It’s very easy as a creative individual who loves what they do to forget that they’re running a business, and that for a business to survive, it needs to make money. Producing beautiful illustrations and artwork are all well and good, but even a starving artist has the occasional exhibition to sell their work so they can put food on the table… and buy paint. I’m in a perpetual state of disbelief at how many students with a degree in illustration complete their course with no idea of how to set themselves up as a freelancer and run a business. Getting an in-house job as an illustrator is quite rare these days, and if you do manage to find a position, there will normally be an in-house style which you have to abide by. This means that for the illustrator’s own style to shine through they would still need to be taking on freelance work if they wanted to build a portfolio that represents them rather than the company they work for. I may be wrong (and I’m certainly not always right!), and some university courses may cover this stuff as I know some amazing lecturers who do everything they can to prepare students for the market place, but as far as I’m aware, there’s not normally a module focusing specifically on tax, accounting, client relationships, self promotion, and advertising. Even contracts and licensing, along with keeping proper records, is barely touched on in many cases.
Getting an agent isn’t a way to solve a lack of experience or business know-how either. Agents range from one extreme to another and the better ones are less likely to take on students unless there’s something really special about their artwork. The best way to look at agents is, if you’re a successful illustrator, having an agent makes sense as it will allow you to grow, manage more clients and take on larger jobs. If you’re after an agent because you don’t have enough work, you’re not doing it right and an agent isn’t going to solve any shortcomings.
I believe knuckling down and teaching yourself how to run a business is essential to becoming a successful illustrator. Just look at the artists who have made something of themselves over the last couple decades. It’s not just down to talent; they appear to know what they’re doing, because they do. They offer a service and they know how to sell their work along with communicating with their clients. Plus more importantly, they get paid because they know how to manage a business.
I run Hire an Illustrator and I think any illustrator worth their salt should be a member of the service… I’m not just saying that. To run a business you need to promote it and get advice when you need it, and that’s where HAI comes in. Being part of a thriving community is also a plus. Additionally, for those who didn’t learn how to run a business at university, there is “Make Your Art Work” from artist Marc Scheff. It’s basically a bootcamp for kickstarting a creative career, and well worth checking out. Marc and his partner in crime Lauren Panepinto have a long history of putting freelancers on the right path and I’ve never heard anything but good things about them.
Now go, run a business, and enable yourself to do the thing you love.
Image Credit: Monkey Business by Tijmen Ploeger