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.

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