Job as a freelance illustrator

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Jennifer Hall is a freelance illustrator. She works from her home. Her career in illustration started when she volunteered at a local museum and was asked to provide sketches for museum displays and publications.

Can you describe your role?

Most of the illustration work I have done has been for books. Publishers often use illustrations to break up blocks of text. I have also done some work on education packs, and I'm currently illustrating my first children's book.

How do you find clients?

Most of my clients tend to come through word of mouth. Once you're in the industry people come to you because they remember that you did something similar for someone else. I also work as a graphic designer, so I sometimes provide illustrations for my design commissions too.

How do you come up with ideas for illustrations?

Most clients have a strong idea of what they want before they come to you, and as they are paying your bills you do what they ask!

What tools do you work with?

I recently produced a piece of illustration work, using leather, MDF (processed wood), Perspex, wood and pencil. I never rule out any techniques, tools or materials, but I try to use whatever is most appropriate for the job. I usually scan the illustrations into the computer to tidy up my work and fine-tune the images.

What stages are involved in illustration?

First I meet the client and discuss the needs of the project. You need to know who the target audience is, for instance. The type of illustrations may vary according to whether they will be printed in an academic textbook, a tourist guide or an education pack.

I produce one or two rough ideas for the client and, once agreed, start to complete the finished artwork. When the work is done, I send the bill to the client requesting payment.

What qualities do you need to be a freelance illustrator?

The most important thing is your ability to illustrate. I find IT skills useful as some of my illustration is computer generated. Even if you don't use a computer as an illustration tool, you should keep up to date with your IT skills. Perseverance is essential – being freelance is a very uncertain way of earning a living and it can be disheartening if you don't get any commissions for a while. I would recommend having more than one service to offer.

What do you like most about being an illustrator?

Getting positive feedback from a client is great. Drawing is a very personal thing so it's wonderful when someone really likes your work.

Jennifer's route to her job as a freelance illustrator

  • BA degree in Ancient and Medieval History.
  • Masters in Museum studies while working part time for the library service.
  • Worked in the design studio of the library service, producing displays and signage.
  • Studying for a further degree in Electronic Media and Design.

Jennifer's tips

  • You must draw constantly and keep a good, up-to-date portfolio.
  • Look for a work placement in a studio.
  • As well as being introduced to the technical aspects of illustration work, you will build up a useful network of designers, printers and potential clients.

Illustrator related jobs

  • Cartoonist
  • Fine artist
  • Graphic designer
  • Signwriter/signmaker
  • Technical illustrator
  • Textile designer

Salary of an illustrator

  • The starting salary in a studio is around £13,500 rising to £27,000 with experience.
  • Well-established illustrators might earn £40,000.

How to become an illustrator

  • Most illustrators and artists have formal qualifications – usually a HNC,HND or degree in art and design.
  • A wide range of courses leading to qualifications in art and design are offered by universities and art colleges throughout the UK.
  • At interview you will be asked to show a portfolio of your work to prove that you have artistic potential, and that you can develop an idea from research through to a final design.

Modified: 16 June 2013

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