Yet more things that I think are extremely helpful to an artist starting out in the business of illustration. None of these are in order of importance!
4. Structure your day
I am naturally a bit of a night owl (and very much a ‘go with the flow’ kind of person) and when left to my own devices I will go to bed very late and then rise late the next day. When I lived on my own I got stuck in this habit and my days were never the same, there was no structure and I often missed out on most of the day from rising late and actually did less productive work because of this. When I moved in with Matt (for those of you who don’t know, also an artist and very business minded which has been a great help to me! You can see his work here www.mattdixon.co.uk) I had to get used to ‘normal’ days. My day is now a ‘9 to 6’ working day and meals are pretty much the same time every day (lunch always at 12pm or near enough and dinner at 6pm-ish). This structure has helped me no end with getting more work done. When you know that you can stop at the end of the day then that’s better than just diving in and not having any set plan of when your breaks are. SOMETIMES (especially around build ups to deadlines or Kickstarters) I will work after the evening meal, but I will rarely work past 10pm and make sure to have a wind down for at least 30 mins before bed.
5. Brand yourself well
Whether you like it or not your artwork is your ‘brand’. I was not keen on the idea but now that I’ve embraced it and seen how well it can work once one gets the hang of it, it makes it a lot easier. When you have a strong idea of what your creations say (funny, romantic, silly, terrifying etc) then it is easier to stay ‘on brand’ when you post to social media etc. Who does your art appeal to? What genre are you part of, or have you created a new genre!?
6. Work hard
This might seem obvious but when starting out I don’t think I appreciated how much I had to put in to see any return on my effort. The more structured my workdays became and the more I ran with my brand, the harder I worked at it as I was beginning to see results.
The social media side of business is a HUGE part of getting seen these days (certainly for what I do with creating my own books and running a Patreon page) and it will seem like too much time has to be spent on social media than you want, and it will be like that to begin with. As your following grows however it does become slightly less frantic! Study what other artists in similar genres to you are doing to get seen, what is working and what isn’t. It’s a constant evolution and while it is very time-consuming and can be exhausting, it can also be hugely satisfying.
7. Take time off
VERY VERY important. When I say work hard I don’t mean never take a break or have a holiday. You will burn out if you never stop and you will lose momentum and your mojo will dry up. Those days when you go to make art and everything goes badly, you hate every brushstroke or mark are the days that are telling you to get out there and stop for a bit.
Go off and do completely non art related things, or take yourself off for a trip to an art gallery or museum, brilliant places to find ideas. Go on a holiday, go for a walk, look at nature (watch nature programs, they are SO great for creature inspiration if that is your thing!), have a hobby that is not art (my hobby in recent years is growing fruit and veg and it is SO great to switch the brain off, I am also a big fan of cooking and sewing my own clothes).
8. Be patient. Be tenacious.
Starting a business takes a lot of time. As an example, I started my foray into illustration in 2004 and I didn’t start to make a living from it exclusively until 2017! There are no guarantees that I will continue to make a living from it, but I hope that it will continue.
You need to LOVE it, even better if you are a little obsessed with it, this will really help because at the end of the day this is a vocation and the income is a lovely bonus. Nobody who wants to be an artist does so because they want to be rich!
Also remember not everyone is suited to being freelance either, some people will work better within a team or a company. Not everyone wants to run their own business as it is literally 24/7 and you have to do every aspect of it, taxes, accounting, shipping, printing, packing, promotion, management, sales…. I used to want to be a creature designer for movies but after a small trial job in that industry it completely changed my direction and now here I am, making my own things! It is also ok not to make art into a business and just have it as a hobby and not have all the stress of trying to sell art. (If it IS your hobby though and you find yourself selling your art, please please do NOT undersell your time or skills because this negatively affects those of us who rely on our art as a business).
We live in an amazing time with the internet where we can plug in direct to our customers/followers and completely cut out the middle man. Go out there and share your amazing creations with wild abandon!