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Here’s How to Start Your Career as a Professional Illustrator

Tantowi grew up drawing and designing. Now she makes videos for a living and loves every second of it.


Many people want to get their foot in the door of the art world but may have trouble finding a job doing what they love. The main thing I want people to take from it is that even if you don’t have a large following, it shouldn’t stop you from chasing your dream of becoming a professional illustrator and from loving what you do.

Becoming an Illustrator is not as easy as it sounds. Becoming a pro, that’s a really big deal. And it takes time and dedication. You have to learn about illustration from the basics, then practice making work that reflects your skills, and finally master the skills required to show clients what they're looking for. It takes work. But you don't have to be a slave to your art; you have the freedom to choose how you want to spend your time on art.

What does it take to become a professional illustrator? That’s a question I get asked quite often, and the answer isn’t always clear-cut. So I decided to write this short guide that contains all the steps you should follow to becoming a professional illustrator. You don’t have to do all of these steps, but you should at least be aware of them and how they can help you improve.

Think About What You Want from Illustrating

Think about what you want, and always aim for the whole pie instead of just the slice. Being an illustrator is a dream job for many people, and it can be very hard to be picky and choose what you want from it. If you only take the "just" jobs, you may not be reaching your full potential as an artist.

You need to determine what you want out of your illustrative career. Then work toward it, determined to fail if necessary. There is no such thing as a complete guide to becoming an illustrator. You are going to have to try lots of different things and take personal responsibility for what results. This doesn't mean that you aren't interested in being a professional artist, it means that you are taking an honest look at what you want out of your life and are willing to do the work necessary to get it.

Master the Fundamentals (Drawing, Anatomy, Perspective)

The fundamentals of illustration hold the key to becoming a successful and enthusiastic artist. What separates good artists from great ones is a deep understanding of the medium and an ability to bring life to any drawn image. Make this goal your daily drawing challenge, starting now.

Becoming a successful illustrator requires more than just good drawing skills. It takes years of practice, study, discipline, and patience. Even then, you will only be truly successful if you build on the skills you already have and this takes time and commitment. Only through self-study can you track your progress and improve your chances of becoming a successful illustrator.

You must learn the basics of drawing or painting. Use of light and shadow in the composition, how to work with linear space, how to create intervals and contrasts in space, line weight, and flow. It will take a lot of practice before you will be able to emulate these techniques in your works. The art of creating is about practicing these fundamentals until something about them clicks and you can produce consistently.

Understand Why It’s Important to Have a Signature Style

There are many factors at play when it comes to gaining recognition as an illustrator. One of the most important things is your unique style, or "patent", as I like to call it. If you have a signature style, you will not only give yourself a competitive edge but also increase your exposure.

Would you like to know why designers of signature cards, for instance, tend to be in high demand? It’s because they must bring a unique style to the table. Rather than just copying someone else’s work, they create the style that sets them apart from everyone else. A signature style is different from your everyday monotone. It gives your work personality and distinguishes you from others. When people see your work that has a signature style, they automatically think that you’re a special kind of designer because of it.

Be a Role Model for Younger Illustrators

A great way to be a role model for younger illustrators is to do something inspiring and give back. In my own experience, I have always been active in both the offline and online illustration communities.

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Life can be tough for young artists. They can be struggling with deciding which type of art school to attend, whether to work at a commercial level or start their own. Be a role model by showing them that there's a way out of this for them if they work hard and study hard. Show them that there is a rewarding career in illustration and that they can earn money doing something they enjoy. When they come out of their shells and learn about the world around them through artwork, they will have greater confidence in themselves and their abilities.

Build a Steady Client Base and Work Steadily

Building a steady client base is equally as important as building the product. With that in mind, it’s important to take small steps to build up your reputation as a professional illustrator, whether through review sites or word-of-mouth. Keep in mind that your primary goal should always be increasing revenue, which may require working gradually across several projects.

You want to have a steady client base so that you can consistently create work for them. Another way to increase your client base is by accepting freelance gigs. Freelance gigs are typically better than simple jobs because there are more clients involved, which means more opportunities for your artwork. When you're doing freelance work, it's important to build up your social media following so that you can attract new freelance clients.

Being a professional illustrator requires more than just working on a project or service and hoping it succeeds. The key is to build a steady client base, manage their expectations, and always work on new things that could become big successes.

Study Your Craft by Looking at the Greats

Even though some artists may be better at what they do than others, anyone can learn and improve in any art form. To succeed, you must identify your area of expertise and apply that knowledge to your work.

You can learn from the best. Even if you have no intention of becoming a professional illustrator or designer, there are things you can do to improve your skills as a beginner. There are general trends in art and design that can help you become a better illustrator if you follow them. When you can combine the right factors from different aspects of being an illustrator, such as studying, networking, focusing, practicing, etc. You will be able to see how to become more successful.

Follow Industry News and Stay Connected

The journey to becoming a professional illustrator is both rewarding and challenging. From others who have made the same innovations as you, you can learn a lot, and see how your work reflects your skills. You can also learn a lot by watching others do what they do best and applying their ideas to your work.

Stay informed about the art industry and stay connected with other illustrators. Showing up at industry events, participating in forums and sharing your work online can help gain more exposure. It doesn't cost much to show up and be active online. The key is knowing where to put your effort.

If Possible, Finish an Art School

It is a good idea to finish art school if you want to become a professional illustrator. Although online tutorials and books about drawing techniques and art theory will help you to supplement your skills. Getting a formal education in the illustration can be a priceless resource. Almost all art schools offer their courses of study, as well as expert feedback and mentoring opportunities. If you're serious about pursuing a career in illustration, finishing an art school is not an option. It's necessary.

Build a Portfolio of Works

To become an illustrator in the creative field, you must invest time and energy. Learn about the industry, acquire relevant knowledge, and develop your ability to express yourself visually. It takes dedication, work ethic, and artistic ability to become a professional illustrator. To show potential employers or others what types of artworks you can create, you should create a portfolio of your current works when you start your journey in art. As you build your portfolio, continue working on your artwork and learn from other artists who have achieved success.

Give Back to the Community and Share What You Know

You need to know how to share your art with the people who need it most. Remember to give back to the community and share what you know. As a professional illustrator, you use your skills to make the world a better place. Be a role model for young people who might aspire to follow in your footsteps if they have the drive and desire but don't have the tools or knowledge yet. Contribute to sites and blogs that inspire people to learn more about the art industry and share your knowledge with others. In return, you get rewarded with great recognition and also the satisfaction of helping people. That should be the ultimate goal of your journey as an illustrator.

To determine if an art career is right for you, I think you should interview yourself and learn what it takes to succeed.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2021 Tantowi Gilang

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