Expectations versus Reality - Illustrator edition - By Cat Scully

Becoming a pro from something creative that starts off as a hobby or passion project is a dream job for every artist. Art rides the line of something that is purely for yourself and something that you create to be shared with others. It's met with a lot of expectation, primarily because art is so deeply personal. It's a stress relief, an itch you must constantly scratch to feel sane again, and it would be the best thing ever to get paid to do what you love.
The trouble is there is often a steep learning curve when it comes from transitioning from passion to pro, and there aren’t as many resources for illustration as there are for making it as a writer. Since this month’s theme is “expectations versus reality,” I wanted to share some things about what it’s like to make that switch for drawing.
To start, I’ve done about seven world maps for clients, a job I got simply by drawing what I loved and posting online. I’ve illustrated for corporate, freelance, and ad agency clients – big and small – since before I graduated college, almost ten years of experience.
Here’s what I’ve learned about going pro:

Your Art is Not Yours 

Rights are a big thing to consider – it’s part of why I looked for an agent who would represent me for both art and writing (and he’s been a rockstar at helping me keep my rights to my work too!) Why care about rights? Say you illustrate something for a book or commercial, you spend days even weeks drawing and creating something gorgeous for your client, you’d want to sell prints right? Technically, you can’t. The rights to your work are no longer yours, not to mention, you are drawing someone else’s idea or character. You don’t own their characters/maps just because you drew them. What you should retain rights to is your physical artwork that you drew, but you can’t always keep it. If you draw art for a book, it belongs to that publisher in order for them to publish it – they should buy the rights from you or they ask you to sign an agreement that you work for x rate to draw for said book. Do you get to turn around and sell prints? Not unless you get permission. It’s extremely important to learn about rights and have an agent well versed in art negotiation to protect yourself, but you must also enter into working with someone else with the knowledge that, at the end of the day, if you want the work, you may end up doing it for the money/because it’s a great opportunity and not because you want to sell prints.

You Don’t Always Dictate The End Result – The Client Does

Change is inevitable, Mr. Anderson. When a client hires you, you will change the original idea you had about a hundred dozen times and you have to be okay with that. As an artist for hire, you’re paid to draw what the client wants. Sure you can speak up and suggest something better, that’s why your knowledge is valuable (as the client is not usually an artist themselves), BUT at the end of the day they are paying you to draw what THEY want, not what YOU want or feel like drawing that day. You feel like drawing trees, but the client wants you on eight hours of automobiles? You’re drawing automobiles. Have an idea for a book cover but the client wants it a different way that you don’t agree with? If you want to be paid, guess what you’re drawing – the client’s idea. This is where you face why you

Fan Art is Great for Practice, Not So Much for Selling (Unless You’re Known)

As an art fan, how many physical fan art pieces do you buy? How many are on your walls at home, t-shirts you own, stickers, or buttons? How many independent artists do you support on a monthly, weekly basis with your budget? How do you find them, learn about who they are? Now reverse all of that back on yourself as the artist who draws fan art and you can see how that would be a money problem. I draw lots of fan art, but as practice for lighting or inking. I study styles and try to get better for my client pieces. Have I gotten work from the fan art pieces? Certainly. People are more likely to look up their favorite fandoms and stumble on your art just by a quick Tumblr search, but the biggest piece that has changed my portfolio is that I should have about 90 percent original art or client work in my portfolio when looking for jobs. They are going to ask to see what you like to do, what you like to imagine.

Take Time to Draw Just For You

With all the pressure to create five, sometimes and more likely seven days a week, for someone else it’s important to take time to draw what you want to. It’s easy to burn out real fast when the act of drawing because exclusively for someone else. Take time to do it just for you, no pressure, or it will end up just being a chore.

You’re Only As Good As You Are Right Now

If you want to go pro, you have to seek constantly to improve. Not getting work is a combination of several factors, usually:

·         You aren’t pushing out the best art you can possibly achieve in the final piece
·         You aren’t networking
·         You aren’t posting your art consistently enough
·         You aren’t seeking to constantly improve
·         You don’t show anyone your work
·         You aren’t willing to compromise

There are other factors, but these are the main ones I see over and over, primarily the first one on the list. These things don’t guarantee you work, but they help you get out there enough that’s it’s more likely you will get asked.

Find People that Know More than You

Find people that tell you honestly when you suck. I used to get hurt when I drew something and someone would correct me. Now that I’m out of college, I’m always happy when I find these people because I don’t always know what’s wrong with my own work. Just because I’ve gotten jobs doesn’t mean I should stop learning or that I know everything. I can’t tell you how invaluable it’s been to me lately to have someone with tons more experience than me look at my anatomy and tell me to try again and do it better. My weaknesses are anatomy and digital painting, among others, and so I found someone and just asked them to teach me. I’ve shot forward in my work so much faster than I would have on my own. It can be as simple as asking someone at a con or signing up for a portfolio critique, but ask at every opportunity you can. Your work will improve when you ask for help.


That’s all for now! I hope this list helps some of you that are interesting in doing art as a pro. If you have other tips, please share them in the comments below! I’d love to learn from you readers too!