6 tips for illustrators

 3 June 2013

Hennie Haworth is a freelance illustrator. She has worked with many major brands, including Waitrose and Vodafone. She shared six pieces of advice for illustrators starting out.

Hennie Haworth's illustrations have featured in many magazines, including Elle and Company. She has also worked with fashion designers.
Hennie Haworth's illustrations have featured in many magazines, including Elle and Company. She has also worked with fashion designers.

Starting an illustration career

"I studied illustration at Brighton University. When I left, I worked in a school for a year as a chemistry lab technician.

"During that time I did lots of free work, often for not-for-profit magazines. I tried to get as much illustration experience as possible.

"You have to be really good at time management and at being self-motivated."

"I developed contacts, and pestered magazine art directors to look at my work. Slowly, jobs began to come in, and slowly, I started getting paid for them."

"Mainly I've learned skills on the job. At college, I hadn't ever thought I'd want to be a freelance illustrator.

"I didn't know what I wanted at the time, but the course was more geared towards fine art. It was only after I left, and thought 'What should I do?' that I started drawing.

"When I realised I wanted to pursue it, I got back in touch with my tutors and started talking about it with them."

Finding work as an illustrator

"Mainly I do illustrations for magazines, newspapers and book covers.

"I've also done work for food packaging and children’s clothes.

"To begin with, I looked in magazines and inside book covers to find the details of art directors.

"From these, you can look up the company, call them up, and try to book an appointment to show them your portfolio.

"If you have a website, they can quickly see your work before you go in."

Working with designers

"At university I was doing work with pen machines, making bleeding ink splodges. and I thought afterwards they might make nice wallpaper patterns.

"I sent out print outs of my work to Habitat. I didn't know who the art director was because some companies don't give out names, so I just addressed it to 'Art Director' and hoped it went somewhere.

"Keep trying to be creative, even if you're really annoyed with a project."

"They called me and said they liked it, so we had meetings, and discussed doing a range.

"I had to work with the project manager in charge of surface and tableware, who told me what she liked about my work and what she wanted.

"It was good to do a project so different to what I was used to. In the process, I learned a lot about what I could have done better, and what things I would do differently next time."

6 tips for illustrators

1. Learn to work independently

"You have to be really good at time management and at being self-motivated. Sometimes people let you down. 

"You have to keep trying to be creative, even though you might be really annoyed with a project.

"Sometimes, too, you just have to take a break and leave it for a day, before going back to it.

"Projects can be delayed or even cancelled. You can't take it too personally. You have to keep positive."

2. Link up with other creatives

"I was working at home for year, and didn't really have a support network.

"Later, I moved into a studio with around forty other people working in various areas of design.

"It was really nice to be able to get advice from all those different people while I worked.

"Instead of being quite closed off in your own work, you can see how other people approach projects.

"When someone they know needs an illustrator, they can recommend you and get you work."

3. Learn to dialogue with your clients

"If you can get advice about what your client is looking for, you can work together to make it better."

"Partnerships with other companies are often important.

"It's nice when you have a proper collaboration where they say what they want and you can go away and interpret it by doing your own thing.

"But do try to make sure your work pleases them, too.

"It can be annoying if people are quick to say 'yes' to everything you suggest. If you can get a bit of advice about what they're looking for, you can work together to make it better.

4. Promote yourself effectively

"It's good to have a website showing different categories of what you can do.

"I have split my illustration portfolio up in this way so it's easy to navigate.

"Find as many contacts as you can through magazines and books and email your website off to them all. That's how you start."

5. Don't be put off by low paid projects 

"When you first start, you often find you're doing jobs for hardly anything. It can be useful, though, because you have done them favours, and later on they can return them.

"If you're starting out and you get a project, try not to be too picky about who the client is, or what the budget is.

"If you do choose to do some not-for-profit magazine jobs, you will still build up contacts.

"It might also enable you to develop your style. Often people aren't as picky with what they want you to do because you're doing them a favour.

"It gets you experience and shows people you can be trusted to commission."

6. Develop your own style

"Versatility is important. Aim to specialise in a few different subject areas and methods of working.  You don't want to get bored, or pigeonholed. 

"At the same time, it's also important to keep your own personal style, otherwise people don't know who they are commissioning.

"Keep hold of your identity."


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