top of page

The way of an illustrator

Hello all! Here's another blog from me. I wish I could write these blogs more often, better and bigger, but unfortunately time often gets in the way. A while back I received a number of questions from students who have just graduated or are about to graduate, about how I started as an illustrator. I have already written a number of blogs about this, but I have not mentioned many practical tips. I've graduated a couple years back and now know a little more about how the world works, although I certainly wouldn't call myself an expert yet. Now I have to say honestly that I don't think I'm the best person to write a blog about this. I haven't been working freelance for very long and I often still have a lot of trouble finding work. Freelancing can be quite difficult, it is accompanied by a lot of irritations, tears, frustration and thinking that it must all be the end now and that you will never receive a new assignment again. I now freelance full-time, but for the past few years I've certainly enjoyed having a steady (but creative!) side job for financial security. Freelance is certainly not the ultimate goal for me, but I think it would be good to give some ways in which you can have a good start as a freelance illustrator.

I got off to a good start in my first year (or so I thought) I graduated with positive comments, I already had a number of projects that I could work on and went into them with good courage. However, in the end it all fell short for me. Corona was there, projects were canceled and it all took longer than I wanted. Positive comments don't necessarily mean that people will pay you for them. Be sure to be patient and kind to yourself. Not just the first year, but certainly as you build your career. Keep in mind: this can really take years. The average time to build a successful business is 5 years! I also don't feel like I'm there yet, so I also practice this tip every so often: be nice to yourself and do everything on your own time.

In the first year you will also have a lot of time in which you will not receive any assignments. Those empty months are now disappearing a bit more, but I still sometimes run into a month (or two) in which I do not receive any work. Keep busy, but also take your rest. I like to fill that time with personal projects, of which I really have a lot. In the first year, be a little happy that you can do your own thing and use that space to find out what kind of work you want to keep making. Because even after the art academy you will always come to a crossroad where you have to choose which way to go. Make sure you have work in your portfolio whatever you want to make! And above all, keep creating new things, even those that are not necessarily related to your professional life.

From there I also have a very easy tip: make sure you have a clear portfolio. By a clear portfolio I don't necessarily mean that your website has to be super shiny and beautiful, but above all make sure that your work comes out well. A portfolio doesn't have to be very complicated to be good: make sure your website is complete, has a clear contact page and put your best work at the top (nobody scrolls all the way down). Make your website so that it is manageable and that people get a good impression of you in one fell swoop. I have a clear and eye-catching portfolio website (which sometimes doesn't work because I coded everything myself: DON'T) and I still get compliments on it a lot! The first impression is very important.

But the question I had the most after graduating was: how do you find people who look at your portfolio? I think that's the hardest part of freelancing. You have the will, you have your portfolio ready, you have made very nice work and you are all set to work on commission. But how do you reach people (especially those who have a budget)? This is and remains very difficult, but the most important answer for me was really (unfortunately) networking! Also, don't underestimate the value of an in-person conversation, that's actually the best. Make a lot of friends and also talk a lot with colleagues who can send work to you again. But since as illustrators we are often quite introverted artists who prefer to work in their own attic room: e-mailing is your friend. So that means sending lots of 'cold' emails to people who didn't necessarily ask for it, but might be interested. You are very often ignored with this, or you get a rejection here and there. But sometimes you also get very nice, positive reactions. Those positive reactions really ensure that you continue with it. This way, looking up nice companies via, for example, Instagram or Linkedin and then finding the corresponding good email addresses, has given me a lot. It really is a lot of stalking!

What is also very nice for me as a freelancer is diversifying my income. By this I mean: make sure that your income does not only come from 1 source. I love to earn money by giving workshops. There you get to know new people, you get inspired again and you have a source of income that is perhaps just a little more regular than just commercial work. I also just really enjoy doing it, it's nice to get out of your studio for a while to meet fresh & beginning artists. You can also earn from reusing previous designs. This can be done via your own webshop, by selling prints or other work, or via webshops that use your work for other products. With this you receive a certain percentage per sale of the product. It usually won't cost you much and it's a small windfall at the end of the year (but not always a big catch).

As a last tip I have: take yourself seriously as a company and do research into prices, contracts, licenses and how other people approach everything. Make agreements with yourself about your minimum amount for an illustration and do not deviate from it. Don't go super low in price, be aware of the entire industry. Budgets are often lower than what you actually need, so don't be afraid to ask for extra. If a customer drops out, it's not your fault, it happens to everyone. Read carefully and also do your taxes, register with the Chamber of Commerce and really see yourself as a company. And above all, keep asking questions!


bottom of page