14 Illustrators Share Their Top Tips for Emerging Artists
Getting started as a full-time illustrator can be overwhelming. Learn how these fourteen pro artists make their living as creators without losing the spark of inspiration.
The illustrator Andrew Loomis famously said, “To learn to draw is to draw and draw and draw.” In illustration, there are no shortcuts or “cheats.” It takes time, effort, practice, and dedication to be successful in this business. There are, however, some things you can do to ensure you’re on the right track.
The team at Shutterstock asked fourteen illustrators from around the world to share their best tips for emerging artists. We wanted to know what they wished someone had told them when they first got started, and they delivered with words of wisdom gained over countless hours of experience. Learn where the pros find inspiration, what rules they always follow, and how they’ve adapted to a changing market.
1. “To give volume to your designs, experiment with your color palette and the balance of light and shadow.”
Image by mashakotcur
Get started today, be persistent, and don’t be discouraged by your initial results. Experience and skill come with practice and patience. Just enjoy what you do, and soon you will notice your work getting better. Get your inspiration from real life, and take your camera everywhere. Yes, we’re discussing illustration, but photo shoots can be awesome for your creativity and for reference images.
Color harmony is everything. This is what catches the eyes of customers. To give volume to your designs, experiment with your color palette and the balance of light and shadow. Explore current trends and apply them to your work, but don’t forget to stay unique. Color can express so much about your concept, style, and mood, and it can also dictate future usage.
2. “Be yourself. Oh, I know it sounds quite trivial, but it’s the most important thing for an artist.”
Image by Varvara Gorbash
Be yourself. Oh, I know it sounds quite trivial, but it’s the most important thing for an artist. These days, we have amazing opportunities to express our visual ideas and show off our own realities to the world. You can now find your audience even without galleries and exhibitions.
I use all of my visual and emotional experience to do this. For example, I spent seven years in Southeast Asia, looking for inspiration in native cultures and traditions. Going deep into the local culture has given me a lot of visual ideas, and I do a lot of Asian-inspired artworks. Being yourself as an artist and telling your own story will help you to find people who will support you.
3. “Never be afraid to try something new in your work: a new technique, new tools, even new plug-ins.”
Anastasia P (Yoko Design)
Image by Anastasia P (Yoko Design)
My advice is to learn from nature; it’s the main creator of the world. Take note of everything you like: forms, color combinations, styles. You can pick up a huge foundation for further work by doing this. Applied Arts Museums are also great places for inspiration. For example, the MAK Museum Wien gives a retrospective of design development from the 18th century through today. Never be afraid to try something new in your work: a new technique, new tools, even new plug-ins. I think this is the only way not only to follow trends in illustration but also to create them.
Image by Anastasia P (Yoko Design).
4. “Exercise your eyes, your spine, and your wrists.”
Image by Nadia Snopek
My advice might seem boring, but don’t forget about your health. Exercise your eyes, your spine, and your wrists. All of my illustrator friends have sore eyes and sore backs from slouching over a laptop every waking hour. I’m one of them. There is a chance that it can be different for you.
5. “If you find your niche, just keep on drawing in that direction.”
Image by Nicoleta Ionescu
Draw what you like! Do what you do best, and persevere. This is how I ended up uploading caricatures, without knowing if there was a market for this type of illustration, and now they’ve turned out to be some of my best-selling works! If you find your niche, just keep on drawing in that direction.
6. “Look at and be inspired by as much as possible!”
Image by Nadia Grapes
I think for a microstock illustrator, it’s important to combine two things: ride the wave of new trends, and have your own style at the same time. Look at and be inspired by as much as possible! Refer to the original sources of trends: fashion shows, big movies and music videos, advertisements from the world’s leading brands, and trendsetters on social networks. Follow outstanding illustrators and designers. Scan the space in which you live, and observe the trends there. Improve your style every day, and most importantly, believe in your strength and talent!
Image by Nadia Grapes
7. “I believe that an important tip for any illustrator is to be ordered and disciplined.”
Image by Bernardo Ramonfaur
I believe that an important tip for any illustrator is to be ordered and disciplined. I struggled with that for a long time, especially in the beginning, when I held onto the idea that art was only about inspiration and doing whatever I felt in the moment. That’s partially true—we need to explore our own desires and interests. But the best way to do it is to have an order to your workflow, and this covers everything: the materials, your sleep hours, your sketches, and also your digital files. Any one of these things can become a mess and a source of wasted time if not managed correctly.
I’ve also discovered that although I want to be open to new ideas and projects, it’s good to have an internal route mapped out. Write down the ideas you want to explore, the main projects you want to do, where you want to be, the things you want to learn, etc. It’s easy to get lost in all the possibilities, and this can help with that. I still get lost sometimes, but having a sense of direction puts me back to where I want to be.
8. “Draw what interests you, but always keep the end user in mind.”
Draw what interests you, but always keep the end user in mind. Consider: Why would someone license your work? How could you envision it being used? Keep abreast of color and style trends, and keep your finger on the pulse of advertising, communications, and graphic design.
9. “Explore the world around you, and fill up your sketchbooks with your impressions.”
Image by Elina Li
Whatever we draw as artists, we are in some sense drawing our own portraits, so if you want to elevate your illustrations, you need to work on yourself. Explore the world around you, and fill up your sketchbooks with your impressions. Travel, visit museums, study the work of the masters, read good books and watch worthwhile movies, and gain new skills and new experiences. Always stay curious and open to the world. It’s worth it.
Image by Elina Li
10. “First of all, find your own style and develop it.”
Image by solmariart.
First of all, find your own style and develop it. Aside from that, it takes a lot of practice, drawing, and sketching. Be inspired by the work of others, but don’t copy them—that is the way to nowhere.
Image by solmariart.
11. “If you want your images to look good, you need to pay attention to the details.”
Image by Ms Moloko
If you want your images to look good, you need to pay attention to the details. Devote time to your choice of materials: paint brushes, paints, pencils, charcoal, pastel, and paper. Think about how to combine different materials. You don’t need to find the best of the best, but you should find a good trio with your paintbrush (soft or hard, round or flat), paint (liquid or dense, transparent or opaque), and paper (smooth or textured, thin or thick).
Image by Ms Moloko
12. “Draw an image on a popular topic in a way that no one else has done before you.”
Megapixelina (Helga Alexandrovna)
As a guide to any illustrator, including myself, I’ll rephrase one of the precepts of Salvador Dali: “Illustrator—draw!” Do not wait for ideal conditions and the right moment. Use all kinds of tools and materials. Out of many imperfect sketches, brilliant ideas can be born. Try different techniques and styles, and do not be afraid of experiments.
In regards to stock illustrators in particular, what matters in my opinion is the ability to stand out from a group of many. Draw an image on a popular topic in a way that no one else has done before you. Develop the ability to create a drawing that’s memorable. And perhaps one of the most important factors for success is to enjoy your work.
13. “Create illustrations with joy.”
jenteva (Valentyna Petyurenko)
Image by jenteva (Valentyna Petyurenko).
If you look at my portfolio, you’ll find a variety of different styles and techniques. But drawing nature is my number one priority right now, and these illustrations are the most popular. For that reason, my tip is to tap into themes that you personally love. Create illustrations with joy.
14. “Start by expressing your thoughts through the prism of your own experience, and you will succeed.”
atdigit (Andrew Turtsevych)
Image by atdigit (Andrew Turtsevych).
We are all different. We each have a different view of the world, and that’s where the charm lies. Start by expressing your thoughts through the prism of your own experience, and you will succeed. The number of ways to do this is limited only by our imagination.
Top Image by jenteva (Valentyna Petyurenko).