Being a freelance illustrator

 9 February 2012

Mark Boardman is a successful artist and illustrator, whose painterly style is distinctive and captivating. He creates book covers, posters and other illustration for editorial.

Mark always wanted to pursue a career in art. Stephen Fry illustration by Mark Boardman.
Mark always wanted to pursue a career in art. Stephen Fry illustration by Mark Boardman.

Mark’s ability to capture an atmospheric, often melancholy, mood has kept him much in demand. He also continues to develop and exhibit his personal painting work.

Starting a career in illustration

Mark never had any doubts that he wanted to pursue a career in art, and he chose an illustration course at University College Falmouth.

"I learnt professional conduct, self-promotion and how to fill in a tax return form – absolutely essential."

“I was looking for a course that had a strong grounding in traditional teaching methods.

"Originally I was split between fine art and illustration, but ended up going with illustration so that I could get concrete instruction in the technical and business aspects of the art world.

“The course was definitely the best choice I could have made, but it's only relatively recently that I've decided that I wanted to favour illustration over pursuing my own personal work."

“What I learned on the course – professional conduct, self-promotion and how to fill in a tax return form – was absolutely essential and I wouldn't be where I am now without it.”

His career got off to a flying start when he won the D&AD New Blood Best Student Illustrator Award and was highlighted in the industry’s Creative Review magazine.

“I actually ended up selling a few paintings after the Creative Review feature. At the time I wasn't really sure whether to pursue fine art or illustration. So for a while I was convinced that the fine art route would be more suitable.”

Working as a freelance illustrator

Mark feels the key qualities for a freelance illustrator are, “dedication to your craft, the ability to work with a client to reach their goal. And enjoying your work without becoming too attached to artwork that you're not producing for yourself.”

He has always wanted to work for himself, “It's terrifying… but in a reallygood way. I want to feel like I'm always moving myself forward, that every effort I make improves my standing even by the smallest degree. I also get to play death metal really loud while working!”

“I'm starting a new promotional campaign at the moment which involves physical mail-outs, email and portfolio meetings with potential clients. I don't currently have an agent. I tried that avenue once and found that it didn't work for me, but it's something I'd like to look into in the future.”

“I'd really like to put out a small graphic novel as a promotional item. I'd also like to have another exhibition of my paintings. But I'm taking my time with my personal work at the moment, so it'll be a while.”

Illustration work in paint and digital media

Working from his studio in Bristol with both digital and traditional media, Mark favours oils for personal work and Photoshop for illustration.

"Don't do any work for free under the promise of exposure."

“One of my favourite things in life is a great, painterly application of paint, and I try to keep that spontaneity in my digital work while not pretending that it's anything other than a digital piece.

“Though I have a lot of fun using it occasionally, I do have an issue with programs like Corel Painter, which tries to emulate how physical paint moves and acts in reality. I prefer digital art not to masquerade as real media, but to embrace the pros and cons of the medium.

“There are all sorts of things that can be done in Photoshop that cannot be done with physical paint, and vice versa. I like to work with lots of different layers, adding and removing bits and pieces and letting the image evolve naturally, something that would take an incredible amount of time if I had to wait for paint to dry in between each layer change.”

Getting inspired for illustration

“I find turn-of-the-last-century painters inspire me the most on a technical level. The skill displayed in every brush stroke in works by the painters John Singer Sargent or Anders Zorn blows my mind every time I go back to them.

“I really enjoy that way of painting: using economy of stroke to convey the most information in the simplest way possible. You only have to press your nose up against some of those pieces to see what the artist was thinking while they were painting.

“Re-imagining the covers of Dostoyevsky's works for a Penguin Classics line would be incredible. I've been reading a lot of Murakami lately too; I'd love to work on covers for his books.”

4 pieces of advice for a career in illustration

  1. Get a great, cohesive portfolio and send it to everyone.
  2. Contextualise everything in your portfolio – don’t leave its purpose to the potential client’s imagination.
  3. Talk to agencies about what they'd like to see, even if they're not necessarily going to recruit you.
  4. Don't do any work for free under the promise of exposure.

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