Stepping Out

In the lead up to the Picture Hooks 2016 Conference, freelance illustrator Hannah Foley gives some advice on finding your voice as an emerging illustrator. 

It’s scary stepping out into the world of freelance illustration for the first time. I was certainly feeling pretty timid when I went along to the 2012 Picture Hooks conference. It’s hard to feel confident as an emerging illustrator in an industry that abounds with so much talent. But, at both the 2012 and 2014 conferences I picked up lots of useful advice that has helped ease my path and perhaps some of it might ease yours too…

1. Get to know yourself.

Find your voice and then learn to express it clearly and consistently. Publishers and editors often recommend that those who want to illustrate for children should look at what is currently selling well in the bookshops. This can be an intimidating piece of advice for new illustrators and it’s easy to find yourself imitating others or trailing after trends. Do look at what is currently selling well but then go away and decide which of these books you really love and why. Mark Hearld spoke passionately at the 2014 conference about artists and illustrators who have influenced him. Mark has such a strong illustrative voice because he has explored widely, and bravely experimented with techniques and topics that have resonated most deeply with him.

2. Be open-minded about what illustrating for children looks like.

The industry is much broader than you might at first imagine. It’s certainly not limited to picture books. At the 2014 conference we heard from Chrissie Boehm of illustration agency Artful Doodlers who employ illustrators to reproduce licensed characters, and from Ashley McCracken of Sugar Snap Studios who helps illustrators license their work for cards and merchandise. Children’s illustrators work for the educational and charitable sectors too. Just as you would explore and experiment in your illustration work, explore and experiment with the areas of the children’s illustration industry that might suit you and your work.

3. Get support.

Go along to talks and conferences like Picture Hooks. Glean as much information as you can. Get advice about your portfolio from industry experts. The AOI run a portfolio advice service and there are often opportunities to look out for at festivals and events. Explore mentoring options such as the one provided by Picture Hooks.

Good luck!