industries. Do some research and do it well. You want to be an art director? Find out the difference between an art director in an ad agency and one in a magazine publisher. You want to be a graphic designer? Well, what type of studio? Research companies that fit the vision you have for your work and career. Don’t approach packaging studios with a portfolio of publishing work – you’ll be wasting your time, and theirs.

2. Getting a foot in the door
Placements and internships
The very best way of getting started is to undertake placements – smart designers began the process as students, not graduates, but it’s never too late. Don’t look down on placements because you work for free – the reward will be getting your name and portfolio about town, as well as valuable work-related experience and a true insight into designing in the real world. And placements can often develop into paid positions.

Be organised, be positive, be committed and be confident. You’ll also need to be flexible, as you could end up working on a range of projects – perhaps researching for other designers, helping to create presentation boards or generating ideas.

3. Making the right impression
Job applications and interviews
Finding the right job isn’t easy. However, you can improve the odds by making sure you’re in the right place at the right time with the right portfolio. While it’s true that some designers pick up their first job upon graduation, the statistics are far from promising. According to a National Employee Skills Survey, only 39 per cent of new appointments are filled by graduates – the other 61 per cent are recruited from within the industry. You’re going to have to find a way into this exclusive club.

Applying for the right job requires top-level research techniques. Start by knowing where and when the best jobs are advertised. Often word-of-mouth insider info beats ploughing through the design press and online recruitment ads – many companies only resort to placing ads when this kind of informal trawl has failed. Placements can be a crucial source for studios with a vacancy to fill.

If you are looking at job ads, then read the job spec and the requirements carefully. If a company specifies three to five years’ relevant experience, don’t waste your time – pursue other avenues. Approach companies that you respect and ask if you can drop by to present your portfolio and discuss your work. Even if they don’t have any suitable vacancies, this kind of informal advice session may pay dividends when a job does come up.

When it comes to making contact, whether it’s by email, letter or online application form, make sure that every single word, sentence and paragraph is read through numerous times for poor spelling and incorrect or incoherent grammar. Don’t just check on screen, but print the document out too – you are looking to work in communication design, so make sure you are communicating effectively! Take special care with your CV.

If a company wants to see you and your work, then there is something that they like the look of, so be positive but be professional too. Research them before you arrive; anything you find out on the day should only be the icing on the cake. Never, ever be late – if you’re hideously early then walk around the block, but if you arrive five minutes early then you may get the opportunity to check the place out as well as leaf through any press books, normally laid out in reception to impress clients.

4. Make international connections
Networking without borders
With the UK economy apparently in free fall, what better time to start looking for opportunities further afield? Networking on a global scale isn’t tricky these days with a plethora of blogs, wikis and websites widely available, but why not go one better. Rather than spending the money on a new tent and a ticket for a rain-sodden summer festival, trade up and fly budget to a design conference. Make new contacts, add to your CV and meet with representatives of international design organisations to boot.

5. Going global
Working abroad can pay off
International study trips and exchange programmes have given many former students a flavour of the opportunities abroad. A number of UK design schools and the general design scene are held in high esteem internationally, so it’s relatively easy to get access to companies – assuming work permits and local employment restrictions aren’t an issue.

Moving from Dalston to Dubai may not be plain sailing, but the potential rewards and career prospects can outweigh the drawbacks. As with any new initiative, plan carefully and get advice from others who have taken the same route.

6. Succeeding at work
Becoming irreplaceable – make every day at your new job count
Landing a job might be first and foremost in your mind, but keeping it and getting the utmost from the experience has to be the next challenge. Make every day count. Consider just what you would like to take from the company – that’s not what you can half-inch from the stationery cupboard, but what you can learn and achieve. If you’re clear about your goals, you’ll be sure to make every moment matter. Seize the initiative; show willing and be eager to learn. Arriving early and staying late demonstrates determination, but working effectively during office hours can say much more. Great designers have lives outside of design too!

7. Think ahead
Career planning
It is never too early to plan a career. Forward-thinking might help you reach the boardroom a year or two early, but most dream jobs have an uncharted career path, so it makes sense to have a plan. Speak to design professionals about their own pathways, read interviews and profiles, look at the projects that helped break your own design heroes – how can you learn from their pearls of wisdom? Take stock every few months of your achievements, keep your CV up to date, and maintain a real interest in what other designers and studios are doing. The next move up the ladder may be sooner than you think.

8. Be yourself
Finding your own style
However much you’re inspired by your design heroes, resist the temptation to mimic their work. Those who cash in on a particular look or fashion in design are less likely to stand the test of time. Design studios, at least the best ones, are always on the lookout for free-thinking creatives whose flair and personality are evident in the work they produce. Finding your voice or visual signature may not come easily, but ensuring that you’re creating design solutions that are truly your own should be your ultimate goal.

9. Gain new skills
Lifelong learning
Design education isn’t always crucial for gaining employment within the industry; in fact a Labour Force Survey a few years ago suggested that only 41 per cent of designers hold a degree or equivalent qualification. So, how are the others getting the skills they need? Lifelong learning must play a part – open your mind to the fact that each and every project should deliver a range of new skills. Fine-tune your production skills, learn how to deliver great presentations – whatever you’re involved in, make sure you excel.

10. The perfect portfolio
A portfolio should be an extension of your personality as a designer – it has to chart your past, highlight your present and inform your future. Anyone viewing your body of work should be able to comprehend your take on design, visualise your aspirations as a designer and get a real flavour of what motivates and interests you.

Putting together a portfolio that pushes all the buttons isn’t easy, and the process has to remain under review throughout your career – so be sure to update your portfolio regularly. They come in all shapes and sizes, and whether online or printed they need to show your passion as succinctly as possible. Select your work carefully and review your choices. Are they your best pieces? Do they talk to the viewer effectively and communicate what you wish to say?

Resist the temptation to chuck all of your work into ring-bound plastic sleeves. You are no longer a student, you’re a professional, albeit one looking for a job. Invest in your portfolio wisely. You’ll live or die by the quality of the work within, and by how it’s presented.

100 Top Tips for Illustrators

100 Top Tips for Illustrators

An article by Lawrence Zeegan for Computer Arts – Illustration Special/Issue 29 2002.

Lawrence Zeegen works as an illustrator and tutor. He set up the Heart agency in 1994, and he is a council member of the AOI And a member of the D&AD

Want to be a pro illustrator? Or already are, but fancy picking up on some tips that may just have passed you by. Well, here they are. In bite-sized nuggets, the 101 top tips that could just put you ahead of the field!

So, you think that you are an illustrator! You can use your application of choice and a fair few others to boot. You can create the kind of image that would fit well on any magazine page, book jacket or CD sleeve but have yet to really get out there and show the world what you are capable of. Or, you already work in illustration but would like advice on putting together that killer portfolio or some pearls of wisdom on how to get in to see that top art director or how to impress that illusive agent. Well, you’re in the right place – sit up straight, get your pencil and paper at the ready (illustrators don’t use PDAs) and get focussed on advice from illustrator, educator and ex-agent, Lawrence Zeegen, as he imparts the kind of industry-insider tips that will help smooth the roughest of journeys!

1. That Killer Portfolio

What makes that killer portfolio? Why will one type of presentation always win over another? How can the way you present your work affect the fees clients will be prepared to spend on your work? Should you show every piece of work that you have ever produced? Which format of portfolio will work best for your needs? Do illustrators still need old-fashioned binders or will a CD or on-line presence deliver the goods?

In this first section we investigate the dos and don’ts of your portfolio presentation. We look at how to present your work to its best advantage and which format is best for you and your potential clients. Important advice about selecting and pacing the work you show as well as tips on what to spend your money on …

1. Format. Depending on whom you plan to work for, you are likely to still need that old-fashioned leather portfolio with plastic sleeves. Clients like something printed in front of them. It works in meetings and doe not suffer from compatibility problems! Buy the best you can afford.

2. Spend wisely. Buy a leather portfolio. It will save you money in the long run. Leather will wear so much better than plastic. It says you take pride in your work and may help you command higher fees as it shows that you mean business!

3. You live and die by the quality of your portfolio. Your work may be up against work by other illustrators. Win the job. Make sure that your portfolio is well presented. Clean or change the plastic sleeves in your folder on a regular basis. Good presentation is a must!

4. Be clear about what your portfolio says. You may not be with your work every time it’s viewed. Keep it clear, concise and precise. Present a positive image. Choose your strongest work; work that you feel positive about. Don’t include anything that you may have to apologise for!

5. Who is it for? You need to show potential clients what you can do. Your clients, usually a designer or art director, may need to show it to their clients to get approval. Your portfolio must be able to speak to a whole range of different audiences. Remember this when you put it together.

6. Other tips for smart professional portfolios – get into the habit of regularly adding new printed work as you produce it, keeping your portfolio fresh and up-to-date. Make sure that the running order makes sense – group work together depending on the type of clients it was produced for.

7. Kick off your portfolio with your strongest image and end on an equally high note. These are the most important images in your book. Keep a list of exactly what is in your portfolio and the order it was in – a real headache to put back together without. Clients will rearrange it!

8. Create at least two, maybe three portfolios, if you are planning on being busy. Many designers and art directors simply don’t have time to meet all illustrators and want you to ‘drop off’. Keeping more than one portfolio circulating around means no dead time.

9. With more than one portfolio, you never run the risk of being called in for that lucrative advertising commission at very short notice and not having a folio to hand. It happens, be prepared and have one that sits next to the phone.

10. Web sites. Important, useful and a great compliment to that leather bound folio. A web site will greatly add to your client base. Directing clients to your site means that they can view your work whenever, wherever. Cut your courier bill by not having to ship your portfolio all over town and the globe!

11. Be creative with your site. Use it to showcase commissioned work, non commissioned work and even work-in-progress. Remember to update your site on a regular basis and let folks know that you have too.

12. The interactive CD-ROM. Another extra to your leather folio but not to be overlooked. Being able to leave this portfolio with clients is cool, so long as it works with their kit and is bug-free! Think about your audience, will they appreciate your extra costs in time, energy and materials?

13. Think carefully about the work you show. Don’t think that clients will want to see a couple of drawings from that iffy evening class you did over ten years ago! Make sure that the work all sits together well and does not cover too many ‘styles’. Be excellent at one way of working, not average at lots!

2. The Art of Self-Promotion

You are doing some great work, you know that you are. Your portfolio is starting to look real hot. You think that you have this caper all worked out – just sit tight and wait for the phone to ring. Alas, nobody yet knows who you are and what you do and, even, how to contact you. So how do you attract them, how do you lead them to your on-line presence and presents? Get yourself some self-promotional items and quick!

Should your promo take the form of printed matter or does it matter if you email your intended audience a selection of low-res images? For illustrators the art of self promotion is never over, start as you mean to go on by following this set of guiding lights …

14. The original format for illustrators promoting their work is the postcard. Full colour image on one size and one colour on reverse for contact details. Cheap, cheerful and quick to produce. They fit in the sleeve inside your portfolio too. Beat that!

15. The unit cost of a postcard goes down the more you have printed. Before you order 1000, though, think about whether you will use them all before you are sick and tired of the image. Look at costs of shorter runs using a digital press rather than off-set litho.

16. You could get together with other illustrators and take a whole sheet; postcards are either printed 16 or 32 up. It will work out cheaper but could be a hassle! If not, play the card printers off against each other to get the best price!

17. Postcards make sense but may seem boring. Think about other formats that you could adopt. Calendars have a one-year shelf life, if they are liked and used. Desk tidies are naff and should be left to Blue Peter!

18. Your final choice of self-promo should show an image, your name, contact details such as web address, email, address and phone number. Sounds straightforward but many illustrators concentrate on the image and forget the details!

19. Get your work in annuals. Art Buyers in advertising agencies swear by them. The pay-per-page illustration annuals like Contact and The Art Book are not cheap at between £600 - £1000 per page, but many illustrators claim they work better than anything else does.

20. Send out a press release to all design magazines and journals when you create high profile work. Send good large format transparencies as well as concise ‘story’ about the job. The design press have pages to fill and you can provide the content – hey presto – free publicity!

21. Enter your work into national and international competitions. Many of the big organisations produce thick glossy annuals of the best work and some run touring exhibitions too as well as web sites that feature the work. Check the design press for details.

22. From your web site sell limited edition, signed digital prints. Not all publicity material has to be given away. Encourage users to download free screen savers you have created. Imagine your work on the screen of a computer in a busy design studio.

23. Don’t spam! Nobody wants mail that they did not ask for. Once you have started to work for a client they may be happy to receive a regular email newsletter or set of low-res images but wait until they are clients!

24. Contact galleries. Have an exhibition of your work and invite clients and potential clients to a Private View. Once again, let the design and local press know well in advance. On the night, stay off the white wine and use the event to make contacts and meet new faces.

25. Avoid the tacky. Spending money on getting pens printed with your name on, sticks of rock with your email address running through or cheap diaries with your contact details across the front are not big or clever.

26. Don’t waste money on getting mouse mats made up with your work on, most designers (not all) use Macs and the Apple Pro Mouse killed off the mouse mat!

27. Keep folk up to date with what you are doing. Spend time and cash to create new publicity, showing how your work is evolving. Have a long-term plan for maintaining contact with your clients and creating new ones.

3. Identifying Clients and Making Contacts (and how to keep them)

You know have a portfolio itching to be seen and some publicity to die for. What you need now are some clients or at least some potential ones! No good going to see children’s book publishers with material more suited to the mags on the top shelves of your favourite newsagent. Very little point in showing work that features fantasy sci-fi space scenes to that design company specialising in annual reports for city clients! Get wise, don’t waste your time or others; target your work precisely. Be clear about what it is you do and whom you wish to work for. Follow this set of tips and get right on track …

28. Think about buying lists of ‘creatives’ from companies like File FX in London. For a reasonable fee you could have the name of all the art buyers and creative directors in the top two hundred advertising agencies in London. Think about how much time that could save you on the phone.

29. Spend time conducting some research. If you want to create illustrations for magazines, browse them over coffee in places like Borders. Target the right folks; try art editors and art directors rather than editors and writers.

30. Every time you see an interesting book jacket or CD sleeve, make it your mission to discover who created it and who commissioned it. Send the commissioning designer a copy of your publicity if you think your work fits. Follow it up with a phone call to make an appointment to show your portfolio.

31. Be polite on the telephone and keep a pen to hand to write notes. Make sure that you have sent samples/publicity in advance. Trying to explain what your work looks like over the telephone is not easy!

32. Invest in a good database and get used to updating it with new info on a regular basis. Enter a broad range of fields that include the obvious, like names, addresses and contact details as well as the type of company and the last time that you mailed publicity or made contact.

33. Whenever you visit a potential client with your portfolio arrive a few minutes early. This gives you a little time to sit in the reception area browsing their bound copies of recent publicity or current magazines they publish. A little knowledge can go a long way …

34. Be patient, explain your work carefully but do not outstay your welcome. Most designers, art buyers and art directors will be able to give you just 10-15 minutes. Make this time count, keep focussed on the work you want them to see and be ready to exit!

35. Take a notebook to every meeting with a client. Take notes if you need to and if they like your work ask them to recommend commissioning designers that you could visit at other companies. Word of mouth can be a real benefit.

36. Be prepared to “drop off” your portfolio rather than always meet person to person. If you would like them to leave comments, provide a piece of paper taped to the inside of your portfolio and remember to put fresh promo cards in too.

37. Keeping clients is a huge part of the job. If you are a pleasure to deal with, you are likely to get repeat business and recommendations. Nobody likes to work with a pain in the backside however talented you are!

4. The Commission, the Job, the Low-Down

It is all paying off; clients at your beck and call and the phone hasn’t stopped ringing since you sent your mailer out! The work is starting to flood in and then you are asked to quote a fee. Find out how much to charge and how to ask for it. How to manage your time, meet deadlines and still have a life. What does bleed mean? What are first visuals? What does an Art Buyer do and why? You are now an illustrator and need to know how long a job should take, what format the artwork should take and how to get it to your client on time. This section gives you the low-down, the full break-down on how to handle that first commission or how to start handling those jobs if you are a hardened pro with bad habits!

38. It makes sense to join an organisation that can give you advice when you need it. The Association of Illustrators helps members with issues regarding
fees,payment problems and legal matters. Check them out at

39. Quoting fees on jobs is never easy. Try to get a budget from the art director commissioning you. Ask what they have paid for previous work of the same scale, duration and usage. They normally know what they want to pay!

40. If you need time to think about a fee say that you will get back to them. Use the time to call fellow illustrators or the AOI for some advice. Put your quote in writing and date it. Get the client to formally agree in writing to your quote or amended quote if you agree to adjust.

41. Remember, rates depend on a number of issues and it always makes sense to clarify exactly where your work will be used, at what size, the print run (if applicable) and the length of time the image is to be used for.

42. A general ‘rule of thumb’ is that advertising work sits at the top of the pile, fee wise, followed by work for design companies. Book publishers run next followed by magazines. You could create a small image for an advertising campaign that pays £1000 and the same size image for a mag that brings in £100!

43. With large jobs it is worth getting a contract sorted before you even start the work. Outline the fee breakdown – with agreed amounts for visuals as well as delivery of final artwork. Put in delivery dates that are realistic. If the client wants it all tomorrow, charge more!

44. Know your rights! If the client rejects your work at visual stage you can charge 25% of the full fee. If they reject on completion, through no fault of yours, go for the full fee. Be prepared to negotiate, though, you may only get 50%!

45. Educate your client. The visuals stage is just that. It gives you the chance to show the client what you are planning on doing for the final art work. It could show the general layout of the image as well as your ideas for how the work communicates. It is not the finished thing!

46. Learn some technical terms. Make sure that you understand the terminology used by your client. If you are not sure what ‘bleed’ is – ask! Don’t try and wing it. It will end in tears.

47. Make sure that you leave the briefing session with all of your questions answered. If not, call the client up when you get back to your studio. It is vital that you understand what you are being asked to do. Leave nothing vague!

48. Check what format they would like to receive the work in. EPS, JPEG; be sure they can open it! Check the resolution it is expected in too. Understand why newspapers are different from glossy publications. If in doubt, check it out!

49. Don’t trust the colours on your monitor, check chosen colours against print spec charts! Check how the job is being printed. Will all your chosen colours be easily achieved from the four-colour set? Avoid some oranges, they can go mucky.

50. If the job requires ‘specials’, colours printed using specially mixed colours, check the client has authorised this. Using silvers and metallic colours in your artwork will add to the print cost.

51. RGB or CMYK? Be sure that you format the artwork correctly. Is the image for screen or print? Set your application up properly before you start your job. It is very simple to forget and submit in the wrong format.

52. When you are commissioned to create an illustration, you sell the rights for its reproduction, unless otherwise agreed. The illustrator retains the ownership of the artwork itself as well as, more importantly with digital work, the copyright. Remember this!

53. You can charge 100% of the original fee for the sale of the copyright but then lose any rights to the work. Make sure you consider the pros and cons.

5. Studio/Office Tips

It all seems so easy being a professional artist, what could possibly go wrong? Get yourself organised early on and make sure that nothing does. Setting up a studio or office is not just about browsing the IKEA catalogue for trestle legs, you know. Keeping the Software Police and the Font Bureau happy as well as being street legal and paying tax on your earnings takes organisation. Keeping track of your invoices and making sure that your studio is insured, so visitors can’t sue when they trip on your portfolio are just basics. Being an artist and a business man/woman has to go hand in hand if you are going to avoid pitfalls. Many, often over-looked, issues and tips are covered in this vital section …

54. Get legal; register your business with your local tax office. You are likely to be classified as a ‘Sole Trader’ and will have to start paying tax on your profits. Get organised right away!

55. Employ an accountant. Best practice is to be recommended one that understands the job of the illustrator. They can then advise on tax deductible items to keep you tax liabilities down.

56. Invoice work as soon as it is completed. Make sure that your invoice includes all of the details of the work carried out and to whom you would like the cheque made out. And where you would like it sent, of course.

57. Legally, your invoice must carry an invoice number. You can start the running order at any number. You may wish to start at 00100 so that you can look to your clients like you’ve been trading longer!

58. It is likely that your invoice will sit on a couple of desks before it is finally paid. State your payment terms on your invoice and start chasing, on the phone, as soon as that period is up. Start with the accounts department and work your way up the food chain, if you get no luck.

59. Software should be street legal and legit and you should use only fonts that you own. The software police are watching you!

60. The life of the illustrator can be lonely. Are you the kind of person that enjoys working from your own in the back bedroom at home? If not consider a shared studio. Scan local newspapers for studio space. Shared facilities mean less financial outlay.

61. Get your studio equipped. You will need the following: phone, answer-phone, mobile phone, email (with ADSL or ISDN if you are sending artwork down the line), fax (if you produce visuals on paper), CD burner (archive your work as you go), good lighting and a very comfortable chair.

62. Get into a routine. Arrive at your studio, at home or elsewhere, at a regular time. Forget the world of day-time TV and get tuned into the reality of checking your email, reading your post, chasing unpaid invoices and all other associated tasks before you start actually illustrating.

63. Get insured. Get your studio insured. Get your portfolio insured. Insure yourself against injury, unlikely but may happen. Studio insurance covers you if a visitor falls and breaks a leg and having your portfolio insured means that if it goes missing (quite frequent an occurrence) you get some financial remuneration.

64. Think about the kind of computer you are going to be using. A desk top machine tied to your desk in your studio five miles from home may not be ideal if you would like to work late into the evening. You may wish to go portable and have the flexibility of working anywhere.

65. Read the design press on a regular basis for news about projects that design companies are involved in and news of new companies starting up. You don’t have to buy them all, get back to Borders or your local library.

66. If you move studio, make sure that people know. A change of address card is a good excuse to send out more promotional material. Obviously, if people don’t know how to get hold of you, they won’t.

6. Inspiration v Perspiration

You have followed the tips so far; you are a lean mean illustrating machine. You can hunt down clients, track down new business, quote to within a quid of the client’s true budget. You know shortcuts across Soho to get you to a briefing in less than five minutes and can call the art director of the latest top style mag by his Christian name and yet still something is missing! Remember you are an artist. You must feed your habit too. Stay inspired, stay motivated and stay busy even when the phone goes dead! Some top tips on how to stay an illustrator even when the chips are down…

67. Keep creative. Push your work by adding to your portfolio, with work that you want to do rather than just work you are paid to do! You can lead the type of work that you are offered by showing similar examples.

68. Visit exhibitions for inspiration. Look at the work of other illustrators as well as artists and photographers. Examine methods and techniques as well as the ideas in their work. It is a good idea to buy exhibition catalogues, or postcards if your budget is limited.

69. Read more fiction. As an illustrator you are expected to bring text/copy to life. If you read more and create thumbnail sketches of ideas in response to these texts, you’ll keep in practice.

70. Read more factual and non-fiction work. Illustrators need to get under the skin of a subject and understand the issues raised in a writer’s text. If you get to grips with the copy you stand a far greater chance of illustrating it well.

71. Go to the theatre and the cinema. Engage with dance or opera. Above all else, enjoy other art forms. You can take inspiration from all sorts of sources. It may be as simple as new combinations of colour that you see in a theatre costume or the framing of particular images in film. Be inspired!

72. Draw, draw and then draw some more. Take your sketchbook everywhere and use it in cafes, bars, on the bus and in the park. If your work does not rely on drawing but more on photographic imagery, keep your camera with you at all times.

73. Get yourself invited to exhibition private views and meet other artists and illustrators informally. Normally getting onto a mailing list for a gallery is as simple as phoning and asking!

74. Check out local groups run by the Association of Illustrators that meet on a regular basis. Many groups invite busy professional illustrators to give slide lectures about their work and experiences; learn from others.

75. If you are really short of work, offer to work as an assistant to a busy illustrator or illustration studio free of charge, for the experience and to pick up more tips. You’ll make coffee, mix paints, book couriers and hunt for reference materials.

76. Use dead time to produce work for competitions. Real dividends can be had from winning or being a finalist in illustration competitions. You can get your work recognised and seen by others and often an unknown illustrator will come to prominence through this route.

77. Meet other illustrators on a regular basis. Swap stories, contacts and advice. It is vital that you keep in touch with developments in the illustration world. It is good to have a shoulder to cry on and an audience for your positive stories too.

7. Agents – To Have or To Have Not

Tired of schlepping around town trying to meet and greet the young guns of the design, publishing and advertising worlds? Want some other bod to do it for you? For an average of 25-30% of each job that they get for you, some other bod will. Meet the illustrator agent! The dos and don’ts, the good, the bad and the ugly of the agent are revealed in this section. Lots of pros and cons to help assist you in making that choice and some tips that will help you stand out from the crowd if you decide that an agent is top of your must-have list. What should you expect, what should they expect and how will the relationship be as fruitful as possible?

78. Illustration agencies are businesses. To operate, they have to make a profit. This means that they must represent busy illustrators and plenty of them.
If you are not happy being part of this business go straight to the next section.

79. Still here? Want an agent? Investigate the agencies that are out there. They all have different areas of expertise. Hunt out the one you and your work are most suitable for. Be sure that they operate in the areas of illustration that you do.

80. Be prepared to give up 25%-30% of your income in commission but recognise that agents can command higher fees. This may well make up for the commission. If you are lucky enough to be taken on by an agent check what percentage they take first. Feel free to negotiate.

81. Just like clients, agents are very busy too. Don’t hassle but be polite. Offer to send samples and wait to hear back when they get the chance to call you. Offer to visit; they will want to meet you if they like your work.

82. Ask the agents that you meet about their techniques for getting artists work. Do they rely on just printed publicity? Do they have a web site? Do they go out and tread the streets with portfolios? Are they pro-active? You need to know this kind of information.

83. Agents charge (on top of commission) a percentage of the costs of advertising an artist. Make sure you understand how much this may cost you in your first year. Can you afford it? Do they want the cash up front or will they take it from fees owed to you? Check the details.

84. Ask about organised meetings for the illustrators represented by the agency. If they happen regularly, it means that they have happy artists and is a good sign. It is useful to have a meeting point to discuss issues with other illustrators.

85. Agents may expect to have sole representation of your work. They may want to handle your own clients too. Are you prepared to hand them over? Another point to discuss before making a final decision.

86. Think carefully about how you present your portfolio at any meeting. Agents will be interested in who you have worked for as well as how your work has developed. They will be thinking long term investment. Think the same thoughts!

87. Agents do not tolerate artists working for the agency’s clients without declaring it. Some clients are slippery. Don’t make the mistake of losing your agent because you have been working behind their back!

8. Getting That Full-time Job

The life of the freelance, self-employed individual appeared so care free didn’t it? Start work when you pleased, take as long for lunch as you wished or even a long weekend – never did Mondays! That was before the parents/landlord/building society (delete as necessary) started to demand the rent/mortgage payments (delete as necessary) and they bicycle/motorbike/car dealer (delete as necessary) needed a new tyre/MOT (delete as necessary). Suddenly the safety net of the world of PAYE seems far too enticing. You need a job in illustration and you need it fast. Get cracking before the few out there are snapped up! Follow these tips on securing that position and wait for your first monthly pay cheque to roll in …

88. More and more design companies are starting to employ illustrators or designers that can illustrate on permanent contracts. Check the design press for ads and be prepared to send samples and CV at short notice.

89. Approach publishing companies and greetings card companies if seeking full-time positions, they are still the most likely. Write a covering letter, introducing yourself and your experience and expertise and be prepared to follow it with a phone call.

90. If given an appointment or interview, be on time, be presentable and know as much as you can about the company. Ask intelligent questions and be keen. All fairly obvious tips but easily overlooked by some.

91. Offer to work on a temporary placement basis to gain experience. This is a must if you are a recent college graduate. In return for poor payment you will get good experience and hopefully a project or two you can add to your portfolio.

92. Once on a placement, demonstrate yourself to be so good they have to ask you to stay! Don’t complain about working long hours – it is the done thing in design and advertising. Get yourself noticed, ask questions and offer to help others out with presentations.

93. If you want to go into freelance illustration, but would like to understand the business in more detail first, try seeking a job at an illustration agency. You’ll meet lots of illustrators and clients and see projects through from conception to completion.

94. Other areas to try your luck at include studio management. Be the person responsible for keeping a design studio running. You could be involved in all aspects of the design process. One moment discussing projects with designers, illustrators and photographers and the next checking proofs on press at the printers.

95. Keep a record of all contacts whilst looking for work and after you get the job. These will start to prove invaluable. All designers and illustrators have favourite printers, repro houses and places to source reference, and the list will start to grow. Use your contacts and keep them in an organised fashion.

9. Good Habits

Some tips do not fall into neat little boxes so here are the best of the rest, the ones that nearly got away. Creating top illustrations, maintaining great promotional material, building a hot portfolio, running a studio and a business takes a lot of skills – make sure that you get into good habits early on. Take time to read this section and follow the instructions carefully. Some may sound obvious, some may appear plan dumb but, rest assured, they all work. Take daily and complete the whole course. Does exactly what it says on the can!

96. Make sure that your client is pleased with the work that you have produced. Many designers are simply too busy to call to let you know that they have received your artwork. Phone them to check that the work was ok, they’ll appreciate it.

97. Don’t ‘lift’, ‘copy’, ‘borrow’ or be too ‘influenced’ by the style of another illustrator. Forge your own look, it is the only way to create real lasting interest in your work. Be original.

98. Make sure that, where possible, you are given credit for the illustration you have created. If you have a web address, ask the designer to use it in the credit. It will add to the traffic to your site and may easily lead to further commissions.

99. Produce work to the deadline given, unless you have an agreed extension. If the deadline appears unworkable ask for more time before you take on the job. If you spot problems, resolve them early on.

100. Chase up copies of the work when it is in print. Do this as soon as the publication is out. The art director or designer should be happy to send you three or four copies free of charge. These ‘tear sheets’ are what will make up your portfolio.

101. Have fun, work hard, play hard and good luck!

Lawrence Zeegan is an illustrator, educator and ex-agent. He has produced commissions for numerous newspapers, magazines, design companies and advertising agencies in the UK, Europe and the USA. He is Academic Programme Leader for Communication and Media Arts at the University of Brighton. He was a founding partner of Heart, the London-based illustration agency. View Zeegen’s work at