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On Trust

When you’re selling yourself as an illustrator, it’s not necessarily your illustrations or a fancy website that’s going to get you jobs—it’s trust. What you’re selling is trust that you’ll do high quality art, deliver on time, and be easy and professional to work with. Trust is the thing that gets you work.

So, how do you build trust?

Have a strong portfolio

The first thing art directors are going to see, obviously, is your work. Having a consistent, high-quality portfolio gets rid of the fear that you’ll create a terrible illustration. Art directors need to trust that you’ll give them exactly what they’re looking for. If your work is all over the map, it chips away at that feeling of trust.

Have a professional website

How you package your work is just as important as the work itself. By giving your work a nice presentation, you’re telling art directors that you care about your illustrations and want them to be seen in the best light possible. And that care will translate into how you complete assignments, creating more faith in your abilities to do the job.

List your clients

It’s important to list a nice amount of clients on your site—the more high profile the better. Being able to say, “These people have all trusted me, so you can too” is a huge confidence-building tool.

Show similar work to the kind you want to get

While art directors can often make the leap, it’s harder to get editors or sales people to do so. If you want to do book covers, for instance, but don’t have any professional examples of that in your portfolio, it can be a tough sell as the higher ups won’t have the trust in you to get the job done. It’s a bit of a catch-22: you need the work in your portfolio to get the work, but you can’t have the work in your portfolio unless you’ve already gotten it. If it’s that important for you to break into a certain market, you’ll have to find some way to instill trust in the art directors—either by doing fake assignments/campaigns, offering to do samples for free, or thinking of another creative way.

Be agreeable and confident

No one wants to work with jerks or people who don’t know what they’re doing. When you discuss a potential project with an art director, approach it with an open mind yet also project confidence in your ability to do it well (even if you’re not sure of it yourself). That initial trust-building can go a long way towards getting you hired.

Final thoughts

While it may appear that art directors are hiring you for your work, that’s actually just the surface of it. What they’re really hiring you for is to solve a problem for them. They need to be able to trust that you can do it and do it well without any issues. That feeling of security that you instill in them may make all the difference between you being hired for the job or another person getting it instead.

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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.

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