So I’ve just battled my way through my first ever public speaking engagement, and it was great! When the organiser of Zero2illo Live (the fab Jon Woodward) first asked me to take part in a panel discussion, I told him that I didn’t think I could do it. I’ve always been very shy… painfully shy until quite recently. Even just standing in front of a large group of people without even having to say anything is a challenge for me! But I really thought I should push myself to take the plunge, and Jon was very persuasive, so it was all set and I had no choice but to take part. And I was very happy I did, because it was a fantastic experience!
For anyone not able to come along I’m going to try to summarise here the most useful and interesting bits from all the talks. I had so much material prepared for my panel that when it was over I felt there was a lot of useful information that I hadn’t had a chance to mention. For that reason I’m planning to write a follow-up post to this one very soon, listing useful resources for people thinking about going into self-publishing or setting up their own small business selling illustrated products. So more on that later!
The first talk was a keynote speech by Rod Hunt which stressed the importance of self-promotion and thinking big. Thinking about your dream clients and producing work as if you’re already working for them. This tied in to something I realised about my own work earlier this year – that I had been afraid to put some of my best work into my portfolio as felt that potential clients would look at it and worry that it would be quite slow to produce (detailed pencil shading for example.) Instead I had an idea of the sort of work I thought I should be producing in order to compete with other illustrators in terms of working to short deadlines… and it was maybe not representative of the best work that I’m capable to doing. So I took Rod’s advice to ‘think big’ to encourage me in this new direction… to put out my very best work, aimed at my dream clients, and have faith that anyone wanting to commission me in this style will be prepared to give me the time to my best work and do it well. Rod talked about setting yourself financial goals, and putting enough time and money into ensuring that your work is seen by the right people. This year he invested in printing a whole brochure to send out to clients (you can see it here.) Rod budgets to spend at the very least 10% of his earnings on self-promotion and feels that the money spent on high quality printed promo material is always money well spent. He also spoke about the importance of good branding (for example on the outside of envelopes when you’re sending stuff to clients.) Another interesting aspect of his talk was about putting yourself into your work. He feels that putting your own personal interests and passions into your work is what will make it unique and memorable.
GETTING CLIENTS AND COMMISSIONS
Above: Rod and Stanley.
This panel was with Rod, Stanley Chow, Kate Slater and Leigh Hodgkinson. They discussed aiming to divide your time into thirds… one third creating new work, one third on keeping the business side of your career in order, and one third on self-promotion. They discussed the best things they’d done to get work… and again the idea of bringing in your personal interests came into it. Stanley had a great story about wanting to have a go at illustrating rock posters, and so he designed his own poster for the White Stripes just as an exercise (see here.) This led to the White Stripes getting in touch and commissioning him for real, which also led to an unexpected grammy nomination! A story which shows how commissions can come from unexpected places and also how putting your own interests into your illustrations can work in your favour. Kate Slater also had a story about how designing a window display for the Yorkshire Sculpture Park (which she filled with birds for no reason other than because she wanted to make birds) …and this led to an ongoing relationship with the RSPB who are one of her most frequent clients. The panellists talked about focusing on what you’re really interested in, as opposed to second-guessing what clients might want (which has led Rod in the past to doing a lot of jobs he found very boring.) The same could be said for the realisation I had about my own work that I mentioned earlier… my sense that I’d been doing work based on what I thought the majority clients would want rather than what I really wanted to do. So again some of this discussion was very useful to me personally! Leigh talked about the importance of showing clients your creativity… when submitting children’s book proposals for example, to not be too precious about submitting a ‘perfect’ proposal, but to share lots of sketchy ideas and show that you have a lot of ideas within you that you’re willing to chat about and develop together with the client. The panellists also talked about the importance of the internet for self-promotion… getting yourself onto as many sites as possible such as Behance, the AoI portfolios and imundo.
MAKING IT ON YOUR OWN
This was my panel! …with Kate Slater and Kate Hindley. We talked about how you can run your own small business selling illustrated products alongside freelance work as a way to supplement your illustration income. We talked about how this can be useful for teaching yourself good business practise and to be really organised… and how there’s often a pay-off in terms of the more personal nature of dealing directly with your customers. We talked about selling through the online shopping sites ‘Etsy’ and ‘Not on the High Street’, and using good quality home printers to produce our own quality prints to sell (something Stanley Chow also does, so successfully that he now hires as assistant to help him with the prints business.) Kate Slater talked particularly about how to organise your business… spreadsheets of all expenses (down to the cost of a single envelope or plastic sleeve so that you know exactly what you’re spending in total and can price your products accordingly.) She talked about pricing, and researching what others charge for products but also being careful to price yours according to your costs and your time, and not underselling yourself. Also the importance when selling through shops and galleries as I’ve done in the past too, of keeping a detailed record of what stock has gone where, and when! We discussed the importance of treating your customers well… personal emails to confirm orders and thank them for their custom, and letting them know when their order will be in the post. As I said earlier I will write in more depth on this subject shortly.
The illustrator and comic artist Sally Jane Thomson who was in the audience did fantastic sketches of the panellists all day, and produced this very flattering rendition of our panel, which is completely awesome! Thanks Sally!
DEAL MAKERS AND DEAL BREAKERS
Above (L to R): Stephanie Amster, Nicky Lander, Victoria Pearce and Jon Woodward.
This panel was with Victoria Pearce (Senior Agent at Illustration Ltd), Stephanie Amster (Head of Design at Nosy Crow), and Nicky Lander (Creative Manager at Igloo Books.) It’s always interesting for illustrators to hear from agents and commissioners to gain insights into what it’s like on the other side of the fence as it were. This can be incredibly useful, but also eye-opening as illustrators can often forget (as the panellists noted) that their clients are humans too! They discussed the importance of fostering a relationship of trust and collaboration with your clients… communicating well and adding personal touches to your communications.
Victoria started by referencing when several years ago people were saying that comedians were the new rock-stars… she said that she feels these days that illustrators are the new rock-stars… something that’s potentially both a blessing and a curse! She stated that her agency has had their best year ever, and that she’s noticed big companies becoming more & more interested in the potential of illustration to help them stand out from their competitors. But at the same time ‘Illustration Ltd’ receives 200 submissions from illustrators per month and only take on about 8 new artists per year. In terms of advice about how to stand out in this competitive market, the panellists talked about thinking about how to make yourself and your work memorable. They mentioned the ‘3 second rule’ which can be applied to websites… that you need to make a big impression in the first three seconds of someone looking at your site. They talked about having a novelty to your approach… being quirky can really help you stand out from the crowd. Stephanie is a big fan of decorated envelopes, and they all commented on the importance of constantly evolving your work, reinventing your portfolio and updating your website. They advised that you should think of your website like a magazine… and add fresh content all the time to keep people coming back. The children’s book publishers on the panel mentioned the importance of continuity of style, and showing your characters in context (especially moving through a situation.) If you’re not sure what else to do, just storyboard a character getting out of bed and brushing their teeth… just something to show that you can tackle storytelling and consistency in a book. Too many kids’ book portfolios have unrelated, static single images. They also talked about how your characters should be really rounded and tell a whole story just through how they look.
Jon asked the panel how they choose illustrators for their projects. They said that they’ll often go for a tried & tested illustrator, or via the agent route. They’re also happy to work with new talent but said that if they’re ‘taking a risk’ on new talent that they might ask for a sample on spec, and that they will be really happy if the illustrator is flexible enough to be happy to do that. Jon asked whether they look at an illustrator’s blog to find out about them, but the panel responded that they’re more likely to take opinions from agents (or even ex-agents) and seek out customer feedback. They do also like to see people who are active and vocal on social media. Jon asked what gives the impression of professionalism in communications with an illustrator. The panel responded by saying that it’s good to ask a lot of questions. Ask how they found you, ask about contractual clauses, and ask in detail about how final artwork should be supplied. Most importantly, ask if you don’t understand something… again they stressed the importance of having an open & honest working relationship. After the job is finished, they all said that they appreciate when illustrators thank them for the commission and are friendly and stay in touch.
The final panel was with Victoria from Illustration Ltd again, and also Claire Cheung, tablet designer from ‘Wired’. They talked about the future of illustration… in relation to new technologies especially. Victoria commented on how her agency is representing more animators these days, and also expanding into new international territories, Asia especially. She mentioned how the Society of Artists’ Agents is doing more work in looking into how working with new digital platforms will affect illustrators’ rights & usage negotiations. Claire spoke about how she’s constantly trying to keep up with changes to technology in her job, and how there are opportunities opening up for illustrators who are prepared to broaden their skill-sets & try incorporating animated elements into their work. The best kind of illustrator for this type of work will be very adaptable, and build adaptability into their work. Backgrounds must be simple with no texture so that they can potentially be extended, and designs that are flexible enough to work portrait AND landscape are great. Also elements must be moveable and on different layers. At ‘Wired’ they’re really happy for illustrators to animate their own work… Claire talked about how simple it can be to animate using just the Photoshop timeline. She recommended people who are interested to invest a bit of time in free tutorials, and investigate After Effects or Adobe Edge. But both panellists agreed that particularly in children’s books, the printed book is unlikely to die out altogether. The tactile interaction of reading a book with a child is still valued so much. They also felt that picture books have the potential to play off beautiful production values against the ‘flatness’ of digital platforms. Books may become even more tactile… less disposable… in the face of new technologies.
So there’s my summary of the conference. Look out for my next blog post which will go into more detail on resources for anyone interested in self-publishing or selling their own illustrated products. To end, here are a few more pics from the day!
Above: Jon did some fantastic stuff at the conference, like having the work of the illustrators attending on display throughout, and also printed on postcards that people could take.
Above: Me with Stanley Chow
Above: My favourite thing from the whole conference was probably this! I might be wrong but I think Leigh Hodgkinson was responsible for this lovely doodle that was in front of my seat when I sat down to start my panel discussion! It was sweet and made me relax at the beginning of my talk, so thank you Leigh :o)