A Little Back-and-Forth on Growing Your Illustration Business

Originally published in Agency Access’ “The Lab”, artist Daniel Fishel, shares some personal suggestions for artists, photographers and graphic designs alike.

Question: What are some dos and don’ts to consider when growing and managing my illustration business?

Being an illustrator takes a bit of navigating and structure to get your business off the ground or even to keep the gears greased to go the long distance. Here are a few do’s and don’ts that I feel will help illustrators successfully run their business based on my personal experience:

DO personal work

It doesn’t matter whether you’re new to the illustration business or have been managing an illustration career for years. It’s important to create work outside of the day-to-day client work to keep what you do fresh and to explore other ways of visually telling stories.

DON’T worry about making “marketable” work

This tip resonates more with younger artists breaking into illustration than artists who’ve been around the block. Make the work that you want to make and tell the stories you want to tell — the ones that keep you inspired and interested. If you’re a real fan of folklore and fantasy but make a series of lifestyle illustrations because it’s what’s “marketable,” art directors will see through the work and realize you weren’t happy making it. Making the work you want to make will show that you genuinely enjoy what you create. Your interests are more “marketable” and “profitable.”

The Business Lab   Illustrator Daniel Fishel   Growing Your Illustration Business 01 resized 600

© Daniel Fishel Illustration + Design

DO have a marketing plan

It’s important that you have a consistent approach to marketing your work. Lay out a plan to send out postcards and email blasts to keep art directors and art buyers in your loop. If art directors are in the habit of getting things in the mail from you on a regular basis, they’ll begin anticipating your promotions. It also keeps you fresh in their minds, especially when they need someone to work on something.

DON’T over-market yourself

Living in New York City, I see a lot of “cash for gold” advertising on TV. I sometimes walk past a place with a lot of signage about “cash for gold” and I get business cards/postcards on my way to the subway about “cash for gold.” This marketing plan is annoyingly persistent, to the point of me never wanting to get “cash for gold.” The same thing is true for illustrators. Sending an email blast every week to the same art directors will surely get your emails unsubscribed, whereas a better pace with your email blasts and postcard promotions will be better received.

DO create a blog and keep it updated

When you buy a DVD, sometimes you want to see the outtakes, the cast-and-crew commentaries and the process behind the film. Having a blog about your processes (how you came to the conclusion of making the pieces you create) is like the same thing. It shows that you care. And updating your blog regularly means you don’t have to update your website as frequently, because you have something connected to your website that’s always fresh.

DON’T be a jerk

Being a successful illustrator means putting forward a bit of ego to show that you have confidence in your work’s value. When your ego inflates into arrogance is when problems start to pop up. No one likes the illustrator who thinks he’s better than everyone else. So be confident, be humble, and most importantly be nice.

The Business Lab   Illustrator Daniel Fishel   Growing Your Illustration Business 02 resized 600

© Daniel Fishel Illustration + Design

DO set up meetings with art directors and other illustrators you admire

We live in a time when the illustrator’s relationship with art directors is distant because of the computer. It’s easier to promote yourself by sending a postcard or an email to an art director, but that won’t give them a sense of who you are. Also, there are a ton of illustrators who live in various cities and towns around the world. It wouldn’t hurt to reach out and connect with other creatives to talk shop and about what’s going on in their lives.

DON’T think a logo on a business card is your “brand”

It’s important to have a visual brand that crosses every aspect of how you present your business. A matching logo on your business card and website is only the shell of what it means to have a brand. A brand is what you do. For example, you can say “My name is Joel and I am an illustrator who makes evocative, multi-figurative works.” Or, “My name is Sarah and I am an illustrator who creates conceptual, fantastical drawings that draw from my personal experiences to solve your visual needs.”

DO follow art directors on Twitter

Following art directors/art buyers on Twitter creates a digital atmosphere where you can comment on things and share useful/interesting links. It’s one way to create a personable relationship over the Internet.

DON’T directly solicit art directors on Twitter

Keep in mind, Twitter is used to have an open conversation with readers. If you start to directly send links or images to art directors on Twitter, you’re more likely to annoy them then get them interested in what you do. Twitter is a tool to help you build a relationship with an art director. This doesn’t mean that you can’t Tweet about it when you finish something cool or post a blog update about it.

DO have a life outside of illustration

We often forget that our lives aren’t just illustrating 24/7. Experiencing life away from our desks and studios doesn’t just make us better artists, but better people. So get up, take a walk, try that new Thai restaurant down the street, get out of the city/countryside for a weekend, make new friends …

To see Daniel Fishel’s work go to his website and Altpick page.

To read more of Agency Access’ interviews and blog posts go here.

For more information on Agency Access’ services click here.

About altpick connects

Established in 1992, The Alternative Pick commenced with a clear mission, providing creative buyers with a vehicle to source the best brightest and most exciting illustrators, photographers, graphic designers and animators in the business. The Alternative Pick sourcebook (1992-2005) became the outlet for cutting-edge commercial talent, offering a unique platform for artists to showcase their work. The Alternative Pick Deck (2009-2012) offered a fun and engaging format for locating leading commercial artists. In addition, The Altpick Awards (2003-2011) introduced yet another way to provide a platform for talents to shine. To meet the demands of an ever-changing industry, Altpick.com was launched in 1996 and presently provides a vehicle for talent to utilize the web to connect more effectively with buyers. As we mark our 30th anniversary in 2021, Altpick.com remains a premier source for creative professionals and we plan to continue to push the envelope providing the best vehicle for buyers to connect with creative talent.
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