I've been a zombie these past few days, just getting over a head cold and adjusting to this allergy season. I wanted to write a little something about working in the illustration field and what my experiences have been. If you're new to the industry, or are wanting to break in, you may have some questions. One being can you support yourself full-time with the illustration work? It is possible but the artists that do are in very high demand. In most cases it takes much time and talent to achieve. I myself am doing several things, as you can probably tell by this blog - portraits, t-shirt art, and the like. It's all art related so although at times it can be hard it is in enjoyable.
Another question may be about the role of an agent, and if it's right for you. This is where a little back-story might come it handy. Back when I was in college, the instructors had Illustration Source Books for reference and inspiration. I noticed how many of the illustrators were categorized within their agent's section, and I began to research them. Due to my location far from the publishing houses in the east, I sought out an agent to help put my work in front of the right people. I chose Shannon Associates, my current illustration rep. Now it is important to note that when I first submitted my portfolio (I believe this was before 2006), it was not quite what they were looking for. I bring this up because patience is important. If things don't work out than it's not time. I began to study more what clients want to see, and made the subject matter of my portfolio more focused in a specific direction. In this case book publishing, and that took some time. I had to figure out what it was I wanted to do.
This leads to the next question. What should be in your portfolio? This is tough since illustration styles can be so diverse, but when you get down to it, you will want to present to a client you're ability to do for them the finished product they would like. It depends on the client and what that client produces. So what are your goals? A more precise example of what I mean can be found in some of my first books. I spent about eight months preparing my portfolio back in 2007 (most of the watercolors you see at the beginning of this blog and in my portfolio - fairies and mermaids, those sort of things). My first real book was The Last of the Mohicans I did for ABDO. The client saw a drawing I had done of my brother back in 2006 and said that's what they wanted for their book. Later, another client saw the illustrations I did for The Last of the Mohicans, and requested that style for their book. So the ball was rolling. I'm getting work and my portfolio is building around what I know clients want to see. Of course it's different for different artists, but this is how things have transpired for me.
Draw what you enjoy, and have it fit in such a way as to please your future client. Make sure it is your own creation. If you have work you've done copying another character or imitating another style, that is the work you will get.
If you are researching agents, check their websites for more information on what they do. There are many articles out there that illustrate much better what I am trying to describe here.