5 tips on How to earn a Healthy living as an Illustrator

I gave a talk at the Brit school at the end of 2017 and I’ve been meaning to turn it into a blog post ever since but…time! Anyway the AOI’s Empowerment campaign has got me all cranked up in the best possible way! Illustration is most definitely #notahobby but if people continue to work for clients for very little money it will devalue the whole industry. Making it difficult for all, including established illustrators to make a living. Social media has had a massive impact on this; as companies expect you to deliver both content and marketing (your following / audience) to a client for less for than the average editorial web piece?!? Anyway I don’t want to get side tracked with a rant on this topic when it’s already been covered brilliantly by Handsome frank here I want to talk about making a sustainable income as an illustrator, paying your rent or mortgage, covering your bills and having some left over to live a happy healthy life, because that’s the goal right?!

Slide from my talk at the Brit School’s Graphic Design department

Slide from my talk at the Brit School’s Graphic Design department

  1. So the most important rule and I’m saying this as someone who spent ages not doing this…. ALWAYS NEGOTIATE. When someone comes at you with a fee even if they say it’s locked down and immovable. ALWAYS NEGOTIATE. What’s the worst thing that’s going to happen? You can and should feel comfortable to negotiate the fee, the deadline and the parameters of the job eg; deliver 3 scenes etc. You are your own boss, yes this person is your client but you are working together to deliver. So learn to negotiate, it’s empowering plus it will also save you a headache down the road when you realise you haven’t clearly discussed what you are expected to deliver.

  2. Learn about CONTRACTS. Joining the AOI was the best decision and an eye opener for me as I learned to negotiate contracts; yep we aren’t finished with negotiating yet! The AOI have checked and advised me on so many contracts that I’m now quite literate with understanding what is and isn’t working for me. This has given me more confidence in negotiating and most importantly protecting my rights to my own works. This is why my work is always licensed to clients within these rules; Length of usage eg: 3 years, Type of usage eg: web and finally Region of usage eg: Worldwide. Get literate on these matters as they are central to your career!

Professional traits to make it as an illustrator; Organised, Motivated and Entrepreneurial

Professional traits to make it as an illustrator; Organised, Motivated and Entrepreneurial

3. Go out of your comfort zone on the regular, this might be through paid gigs or personal projects it’s great to give things a go. Mind’s are shifting from seeing people as ‘Jack’s of all trades’ to a Multi- Hyphenates thanks to Emma Gannon’s multi hypen method this is all about diversifying your income streams and future proofing your career, because when one line goes quiet another one will buzz! I know this isn’t for everyone but it really works for me; one month I’ll focus on developing new products for my online shop for example I’m at the screen printing studio and the following month I’m focussed on commissions. What’s great is that these projects all feed and influence each other, they also get you noticed by a different audience’s potentially leading to more jobs!

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4. Self Promotion, I know this doesn’t come naturally which is why it’s good to mentally separate your self (personal) from your work (commercial) Selling in person at illustration fairs and craft markets has definitely helped me get my head around this and it’s also a great way to self promote IRL. It’s not ALL about instagram! It’s also a good idea to have a mailing list as a direct line to people who have commissioned you or bought from you before I send out a fun filled email once a month if you’re interested you can sign up here. In the name of self promotion I also tried my hand at painting a mural last year, which I don’t think led to any work… yet! But it was fab for getting me out of my comfort zone! Proper post is another good way to promote yourself...I hear! I finally did this recently and so far I’ve already had one job come through, woop woop! Other ways include; collaborations with brands, big and small, applying to get featured on relevant design blogs and magazines etc Go for it all!!

Mail out for Art Director’s and Brands I’d love to work with

Mail out for Art Director’s and Brands I’d love to work with

5. Lastly where would we be without SUPPORT! I am lucky to have an amazing partner who I met at art school and who’s opinion I value above all others, I’m also lucky to have friends who are fellow creatives and happy to share a moan about creative woes. Its super important having someone to check Ideas and brain storm with, especially as illustration can be lonely work. If you’re struggling to find someone then sitting on a market stall next to the right person can be like therapy! Or check this blogpost for ideas about meet-ups there is loads of great ones out there!

Ok I’d be remiss if I didn’t include a link to the AOI’s Code of Conduct for Illustrators this is rules to live by in terms of professionalism and protecting the industry and everyone should swear an oath by them!

Let me know if you have any questions below, or if you’d like me to expand on any of these topics?!

Thanks for reading! Jacqueline x

I spent a month saying ‘No’ to illustration work and this is what happened;

In the lead up to July I’d had a few conversations with fellow creatives where I compared myself to a hamster stuck on it’s wheel having forgotten that to get off you just need to slow down! I was feeling burnt out, pulled in every direction and unsure what to spend my time on. So I decided that I needed to start saying no.

I’m constantly haunted by the ‘Freelance Spectre’ a ghost whispering in my ear that I’ll never get another offer of work if I turn this one down! So for the month of July 2018 I turned off that ghoulish record and set myself the challenge of saying no to any and ALL offers. (Obviously if THE dream client had got in touch with THE perfect job I would have put the experiment on hold, but that didn’t happen!) This is what happened.....

  1. I worked through my to do list; for example screen printing the remaining few prints on a couple of editions, a time consuming task which I’ve been putting off for months!
  2. I made some new personal work; finally developing some ideas that I’ve been thinking about for a while, designing new work for my portfolio and new products for my shop which will be useful as we move towards the winter months!
  3.  I got on top of my accounts; Like many creatives I hate the financial side of running a business ignoring it until I have to deal with it. It’s a major weakness that I need to overcome, so I started using an accounting software called Xero to help me! I’m now weirdly loving looking at my finances because for once they are organised!
  4. I got on top of my emails; ever heard of email debt forgiveness day? You get the idea! 
  5. I said yes (whoops) to one indie collaboration with a brand whose ethics I really admire because I had a gut feeling of excitement about it and I always listen to my gut! This also weirdly helped me say no even more, as if you aren’t excited about at least one aspect of a job then why do it? 
  6. Apart from that one yes, I said No for a whole month; as a result I’ve become a lot more comfortable with saying No, something I’ve always struggled with.
New Bandana idea, Personal work July 2018

New Bandana idea, Personal work July 2018

This experiment has left me feeling a lot more relaxed about work (an afternoon on the sofa with my cross stitch has happened this week!) Stepping off the hamster wheel has given me way more perspective on my business and what i want to focus on. I'm going to continue on saying no going forward because taking on more projects means spreading myself too thin and leaving no time for nurturing personal work.

To wrap up; saying No is important no matter what stage you are in your career; as a new illustrator taking on a job that doesn't suit you stylistically can leave you confused and with an incoherent portfolio. As an experienced creative saying yes to everything leaves you with mediocre work and burnout. Finally definitely say NO to unpaid 'exposure' work as it devalues the whole industry. BUT say yes to collaborating with fellow creatives on cool (possibly unpaid) projects that excite you and that you want to see in your portfolio!  

Did you like this post, do you have something to add? Let me know in the comments! 

Jacqueline x

New Bandana idea, Personal work July 2018

New Bandana idea, Personal work July 2018