Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Illustration Portfolio Do's

In the past, if an illustrator asked what they needed for a successful portfolio, he or she would have been told, “every portfolio must contain the three h’s -- head, hands, and heart”. Head referring to concepts, hands referring to skills, and heart referring to desire. These days, a portfolio is expected to contain much more than that. It not only must demonstrate what you have done in your past, but must also predict what you might achieve in your future. A portfolio must be able to weather all situations. Below are a number of tasks a portfolio must now do.

© 2013 Don Arday.

Do Establish the Purpose for 

Your Portfolio

Is it to obtain full-time employment, a freelance commission, a teaching position, a gallery exhibition, etc?

First and foremost, it is important to know what you want your portfolio to do for you. The purpose for a portfolio is the single largest determining factor in how the portfolio will look and function. A portfolio constructed for interviewing for a full-time position will have to function differently than one that is meant to attract freelance work, or is for some other purpose.

Do Know Your Audience

Are they a creative person such as an artist or designer; or are they a non-creative person such as an editor, writer, marketing person, or business owner?

Just as advertisers, marketers, product developers, and manufacturers exhaustively research their audience to get to know their customers, you should do likewise. Differing audiences will require varying forms of communication and possibly even different language sets depending of their knowledge of what it is you do. These factors will affect the form and content of your portfolio presentation.

Do Know How to Reach Your Audience

What are their job responsibilities, and the type of business they work for? Do they have a preferred method of contact? Can you contact them through a referral?

It’s important to know if you are dealing directly with someone who has the power to make a decision, or someone who can only relay information within a company. It’s also essential to know if the business they are in can hire your services directly, or whether you should be in contact with another outsourced company or division. For instance, to work for Pepsi, you will have to deal with an outside firm.

Do Know What Will Attract Your Audience

Have you seen the work they do and what their company does? Are you familiar with the type of work they typically commission? Do you know who their customers are?

Every company has a set of criteria that provide guidance for the type of work that they do. The criterion also sets the personality and style of their business. For some companies like children’s book publishers for instance, it is obvious, but for design firms and advertising agencies it may take some research on your part to know what demographic they specialize in and who their clients are. The work shown in a portfolio should be chosen accordingly.

Do Select the Appropriate Portfolio Media

Will you need a physical hard copy portfolio, a virtual digital portfolio, a website portfolio, a disposable portfolio, etc.?

Pertaining to marketing, aspects of presentation and a portfolio’s function, you should know whether you are seeking a job or commissions locally or nationally. Whether you can get by with a digital or web-based presentation, or whether you will have to appear for an interview in person, and with whom.

Do Select the Best Format

Does the portfolio need to be small or large, physically shipped or emailed, horizontally formatted or vertical, individual panels or a bound presentation?

If most of your work is vertical, arrange your portfolio so the spine is vertical. If the work is predominantly horizontal use the cover or case to indicate that orientation since there are relatively few commercial portfolios made with a horizontally oriented spine. Choose a format that will easily allow you to reconfigure your portfolio quickly if you will frequently need to do so.

Do Determine the Number of Illustrations

Should you show many illustrations or a select few? If you have a series, should you show all of its pieces? How similar in style, format, or appearance should the work be?

Most illustrators show more pieces than they should, and most reviewers tend to experience visual fatigue and attention deficit somewhere between 20 and 25 pieces. The main goal is to leave a lasting impression with the work. Work that is repetitious in composition, color scheme, point of view, and content tends to blend together. Work that presents a variation of aspects tends to be more memorable.

Do Choose the Right Illustration Content

Should you include only published work? Should published work be presented as tear sheets? Should it be full-page illustrations, or should you also include spot illustrations, icons, etc? Should you include black and white work? Should you show all finished work, or add in concept sketches?

Illustrators who have a few years of experience are expected to show published work. Illustrators just starting out are not subjected to the same expectation. The content of a portfolio should be a combination of “absolute best work” and work that relates to the opportunity at hand. If black and white or other forms of work are a part of the repertoire of the reviewer than they should be in the portfolio.

Do Seek Opinions on Content

Are you the best judge of your own work? Have you gotten positive feedback about specific pieces? Do you know someone who can lend you an opinion?

One of the most difficult tasks in creating a portfolio is selecting the work. Even illustrators with years of experience need help when it comes to curating their work. Artists often develop a bias towards certain pieces. It may have to do with the great amount of effort it took, or successfully pleasing a difficult client, or some other prejudice. These situational conditions should be overruled by quality.

Do Provide a Context For The Work

Have you provided relevant titles or client information for the illustrations? Can you provide a sentence to summarize an assignment or to explain the purpose for the work?

Any information that explains to a viewer what they are looking at can be as valuable as the work itself. In a portfolio, all images appear to be very similar in proportion whether they were produced for a 3’ x 4’ poster, or a small format magazine; or whether they were done for a nephew, or a multinational company. Having the work placed in it’s proper context is important for a reviewer.

Do Match the Context to Your CV

Are you showing illustration examples that match the employers and clients you list on your resume? Do the examples demonstrate the skills you have listed? Does the work reflect either your job objective or your experience summary?

It is very easy for a resume and a portfolio to present a split personality. A common example, although it is not necessary, is to list freelance projects on the resume. Reviewers will want to see the pieces that correspond to the listings. And, should the work shown in the portfolio diverge from actual past experience, it can be easily addressed with a career objective statement on the resume. Both credentials should be mutually supportive.

Do Design Your Portfolio

Can your portfolio case or binder be differentiated from other portfolios when it is closed? Does the interior layout of your portfolio compliment your work or compete with it? Is the layout uniquely identifiable? Does the page size and scale of images show off the level of detail in your work? Do images sit opposite one and other on page spreads if you are using a bound portfolio? Does your portfolio shift from a horizontal orientation to a vertical one several times?

All aspects of your portfolio presentation should be customized to leave an identifiable impression on a reviewer, from the materials used, to the layout, color scheme, and application of typography. Reviewers sometimes look at a dozen or more portfolios, which equates to viewing 200 to 250 images within a single sitting that lasts less than one hour. So in addition to the work, a portfolio’s design must also form a memorable impression.

Do Work on the Order of the Work

Do adjacent illustrations compliment one and other? Is there a natural progression of work? Does the order of the work support a presentation narrative? Does the arrangement of works at any point cause a reviewer to make a “this is better than that” judgment about two pieces? Is the arrangement the visual equivalent to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony?

Organizing the sequence of work in a portfolio is a subject unto itself, and although there are unlimited possibilities, there are some strategies that work better than others in certain situation. The work itself must be high in quality to provide the best source for a portfolio, regardless of any organizational tactics. Some of the most common approaches will be covered in a future posting.

Do Support the Work With Branding

Do you have a logo or specific type treatment you can apply to your materials? Do you have a specific color scheme? Does your portfolio coordinate with your resume, mailers, business card, website, etc.?

Branding goes hand in hand with portfolio design and function. Branding not only serves to promote recognition, but it reinforces memorability and reveals the rank of a professional. Branding, once established, provides solutions for many design and promotional problems that arise when preparing marketing materials like the appearance of the resume, cover letter, mailers, stationery, home page design, etc.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Illustration Business Planning

There is quite a bit of information available on business planning, but as we illustrators know all to well, the illustration business, is by it’s very nature is different than most other businesses. For one thing, it is neither a service business, nor is it a product providing business, it is both. So right off the bat, business models that only work exclusively for either services or products, which are most of them, are not a good fit for an illustration business.

© 2000 Don Arday.
The most standard business plan is a start-up plan, which defines the steps for a new business. It covers standard topics including the company, product or service, market, forecasts, strategy, implementation milestones, management team, and financial analysis. The financial analysis includes projected sales, profit and loss, balance sheet cash flow, and probably a few other tables. The plan starts with an executive summary and ends with appendices showing monthly projections for the first year.

A strategic plan, or a “hopes and dreams” plan, focuses more the big picture priorities to provide a framework for making smaller decisions. For the sole-proprietor illustrator, it is a personal plan that provides a definition of the business and a description of future aspirations. Detailed cost factors, equipment needs, space requirements, etc., are not the focal point of a strategic plan.

Do You Need a Business Plan?

If you intend to borrow money for your business, in addition to demonstrating evidence of financial stability, you will need a business plan. Depending on how you look at it, many illustrators do not need to borrow money to start a business. If you don’t have a need to borrow money, a business plan can be an informal one. I said depending on how you look at it, because many illustrators have already taken out a loan for the purpose of creating an illustration business, a student loan for their college education. After all, the debit created by the loan will factor into the illustration business operating costs in some cases for many years.

© 2000 Don Arday.
Even though a business plan may not be necessitated by the need for external financing, having one can be vitally important to how you will make decisions and conduct your business, so it is wise to have a plan. For illustration, the plan can be a strategic plan, a start-up plan, or a combination of the two.

The Strategic Plan Objective

A plan provides guidance. Guidance provides direction. Direction leads to a goal.

The Start-Up Plan Objective

A plan identifies needs. Needs lead to resources. Resources support work.

A business plan should be as simple as possible. It should be appropriate to the scope and circumstances that will constitute your interpretation of your illustration business situation, i.e., your business environment.

Even if you're starting off as a sole-proprietor, and you have your own resources for your business, an informal business plan can greatly improve the chances that your illustration business will succeed. With a plan, you will have a blueprint for building your business in well thought out stages. Special Note: Your business plan should be written for non-artists.

Illustration Business Plan Outline

1. Overview

A brief statement describing your business including location, market segment, etc.

2. Objectives

A statement should be provided for both short-term objectives (three years or less), and long-term objectives (five years or more).

3. Mission Statement

A mission statement to establish a business goal and how you intend to achieve it.

4. Key Advantages

A statement or list of the main areas of specialization or expertise you have to offer. What might make your business different from the competition.

5. Company Synopsis

5a. Type of Company
A company type identifies a prescribed business structure for purposes of legal and tax requirements and advantages. Types of companies include; a sole-proprietorship (single ownership), also called a sole-trader; a partnership (shared ownership); a limited liability company (LLC), a type of partnership; and a corporation. Each type has advantages and disadvantages and should be thoroughly researched as to which will work best for your business.

5b. Inventory
Furniture, equipment, materials, computer hardware, and software should all be included.

5c. Assets and Liabilities
Inventory items should all be listed as assets and given a value for a loan application if appropriate. Liabilities should also be listed, e.g., computer loans, rent, utilities, etc.

5d. Start-Up Requirements
A list of all business start-up needs with a description and the expenditures relating to them. This should contain all aspects needed for your illustration business such as office space including square footage, arrangement, internet, and utilities needs. Include equipment needs such as computers, software, hard drives, printers, scanners, modems, telephones, copiers, etc. List furnishing needs, for instance desks, file cabinets, chairs, easels, taborets, tables, bookshelves, etc. Expendable materials should also be listed and costs estimated. This would include computer, art, and office supplies. Detail the monetary requirements such as rent, utility fees, salaries, insurance premiums, and tax provisions, e.g., self-employment social security contributions, etc.

5e. Support Services
List any support services your business will rely on. Common support services for illustrators include digital output bureaus, photographers, models, delivery services, web hosting providers, etc.

6. Illustration Pricing Structure

An explanation of product and services pricing including the method used for charges, be it based on a lump-sum payment, or an hourly-wage formula or both. There may be a lump sum charge for the illustration/creative itself, and hourly-wage fees for supplemental services such as meeting time, and non-creative production fees.

7. Marketing Strategy

A statement outlining the plan for marketing your illustration business including media and means. Marketing includes all forms of promotion, both purchased and gratis. Purchased refers to those forms of promotion that you have to pay for, while gratis refers to those where the promotion has no cost.

7a. Purchased Promotion
Advertising in any form, either print or online; direct mail; identification and signage; a web presence that might include a website, portfolio hosting sites, a blog (paid), a Facebook subscription (paid), etc. Some less thought of purchased promotions include paid memberships in organizations; entry fees to competitions; and perhaps most importantly, portfolio fabrication and maintenance; etc.

7b. Gratis Promotion
Often overlooked, plans for encouraging client referrals, leveraging networking relationships, and capitalizing on reputation/acknowledgements should be stated.
The internet provides many opportunities for gratis promotion such as a free Facebook page, Google+ page, Twitter account, Linkedin page, Pinterest account, free blog page, membership in online groups, free portfolio sites such as Deviantart, etc.; and more and more new free promotional opportunities are constantly coming available. This continuous change makes gratis promotion somewhat less defined than purchased promotion.

7c. Targets
Targets equate to your intended customer base. It may be one or more specialized markets like publishing or a segment of a market like nature publications; a specific category of work like children’s book illustration; a defined location like the New York city area; a list of specifically sought after clients.

8. Finances

8a. Breakeven Estimation
A breakeven estimation identifies the actual operating costs of a business for the purpose of knowing when earnings represent actual profit.
8b. Pro Forma Estimation
If it is necessary to go into detail on the financial aspects of your illustration business, say to secure a loan, you may want to prepare “pro forma” statements for cash flow and profit and loss. A pro forma is a financial statement based on financial assumption or prediction, it can also reflect a financial development that will occur in the future, or has come into effect from the past. An example might be an expected tax break that will occur at reporting time. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Illustration Commissions

As illustrators, each one of us, over a period of time, is confronted with offers to produce an assortment of different types of work. And along with the work, these offers come with a wide variation of conditions and circumstances. When a new commission comes along we are usually “in the moment” so to speak, focused on the specific task at hand required by the job offer. We rarely take time to step back and consider the commission with regard to any career goals we may have established. Surprisingly, most illustrators I have talked to haven’t even considered any practical career goals, or a future direction for their illustration business. In fact, many illustrators don’t consider being an illustrator to being in business. This is perhaps due to the art school mentality that an artistic, creative pursuit should not be commercialized. Or it may be the fact that illustrator’s generally work alone, i.e., not in “company” with other illustrators.

Why Illustrators Accept Commissions

The first, foremost, and most obvious reason is to make a living. However, making a living represents the lowest level of reasoning when it comes to taking on a job, and that applies whether it is accepting an illustration commission, or accepting a job in some other field such as car wash attendant. I think all of us would agree that there must be a higher form of reasoning when it comes to accepting work, even if acceptance of a commission occurs in more of an intuitive manner rather than for a specialized motive or part of an overall plan. We accept commissions because they feel right at the time. We have a feeling that might come from a familiarity and a comfort level with the job.

Why Illustrators Should Seek Commissions

Accepting a commission because there is familiarity or comfort level with either the type of work, the client, timeframe, etc. is certainly a valid reason to do so. After all, if we don’t have any kind of intuition about what it is we do, then we are probably doing the wrong thing, and intuition is one of the necessary aspects to accepting the right kinds of commissions.

Intuition plays an important part in how we live our lives. Everyday there are things that we choose to do and things we choose not to do. There are things we want to do and things we do not want to do. Illustration commissions can be considered in the same manner. For a day-to-day approach to business, choices made solely on intuition will be sufficient, but for a goal-oriented approach, some form of forethought or future planning is needed. To organize this, many illustrators create a set of goals and a strategic plan to reach them. Having taken some time to think about the future and outline those thoughts an illustrator is now prepared to make better choices about commissions.


Below is a shopping list of considerations divided into three main categories. Depending on the direction of a business strategy, some may apply and some may not. Some may seem to be positive while others appear to be negative. A single item may trump the decision to accept a commission, even though several other considerations may be in favor of it.

The following main categories represent the three, what have now become universal reasons, to accept a commission: 1) For money (value); 2) For creativity (purpose); 3) For recognition (acknowledgement).

© 2013 Don Arday.
Value refers not only monetary compensation, but to all the financial benefits that can result from a commission.

Does it pay well?
Will it pay quickly?
Will it be time or material efficient?
Is it a repeating gig?
Will it involve derivative alterations?
Does it have resale potential?
Does it include media licensing?
Do you retain the original?
Will you retain copyright ownership?
Does it require an elaborate contractual agreement?
Does it require a non-compete clause?
Is it “work made for hire”?

© 2013 Don Arday.
Purpose delineates the desirability of a commission from an internal standpoint, the personal artistic and creative benefits it offers.

Do you look forward to doing it?
Will you enjoy doing it?
Is it a good fit for you?
Is it a creative or technical challenge?
Will it be your concept?
Will you be able to creatively contribute to someone else’s concept?
Will you have freedom with the visual content?
Will it expand your repertoire of subjects?
Is it something new for you?
Is it for a worthy cause?

© Don Arday.
Acknowledgement refers to the external benefits the commission has the potential to produce, such as increased--exposure to work, marketability, and reputation.

Is it for a new client?
Is the client prestigious?
Will you receive a byline credit?
Can the client be used to attract other clients?
Will you, or the illustration, be promoted by the client?
Will it result in wide-range exposure?
Will it extend your marketability?
Is it international?
Will it be in use for an extended period of time?
Can you use it for self-promotion?
Will it be worthy of juried shows and competitions?

Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad

So, as you can see, there are many individual reasons to accept an illustration commission, and if you have a strategic plan, you will be able to place more emphasis on some than on others. Compensation, although a necessary evil, may not be the most satisfying reason to accept a job. You might believe the creative opportunity, or the acknowledgement for the assignment, to be far more rewarding.

I’ve always considered any commission that qualified for a benefit in all three major categories to be an assignment, not only worth accepting, but also worth seeking...but two out of three ain’t bad. And whenever I accepted work that offered two areas of rewards, it nearly always worked out well.


Work that only had an advantage in one area always resulted in some form of sacrifice. If money was the reward, then timeframe and acknowledgement were forfeited, and stress ensued. If it was creativity alone, as is the case with many so called “freebies”, then earnings were lost and recognition failed. If a commission was accepted for the recognition only, compensation, timeframe, and creative freedom were lost. And, recognition can take a while, and be a promise unfulfilled. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Illustration Style: Categorization

Style is an important trait needed to achieve economic success as a professional illustrator. Illustration reps, clients and even fellow illustrators recognize, remember, and identify work by associating it, or attributing it to a particular style. Phrases are often used to describe the particular work of an illustrator like; “It’s sort of like…”; “It reminds me of…”; “It has the look of…”; It’s done with…”; and “It was for…”. These phrases are usually followed by; the media used; a technique; the name of a famous illustrator; an illustration genre, the name of a client, and/or a market. This is mainly done for the purpose of marketing or commissioning an illustrator by associating their work with the work of others that may already be familiar to a client or an audience.

© 2001 Don Arday

Three Schools of Thought on Style

Like anything else that involves illustrators and the marketing of illustration, there are differing opinions, or schools of thought on the subject of style and how style should be applied to an illustrator’s work. In addition to the three main schools of thought, there are also some fringe viewpoints such as the extreme belief that a style should be conceptualized before the illustrator creates any work at all. Much the same way a scriptwriter and director come up with a character’s role before it’s actually acted out. Another extreme belief is that an illustrator should define a restrictive color palette for their works and be confined to it. In other words, once a work in black and white, always a work in black and white, forever a black and white artist, or some other such visual tithing. A further view is that an illustrator should stick to one medium such as gouache, acrylic, or Adobe Illustrator. And yet another is that an illustrator should restrict themselves to one type of subject matter, such as automobiles, birds, pop stars, etc.

School One
The first school believes that every illustrator, and every artist for that matter, should display a commonality of style in their work. This could be one or more of the categories below or a particular attitude expressed in the work as a whole.

School Two
The second school believes that every illustrator should not only display an identifiable commonality of style in their work, but should possess qualities that are not only instantly identifiable, but are also unique, i.e., never been seen before.

School Three
The third school holds the opinion that an illustrator’s work should demonstrate a versatility of style, as manifested by the ability to execute a variety of techniques in several modes, and alternatively to produce works for a variety of markets.

Categories of Style

Style as interpreted by illustrators can mean several differing things. Illustration reps will often categorize bodies of work based on their ability to communicate and market a style. Clients will classify the style of an illustrator’s work based on their company's needs and desires. Although functional for marketing purposes, style categorizations made by non-artists, reps, and clients tend to be a bit basic and stereotypical in nature.

For some, style refers to the use of a specific media, such as scratchboard, watercolor, or pen and ink, etc. This happens particularly when the medium used plays a visually dominant role in an illustration. It also happens because it is an easy way to classify work.

A special note: At one point in time in the not too distant past, all digital illustration was simply known as digital illustration without regard to it’s visual appearance or any of the other categories below that serve to define an illustrators style. Digital raster paintings were not distinguished from hard edge vector works, montage, or dimensionally modeled imagery. The “shock of the new” regarding digital media overwhelmed any visual style that was apparent in the illustration itself. Happily, this is no longer the case, and digitally created works are classified by their visual traits and relative merits.

Taking it one step further, style can refer to a manner of mark making, such as the use of stipple or cross-hatch in pen and ink work; and for painting, the use of a palette knife, wet into wet, glazing, or spattering. Other methods include collage, vector art, etc.

This kind of stylistic categorization relates to the form and structure of compositional arrangements, such as geometric, organic, montage, dimensional, etc. Form, as a style, can also have identifiable elements, shapes and even color schemes such as the above example of the black and white artist.

Style can manifest itself as an artistic genre either past or present such as art deco, nouveau, constructivist, psychedelic, fantastic, street, urban, etc. Genres can also be regional or cultural such as manga or Japonism, etc. Stylistic genre can even be expressed in terms of “schools” such as the steam punk school, weird west school, and neo-Victorian school, etc.

Style can even be classified in reference to the purpose for an illustrated message. Examples of purpose categorizations are satirical, humorous, comic, caricature, scientific, botanical, medical, diagrammatic, or technical. Along with purpose, the markets illustration serves, such as high tech, fashion, children’s book, etc., are used to classify styles of work.


Perhaps the most important thing for an illustrator to know about having a style is that someone else will have to confirm whether the work has one. Unless of course, the illustrator deliberately attempts to acquire someone else’s style, and even this is a type of style known as pastiche. Although the determination of a style is more useful when referring to a body of work, it can also be attributed to a single work. Regardless of style, editors, art directors, publishers, clients, patrons, and fellow illustrators will attribute the desirability, and relevance of an illustrator's work.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Illustration Style: Definition

Perhaps the biggest debate in the illustration field is over the importance of having a style. Strangely enough, the real question doesn’t concern whether an illustrator has a style or not, but whether an illustrator has an individual style. That all illustrators have a style is without a doubt. Even whether they have their own individual style is also without question. After all, every illustrator is an individual artist. However, the questions are: Is one illustrator’s individual style like other illustrator’s individual style? And, what exactly constitutes a “style”?

Lets explore the latter question first. The following is an abridged amalgamation of definitions according to several dictionaries for style and several synonyms. It is abridged for the purpose of sticking to those aspects that relate to illustration and the visual arts as the word has a number of definitions that pertain to a variety of uses since style is both a noun and a transitive verb.


1. The combination of distinctive features of artistic expression, execution, or performance as characterizing a particular person, group, school, or era.
2. A quality of imagination and individuality expressed in one's actions and tastes.
3. A particular mode or technique by which something is done, created, performed or expressed.
4. A fashion of the moment.
5. A distinctive quality, form, or type of something.

1. A particular form or variety of something.
2. A possible, customary, or preferred way of doing something.
3. Form, arrangement, or condition.
4. A particular form or manifestation of an underlying structure or substance.
5. A distinctive or peculiar and often habitual manner or way.

1. Method of artistic execution or presentation.
2. A body of skills or techniques.
3. A kind or sort.

1. Way, technique, or process of or for doing something.
2. A body of skills or techniques.
3. The quality of being well organized and systematic in thought or action.

1. The visible shape or configuration of something.
2. Established method of expression.
3. Manner of coordinating elements of an artistic production.
4. Arrangement in an artistic work as distinct from its content.

Modifying Terms
Fashion, buzz, chic, craze, dernier cri, enthusiasm, fad, flavor, rage, sensation, trend, vogue.

As you have read the definitions above of style and those of its derivative words, I’m sure you reflected upon those aspects that might align with the opinion you have regarding your own illustration. If you did, you might have overlooked the fact that the majority of the definitions apply both to an individual as well as a group. It is indeed possible for a group to have an individual indivisible style. In the art world this is called a “school” e.g., the Pre-Raphaelite school of painting, even though it isn’t a school of instruction. In the illustration field a school is more of a way of looking at a variety of illustrated works that share a common trait. And sometimes that school is summed up under the identity of a single prominent illustrator, e.g., for Maxfield Parrish it’s the Magic Realism school or for Shepard Fairey, the Guerrilla Pop school. These designations were determined after the fact, i.e., after the work was created and disseminated. It was most likely not the intention of either artist to deliberately invent a style. And in both cases it came about by way of a volume of work executed over an extended period of time.

It takes a while to achieve or be recognized for a style. Many young illustrators who feel they don’t have one, are tormented by the stigma of having their work quickly reveal a unique style. For those that are at the beginning of their career, this can come down to having to formalize a style in the first 20 illustrations they’ve ever been assigned. The important thing is for an illustrator to just do what they do, like Maxfield Parrish and Shepard Fairey.

Magic Realism School

Illustration by Maxfield Parrish.
Illustration by Christiaan Bos.
Illustration by Hernan Valdovinos.
Illustration by Arlene Graston.
Illustration by Michael Park.
Illustration by Tomek Setowski.

Guerrilla Pop School

Illustration by Shepard Fairey.
Illustration by Joey Machete.
Illustration by Rigel Stuhmiller.
Illustration by Greg Bunbury.
Illustration by Tyler Stout.


Simply put, illustration, like any other commercial enterprise, boils down to economics and marketing. In fact, it’s basic marketing 101. As illustrators, we either produce a product, or provide a service. And, in order for our product or service to be distributed, we must market it, or in the case of providing a service, market ourselves. Illustrators must produce a product or offer a service, make the market aware of it, have it be identifiable, create a desire for it, deliver it, and meet the expectations of the customer/client. In other words apply marketing theory. Style, although it can be important, is only one among several other traits needed to achieve economic success as a professional illustrator.