The Magic of Seven. Illustration Tips for Beginners

These recommendations helped me find my dream job

Erik Messaki     |       October 19, 2022

What is a digital illustrator? How to become one? Where do illustrators work? How to make a living as an illustrator?

A beginner always has plenty of questions. Let’s start off by saying that illustration is a culture, a history, and a reflection of our times. An illustrator is engaged in a dialog with a blank sheet of paper or a canvas. This conversation has a logical beginning and an end. I believe every person on the planet has got something to say. Everyone is capable of creative thinking, they just need a push. Reading books, learning, observing, and taking notice of every detail that you find interesting are all things that will help you become an illustrator (plus lots and lots of drawing, of course). Draw with a child’s enthusiasm, as if there are no viewers and no expectations. Never tell yourself you can’t. It’s all subjective. There’s an audience for every kind of art.

The important thing is what you get out of it. You are filling yourself up by giving away a bit of your vision. Illustrators typically work freelance or in an office. Either way, they have their own workplace where magic happens and creativity knows no limits.

An office means stability. It means you’ll always have support, feedback, and lots of cooperation. Freelancing lets you set your own rules, but you will have to run a business by yourself. And it is a business. Your illustrations are your product, your unique proposition. To have a stable income, you need to manage your finances, promote yourself, and be truly multifunctional.

Now I’d like to share a short list of recommendations that have helped me find my dream job.

1. Create your own working process plan (workflow)

It’s very important to establish a sequence of activities for creating an illustration. This helps you organize your mind and avoid getting lost amid thousands of thoughts. Once you receive a task, try to map out the steps you’ll need to accomplish it. Now do what inspires you and drives you to successfully finish the project. Note the steps you have taken. This plan will help you manage your time: you’ll be able to tell how much time you need for various types of illustrations.

2. Pair illustration tools with your imagination

Paints, pencils, inks, chalks, markers, Photoshop or Illustrator software are all just tools that help us express ourselves. But our biggest tool is our imagination. Imagination is what guides us — shaping our style, choosing the media to be used, and forming ideas in our minds. Don’t limit yourself to looking for ideas online. If you have the time, take a walk outside to change the context. Your imagination may flare up at any moment in the most unexpected place!

3. Organize your portfolio

Having a portfolio is important. Make it comprehensive and visually harmonious. It can be on Instagram (lots of famous illustrators use Instagram as their only portfolio :)), Behance, ArtStation, or, in my case, Adobe Portfolio. This shows you’re serious. But instead of simply posting completed illustrations, try adding selected sketches and details.

4. Promote yourself

What’s the best way to get noticed? Always stay in the spotlight. Contests, exhibitions, planning, posting on social media, communicating with your followers, regular correspondence with agencies, media, magazines, and publishers.

Follow the current trends in illustration to set a correct development vector for yourself. Even if you have a full-time office job, don’t neglect personal projects. They’re always a breath of fresh air.

5. Know the uses for your illustration

Illustration is everywhere! Literally! Even my bedsheets are illustrated. :)

Illustration is used in the digital realm of websites, mobile apps, software, and interfaces. It’s used in the physical world of leaflets, bookmarks, books, puzzles, posters, banners, book and magazine covers, newspapers, watchstraps, buttons, kerchiefs, t-shirts, wallpapers, NFT… boy, this list is endless. And that’s just off the top of my head!

Illustrators keep finding new uses for their craft every day. Your illustration can be everywhere, too. You just need to know where it will fit best.

6. Put in your personality

Don’t be afraid to get experimental with your illustrations. It can make you a trendsetting illustrator who inspires others.

Use handmade textures in your illustrations, make your character out of clay or plasticine, combine gouache illustrations with 3D elements, and even draw graffiti on furniture, dishes, or shoes. It must be something that will go down in the history of illustration. What could be better?

7. Never stop honing your illustration skills

Even when you feel you have already achieved everything, even if everyone says you’ve got your own style, don’t stop. New details can change your entire approach to illustration. Try new forms, however unusual or even inappropriate they may seem. This will push you out of your comfort zone, often with spectacular results.

Do you normally draw on a tablet? Try ink or watercolors, and your characters will acquire new depth. Experiment with materials, perspective, and composition.

This is a crucial skill: being able to notice the uniqueness of your illustrations and make the most of it. Once you master it, you will be on your way to true success!