How can an illustrator gain real deal-with-a-client experience

 If you are still at the beginning of your career and are not confident to propose you work to friends or for money, here is a solutions for you.

Be your first client. Hire yourself as an illustrator.

In books on illustration as a career I often came across an advise to make up a fictious perfect client and create your ideal projects for him. This provides you with material to add to your portfolio, which you actually like. And new commissions normally are offered for similar projects to those you have in your portfolio.
While this is a great advise for those who want to switch specialization and start getting different type of illustration commissions, there is a better way to go for those who newly joined illustration market not aren’t sure of their skills or ability to earn with their art.

Hire yourself for real projects.

In your non-illustrating life you probably have some projects (commercial or non-commercial ones), which require visual side to them.
These can be avatars at specialized forums or social networks, illustrations for you blog or guest posts, snippets for youtube channel of your friend, a logo for your friends NGO or nephiew’s school newspaper.
Why not to hire yourself for it?
For me, my first official commision as an illustrator was work for myself as a blogger. As a side hustle, I run a travel portal about Poland.
While non-illustrating Me was a nice and understanding client to illustrator-Me, I actually learned a lot by “getting into the head” of a client and seeing a project from her perspective.
No longer my main ojective was just “to create something good-looking to get many likes on social media”.
I had to start thinking in different categories.
  • The client wanted illustrations to have consistent style and pallette in order to look good as a whole on the website
  • She needed illustrations to look interesting enough to encaurage readers to click on them and go to articles
  • She wanted the illustrations to be delivered in time to meet the posting schedule
  • She wanted pictures to be adaptable to different desktops, mobile including.
  • She wanted illustrations to  reflect articles, but speak for themselves – so  they can be used separately as content for social networks and design for postcards.
  • She wanted illustrations to have their unique voice, rather then follow general trends – so  they make the blog stand out and are immedietely associated with it.
I read about it in books so many times prior to that projects. However, then I learned this approach by doing 2 important things:
  1.  illustrations should be adapted to business needs,
  2. illustrators are people who give answers to question.

If the question is not put on the table by your client (which is often the case), as a professional you should find this question yourself.

Why does this clint need illustrations?
It is never just for the sake of getting some customised pictures.
In case of the travel blog, it weren’t beautiful pictures that mattered. The client wanted to get a consistent look to the website, as finding relevant photos of similar style on stocks was challenging. She wanted unique content for her social networks. She needed designs that potentially can be used on prints.  She aimed to make her blog stand out among competitors by untipical visual solution.
The questions, however, were just two. How to attract users and keep them for longer? What designs for product line would sell well?
A good commercial illustrator finds those questions and give his answers to them before starting to work on the commision.
If you aren’t confident you’ll work this out with your client, make yourself your first client and solve your own real-life visual tasks.

Top 10 places on the web to find clients for an illustrator


Every product has its client somewhere on the Internet. The question is where to go to find that client.

For us, artists, the hardest part starts even before that journey in search for the client. It’s hard vene to give ourselves permission to aknowledge our Art is good enough to offer it as a product.

If you are at that point of your art journey where you have been creating for years but still don’t feel good enough to start converting your skills into cash, allow yourself a try. Put your offer out there and let the market verify it. The worst thing that can happen is that you will, as Eddison said, find one more way it does not work.

It might be that clients are waiting exactly for that kind of product you have to offer. Allow them to find you and your art.

But where should you go to connect with them?

1. Behance

The first online space which comes to mind when you think of portfolios is Behance. This is number one platform for all kinds of visual artists to share their portfolios and connect with other artists. It only takes several minutes to create your profile and add your work. And it’s free.

As the most popular platform of its kind, Behance is crowded by both clients and artists. Therefore, it won’t make wonders to your clients’ base as a standalone promotioanl challenge. However, it should definitely be one of the places where you have account as a creative. Nowadays, you do not existit as an artist if you aren’t on Behance.

2. Upwork

Upwork is number one online job platform which connects businesses with freelancers of all fields. It is not exclusively for IT. Design and illustration, as well as many other firlds of commercial art, are represented here.

With the World trends of digital nomading and work-from-home, Upwork is continuously growing year by year.

It is free to create your account with portfolio and apply to certain amount of jobs per month. Upword charges commision only when you receive payment for the work you found via platform. You can also upgrade you profile to paid version to get some premium features, if you want.

3. Youtube channel

Youtube is one of the platforms which caused current Illustration Renaissance.

Many of currently trending illustrators were famous youtubers on illustration topic before they were famous illustrators.

Your own channel on illustration is great place to connect with your “tribe” which allows finding clients for your prints, originals and marchandise with illustration.

4. 99designs

99 design is a great place to start for artists unsure of their market value. The platform’s free account allows you to bid for the projects with designs you create specifically for these competitions. The price you can get is fixed upfront. All you need is to deliver your proposal of design/illustration before deadline. Clients then can pick one design out of all the bids.

The platform is controversial in the art community as it assumes designers work and time are worth money only if the outcome fits into the client’s subjective taste.

From the beginner’s perspective, it is a good place to get first practical experience with clients and real projects to fill your portfolio if you don’t have one. You probably won’t want to stay here for longer though.

5. Facebook fanpage

Everybody is on Facebook, including your fellow artists and potential clients. Unlike portals of Behance and Dribble’ kind, Facebook is familiar to all the businesses which might need an illustrator, but have no knowledge of how to get one. You can levarage through world of mouse and your own network of accoinstances here. The posts with your illustrations, once liked or commented by your friends, will be visible to their friends too, which will expand your reach.

6. Dribble

Dribble is another portal similar to Behance and probably its largest competitor. The special thing about it is that Dribble is a kind of a privileged community. You can create your account and follow artists for free, but in order to showcase your own portfolio, you need to get invitation from someone who is already a Driibble’ member, ot buy a premium account for 5 USD per month.

7. Illustration Friday

This is probably the most famous illustration flashmob on the web. Not only is IF a great place to get exposure for illustrators, it also regularly delivers original ideas for your projects and makes you challenge yourself by illustrating topics you would never have thought of yourself.

8. Pinterest

Pinterest is one of the most influential social medias for visual artists. It is handy for aspiring illustrators in several ways. You may create your own boards with your projects to promote your art You also may collect your own visual library of inspiring illustrations and references. Pinterest is a helpful tool on the way to discovering your style and preferences in art.

9. Your own portfolio website

If you decide to be a freelance illustrator, you need your online home. No accounts on facebook, behance or dribble will replace your own website.

Treat it as Rome to which all roads lead. All other accounts and posts, as well as your business cards and merchandise should refer to your own website. Profiles on social networks and art communities exist to generate visitors to your website.

Website is the only place in the web where you have full ownership and control of what and how you do. You are a king, with your imagination being the only limit to what you can make out of it. Personal website lets you add blog or online shop with branded merchandise to your portfolio, embed videos and various payment methods.

You can gather subsribtion lists which you will own and get the most detailes stats which will let you analyse your clients behaviour on the website.

10. Instagram profile

Another visual empire next to Pinterest. Another couse of Illustration Renaissance next to Youtube. As a platform for visuals, instagram is a great tool to target potential clients via followers of accounts with similar styles. It also allows to connect with other great artists, enrich you visual library and get new ideas.