Illustration is a meritocracy - if you produce good work, have great ideas and make yourself visible, you WILL succeed. So how do you get your work seen in such a competitive industry?
Of course, a short and polite email is always a great way to introduce your work to a potential client, but it isn't the only way to get noticed. Email and hard-copy mail-outs are an easy and quick means of communication, but consider how many submissions clients receive each week. Does the drudge of an email lessen the buzz and excitement of new artwork? We’re all familiar with email fatigue! A strong social media presence is another important consideration, providing a platform for artists to demonstrate their skills, consistency, and to develop a visual voice. For many however, online networking can also be a daunting prospect. The pressure of having to compete with those who are more established and successful is undoubtedly hard for illustrators who are at the start of their journey.
I have found that a rewarding and fun approach has been to share. I have diverted my focus away from ‘likes’ and ‘follows’ and avoid sending too many speculative emails. Instead, I've concentrated on being a part of group projects that involve a communal platform.
Let’s call this type of approach ‘Collective Creativity’ – defined as a personal project or activity that involves more than one person, all of whom share a platform on a more or less equal level. It’s a pro-active and empowering approach, enabling illustrators to build a support network amongst their peers and create their own opportunities, rather than waiting for that ‘big break’.
So what form does ‘collective creativity’ take? Here are some suggestions:
Public shows are a great way to promote your art and to widen your network. The more people involved the better: a show that includes 12 exciting illustrators will get many more visitors than an exhibition focused around one individual. I invited 32 artists to take part in ‘100 Cats’, all of whom helped to promote the exhibition to their family, friends and contacts. Keep your eyes open for local events with an ‘Open Call’, and if you don’t get asked to contribute, organise your own show instead. Designers and Art Directors love to visit art exhibitions as much as we do, so extend an invitation to potential clients and contacts.
Join forces with another illustrator, photographer, designer or writer and swap knowledge and skills. As well as demonstrating an ability to work closely and fruitfully with others, collaborative projects push us outside our comfort zone and can inspire a different perspective or direction that we might have not considered before.
As well as splitting the costs associated with renting, a communal space provides friendship and support in an often-solitary profession. I've rented shared spaces since 2012 and the best thing about them by far has been the camaraderie and encouragement of my studio mates. As a group you gain a shared pool of experience, help on a range of professional issues such as pricing and contracts, and colleagues who can cast a critical eye over your work once in a while keeping it fresh and relevant. Open studio events are a great way to meet other practitioners and people from the local community. Larger complexes hold bigger and well-attended events: the annual open day at Hackney Downs Studios in London for example, draws in crowds of up to 1500. It is a fantastic means to demonstrate the potential applications for your work to an audience who may not otherwise be familiar with what you do.
As part of ‘Mama Wolf’, an illustration collective including Sandra Dieckmann, Jill Tytherleigh, Sophie Gilmore and myself, our ambition was to create a public place where we could sell our own prints, cards and other goods, but also to have a space where visitors could ask questions about illustration and talk through difficulties they might be having in their own practice. Mama Wolf initially began as a funny name for our shared workspace, but grew to become a public facing studio with a fully functioning shop located in Hackney, London. While none of us could have undertaken the responsibility of running a shop independently, spread between four friends we found the workload much easier and enjoyable. For more inspiration take a look at boundary-pushing collectives such as Peepshow, Puck Collective and Day Job, who share, clients, costs and more, enabling them to function with increased efficiently and across a wider audience.
We have strength when we share. The power of many enables us to achieve far more than we can do alone. Collective creativity and the dialogue it starts, is both necessary and highly rewarding for an illustrator’s development, not to mention fun. And we all like fun, right?
Laura Hughes is a children’s illustrator, and the artist behind books such as ‘Daddy’s Sandwich’ (written by Pip Jones), and ‘Goodnight Tiger’ (written by Timothy Knapman). In addition to her ten years experience as a freelance illustrator, Laura also spent three years working as Artwork Manager for The Bright Agency – a London based illustration agency with a focus on children’s publishing. When not drawing, Laura loves to curate art exhibitions and has most recently organised shows such as ‘The Call Of The Wild’ and ‘100 Cats’, both at A-Side, B-Side Gallery in London. Check out Laura's website here, visit her Instagram & follow on Twitter!