A career in Illustration is often portrayed as a risky journey rife with highs and lows. There is a path that will help you revel in feasts rather than endure a life of famine. Become a chameleon.
Chameleons get work. As an illustrator for entertainment advertising, I am required to switch styles on a dime (often multiple times in one day). This ability keeps me busy even when client needs vary widely. Being able to work efficiently in a variety of styles and mediums may come at the price of being an all-star in one particular method. But, your drawing muscles will be well developed, your mind will be sharp, you’ll discover new ways of problem-solving (which increases speed), and you’ll be working. Developing mastery of one style has its own merits, and you’ll always be stronger in one or two naturally. If you’ve targeted a particular industry, medium, or even company as your holy grail, then by all means go for broke. If your primary goal is to develop into the strongest, fastest, most employed illustrator you can, read on.
Collect Books & Stay Inspired
Great artists have come before us, and our contemporaries are generating impressive content at an incredible pace. Bring their work home with you. Stay abreast of what is out there both traditionally and currently. Keep a Pinterest collection of your favorite illustration work, and several folders of reference. Learn from observation. Why do you love this work? Is this digital color laid over pencil sketches? How many heads tall are the characters in this children’s book? What would you have done differently as the artist?
Every so often, stop by a second-hand bookstore to load up an arm full of illustrated material that you find inspirational. Maintain a personal library of cherished books. At any moment, you may walk the shelf and be re-engaged by a comic, concept art, or a picture book that you haven’t glanced at in a year. Flip through, and it will tell you old tells in a new way. Your mind will absorb a portion of the technique without picking up a pencil (or stylus).
Study Anatomy & Build an Écorché
If you are serious about working as an illustrator full-time, a solid understanding of the human form is a must. Human faces and anthropomorphic characters grace nearly every…