Oct 24, 2016

Tips for making it as a professional illustrator / cartoonist

Recently I’ve been asked a lot about how to make it as a freelance illustrator / cartoonist, which made me realize that I’ve been doing this “professionally” for 10 years now! Here are some tips that I hope will be helpful for anyone aspiring to take this weird life path…

*If you have doubts about becoming a professional artist… don’t

I’m not saying you give up on all creative activities, on the contrary I think EVERYONE should have some sort of creative outlet. But enjoying a hobby is not the same as doing something for a living. Being a “professional” artist does not guarantee you any sort of social or economic stability. There will be moments (specially at the beginning) when you will have to compromise your passion to pay the bills by drawing things that may be quite boring and uninspiring. If you are not able to do that, then maybe you should find another job to pay the bills and keep your art making on your free time.

*Talent is nothing without hard work

Be consistent! Draw every day, as much as you can! No one is born being good, every illustrator or cartoonist you admire has worked hard to get where they are.

*Having an “art block” is an excuse

Don’t fall into this trap. If you really want to become a pro, you have to be able to make yourself to draw even when you don’t feel like it. If you’re frustrated creatively, go for a walk, clean your working space, draw stuff from life (objects, nature, people), stay productive.

*Allow yourself to doodle mindlessly

Not everything you make has to be an ultimate finished masterpiece. Some of my best ideas come from just making horrible doodles in my sketchbook that no one will ever see.

*Draw for yourself and be your own best critic

Learn to accept criticism and opinions, but remember that in the end you will never be able to please EVERYONE. And that’s ok. Strive to make stuff that YOU like, stuff that YOU want to see in this world. Trends will come and go, stay true to yourself.

*Take inspiration from EVERYWHERE

Don’t just stare at your favourite artists’ tumblr all day. Open your mind to as many sources of inspiration as you can: old artists, new artists, nature, dreams, memories, ancient cultures, modern atrocities, outerspace, literature, movies, etc. The more you take in, the more you will allow your work to grow and the more original it will become

*Experiment with as many mediums as you can

Don’t close yourself to one medium, colour scheme, format, style, etc. Try everything once, enjoy it with no expectations rather than to experiment!

*Strive for consistency rather than having a “style”

Don’t obssess over finding your “style”. Allow it to keep evolving at its own pace, it will keep changing naturally. Focus more on just drawing, and drawing a lot!

*It doesn’t matter if you go to school or not

If academia works for you, and you can afford it, go for it. If not, then as long as you keep working, you have a chance to make it. I only have a high school “degree” but thanks to the internet I’ve been able to learn whatever I want for free, like how to use Photoshop or build websites. Having a degree does not guarantee you will make it as a professional illustrator. Working hard and “networking” are a better bet.

*Expensive tools aren’t mandatory

I draw all my comics with just a mechanical pencil and I have a 10 year old wacom tablet. I only splurge on nice Fabriano paper. This is what I’ve found that works for me. Find whatever works best for YOU, it doesn’t have to be the same as what other people use!

*Share your work anywhere you can

If you can go to fests or shows, that’s great, but if you can’t, use the internet! I grew up in Mexico City where there is no “comics scene” but I was still able to make it because I’ve been consistently posting my work on the internet for years. Commit yourself to posting your work on Tumblr, Twitter or Instagram as often as you can. Try to have a separate account for your professional work that doesn’t feature a million photos of your beautiful cat and the delicious breakfast you made today.

*Make merch

What a better way to share your work than making merch? If you don’t know anywhere to get it made locally, you can easily get anything done through the internet (just google “custom… patches/pins/stickers/etc.”) and sell it through Etsy, Storenvy or Bigcartel. It’s a great way to distribute your work and start make some money off of it. I started selling stickers with my drawings when I was in high school to get money for beers and now I pay my rent (partly) from that!

*Don’t work for free

Unless you really want to, because it’s for a good cause, or you owe someone a favor. But otherwise, don’t. Exposure is not a currency. Always ask for a contract and/or at least half of what you’re charging IN ADVANCE to avoid wasting your time with flakes / ruining friendships.

*Be patient and don’t give up

It took me seven years to be able to sustain myself solely from freelance work and my webshop. It might take you less time, or maybe more, to get wherever you want to get. Keep going!