Small fish in a big ocean: My advice to illustration graduates

I’m not going to lie, it’s going to be a rocky ride initially. At college you are a big fish in a small pond, after graduation you become a rather small fish in a rather large ocean. So stay classy ladies and gents. A lot of it is about longevity and trial and error.

It’s not all doom and gloom though. We’re living exciting times. The current over-saturated market has required new graduates to become pretty innovative. Consider starting up your own studio (like the guys here at Fiasco Design) and learn as you go. Two studios that went down this route are Eight Hour Day and the Lab Partners who’ve successfully managed to combine their skill sets of illustration, letterpress and graphic design.

Design work by Eight Hour Day studio

Design work by Eight Hour Day studio

Alternately, give it a go working within the industry. Many illustrators start off working in design agencies or within collectives, such as illustrator extraordinaires Malika Favre and Magoz. From personal experience the connections that I’ve made and what I’ve learnt on the job have been extremely valuable, none of which I could have learned at college.

Longevity is your friend. Ride out the early days. In quiet periods set your own self-initiated projects which help to give your work exposure. In the words of illustrator, Magoz:

You are a long distance runner. Impatience is not for you.

Learning to edit your work is one of the best skills you’ll ever pick up. Ask for honest, impartial advice and use it to collate the very best of your work together. More importantly, keep doing it: your style will develop over time and it may end up looking pretty different to the work you first graduated with.

Spot illustration

Spot illustration by Gill Chantler

Keep the fires burning. Look for inspiration from lots of different sources rather than other illustrators in the field. Don’t fall into the trap of making similar work to others or falling into fashion trends. Learn how to create and develop your own way of illustrating. As my college professor said, your line is your signature. After a process of trial and error (and just after making a lot of work) a consistent style will start to emerge in your work. Aim to be instinctive. Over time, this will build a solid portfolio which gives clients confidence in your work and it will make it easier for you to embark on new projects.

You’re also not going to like every project that you do initially, so learn from it and keep moving. Style and confidence in your work develops over time. You will continue to grow and learn on the job. Don’t freeze up and keep putting your work out there.

Grow your online presence and be consistent about it. Read up about social media and get your work out there across a number of different channels. Regardless if you win or lose clients, your audience is one of your most valuable assets.

Editorial work for De Correspondent

Editorial work for De Correspondent by Gill Chantler

At the end of the day, panic not. Keep editing your portfolio, fine tune it to the stuff you’re really proud of. Work hard, keep consistently making work and make sure you step out of the studio once in a while to get some of that lovely sun on your face.

This blog is based on my own personal experience of working within the illustration industry. What are your thoughts? If you’ve got any tips you’d like to share, get in touch with us on twitter: @fiascodesign

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