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Production: The Most Important Part Of Your Illustration Business

January 12, 2011

(Written and Illustrated by Thomas James)

You can promote, you can network, you can build an online presence, but does that really matter if you’re missing a key element of your job as a professional Illustrator?

Here at Escape from Illustration Island, we regularly publish articles on many aspects of running an Illustration business, such as promotion, portfolios, website design, and a lot more. That’s because these factors are so important when it comes to turning a hobby into a full-time creative business.

However, being successful as a freelance Illustrator requires more than learning to run a smart, effective business.

The Prolific Artist

As an artist, you are mostly defined by the work you create.

This means that your value, and your brand, are most affected by your actual Illustrations. An Art Director’s (or an Art Rep’s) decision of whether or not to pay attention to you is largely based on how good your work is, as well as how prolific you are.

In addition, your success in developing alternate forms of income, such as print sales and self-initiated projects, depends on your ability to produce a large body of creative output.

Are You Producing Enough?

Many of us spend so much time trying to promote ourselves, build our mailing lists, and network with the right people that we often forget our most important job as a professional Illustrator: to Illustrate.

This doesn’t mean that everything you create has to be the best thing you’ve ever done, or even good enough to include in your portfolio, but it does mean that creation should be a regular part of your day.

Sketch, paint, collage, imagine, experiment, and play.

That’s how you continue to grow and evolve as an artist, and that’s how you make sure that you’re constantly creating, which is probably the reason you wanted to be a professional artist to begin with.

Do you produce as much new work as you’d like? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section of this post.

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19 Comments leave one →
  1. January 12, 2011 8:42 AM

    Not as much as I’d like to, especially while juggling undergraduate studies in an unrelated field – so one of my goals for this year is to create something every day. Nothing big, nothing mind-blowing. Just small steps to keep improving and exploring.

    • January 12, 2011 9:20 AM

      Hi Charis, and thanks for your comment. Small steps seem to be the key to reaching pretty much any goal, especially something that you want to do over time. I fall into the same trap myself, since so many other things demand my attention. I hope you’re able to stick to your plan.

  2. January 12, 2011 10:24 AM

    Very good points Thomas, there’s only so many times you can re-vamp a website (my guilty thing) or try to build an on-line presence when you are just starting out before you realise you haven’t updated the actual art work for yonks. Have to say I have been guilty of this. But I’ve been very busy so far this year so things are getting better.Life can get in the way sometimes too as Charis points out.

  3. January 12, 2011 12:16 PM

    This is where I feel that scheduling your day is so important and to make sure you make time for doing all the day to day business things as well as drawing and painting itself!

    Juggling my new art blog for illustrators, my comic, my fantasy illustration and my pet caricatures is pretty rough and something I’m still trying to get a handle on. It’s important to make tasks for yourself and even up to the minute, post your tasks on a calendar and stick to it! ;)

  4. January 12, 2011 3:13 PM

    I can relate to this I am trying to self study to a pro standard which means improving my artwork, create an online presences so when I am producing top notch work I have people to market to and add to this I have a small period of time in the evenings to do this in as my 24/7 job is being a stay at home Mum I am realy having to get very focused.My aim is to do some aspect of art every evening either pages in my sketch book or working on an images for illustration Friday. So far I have only had a few evenings off due to illness and child waking up.

  5. January 12, 2011 3:26 PM

    This is a good reminder of why I always wanted to be an illustrator. As I am taking steps to get my business going, it is easy to forget to also remain consistent with being creative. With that said, for many years I have brought my sketchbook with me where ever I go. Even though not every drawing is a masterpiece (if ever), it keeps me in the habit of being an artist.

  6. Amber Erdmann permalink
    January 12, 2011 3:45 PM

    My problem has been allowing myself to get lost in being creative. I have a great day-job, but when I return home all I want to do is paint or draw. Sitting at a computer to build mailing lists, researching the market, or building mailers is the last place I want to be, and I’ve spent the last 6 years since graduation trying to balance that. What is the best solution to get me out of it?

  7. January 12, 2011 3:47 PM

    It is hard to produce quality and focused art with a full time day job in an unrelated field. I’m in my studio at 4am every morning and work for 60 minutes on my illustration business. I also steal any time on weekends and evenings, but “my” time in the studio is early. It is amazing how much can be accomplished in 1 hour.

    Another trick is to let your family know when that “studio” time is and it’s a priority that you have those minutes. After awhile, it becomes part of the routine.

    I dream of the day illustration will be my full-time career. Bit, by bit.


  8. January 12, 2011 5:08 PM

    Oh boy, did this post arrive on the right day.. I spent all day doing administrative, organizational, and tying loose ends work, and I’m itching to start a new project. All illustrator stuff, but trying none the less.
    I was going to spend tomorrow finishing, but changed my mind. Drawing in the AM, then the boring stuff.

  9. January 12, 2011 7:14 PM

    Good point Thomas. There is always so much business-end stuff to learn and do, before you know it the creative part ends up on the back burner. It’s easy to forget that creating for fun and exploring isn’t wasting time but is an important part of your business too, it’s where most of the great ideas come from, and why we all wanted to do this in the first place. To combat this problem I’ve decided to give myself a project which involves making something every day for the entire year, my subject is “houses”. I am making it a priority to see it through, and I think it’s going to end up being really fun and beneficial. I posted what I’ve done so far on my blog-

    • January 13, 2011 7:43 AM

      Hi Michelle. Looks like a fun project. I think things like that are such a great way to hold yourself accountable. It’s much more difficult to let yourself down when your project is public in that way. Thanks for sharing the link and keep up the great work!

  10. January 12, 2011 10:14 PM

    Just discovered your this site—can’t believe it took me this long! I completely agree with your sentiment and I can personally vouch for it. A little over 3 years ago I was working as a graphic designer in a small studio and teaching design classes a couple nights a week as an adjunct professor. I started to become concerned that I wasn’t drawing enough and decided to start doing a daily drawing—no matter what. I’ve posted a daily drawing to my blog every Monday through Friday since December 2007. These drawings slowly helped me to gain a bit of a following which has allowed me to seamlessly transition into going fulltime freelance as an illustrator early in 2010.

    • January 13, 2011 7:41 AM

      Thanks Chris. I also like what you’ve said on your blog about the fact that producing more work increases the chances that you’re going to create something that resonates with someone. I think that’s another great benefit. Cheers.

  11. Joshua permalink
    January 13, 2011 5:34 AM

    No, not at all… I find less time to illustrate at home. As am working I couldn’t adjust there. I am worried that this will cause me to loose the habit of illustrating. :-(

  12. January 13, 2011 6:42 AM

    Hi everyone. The production/promotion game is a delicate balance. However, I’m a strong believer in spending even a little time every day at the table or out and about with your sketchpad. It’s a good reminder of why you’re in this profession in the first place.

    • January 13, 2011 7:38 AM

      I have to agree with you, Steve. Small steps seem small, but they add up quick. This goes for every aspect of your business, from drawing, to marketing, to research, etc. Thanks for your comment.

  13. January 13, 2011 8:43 AM

    Thanks for this post, Thomas… I’m still trying to find the right balance. I quite liked your point (others too said this) that everything you do doesn’t have to be the greatest thing you’ve ever done. It’s something that I can’t remind myself enough. Working at a day job plus trying to keep up on self-promotion-related activities, I often allow myself to feel stressed about my (art) work time and that it had better be well-spent (i.e. spent doing something REALLY GOOD). So, thanks for reminding me once again!

    I quite like the ‘stag’ illustration, by the way!

  14. January 14, 2011 11:43 AM

    It’s not easy to stay up to date with everything. For me the best solution was buying a sketchbook. Suddenly I felt the need to fill this blank pages. I always sign date beneath the sketch, therefore I can easily see the progress.

  15. February 1, 2011 12:47 AM

    I must say that the production side is an area I probably focus on more than my marketing side. This is perhaps my first reply on an illustration blog – not that that is even a solid marketing approach. I’m trying.

    Regarding production: I also find the early morning thing to be better for me. My best ideas come about when I’m not supposed to be drawing, like meetings and brainstorms about unrelated work.

    If and when I take on a job, I usually just start drawing anything, it is always unrelated to the project. You just need to get the juices flowing and really don’t care so much about the subject matter, cuz it’s freeing and flexing your drawing muscles. I too fall into the trap where every sketch I do has to be ground breaking…but it really doesn’t need to be.

    My freelance illustration career is fairly non-existent due to my unwillingness to share the work I create. You can produce as much work as you’d like but if no one’s sees it, even if it’s bad work, it’s not gonna help the situation. That is my dilemma.

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