Today I’ll be walking you through 10 tips on how to start your illustration career, helping you to find illustration clients and make money fast.
This is the way I would do it if I had to start from scratch and needed to make it work within the next six months – no social media involved, but quick wins guaranteed!
From Art to Business – Artist Tips to monetize your art!
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Define your universe
There are so many illustrators in the world – how do YOU want to get noticed?
Define a strong brand image that is unique, that makes people recognise you directly. It can be a :
- Specific style or technique
- Recurring colours
In short, create a universe where people can say even without seeing your name: ah, that’s Sabrina! Or actually, put YOUR name here.
For example, from the beginning, I let people label me as the girl who draws manga and wears pretty dresses like the characters in her illustrations. The more you make an impression the first time, the better people will remember you.
Build on local fame
Again, we’re looking for FAST and concrete results. If you can at least make yourself known in your town, in the villages around, clients will come to you much more easily because they know what you do, they know there’s an illustrator around. And it’s convenient, they don’t have to look any further if they know there’s an artist in the neighbourhood for their projects, or even future projects. They know you, they hopefully like you, and you live nearby.
People are lazy and go first with what they know! There are many who prefer to work with people face to face, to meet them, to see if they connect nicely, rather than doing everything over the internet. And believe me, no matter where you live, there is an unexpected number of potential customers: at conventions, for private commissions, with small businesses, to host live animations, to invite you to events, …
You are surrounded by potential customers! BUT they need to know that you exist before they can ask you.
Show yourself everywhere
As soon as there is an event, you go there. Whether it’s : conventions, exhibitions, networking events, or calls for projects, you go. Most of these opportunities will often be free or very affordable if you focus on local opportunities, and the goal is simply to be seen.
We don’t necessarily care about sales or results.
We want people to see your face, hear your name, every single place they go, and remember you. Yes, it’s boring, yes, you’d often rather be doing something else, but you’ll end up being THE person people think of directly for their projects – and then, you relax because the requests will come in automatically.
Similar advice, advertise yourself, everywhere. Tell your acquaintances about what you do, you never know, maybe they’ll remember it if someone close to them needs the services or products you offer, and word-of-mouth is the most powerful thing that can happen for a business.
If you have the opportunity, print posters, flyers, business cards, and pin them up wherever you can, in supermarkets, specialised shops, etc.
- Have you published a book? Take flyers to every bookshop in town.
- Do you teach art classes? Ask art shops if you can put up a poster.
Again – you need to be seen everywhere, because right now you are a nobody.
Let others advertise you
If you can get help, even better. Use other people’s networks to promote yourself!
Whether it’s press interviews, guest blog posts, livestreams with YouTubers or Twitch creators, even asking your buyers to tag your products on their social media once they receive it, any opportunity that talks about you makes you more visible and potentially reaches new customers. And if you can do collaborations with other artists, even better!
Collective exhibitions, joint projects, a collection of illustrated stories, everyone can benefit and share their audience!
Accept all small jobs
Especially if you want to make a living from commissions :
- Accept all proposals if they correspond to your interests. Even if your ultimate goal is to illustrate gourmet advertising poster for the biggest chocolatiers in the world
- Accept the small commission for a business card from the old village baker, or the illustration of a menu card for a small restaurant.
I’m not at all in favour of free and underpaid work, but having been there and having seen many students struggle with their commissions and the right mindset and pricing, I believe it’s best to start small, in your comfort zone, so that you can gain experience, learn how to negotiate and deal with clients, little by little, when nobody knows you yet and you have the right to make mistakes.
This is what will allow you to be totally ready and confident with the big contracts later on. Because believe me, big projects but no experience is THE recipe for ending up underpaid, overworked, and hugely frustrated… and we don’t want that, do we?
Throw your portfolio around
Local clients are ideal to help you get contracts quickly and get some initial cash in your treasury. But you probably want to expand further, right? Next step, create a portfolio, a catalogue of products or services, whatever it is you do, and approach qualified people.
- Want to illustrate novels? Make a list of the publishers you can think of in your style, who you’d love to work with, and send it to them.
- Want to offer drawing workshops and courses? Write to all the organisations and places that interest you.
Now you’ll really target the clients you’re interested in, for bigger contracts that will bring you more money and opportunities to make a long-term living with art, and you’ll prospect like crazy until you actually sign your first contracts.
Listen to feedback and adjust
Often your prospecting requests will be directed at professionals – illustration agencies, publishers, shops, but you will also get feedback from individuals, for example on social media or at conventions.
If one person tells you that your drawings are ugly, OK, that’s their taste. If ten people tell you that your characters are disproportioned, then the problem is probably with you.
Listen to what people say, decide if it makes sense for you, and adjust if it does. Especially if the feedback comes from people who are used to working with illustrators, their advice can help so much to adjust your portfolio, your offers, and market with better quality and therefore, more chances to sign the bigger clients you want later on.
Focus & Action
If you want to get results, focus on the important things and go for it. What is REALLY important in the business you want to be in?
- Contacting agencies ?
- Improving your portfolio ?
- Finishing your manga ?
- Preparing your products for manga cons or your online shop ?
Focus on the few essential things and go for it. The less you spread yourself thin, the more time and effort you put into one thing, the more likely you are to get results quickly. It’s mathematical: if you invest 1 hour of work per week, you won’t get the same results as if you invest 10. If you approach 5 clients, you will have less chance of selling than if you approach 50.
The more you go out there and push your luck, the luckier you will be.
Ignore everything that is going on around you
Your focus starts with yourself!
If you want to succeed, forget about everything that’s going on around you and focus on YOUR ideas and what really makes YOU happy.
Yes, you can do market research, see what others are doing, learn about the industry… but before. Once you’ve started, you go for it and follow YOUR desires and projects. Especially when you’re just starting out, when you don’t have a lot of clients, money or recognition yet, the doubts easily creep in and…
- You compare yourself to other artists on Instagram.
- You listen to the “good advice” of our friends and family when, in fact, that’s not what you want to do.
- You try to emulate what works for other successful artists and start an Etsy shop, Patreon, YouTube, Twitch streaming, when it doesn’t fit YOUR character or YOUR business model.
Put blinders on and only look at what YOU can and want to do.
Be so deep in your own world, love what you do so much, that you forget about everything else.
When you are so passionate about what you create, that’s when the right answers come, when the ideas come to life, and you create a tailor-made job that works for you and that you love with all your heart.
So that’s my 10 tips if you want to start as a freelance artist, and I’m absolutely convinced that within 6 months of intensive work you can already have results and clients. I could also add this as a bonus tip: just go for it and try. Don’t wait until your level is perfect, because there will always be other artists who are better than you. Honestly, I published my first books when I was 14, I gave classes when I was 16, and my drawings weren’t that good! But I was already making money from it, and if I hadn’t taken the decision to just give it a try, I wouldn’t have gotten these opportunities.
There will always be people who like what you do, who see how much you care and how passionate you are, and who will give you a chance. So go ahead, and you can adjust as you go along.
Really, you don’t have to be Michelangelo to make your first sales, and I’m sure some of you who haven’t dared to start yet are drawing better than I did back then.
I did it – and you can do it, too! 😊
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