Digital Alteration... and Success
Q: Hey there! I am currently going to school but am thinking of switching my major to illustration! I have a few questions though about the field. Okay so first, do you think it is necessary to digitally alter your work if you want to be well known and work for big name companies and have a lot of success? Also, if you don’t mind me asking, what is the typical salary for an illustrator like yourself?
A: First off, congratulations: you will be making a brave and daring life decision! But this is to your advantage, since you’ll bring unique things to the illustration field as only you can.
This being said, the uniqueness and quality of your work does not hinge on your ability to make it look digitally altered or computer-made. Having digital skills, however, will make you more marketable as an artist and illustrator.
The type of digital alteration you’re talking about, too, is a key factor in deciding how vital it will be to your illustration, since it can provide a universe of possibility to your work.
Some traditional illustrators (such as I) use computers minimally, to scan their finished artwork and email to clients. Other artists do their best drawings in their sketchbooks, and so scan and color them digitally. I do this too.
Since investing in some basic digital drawing software and a good scanner, I’ve found I’m able to turn around illustrations to clients more quickly, and create many different ways to display and sell my work online.
Another big factor in the use of digital manipulation is the audience you want to cater to. Do you want to get into the game art industry, designing character concepts and landscapes? Will you be an editorial illustrator, or an artist for book publishers? Do you want to create hand-drawn stationery for greeting card companies, or graphics for skateboards?
There are a thousand million endless ways you can put your art to work, whether it’s digitally altered or not.
What industry(-ies) do you want to cater to? Take a look at some of those big-name companies and see what kind of illustrators they hire. Look at those illustrators’ portfolios, research their methods and you’ll get a better idea of what they’re doing to get hired.
I’m sorry for what’s about to happen, but I really want to say some things about that “lots of success” bit.
Being a successful illustrator doesn’t necessarily mean getting hired by a big company. It also doesn’t mean being well known. It definitely doesn’t mean only being able to produce digitally-altered work. Actually, if you make Lots Of Success a goal and aim for it, shape your career to pursue it, you will almost certainly never achieve it. Trying for fame is a waste of time. Instead, make great, solid work for your portfolio, the way you want to. Clients, companies, and agents will notice you for that, whether you use digital methods or not. Strong, solid work is rare and in very high demand, regardless of the media used to make it.
Success means making strong work that you love, and being able to feed yourself.
On feeding yourself:
I can’t tell you what to charge for your work, or what the typical salary for the average illustrator is, because I honestly don’t know. My commission prices are based on the planning and labor-time I spend on each piece, and on the size of the pieces.
Ask yourself: For your talent, your mind, your skill and your time, what’s fair? The answer isn’t minimum wage. Don’t fall into the danger of underselling yourself. When approached with a new job, find out as many details about the project as you can before you give the client a quote. For one-shot jobs, I quote a singular price. For ongoing freelance work, I charge an hourly rate.
Some of the most helpful people to ask for experienced answers are your professors, art collectors, agencies, and by surfing on illustration forums (WetCanvas is a good one).
Hope this helps some :)