Working as a Professional Illustrator, Cartoonist and/or Caricature Artist
I have decided to write this article, due to a number of enquiries from younger artists who are seeking to make a start in the world of professional illustration, cartoon and caricature drawing. The aim of the article is not to discourage aspiring artists, but rather to point out some of the challenges they will face.
Working as a professional freelance illustrator often involves making someone else's work look good. When you are working to a brief, and your work is merely a component in a much larger job, don't be surprised or disappointed if you receive very little credit or kudos for all your hard work. But always make sure you get paid!
Questions to Ask Yourself:
Firstly, welcome to one of the world’s most competitive industries. To survive and make a living as an artist / illustrator (in any field or genre) will require creative talent, patience and a lot of dedication. It will also require the development of business skills, communication skills and time management protocols.
Though working as a professional illustrator can be a lot of fun and extremely satisfying, it will often also prove to be far more work than most young aspiring artists would ever have imagined. This is not a cushy “get rich quick” job for lazy people.
So how do you know whether you have what it takes to become a professional illustrator, cartoonist or caricature artist?
The only real answer is to give it a try.
Sure, your friends or family may tell you that you do really cool “art stuff”, and maybe drawing comes fairly easily to you. But will you be able to “perform on demand” and very importantly “on time”, when your employer or a prospective client says, “This is what I need”?
Working professionally is not about doing whatever you want, whenever you feel like it (at least not for the majority of illustrators) … it is the business of providing visual solutions for your customer’s creative problems.
Added to that, clients or customers usually have deadlines, budgets to work within and very little patience for temperamental artists. Can you cope with that?
Being creative when you are just doodling in your free time is fine, but can you still be creative under pressure, when you might have more than one task to complete simultaneously?
Can you be creative when the required subject matter holds no personal interest for you?
Are you prepared to rethink your approach and redo your fantastic artwork (possibly from scratch) when your client flatly rejects your completed work with one of those killer lines: “this isn’t what I asked for” or “this isn’t what I wanted” or “this isn’t suitable for our target demographic”?
Now at this point, you might be thinking to yourself: “Yeah but this doesn't really apply to me. I'm going to pick and choose my jobs and clients”. If you believe that, let me tell you now quite categorically that in 99.99% of cases … You Are Dreaming!
To get to the point where you will be able to “pick and choose” what work you do or don’t take on … you will first need to establish a reputation and be highly “in demand”. That can take years, if it ever happens at all.
And in the meantime you will be what? … yet another starving artist?
Trust me, the starving artist thing has never really been fashionable or even half as cool as it sounds (to some) … and quite frankly, it’s just not a good look (particularly on your resume).
Pointers that “may” help you become a successful illustrator, cartoonist or caricature artist.
- Try to be unique in your approach to illustration, cartoon or caricature drawing.
There is NO substitute for Originality!
Copying the styles of other artists may be a good way to learn your craft and develop your drawing skills, but it won’t help you stand out from the ever growing crowd. Your potential clients want to see your originality and creative ability, not your ability to copy other people’s ideas.
- Character Development is an Art Unto itself
Being able to draw is one thing, being able to develop a unique character (or set of characters) is another matter altogether.
The best way to put life, character and humour into your creations is by being constantly curious and observant of the world around you ... particularly the subtleties.
- Promote yourself and show prospective clients your best work.
Get a web site, and make it a good web site. If necessary get one built for you by some one who thoroughly understands intuitive interface design and SEO (Search Engine Optimisation). Use this to show a good range of your best work. Don’t just show a dozen versions or variations of the same work. First impressions count … make the most of it. If you can’t do a decent job of promoting yourself, you can hardly expect clients to take you seriously.
- Be dedicated. Constantly hone your illustrative skills.
Become very good (or even the best) at what you do, because you may face an enormous amount of competition in what is a relatively small market.
- Become Proficient and Efficient in what you do.
Wasting a little time might not be a problem for you, but it will be for your clients … particularly if you deliver work late. Missing a deadline is one of the quickest ways to lose a client. If the client can’t trust you to deliver, they will go elsewhere.
- Be flexible in your approach to your artwork
And if possible, be at least a little enthusiastic when dealing with your clients. Unless you have more work than you can realistically handle, avoid turning down jobs just because you don’t think they are “cool”. Holding on to your client base may prove difficult enough, without you driving them to seek other artists. They may not return to you.
Having said that, beware of clients that will screw you over. When a client shows you some excellent artwork done by their “former” artist (particularly when it is in a style which the client wishes you to continue) … it’s worth asking why they need a new artist.
You may get a lot of, shall we say “interesting” responses. But the truth will often revolve around money. Specifically the money the client does not want to pay … either the former artist or you. Sometimes there may be copyright issues that the client is hoping to evade by hiring a new artist.
Be very careful!
- Keep your relationships with clients on a business level.
Avoid becoming too “chummy” in your business relationships. Getting too personal and friendly with customers can reduce both your credibility and income. If your client starts asking you to do work “as a favour” or at “mates rates” (and you accept) … both the business relationship with that client and your potential income is probably ruined.
- Get Work with or through a Studio or Ad Agency
If you are just "starting out", it may be worthwhile applying for work with an established Studio or Advertising Agency. If nothing else, they are likely to be brutally honest in their assessment of your work and supposed talent. It could save you a lot of time wondering whether you have what it takes to make it in the “real world” of professional illustration.
Getting work through a studio or agency will allow you to quickly learn what is involved, required and how the business side of being a commercial artist operates. It is the hard as well as fast path to gaining experience, while providing plenty of opportunity to practice and diversify your skills.
Summary / Conclusion
No one can tell you whether you have what it takes to be a successful illustrator, cartoonist or caricature artist. Even if you have outstanding drawing skills, both luck and career management may play a considerable part in your success or lack thereof.
You may need to be both persistent and highly flexible to survive. Embracing new technologies may also help to prevent you from becoming a dinosaur in your own lifetime. Making a consistent income from your drawing skills and creative abilities can be quite a challenge … I wish you success and the best of luck!
Should you have suggestions to improve this page, you can
or use the email form on the Contact Page.
Wizard - Incept date: 23/11/2008 - Updated 21/11/2009