Now offering one-on-one guidance and portfolio consultations. Get yours today!

Jumpstart Your Career with this Illustrator’s Plan of Action

A-a-a-a-n-d we’re back! Hope you all had a nice summer! As I mentioned in my last official post, I had to take a bit of time off from the blog to fully focus on a couple of big projects. Luckily, they’re mostly done so I can now return to dishing out advice and info. And, since the school term is starting and Fall is here, this is a good time to get things back in gear with a plan of action.

As a beginning illustrator, there are a variety of things necessary to jumpstart your career—from updating your portfolio to putting out a new promo piece. The following plan can help move your career forward in just a few short months:

Make four new pieces of art, specific for a single market

Start out the plan by making four new pieces of the best art you’ve ever made. They should all be for a singular market—if you’re going for children’s books, create kid-friendly art; if it’s editorial you’re after, give yourself some real-world assignments pulled from magazines or newspapers. The goal is to increase the quality of your portfolio while honing in on one market.

Update your website

No matter how well-designed it is, every website could be better. Check out the various website options to see if there’s a nicer CMS or theme you could use and make sure your site is in tip-top shape. Weed out the older pieces that don’t hold up and replace them with the four new pieces of art you’ve created.

Design a promo card

Take the very best image from your newly-created series and make a promotional mailer out of it. Get a few hundred of them printed up from a decent printer.

Put your mailing list together

While your postcard is printing, gather up the contact info of art directors, designers, and anyone else who can give you work. Focus on the single market you’re trying to establish yourself in. The idea is to make your mailer as targeted as possible to people who might actually give you work rather than blanketing the entire industry.

Send out your promo cards

After your promo card is printed and delivered, send it out to your mailing list. Since you’re only doing a small mailing, try to write something nice or personal to each art director you’re submitting it to. These little touches help.

Update your “paperwork” templates

It can take a while for work to come in after sending out a mailer. Sometimes it takes a couple weeks. Sometimes six months. Sometimes never, if the work wasn’t up to snuff or the card didn’t “land” the way it need to. While you’re waiting for a response, update all the paperwork templates you have so they’re ready for when the jobs start coming in. Make sure your boilerplate contract is on point and your invoice has all the necessary info and looks professional. With everything in place, nothing should slow you down once the jobs pick up speed.

Make connections

Get out of your apartment or studio and meet some people. Check out art shows, exhibits, conferences, and a variety of other places where creatives hang out. Write to people who inspire you and tell them how much their work means to you. Connections can really help your career so get serious about making some.

Rinse and repeat

Once three months have passed, do all of this again—create four new pieces of art better than anything you’ve done before, update your portfolio, send out a new promo card, keep your paperwork straight, and work on making connections. If you stick to this plan, it might take a while, but eventually your illustration career will improve and you can make this thing a full-fledged career. That’s all it is. It’s not magic—it’s just a simple, tried-and-true plan.

Post by

Neil Swaab is a freelance illustrator, art director, author, and educator based in Brooklyn, NY. He's an instructor at Parsons the New School for Design and the illustrator of the New York Times bestselling book Middle School: My Brother is a Big, Fat Liar by James Patterson and Lisa Papademetriou. His new authored and illustrated book, The Secrets to Ruling School: Class Election, comes out this September from Amulet Books.

See more posts by this author