Becoming A Successful Illustrator book review

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This book tells you what you need to do between completing an Illustration degree and setting up as a freelance illustrator.

If you're just graduating from an illustration degree and wondering how to start your career proper, this could be the book for you. Becoming A Successful Illustrator is especially useful if your course was one that focussed entirely on developing your creative practice and eschewed informing you about the business of illustration (unfortunately these courses still exist).

Written by the Association of Illustrators' project manager Derek Brazell and regular co-author, freelance illustrator Jo Davies, the book gives a broad overview of what a new grad must know across six sections – plus a set of activities that might be worth the asking price alone. The sections include information about what the 'illustration industry' is, how it works (and how to behave in it), how to promote yourself and get work – and, perhaps most importantly of all, how to run your freelance business in a way that helps you and it grow.

The words of the authors are broken up by quotes and interviews with illustrators from Pomme Chan to Jack Teagle (below) – and there are also contributions from commissioners at the likes of Penguin and M&C Saatchi.

Refreshingly, the book doesn't just cover illustration work for clients, but also how to sell your work yourself on homewares, fashion items such as T-shirts and the like – rather than licensed to another brand (though this is covered as well). This reflects how many commercial illustrators work currently, and it's something older books will have ignored.

The first section takes you through the different forms of illustration that you can get paid for and is the weakest in the book – more appropriate for an A-Level student trying to decide whether they should study a nebulous-to-them 'Illustration' course at university or ignore its commercial draw in favour of Fine Art. Once past this though, the book picks up.

The section on professional dealings details how to be, well, professional – including advice on how to conduct yourself that sounds like common sense but is worth reiterating. There's really useful info on bodies that can help you, which perhaps surprisingly isn't just an ad for the AoI. However, this even-handedness goes a little too far when talking about setting up your portfolio in the next section – listing many options up to and including building your own custom site. Firmer guidance saying that a simple Cargo site and a free Behance account are more than enough would have been more accurate (though perhaps this book is aiming for a longer shelf-life and the authors are aware that, with the pace of the Internet, things could change in six months). New graduates should save the Malika Favre-style site flair for when they've started to make it.

Overall though, the section on self-promotion is well-delineated – and the following one on the proactive steps you need to take to get your work in front of potential commissioners is a must-read, especially as many new grads believe (or have been told) that a portfolio site and a Twitter account are all that you need to do to get work rolling in.

As you'd expect from the authors' association with the AoI, the sections on the practicalities of licensing/selling your work and running your business are the best. The information contained in here should be in the course notes of every Illustration degree in the country – though the authors might prefer students bought this book instead. The first of these sections both informs on areas such as your rights and how to work with contracts – and provides some advice on approaches to negotiation and when to give up your copyright (in short, only for a lot of cash).

The second covers both how to set and run up your business: from registering it to managing your finances so you don't end up with a massive tax bill at the end of the year that you'd forgotten to put cash aside for (which has happened even to the likes of Mr Bingo).

Of course, neither of these sections tells you everything you need to know – at about 20 pages each they barely scratch the surface – but they do touch on every area, and by working through then you're going to end up knowing where you need to do more research. The book ends with simple activities to help you work through all of the things you need to do without feeling overwhelmed by them, backed up by sample contracts and invoices (below). These are great as most illustrators leave university not knowing where to start with these – though downloadable versions would be better.

While aimed at graduates, Becoming a Successful Illustrator would be better read during a course rather than after it – but if anything mentioned above sounds alien to you, this is a worthy read.

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