How to become an illustrator

Becoming an illustrator is an exciting journey that involves creativity, dedication, and strategic actions. Let me guide you through this process, focusing on building a compelling portfolio and leveraging cold emailing as a key strategy.

How to become an illustrator

Step 1: Sharpen Your Skills

Begin by refining your illustration skills. Whether through self-study or formal education, the goal is to practice regularly and explore various styles. Discover what resonates with you personally and professionally. Always be open to learning and experimenting with new techniques.

Step 2: Identify Your Niche

Finding your specific niche can significantly set you apart in the illustration field. For instance, my niche is wildlife, which has not only made my work more fulfilling but also more distinctive. Whether your interest lies in children's books, digital art, or any other area, focus on what you're passionate about. This focus will naturally guide your creativity and help you build a more targeted portfolio.

Step 3: Build a Compelling Portfolio

A strong portfolio is essential. Aim for 12-20 pieces of your finest work that not only highlight your skills and style but also are closely aligned with your niche. This focused approach ensures your portfolio is cohesive and impactful, showcasing your best capabilities to potential clients or employers. Remember, the quality of your work is what will make you stand out.

Step 4: Master Cold Emailing

Cold emailing is an effective strategy for directly reaching out to potential clients or collaborators without worrying about the distractions of social media or the pressure of gaining followers. Here’s how to approach it:

  • Personalization is Key: Customize each email to show that you’ve done your homework about the recipient. This personal touch can make a big difference.
  • Be Clear and Direct: Introduce yourself succinctly, explain why you're reaching out, and clearly state what you're offering. Conciseness is crucial.
  • Link to Your Portfolio: Always include a direct link to your portfolio to make it as easy as possible for recipients to view your work.
  • Follow Up: If you don’t receive a response after a week or two, a polite follow-up email can help. It’s a gentle reminder that can bring your email to their attention.

Step 5: Continue to Develop and Network

While direct outreach is important, so is continuous improvement and networking within your niche—offline and online. Attend workshops, participate in industry events, and engage with communities that share your interests. These activities can provide valuable learning opportunities and open doors to new possibilities.

I can honestly say, cold emailing changed my life

Cold emailing played a crucial role in my journey as an illustrator, particularly when branching into storyboarding and later as I transitioned into wildlife and travel editorial illustration.

This approach helped me secure projects and collaborations that once seemed out of reach, proving to be an invaluable strategy in my career development.

Landing Storyboarding Projects Through Cold Emailing

Initially while still in collect, my focus was on storyboarding, a field I was deeply passionate about but found challenging to break into.

Despite the competitive landscape, I decided to take a proactive approach by looking up production companies who made movies and commercials I loved. Then reaching out to them directly via cold email. To my surprise, this direct line of communication led me to work with clients I had only dreamed of.

A focused portfolio and a few well-crafted emails were all it took to open doors to amazing storyboarding opportunities.

Transitioning to wildlife art and travel editorial illustration

As my career evolved towards wildlife art, I applied the same cold emailing strategy to enter this new niche.

I carefully curated a list of magazines, publishers, and online platforms that aligned with my passion for wildlife conservation and travel. Through personalized, targeted emails, I introduced myself, shared my portfolio, and expressed how my work could complement their content.

This approach was met with enthusiasm, and soon, I began receiving commissions for editorial illustrations that allowed me to merge my love for art with my passion for wildlife and exploration. Win!

The impact of cold emailing

Cold emailing effectively bypassed the slow and often uncertain process of growing a business and “getting discovered” through social media.

It provided a direct and personal way to showcase my work to those who could offer real opportunities, allowing me to leapfrog years of waiting and hoping for recognition.

It taught me the importance of assertiveness and the value of presenting oneself to the right people at the right time. Cold emailing is not just about reaching out; it's about communicating your value and vision in a way that resonates with potential clients.

It's proof that sometimes, the direct approach can be the most effective one.

Running your illustration business

Becoming an illustrator is an adventure I've embarked on with both excitement and determination. If you're on this path too, let me share some crucial insights and resources that have helped me navigate the complexities of this vibrant field.

Understanding Contracts and Pricing

First off, getting familiar with illustration contracts was a game-changer for me. These contracts are essential as they protect both you and your clients, ensuring every project is clear and fair. Trust me, it’s worth diving into the specifics to safeguard your art and your income.

When it comes to pricing, it was initially a challenge to figure out how to value my work. The freelance illustration pricing guide is something I made to help you understand pricing as an illustrator. And for specific projects, this illustration pricing resource was invaluable for quoting accurately. It's crucial to get this right, so you're fairly compensated for your creativity and hard work.

Exploring Illustration Careers

The journey into illustration opened up a world of possibilities I hadn’t even considered. If you’re curious about the different paths you can take, exploring illustration careers can offer you a glimpse into the myriad of options available. Finding your niche in this diverse field can significantly impact your success and satisfaction.

Venturing into Art Licensing

Art licensing emerged as an exciting avenue for me to explore further.

By creating an art licensing portfolio, I began to see the potential for earning royalties from products featuring my designs. If you're interested in this path, understanding what to charge for art licensing and how to license artwork are crucial steps. Also, getting to know the landscape of art licensing companies can help you find the right partners to expand your reach and income.