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 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.


Really short videos mainly focusing on digital painting.