Thursday, July 5, 2012

If I Were An Illustration Teacher...

illustration class
© Holly DeWolf

What amazes me about illustrators is the time, energy and the full on creative drive that many of us carry forward daily. Here is some sobering dedication for you-The average time spent for an illustrator is 60+ hours a week. 

Fact- most illustrators are self taught at running their business!

Fact- there are more illustrators now than ever before. Interestingly enough, many institutions don't teach it nor do they focus on business.

To say it's challenging to be in this industry is an understatement! Certainly, the number one thing students and newcomers have in common-  a lot of questions!


Illustration is needed. It is utilized everyday by publishers, art buyers, art directors and agents. It's not a new thing or an unusual way to make a creative living. So, why all the secrecy when it comes to business? How come most creative institutions overlook teaching it or refuse to recognize that business side is just as important as the illustration side?

I am asked on a regular basis why I do not teach. Honestly, I'd love the opportunity to teach real world approach to illustration. Hopefully one day I will be lucky to have that opportunity but until then I'll just throw out ideas whenever I can and finish that book I'm working on.

If I were an illustration teacher, I would try to cover as many bases as I could. But there is another concept to education that is not focused on- teaching what students really want and need! Needless to say, it helps to take a real world down to earth approach.

When it comes to teaching there are some challenging realities: 
Reality #1-What we think we should teach students.
Reality #2-What they want us to teach them.
Reality #3- What we have time to teach them. 
Reality #4-What works while holding their attention.
Reality #5- Realizing that not all students want to be taught. 
Reality #6- Realizing that not all students are designed for the illustration industry.

Somewhere in that mix is a delicate balance of asking a lot questions, getting continual feedback, paying strict attention to the class while throwing in some trial and error for good measure. Experience counts for a lot too. Many institutions are looking for that Masters Degree or many years of teaching experience. Nothing helps an illustration student more than telling it like it is. A good teacher needs to have creatively walked the walk and creatively paid their dues. 

So if I was to be a hypothetical teacher in a creative institution of learning discussing the fundamentals of illustration, I would focus on 23 concepts...yes, this is wordy!

1. The concept of leaving school and joining the creative work force-
It should always be in the back of a students mind that they are only in a environment of learning for a short time. It is paramount that students start preparing for the future while they are still studying. Many are shocked and lost after graduating because school life and real life are very different. Universities and colleges have their own sub culture and once they leave they move on to another culture-the work world.

2. Defining what illustration is and why it is needed-
I cannot tell you how many times students I've mentored could not clearly define what illustration is or its purpose. You need to understand what you are creating images for, who your audience is and the possible clients you will be working with.

3. The importance of drawing-
Drawing is an important skill however old school it seems. Even if you plan on being a digital illustrator your ideas need to be fleshed out before hand. Another important concept is well developed roughs that many clients require. Illustration is a series of idea stages. Clients often want a process and a choice of concepts before a final illustration is done. 

4. The concept of working with a client-
This is what illustrators are in it for-clients! Clients will hire us and pay us. They are a huge component to our trade. They will help build our experience, our process and our skills. Professional creative relationships will be a life long aspect in this industry. 

5. The history of illustration-
It all started somewhere. Cave walls to children's books-illustration has helped shape the visual world around us. It's good to look back at the early trends, the history makers, the style makers and those who influence us still. 

6. The creative side of business-
Business might sound technical and boring but it's part of being a self employed illustrator. It is one of the biggest components of any illustrators work week. It is estimated that business takes up to 60% to 70% of our time. This business time centers around promotion, marketing, networking online, paperwork and taxes, websites and blogs. All this can be introduced while students are still in school.

7. Portfolio development-
Your online and hand held portfolio is your biggest promotion asset. Having a clear understanding of what a good portfolio can do for you is crucial. Catering it to the right markets will create the right visibility while spotlighting your best style. 

8. Speaking and writing-
It is important to know how to give your marketing efforts the right voice. It needs to be pointed out that writing about yourself and talking about yourself helps if you focus on what a client wants to hear and not the other way around. Teaching students to focus on what their audience wants to know about their work is like icing on the promotion cake!

9. How to work at home-
I would teach that working at home is not as easy as it sounds. Outside of school we become our own bosses. We have to stay motivated, disciplined, organised and avoid distraction. Focussing on strategies to stay motivated, creative, productive while avoiding the dreaded creative lonely bubble is very important and often overlooked. 

10. Pricing-
This is one of the biggest challenges any illustrator struggles with outside of trying to find constant work. It's important to develop different strategies for students to get them prepared. Quoting and pricing schemes is a skill so it's never too early to start getting students used to the idea.  

11. How to write contracts, proposals, emails, invoices and submissions-
Freelancing has a huge paper trail attached to it. Similar to pricing, it's important for students to get an early grasp of all the paperwork and writing that comes with the industry. 

12. How to brainstorm ideas-
It is important to focus on how to come up with ideas and the sources that work best for each student. There is no right or wrong way. Ideas are fleeting so its good get students into the habit of jotting down ideas fast. The process of ideas can be used for current class projects, recycled down the road for future projects or used for inspiration. 

13. The importance of ethics-
It is important to focus on professional guidelines that are promoted in the industry. Pointing this out early helps students be in the right mind set that helps keep the industry professional while protecting them once they leave school.

14. The downsides of spec work and contests-
It's easy for students to be enticed into bad work, shady projects and free work. It's important to point out the bad side of the industry up front. Spec work and bad contests are everywhere but teaching that they are providing quality work will hopefully help students steer away from being burned. 

15. How to be online-
Social networking is a huge component to being an illustrator. Pointing out to students that their current online presence says a lot about them professionally and creatively. My philosophy: don't do anything online that you would not want a potential client to see. The Internet can be a great place to mingle, promote yourself to and develop a community if done productively and safely. 

16. How to effectively promote yourself-
It is important to teach students that there is endless ways to promote yourself. Promotion is  an exercise of trial and error with the hopes of gaining exposure for their work. Students need to understand that promotion is a process that is done on a continual basis. It takes time, creativity, research, commitment, scheduling while targeting the right markets and clients. 

17. How to ask for what you want professionally-
Asking for what you want is one of the most powerful marketing strategies any student or recent grad has. Again, asking for what you want comes with a component of trial and error. However, if the student has a clear idea of what they want, what markets they want to work in with a 'take no for answer' approach then asking can become a whole lot easier. 

18. Negotiating- 
Almost as frustrating as pricing because it involves problem solving in hopes of finding an agreement and getting paid for your time. Students need an understanding that everything that is discussed and agreed upon goes into the contract. Negotiation can stop at the beginning or it can be a long drawn out process depending on the project and the type of client you have. When it comes to approaching negotiation, it is best to let the client have a voice while making sure the illustrators needs are focused on too. 

19. Warming up to cold calls-
The dreaded cold call is often avoided by many old or new in the industry. Cold calling never killed any illustrators although its made many stressed out. It has a bad reputation but it doest have to. Teaching students to think of cold calls as research, a friendly introduction or a subtle shout out is a step in the right direction. 

20. Defining what an illustration agent is why they may want one in the future- 
What an agent is and what they do for illustrators is very important to understand. An agent can advance the careers of illustrators. The focus of an agent involves the type of experience you have, the marketability of your work, your style, and how well you can take direction while maintaining a good working relationship.

21. Dealing with rejection-
It needs to pointed out that rejection happens! A good way to get students informed is to focus on why rejection happens and what it really means.  Students need to know that it's not personal because it's business. Rejection is not final and that your work may be needed down the road. Its good to promote to students that rejection can be a huge motivator to keep going!

22. How to talk to a printer- 
Talking to a printer can often feel like you landed on another planet sometimes. It's important to get some of the printing lexicon down in order to ensure your marketing and promotional materials get printed right without additional cost or frustration.

23. Lastly, how to create your own work!
In dry times and low income moments illustrators still need to have a back up plan. Creating your own work and projects is a concept if utilized well will keep you creative and also keep you afloat. This concept can be developed while in school to help students generate possible income while helping them develop a portfolio they are proud to present!  


G.Gunther said...

Wow. Very good article about what should be taught to illustrators. Clearly you've given this a lot of thought. Truly if this was a class, it would really give those illustrators a running start.

Holly DeWolf said...

Thank you very much-I enjoyed writing this as I do with all my posts. :) Cheers!