Getting Started

The career path of an illustrator isn't very clear and that is probably why people often ask me how I got started as anillustrator and if there is any advice I can give them in regards to becoming a professional illustrator. I think having a successful illustration career comes down to the following: Unique Consistent Style, Technical Skills, Marketing, Tracking Work and Attitude. Hopefully, you will find something useful in this article.



Unique Consistent Style

I think having a unique consistent style  is probably one of the most important keys to having a successful illustration career.



Technical Skills

It's hard to execute a good idea if you don't have the technical skills to do it. Having great technical skills not only allows you to realize your ideas, but also will save you a ton of time in the long run because you will be much more efficient and responsive when clients have feedback.

You can search for tutorial videos on Youtube and Vimeo , but in order to save you  time I highly recommend's video tutorial. You pay a monthly subscription fee which gives you access to all the videos you can watch on all the major programs (photoshop, illustrator, aftereffect, and tons more).



Marketing your illustrations

All your marketing efforts should point back to your web site. Your web site is a place where you can centralize information and understand the success of specific marketing tactics via Google Analytics and/or Statscounter. YOUR WEBSITE IS YOUR MOST VALUABLE MARKETING TACTIC!



What makes a "GOOD WEB SITE"?

A concistent 'style' all the way through.

Only new work

None pixalated images that load quickly

Clean and un-cluttered design that suites the artwork. (There is no piont n having a black gothic looking background for light hearted childrens book illustration)

Easy to find contact details

A PDF that potential clients can download to print out your artwork.

A web address that looks professional ( or (

A site that is always updated with new exiting work.




Once you have a good, user friendly, search engine friendly site. Post card mailers are probably the second most cost effective and effective tactic. Lots of times art directors just need to be reminded you exist. That is why I think higher frequency is better than spending a lot of money on one marketing tactic. Don't put all your eggs in one basket. I would rather spend my money doing 3 postcard mailers a year vs. one big book ad

Cold calls are something you will have to do when starting out. Find magazines, papers, etc that you like or think would be a good fit for you art and contact the art director, ask them if its okay to send them a few examples of your work. I would never send more than 3 pieces .. they will know what your art work is about after seeing 3 pieces.




I can't say how important it is to have a positive attitude. Of course talent is crucial .. but talent isn't the only thing that gets you work. People are people and it's always nicer to work with someone that is positive and solution oriented.

Art directors like illustrators that can talk about their work in an exciting way, are easy to work with and accepted feedback will get hired over and over again.

I'm not saying do anything the client wants with a smile on your face. You were hired because you are an expert in your field .. articulate the decisions you made and get them excited about your ideas .. but it's also important to stay positive and flexible.





You can save yourself a lot of extra work by asking a few questions up front.

First, get the basic information:

  • Technical Specs - size, bleed, resolution, etc

  • Important Dates - (Rough Date, Final Date)



If this is the first time working with this person ask them:

  • Why did you choose me for this project? (I like your concepts, I like your painterly style, your work is cute and works well for teenage girl magazines, your style is rough and dark and works well for this editorial piece on drug abuse, etc)

  • Which pieces of work do you particularly like and why?(I like the man on the boat cause it's funny, I like all the texture in the piece you did for Converse, etc)

  • How did you discover my work?



This will give you a better idea of what the client likes about your work, why they chose you for this particular project and what they expect.

Next, get more information about the job, if it's a long editorial .. ask them:

  • What part of the story do they really want emphasize?

  • Is there anything they want to stay away from?

  • Do they have any ideas?(This doesn't necessarily mean to use the idea .. but it will give you a general idea of the path they want to take or what part they think is important/interesting)



Tracking the Work

If you want to make a career out of illustration you will need a good way to keep track of your jobs so you make the deadlines and get paid for your work?

  • When are roughs due?

  • When are final sketches due?

  • Are there any jobs you need to complete?

  • Are you too busy to take on more work in a specific month?

  • Who hasn't paid?





 Text Nate Willams (redacted C.Arran)






An understanding of the rudiments of copyright law is extremely important to any professional artist, whether selling original work or reproduction rights.

It is worth reiterating here that copyright can only be exploited if you have access to high-quality digital files or transparencies from which reproductions can be made. Above all, don’t part with sold works until these have been photographed.



It is important to know that copyright nearly always rests with the artist, regardless of who owns the artwork. There are exceptions to this rule, such as work that has been specifically commissioned or completed during employment, in which case copyright stays with the commissioner or employer. Freelance artists working for a range of companies should keep this in mind.


If you sell a picture through a gallery to a private client, neither the gallery nor the final owner of the work has the right to reproduce it, e.g. as a greetings card. A painting and the copyright in that painting are two entirely separate commercial entities. With some exceptions, such as China, copyright is now fairly standard around the world: it lasts for the artist’s lifetime and for seventy years after their death. So long as works are in copyright anyone wishing to reproduce them has to seek the copyright holder’s permission. Artists can, however, sell their copyright. Sales of copyright must be put in writing; otherwise sales are invalid and cannot be legally enforced.


Galleries and publishers are generally entitled to reproduce an artist’s work in order to help sell it – through advertisements, catalogues, JPEGs for emailing to clients and uploading onto their website – but they are not entitled to profit from reproductions of a work.

Reproduction rights


Owners of copyright can sell reproduction rights, or a licence to print, for specific projects while still retaining copyright. For example, an artist can sell the right to reproduce a picture on a run of 20,000 calendars or a dinnerware service while retaining overall copyright.

This allows them to sell further licences, whereas once copyright is sold the artist has no say in how that image is used. Licensees might, quite reasonably, want to prevent licensors from selling licences to their direct competitors (e.g., other card publishers), so they might want to include restrictive clauses in the contract. They might, for example, want to state that the licensor agrees not to sell a licence to another card publisher, but is free to sell licences into other markets.


You need to consider any restrictive clauses carefully; try to assess whether the proposed restriction is likely to deny you any future revenue.

The licensee is the party who has bought the licence, or permission to print, while the licensor is the person who has sold it (generally the artist).

Selling permission to print

You need to be 100% clear what type of permission to print you have sold, and what restrictions on future commercial activity the sale might entail. If you do not understand the terminology used in the contract or agreement, you must not be frightened to ask for an explanation of its implications.


There are three common categories of sale for copyright and reproduction rights:

  1. Artists sell copyright outright. They have no control over the ways in which images are subsequently used, and the new owner of the copyright is free to sell licences as they see fit and to retain all the profits. (Sometimes, however, agreement is reached that copyright will be sold but royalties will still be paid to the artist. See below.)

  2. Artists sell copyright for a specific limited purpose; neither artist nor publisher can use the image for any other purpose. For example, if the image is published as a limited-edition print it can never be used for anything else, either by the artist or the print publisher.

  3. Artists sell reproduction rights, or a licence, for a specific limited purpose; the artist retains copyright and can continue to profit from it. For example, the artist sells the image for use on a set of table mats, but can then go on to sell it for other uses.


It is essential that you are clear whether or not you can sell licences in the future, whether you have signed the right to do this over to someone else or whether neither party can do so (e.g., for most limited editions).

It is an ethical norm (though not law at the time of writing) in the fine art reproduction industry that images which have been used for limited-edition prints will not be used for any other purpose or reprint. This commitment may be reinforced by a statement at the bottom of the print or on a certificate of authenticity. This needs to be clearly addressed when agreeing a contract with a publisher of limited-edition prints. Consider carefully the detrimental effect to your reputation if work published as a limited edition is seen by the public in other forms. You need to feel confident that your contract covers this possible outcome.

Secondary rights


By contrast, it is ethically acceptable for images published as open editions to be published again as often as desired and in any medium (e.g., as greetings cards, on ceramics and stationery). If the artist sells the copyright, then the new copyright owner stands to profit exclusively from such sales. However, there are exceptions: some publishers insist on owning copyright in order to have control over how the image is used, but will include a clause in the contract stating a percentage that the artist will receive from sales of secondary rights. If the publisher does allow you a percentage of secondary rights, it can be to your advantage to sell the copyright, as the publisher might be better placed than you are to sell licences.


On the negative side, it could be galling to see a publisher profiting from an image over many years when all you received was a small one-off fee for your copyright 10 years earlier. One way to work out the value you should set on your copyright is to look at your artwork and imagine what you might earn from it if you were to retain the copyright; i.e., you must try to estimate a future income. You should also consider the amount of time that went into producing the pictures; i.e., how many ‘copyrights’ you could produce in a year.

Finally, if your image (or a detail from it) is to be incorporated into an overall design by the licensee, then this new design may be the copyright of the licensee. You need discuss with the licensee how this might affect your own future use of your own copyright.

What types of illustration are there and can I create a client list that crosses over several illustration genres.

Look at the list below and ask yourself how many of these potential markets can I pitch my work too.

1. Editorial Illustration
2. Book Illustration
3. Children’s Illustration
4. Advertising Illustration
5. Comic Book Illustration
6. Comic Strip Illustration
7. Humorous Illustration
8. Political Cartoonist
9. Science Fiction/Fantasy Illustration
10. Medical Illustration
11. Archaeological Illustration
12. Botanical Illustration
13. Biological Illustration
14. Marine Biology Artist
15. Ornithological Illustration
16. Scientific Illustration
17. Technical Illustration
18. Animal Illustration
19. Info-Graphic Illustration
20. Courtroom Presentation Art
21. Documentary Illustration
22. Postage Stamp Illustration
23. Map Illustration
24. Architectural Illustration
25. Exhibition Design
26. Automobile Illustration
27. Customized Vehicle Graphics
28. Tattoo Artist
29. Historical Illustration
30. Military Art
31. Nautical Illustration
32. Aviation Art
33. Portrait Illustration
34. Sports Illustration
35. Product Illustration
36. Food Illustration
37. Fashion Illustration
38. Licensing Illustration
39. Surface Pattern & design Artist
40. Illustrated Lettering
41. Greeting Card & Gift Illustration
42. Gallery Artist
43. Poster and Limited-Edition Print Art
44. Street Art
45. Motion Graphics Artist
46. Mural Art
47. Animation
48. Storyboard Illustration
49. Concept Artist
50. Stock Illustration
Institutional Illustration