The 5 most important lessons in becoming an illustrator

I’m going to share the 5 most important lessons in becoming an illustrator with you, by telling you how I became a successful mascot designer.

Lesson number one: Just start.

In March 2007 I was newly married and was looking for a way to bring in more income. I enjoyed art and was a big doodler. On a whim, I decided to start  illustrating. The problem is that I really did not have the skill sets to be an illustrator. I could draw from life, but an illustrator needs so much more. Since no one told me that I couldn’t illustrate, I went ahead and put a portfolio together. It was horrible. Luckily, no one told me that either. I put my portfolio up on guru.com. After a long time, I actually found someone who wanted to give me money to draw something. The pay was low but the project was huge. I had to draw 120 drawings for a children’s book series. This was the beginning of a very successful illustration career. I would not have had this career if I had not just started.

 

Lesson two: Be consistent and manage your time.

To create 120 illustrations was an enormous task. I set weekly deadlines. I decided to finish 4 illustrations per week. I don’t think I ever missed a deadline. This kept the client happy, and helped me get through the mountain of work I had ahead of me. It also kept me motivated because I was not thinking about the full 120 drawings all the time. I was only thinking about the four drawings I had to do that week.

 

Lesson three: Always be learning.

Before beginning to work every night, I would look for free tutorials online. The ones that I liked best were the short ones. I looked for tutorials that basically contained one gem of an idea. Nothing too complicated. I then tried to implement the new idea that week. As I tried to use what I learned, ideas turned into skills. I mastered one skill at a time.  The improvement was slow but steady. I really loved looking back and seeing the first illustrations and comparing them to where I was at. (I still do that now)

 

Lesson four: Break big tasks up into smaller sub tasks.

How this all worked was, I was breaking up a gigantic task of ‘Becoming an illustrator’ into small sub tasks. I needed to learn how to draw characters that looked consistent in a number of different poses. I needed to understand how to compose a picture in a successful way. I needed to understand color.

I broke each of these skills up into smaller sub skills. Character drawing was broken up into:

  1. How to draw forms using construction lines and other landmarks.
  2.  How to draw stick figures to create interesting poses.
  3.  How to draw features. etc. etc.

I think you get the picture. Really, you can learn anything by breaking up big skills into smaller sub skills.

 

Lesson five: Prioritize

When I was learning these new skills, I was constantly working on my biggest weakness. I first worked on character design. I then worked on composition. Color was next. I was constantly jumping from skill to skill. This kept me from getting bored with the learning process. I didn’t have the time to master one skill at a time because they all needed so much work. Instead I settled for some level of improvement.

After I completed the 120 drawings, I considered myself a mediocre illustrator. At that point I was good enough to contact children’s book publishers. My prices went up and so did my demand.

I still learn this way today. I am constantly looking to improve my trade. I now focus my daily learning sessions on how to market a creative business effectively. I learn something every day and constantly try to implement what I learn.

Are planning to be a creative professional? How are you going about it? Let me know in the comments.

 

Here are some resources that I used to improve my illustration work. Some of these might be a little old, but here are some resources:

Sycra Yasin

This is Sycra’s youtube channel. It is pure gold.

Rad Sechrist 

More pure gold. Rad shares plenty about anatomy and character design.

Cntrl+paint

Really short videos mainly focusing on digital painting.

 

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