The business of illustrating
Well that was just about the longest Spring Break ever. A-hem... anyhoo... on to the LAST session - yay! You've made it!
Right, so far we’ve talked about Style , Characterisation, composition and narrative in our illustration work. This week, we talk about what is arguably often lacking in illustration degree courses - the practicalities of how to land that first commission and what to do when you get it!
Your first aim before you worry about anything else is to work towards a fantastic portfolio. Your portfolio (or ‘book’) is the public face of your work - it’s represents your skills and style to potential clients - your personality, covering letter, ideas and ambition are all irrelevant to a publisher if your portfolio is not appealing to them.
Invest in a decent professional portfolio with clear sleeves.
- no bigger than A3
- should include around 15-20 pieces of finished artwork - usually copies rather than originals
- your portfolio must show your BEST work so don’t include half-finished work and do not include any work you’re not 100% happy with
DO include the following;
- Your name and contact details on the first page (with an illustration or logo of some kind)
- character studies showing a single character in various positions and emotions
- a mix of full spread illustrations and vignettes
- spreads that include text
- children (incl. babies, toddlers, to 6-7 year olds) and animals - remember - cute, quirky, appealing characters
- highly narrative pieces - nothing too static and dull
- You can show different media/styles but keep some consistency and cohesion - if you have two widely different styles think about 2 different portfolios
- 2-3 spreads from the same story - shows consistency of character and ability to keep things interesting and varied in 1 book
- original characters and story ideas are great but don’t be afraid to also put in old classics/nursery rhymes/fables etc. - good way to show your individual interpretation of a text.
- include a book cover design - strong, character-led, appealing to buyers
- Don’t put too much in - better to have 12 strong pieces than 20, 8 of which are, at best, mediocre.
- Don’t squash them in - think about design, don’t be afraid to use white space.
- If you don’t like drawing something (bicycles for example) don’t put them in! Sods law is you'll get comissioned to illustrate a 100-page anthology of bicycle stories as your frst job!
- Put your best piece FIRST and your second best piece LAST in your portfolio. Good first impressions and lasting impressions count.
Include the same characters in different situations and compositions.
These images are from Mr Super Poopy Pants, due out next month.
Remember EACH piece in your portfolio must show;
- illustrations that are full of life and personality
- evidence of good composition and storytelling skills (vary from close-ups to panned out views, vary lighting, vary angles, vary settings and backgrounds)
- skill in your chosen medium
- good imagination
- complete understanding of the compositional and practical needs of a children’s book illustration - i.e. room for text, nothing in the gutter, action moving left to right, similar proportions to a children’s book (not A4!).... see last week's course.
When you have a great PHYSICAL portfolio, now is the time to start marketing your work...
Very few successful illustrators have no ‘web presence’ - if a publisher hears about you, they want to look you up on line, if they meet you and see your portfolio, they’ll ask for your website to keep up-to-date with new pieces, if a publisher is trawling the internet looking for new talent, if you’re not there, they won’t find you, etc. etc.
There are plenty of ways of doing this for free - try;
You just need your artwork , contact details and a brief biography
Even if you’re not a digital artist it’s now almost impossible to be an illustrator without a computer, scanner and some image editing software. You need a computer for;
- marketing and networking
- emailing pencil roughs and final artwork to clients for approval
- keeping business and finance records
- project scheduling
- invoicing clients
- joining discussion boards, forums and social network sites - there's plenty like you out there, 'meet' them and share ideas
- research and advice - sites like the Purple Crayon etc. are invaluable.
If possible get your hands on Photoshop or a cheaper alternative for cropping images, cleaning them up, moving elements of your design, trying different colour schemes etc.
Ok, so you have your fantastic physical portfolio, you have your digital portfolio, you now need some jobs!
Sending samples to clients
- Research first which publishers might be interested in your style
- put together a promotional pack and send to each publisher - this should include;
- covering letter - short, professional -who you are, what you’re including
- 2-3 sample sheets - your work (4-6 samples per sheet), your contact details on each
- maybe include a postcard and/or business card (I recommend Moo cards)
- include a stamped SAE - check you've included enough postage!
- check publisher’s website
- some accept samples sent via email or via their website
- most have specific submission guidelines
Other Marketing Strategies include;
- Buy Children’s Writer’s and Artist’s Yearbook for lists of addresses and tons of advice.
- keep a record of who you sent samples to and when - follow up after 3 months with a polite letter.
- keep rejection letters! Can give helpful advice, can also give you the name of commissioning editors/art editors to send to again.
- Think about buying a page in an illustration annual
- can be costly but can pay off quite quickly
- some judge your work first - see Creative Review annual, AOI Images Annual, Picture Book directory (US)
- Try to arrange to meet with commissioning editors from publishers with your portfolio - phone, email, write - line up a few for a day in London
- Go to The Bologna Children's Book Fair!
Getting an agent can be invaluable for finding you work - but often just as difficult to get as a publisher. Again addresses and submission guides can be found online or in The CWIYB
- They take between 20-40%
- will do all the promotional stuff for you
- will guide your work and give you feedback
- again, research to find which ones might suit your work
Getting a commission
Yay!! Your work has made a good impression on an art director and you’ve been asked to produce some work for them.
- First they’ll contact you , ask if you’re available and give you a brief idea of the work and budget.
- Next they’ll give you the detailed brief - Don’t be afraid to ask questions! Make sure you know what they’re after and the schedule - and don't agree to it unless it’s possible!
- The detailed brief will include the text, some art direction (possibly in the form of sketches), size of the page and date due
- most likely to be asked for a cover and spread or two first before the whole book is commissioned - this is common - they'll take them to book fairs (Bologna, Frankfurt, London) and if buyers are interested they’ll then commission the rest - but they MUST pay you for the presentation work. Avoid doing speculative work for nothing if poss (sometimes unavoidable).
Questions to ask;
- the schedule (for pencil roughs and for final artwork)
- how they want it delivered (scanned or originals)
- are royalties being offered or is it a flat fee?
- what is the payment plan - usually in 3 equal parts - on signature of contract, delivery of pencil roughs and acceptance of final artwork.
- who owns the copyright at the end - you or them?
- who owns the artwork - you or them?
When you get a contract - read carefully and check everything against the above questions.
Feel free to negotiate on schedule, fee and copyright ownership.
ALWAYS get work in on time - extremely important, if there are any problems with the schedule tell them well in advance
After your work is finished send them an invoice with your contact details, the amount to be paid and terms of payment (standard is 30 days from invoice)
Illustration as a career
Be resilient and determined! You will get knock-backs, rejections etc. - try to learn from them rather than being down-hearted. It will take time. Good things always do.
It is undoubtedly a wonderful job but there are downsides;
- no sick pay or holiday pay!
- you have to do your own accounts (get an accountant! and as soon as you start earning register for tax)
- fees are often paid very late!
- No guarantee of earnings
- have to be self-motivated
- have to be constantly creative!
But, all that said, it is, for me, the perfect job. Maybe it is for you too.
Become a full-time self-employed children's book illustrator. ;0)