Like most illustrators, I’ll start out by scrapping out thumbnails (literally tiny sketches the size of thumb nails) for myself of possible ideas and compositions. I’ll then take two to three of these and work them up into loose drawings to present to the client. This shows them a rough idea on what I envision for the brief whilst not wasting time over rendering something that may be turned down. The quality varies a lot at this stage depending on the deadline of the project or the number of roughs I need to supply (if a series of illustrations is needed by the end of the week, I can’t spend too long over thinking a single illustration and denying the rest).
Sometimes, I’ll produce a colour rough mostly for myself but may let the art director take a peak. This gives a rough indication on how I might apply the colour to achieve a balanced image without investing too much effort. The size and complexity of an illustration can often dictate whether I need to invest in this stage or if I can just skip straight to the next stage.
I have quite a basic procedure when it comes to the finishing off the illustration. I’ll often lay down my blocks of colour first, and then apply details on top. This ensures I see the illustration developing as a whole rather than in chunks.
I'll generally cycle to my coworking space and get in at around 9am. Whilst my computer boots up and gets ready for the day, I'll grab a coffee from across the road. From there, it's a day mostly consisting of drawing (see the previous question for my process) and emailing clients, with a game of table tennis thrown in. I try to finish the day at 5pm but depending on the workload, I may either finish early or run well into the night...
I use a variety of bits so here's a list of everything noteworthy:
MacBook Pro (2016).
iPad Pro (2018).
LG UltraFine 4K Display used as my main screen.
PaperLike for a better drawing surface.
Luna Display allows me to use my iPad as a second display.
Adobe Photoshop CC as my drawing program of choice.
Astropad allows me to use my iPad as a drawing tablet for my MacBook.
Notion used for admin, general task management and note taking.
Cushion used scheduling work, time tracking and invoicing clients.
It obviously varies on the job. On average, a project will take around 10 days from the initial sketches to delivering the final illustrations, though I have had the odd job from clients (usually The Guardian) that need to be done in the space of 7 hours.
From my personal experience, I can definitely recommend having one. They really lighten the load when it comes to admin tasks and are very proactive when it comes to marketing my work. I know they take a cut of my commission (Synergy take 30%, which is an industry standard) but I don't mind – they work hard and pay for themselves very quickly.
Researching agencies is important. You don’t want to be bothering a children’s book agent with the prospects of looking for editorial work. Also, taking a look at their existing illustrators will give you an idea if you’ll fit. You don’t want to be mimicking anyone’s style but you also want to feel part of the family.
Watch out for the bad agencies out there as well. There are many that will take advantage of artists and are clearly only in it for the money.
Thankfully, Synergy care about their illustrators and they’re great people to work with, and I can honestly say I haven’t had any issues with them. Luke is a great guy and it’s nice catching up with him every few months to just chat over a coffee (or many beers!).
I wouldn’t say it’s essential to go to further education (it costs a bomb after all) but my time at Plymouth University gave me a solid three years of discovering what I liked in the world of illustration, and what I didn’t.
I wouldn’t say everyone who receives further education necessarily always has an advantage. I know many illustrators who haven’t gone to university and have gone on to be very successful which goes to show you don’t need a degree. Saying that, I think the main reason to go is to spend a lot of time discovering what you want to do. It’s great for people who are unsure where they want to take their work and having three straight years of self discovery can really help.
If you don’t go to university, I imagine there’s a lot to juggle around if you need to work a full time job but still find the time to enjoy life and progress your illustration career. University just offers focus and guidance that some may struggle to find outside of education.
I worked as a designer for a couple of years at some agencies. In this time, I started off doing the odd illustration commission a month whilst working at these jobs. I'd usually get these projects through word of mouth from people I already knew and it's safe to say that networking actually paid off. My career and workload then started to pick up pace from about May 2016, when my portfolio was far more consistent and I started working with Synergy.
My biggest piece of advice would be to keep at it. The toughest part is persisting at a snail’s pace before it really gets going. I’ve spent many evenings trying to do some self-initiated projects in the hopes that it would lead to client work. I juggled full-time work with a butt-load of freelance jobs so I could grow my client base without losing out on regular income. It’s easy to throw in the towel but resist that urge, and eventually the regular illustration work will come.
I'm currently based in Exeter, Devon, in the UK, working in the Foundry 17 coworking space.
Not at all. Pretty much all my work is done via email which means I have the luxury of being able to live and work anywhere as long as there's half decent WiFi. There are definite benefits of living/working in a bigger community though. It's easier to go to events and meet other creatives which can really help with your overall well-being and not just your career.
Yes. Whilst I'm personally not a fan of social media platforms, it's a necessary evil and the easiest way of showing off your portfolio to many people and gaining a following. I schedule my posts using Later so I spend less time on Instagram but can still keep my followers regularly updated with new work, which I'd highly recommend doing.
Practice. I know that's not particularly helpful, but the more you use colour, the better your understanding of it will be. If I get stuck, I'll often visit Coolors for some inspiration and save some palettes I like for future reference.
I can't speak for the Cintiq as I've never used one but I really enjoy using the iPad Pro and would recommend it. My previous tablet was the Wacom Intuos Pro Medium, a great tool for drawing but lacked the key component I wanted most, a screen. I bought the iPad Pro 12.9" back in March 2016 and have been using one since then for all my work (I upgraded it to the newer model back in November 2019 but the old one is still being used by my good friend Steve Panton).
95% of the time I use it with my MacBook Pro through the means of Astropad and Luna, effectively turning it into a Cintiq. The advantage of the iPad I've found is its flexibility. Being able to take anywhere and being able to do some drawing out in Procreate, plugging it into my computer to do some client work, or simply just taking it down to a café to do some admin because I can.
©2019 Tommy Parker. Images may not be used without full permission and credit.