Illustration Resources for the Beginner

Like sports or music, one of the best ways to get better at illustration is practice, practice, practice. Besides doing things on your own or participating in challenges that provide prompts to get the ideas and ink flowing, like Jake Parker’s Inktober, where can young illustrators go to learn more about the craft?

Social Media

You probably have some favorite illustrators and artists you follow on social media. If you don’t, see if your favorite artist has any social media accounts — they often post things that take you behind-the-scenes or put you at the drawing board with them. This is also a good way to see how professionals market their work and develop an online persona. Erica Henderson (“Squirrel Girl”) posts her sketches and musings on her Tumblr and Twitter pages. Tyler Crook (“Harrow County”) has several social media accounts, but his website, mrcrook, has a wonderful blog about his process and a gallery to inspire you.  Dave McKean (“Hellblazer,” projects with Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, the Rolling Stones, etc.) chronicles his work and travels on Twitter as well as his own website. For more inspiration, check out NYFA instructor Tim Fielder’s amazing work via his website, dieselfunk.



Dave McKean’s “Black Dog” is based on the life of surrealist painter Paul Nash and was released in 2016.

Chuck Green’s Idea Book and

Long-time professional illustrator and designer Chuck Green offers career advice and points out great examples in illustration, print, and web design on his site. His bi-weekly emails provide a curated overview of what’s happening across several design and marketing industries. Along with reading up on and looking at design trends, it’s crucial to keep working on your own portfolio. Many people build their skills with the tutorials on This is a good place to start learning a new technique or to refresh your skills in an area you haven’t worked in for a while.

Only Pencil Drawing

If you want to be an illustrator, you should know how to do work with nothing but pencil and paper. Polish your basic drawing skills with the step-by-step tutorials on Lisandro Peña’s Only Pencil Drawing. The Toronto-based artist specializes in wildlife drawings, but his tutorials include in-depth demonstrations of drawing human eyes, hair, etc. Peña helps artists focus on one skill at a time to help them learn how to pay attention to detail.


No matter what your preferred medium is, you should know how to use one of these.

Layers Magazine

If you use Adobe’s products, Layers Magazine is the place to go for tutorials and quick tips, whether you’re trying to learn how to add gritty texture to a photo, design an ebook in InDesign, or organize layers in illustrator. The tutorials range from the very basics of each program to advanced work that combines different effects. The site also offers free digital books and has profiles and interviews with different artists and design professionals.

Keeping Up with Trends

Sites like Illustration Age and How  will help you keep up with what is going on in the world of illustration and design. They have interviews, profiles, reviews, and, yep, tutorials, to help you keep up your skills and stay current with what is going on in the book, gaming, design, and film industries. Another way to keep up with what’s going on right now is through a trip to your local newsstand and bookstore. Look through the magazines to see what fonts and design trends are popular. Check out the children’s books and graphic novels to see what innovators are doing.

An Endless Free Resource

Don’t forget your local library. Even small libraries have collections of children’s books, graphic novels, and art books to give you inspiration. Most have video collections where you can find documentaries and films on art history. Getting to know the history of illustration trends helps you understand the craft and will help you find your unique style as an illustrator. Your library may have a fine arts gallery or a special collections area where you can look at old and rare books and manuscripts. Make friends with the reference librarians and they can help you find the right materials for you.


Studying illustrators of the past is a great way to get inspired and learn your craft. W.W. Denslow’s illustration from “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” (1900).

Any great beginner resources you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments below!

5 Tips to Make Your Illustration Portfolio Outrageously Attractive

When it comes to getting your name out there and landing paid gigs in illustration, your portfolio is everything; your calling card, a representation of all your talent and experience, and quite often the only opportunity you’ll get to make an impression.

The question is, how do you make that first impression count?

Today, we’ll be sharing…

5 Tips to Make Your Illustration Portfolio Outrageously Attractive

illustration portfolio tips

1. DO Make Your Portfolio Easy to Revise

As you progress in your career, what you’ll consider to be your “best” work, or even just work that you feel most represents your style as a whole, will change. Frequently.

As such, don’t make it difficult for yourself by formatting the portfolio in an extremely precise way that doesn’t lend itself to easy modification; or worse, saving it in some kind of rigid, un-editable file format.

You may even want to go one step further and tailor it to each individual job you apply for (which is always a good practice), so make your life easier from the start.

2. DON’T Include Your Early Work

This may sound like very basic and intuitive advice, but it’s surprising how many illustrators – both amateur and professional – seem to think that their portfolio should demonstrate how they’ve grown as an artist over the years.

illustration portfolio format

Don’t. A prospective employer doesn’t particularly care how far you’ve come; they just want to see your best stuff. Of course, you can tell your story by listing your illustration school experience and notable milestones in the text introduction, but it’s best to keep that brief and to the point too.

And that brings us neatly on to:

3. DO Observe the “Less is More” Rule

As you can imagine, a prospective employer may end up with a whole stack of portfolios to sort through and will only spend a minute reviewing each. With this in mind, try and pare yours down to around ten examples (with anything under 5 being too little, and over 15 probably being too overwhelming).

Not only that, but your portfolio can probably benefit from a little minimalism. Keep the design clean and uncluttered, putting the focus squarely on your illustration examples. In addition, try to stick with one piece of illustration per page (as long as this doesn’t create too much negative space), with a couple of lines detailing what the commission was for.

It can be a tough process to select only ten images to represent your entire body of illustration work, so consider asking a friend or fellow illustrator to lend a second pair of eyes.

4. DON’T Just Throw It All Together

Even if you’ve managed the above and figured out a killer set of only your finest illustration, don’t simply collect them together, whack an intro and contact details on the front, then call it a day.

illustration tips

Instead, take the other person on a journey. Start off with a really strong image to grab their attention, and order subsequent images in a way that maximizes the “flow” of the whole portfolio. Make it a real page turner, and you’ll increase the chances of getting that gig.

5. DO Drive it Home With a Website

As we covered earlier in our guide to creating a professional photography website (and much of the advice there applies to illustration), you’ll want your portfolio to lead people back to your house; a one-stop shop featuring all of the good stuff, and a place which makes it very easy to get in contact with you. In fact, if your physical portfolio is the starter, the website should be considered to be the main course.

All in all, make sure you put your best foot forward and try to see your portfolio as would an observer who has never met you. By putting into practice some, or all, of the above illustration portfolio tips, you’ll hopefully be attracting paying gigs from all over…

… best of luck!

Six Free Alternatives to Adobe Illustrator

There’s no question about it: the Adobe suite of graphic design and illustration software isn’t going anywhere anytime soon as the industry champion. Despite its quirks and teething problems that come with nearly every version update, it’s also arguably the best suite that money can buy.replica Rolex

The problem is, it takes a lot of money to buy it. Purchasing any of the CS titles outright can cost anywhere between $300 to $2,000 depending on which version you plump for, and Adobe’s attempts to convince people to pay on its new subscription model can cost anything between $50 to $200 every single month.

Obviously, that’s not an issue for those at NYFA’s illustration school who have got full access to the CS suite as part of their tuition program, but these are prohibitive price tags for everyone else. As such, today we’ll be exploring:

6 Free Alternatives to Adobe Illustrator


Illustration Software

Platform: Any modern web browser

What It Is: An editing suite that deals solely in SVG (scalable vector graphics), which may sound like a restriction but is actually quite useful given the versatility of the format. If you’re scared of getting into SVG editing, you’re missing out, and this will break you in gently. Being a web browser platform also sounds limiting, but again, the speed at which it operates as a result is often superior to desktop counterparts.


Free Illustrator Alternative

Platform: Windows/Linux

What It Is: As with SVG-Edit, Inkscape is also geared towards those who want to work primarily in the SVG file format. Featuring both a clean and intuitive user interface, but packed with advanced features (such as alpha blending, object cloning and very accurate bitmap tracing), Inkscape comes as a highly recommended free alternative to Adobe Illustrator.

Affinity Designer

affinity designer alternative to illustrator

Platform: Mac

What It Is: Full rasterizing controls, layer management, multiple file format support, infinite zooming and every vector drawing tool you could ever hope for… Affinity Designer could quite possible become a true Illustrator killer. At the moment it’s only available to Mac users and the full version comes with a small price tag of $49.99 with free upgrades for two years, but the trial version is still remarkably functional and worth a shot if you’re looking for a free editor. It’s even worth it just to play with the infinite zoom function (yes, infinite.)


adobe alternatives

Platform: All of them

What It Is: The one you’ve probably heard of. GIMP, an acronym for (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is more of an alternative to Photoshop rather than Illustrator since it its vector functions are limited, but what it can do in terms of image manipulation is second to none. Entirely free, open source, and loved by thousands (which have formed a very active online community since its release.). Have a look at the images on which used GIMP to create all the slot games images.

OpenOffice Draw

free illustration software for apache

Platform: Windows, Linux, Mac

What It Is: While Apache’s flagship vector illustrator looks a little outdated these days, that’s purely a cosmetic concern. It’s still packed with features and is especially geared towards diagram and object manipulation. It also comes with the very handy feature of being able to create Flash (.swf) files from your document.

Serif DrawPlus (starter edition)

DrawPlus: A Free Alternative to Adobe's Illustrator Software

Platform: Windows

What It Is: The starter edition of Serif’s DrawPlus is aimed towards the amateur illustrator given that A) it’s free software, and B) it’s very much a scaled-down version of the fuller release, but don’t let that put you off. It’s not limited in any way, there’s no pressure to shell out for the professional edition DrawPlus X6, and it does a good job of emulating its heavy weight cousins.

You might find you need to use a combination of the above free alternatives to Adobe Illustrator to get the job done, but for many people it’ll be worth the cash it saves and you may even find a new favorite. Got any others we need to check out? Drop a suggestion in the comments below!

Are you interested in the visual arts industry? Check out NYFA’s graphic design and 3D animation programs!

Seven Common Illustration Jobs

This article is intended as a reference and does not represent a guarantee or implication that NYFA graduates or others reading this article will obtain a job in their chosen career nor can salary be predicted since each job and the salary associated with it depends on the individual attributes of each applicant and on circumstances not within the control of any applicant.

Want to explore the numerous and varied roles that exist within the wider illustration industry? Look no further than our breakdown of illustration jobs below, in which we unpack what the work entails and why you might love (or hate) it.

Jobs in Illustration: Career Paths

Comic Book Illustrator

comic illustration jobs

One of the most highly coveted jobs on this list, and as a result, one of the most competitive fields to break into. This is particularly true when it comes to finding salaried positions for print work, though many have found success attracting commission work and raising other revenue through their own webcomics (as well as self-publishing.)

Comic Book Illustrator Career Path: As above. Attracting an audience via a web comic is a good place to start, though even that is a highly saturated market to break into these days. There is no prior experience needed for that, but if you’re looking to get hired full-time by the big boys, illustration school very helpful.

Pros: Believe everything you’ve heard: there’s an extreme amount of enjoyment to be had with comic book illustration.

Cons: Did we mention it’s a competitive market?

Courtroom Illustrator

Courtroom illustrator jobs

From one of the most sought-after jobs on the list to one of the quirkiest, being a courtroom sketch artist requires an extreme amount of skill. Not only do media outlets demand as much accuracy and realism as possible, but a lot of that has to come from memory alone.

Courtroom Illustrator Career Path: Due to the nature of bureaucracy in the field of law, qualifications from an illustration school are usually required (and will teach you the necessary skills of speed drawing and figure composition/shading.)

Pros: It’ll push your skills to the limit, and if you catch a bit of luck, you’ll get ringside seats to some very high-profile cases.

Cons: Chances are you’ll be too intensely focused on your work to derive any excitement of the case itself, and more often than not the proceedings will be as dull as dishwater.

Forensic Artists

From the courtroom to the scene of the crime itself, criminal sketch artists also require an extreme amount of skill and discipline but of a different kind; working one-on-one with an (often emotionally frayed) victim to produce an accurate facial sketch with nothing more than a hazy description from which to go off.

Forensic Artist Career Path: The majority of criminal sketch artists already hold positions in law enforcement, and you’ll at least need an endorsement by a law enforcement agency. There are specific workshops that provide training in this area, and you’ll probably want to join and/or seek tuition from the International Association for Identification. Psychological qualifications are also a bonus.

Pros: There’s a sense of job satisfaction in actively playing a part in solving crimes.

Cons: It can be harrowing at times.

Film Storyboarding

Storyboard artist jobs

Very few movies and commercials these days – even those of a tiny budget – are created without the use of a storyboard to plan out all the shots before production begins. For that, the team needs a storyboard illustrator.

Storyboard Illustrator Career Path: Paying work is generally garnered through a strong portfolio, so it can take some time to work up from volunteered work. Certain jobs also require not just good illustration skills, but also proficiency in 3D modeling software.

Pros: No two projects are ever the same.

Cons: Can be a highly pressurized environment to work in, with demands from numerous team members coming in from all angles.

Medical Illustrator

Medical illustrator salary

A career that dates back to the 16th century (and earlier), medical illustrators have a huge responsibility: to accurately depict body parts and aspects of their operation in order to aid medical professionals as well as marketing agencies, researchers, the pharmaceutical industry, and personal injury lawyers.

Medical Illustrator Career Path: There are numerous paths to becoming a medical illustrator, most of which requiring an extensive amount of scientific and/or medical training and a B.Sc degree in a related field (as well as illustration proficiency, of course.) The field is governed by the Board of Certification of Medical Illustrators.

Pros: In a word: money.

Cons: Not a good illustration job if you’re looking to exercise creativity, or are squeamish.

Fashion Illustrator

fashion illustration jobs

Working in one of the most cut-throat industries in the world, fashion illustrators typically work in either a design or advertising setting to bring sartorial ideas to life.

Fashion Illustrator Career Path: As with film storyboarding, a fashion illustrator’s portfolio is everything when it comes to gaining work in the field. It is often necessary to relocate to a large city in order to find a regular stream of paying work.

Pros: If you have a passion for haute couture, there’s no finer job. There’s also a lot of opportunity for travel and attending high profile events.

Cons: Again, it’s a very cut-throat industry.

Fine Art Illustrators

fine art illustrator jobs

This is the top of the creative pile within the field of illustration. Fine artists create work with the intent to sell them for their aesthetic value, making it a job that is highly depending on accolade, talent, and the current state of the market.

Fine Art Illustrator Career Path: Some fine artists go through rigorous training at illustration school to hone their skills to the level necessarily to enter the marketplace. Others, albeit a smaller proportion, get there with natural talent and a little luck.

Pros: Unlimited room to unleash your creativity as you see fit.

Cons: It’s a long way to the top.

Want to continue exploring jobs in visual arts? Head on over to our graphic design jobs & salaries breakdown page to discover more!

4 Proven Ways to Develop Your Own Illustration Style

Due to the nature of the Internet, we’re becoming increasingly exposed to a myriad different illustration styles from all corners of the globe. This is undeniably a good thing, as it means the well of inspiration is virtually limitless and instantly accessible, but it can also serve to muddy the waters. When you’re bombarded with so many great illustration styles on a constant basis, how do you best find and develop your own?

how to develop your illustration style

Today, we’re going to dig into how to do just that. Read on as we discuss:

How to Develop Your Own Illustration Style

1. Go Formal

We’d never deny that it’s entirely possible to learn the art of illustration through self-taught methods. However, they almost always involve emulating other people’s illustration styles in order to improve. This isn’t an ideal path to originality.

On the other hand, attending illustration school will give you the ability to stand on your own two feet as an illustrator. Rather than learning simply how to illustrate, you’ll learn the whys of illustration and the underlying concepts behind it all. Herein lies the key: as well as learning from the greats that came before you, formal tuition teaches all the methods and tools you’ll need to develop and execute your own ideas.

2. Realize It’s Okay to Admit Defeat

Sometimes, we as illustrators simply get stuck in a rut. We grind away with one of a few illustration styles for months and possibly years, never feeling that you’re advancing as an artist but at the same time feeling reluctant to give up on the investment you’ve already put into it.

In poker, they call this being “pot committed”: the act of having put so much in already, that you might as well keep going despite a high risk of it not paying off.

Of course, this is a bad move. You’ll never master every one of the many illustration styles you’ll attempt during your lifetime, and there’s no shame in recognizing that and moving on when you find that something’s not clicking for you.

3. Switch Medium

When it’s time to change things up a little, don’t just switch illustration style… switch the medium you’re using entirely.

Illustration styles

Are you a big inker? Try going pencil-only. Do you typically work in pencil? Commit to only using acrylics for a month. Done all of those already? Try something totally unconventional like working with textiles or stencils, or even try playing with different things such as comic-book format or large scale canvas.

Nothing will help you get out of a rut quicker, and even though the results might be mediocre, the new ways of thinking will bring you back to your own comfort zone. At the end, the experiment will be worth it.

And lastly…

4. Don’t Chase the Dollar

At some point or another, you’ll attract your first commission. Every illustrator remembers his or her first one, and there’s no greater feeling in the world.

Making money off of the back of your art is a great goal to pursue and hopefully achieve, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. But at the same time, it’s often ill-advised to center your entire illustrative style around the kind of things that are currently attracting commission. Reasons being:

  • The market changes constantly, and you’ll always be one step behind.
  • Chances are you’ll end up being a second-rate version of the people you’re trying to emulate.
  • You run the risk of losing your love of illustration.

illustration how-to

But to those that are worried that their own illustrative style or direction is so quirky and out there that nobody is ever likely to commission work from you, we’d say don’t fret… and definitely don’t underestimate the selling power of originality. We previously covered five illustrators that not only stuck true to their own inimitable style, but it also lead them to a lucrative career.

5 Of The Most Influential And Famous Illustrators of ALL Time

Today, we’re taking a tour of some of the most influential and/or famous illustrators of all time, with works spanning from the 18th century up to modern day. If you’re a student attending illustration school and want to take a page out of the books of giants that came before you, check out the following trailblazers of the illustration industry.

1. Charles M. Schultz

No list of the most influential illustrators of all time is complete – or should even begin – without a hat-tip to Charles M. Schultz, the godfather of daily comic strips.

Charles Schultz most influential illustrators

Not only did the Peanuts creator directly influence the likes of Bill Watterson (of Calvin & Hobbes fame), but he also set the bar infinitely high for success in the field of comic illustration. Peanuts is most likely the most syndicated, most translated, most merchandized, most awarded and most influential comic ever created and possibly the longest running (at least by a single author and illustrator, with Schultz having created close to 18,000 strips over 50 years.)

Schultz worked tirelessly on Peanuts, drawing a new one daily and refusing any assistance. He also took only one break – to celebrate his 75th birthday – during the five decade run of Peanuts. The hard work certainly paid off, however, with Schultz having earned around $1.1 billion over his lifetime.

2. Richard Corben

As one of the lesser-known illustrators listed here, Corben is the kind of guy whose work abounds in popular culture and is instantly recognizable, even if you don’t know the name. Amongst his immense body of work, there’s at least one individual piece that you’ll probably recognize:

famous illustration: Bat out of hell Album

For the most part, Corben has kept his mastery to the graphic novel sphere, but his work there has received no end of praise from other top illustrators. One such example being H.R. Geiger, who wrote: “People like Richard Corben are, in my view, maestros.”

And speaking of which…

3. H.R. Geiger

Few illustrators have a penchant for the nightmarish quite like the late Hans Rudolf Geiger, a man whose surrealist work – be it illustration, sculpture, or paintwork – was as unique as it was unsettling.

Alien concept art

His bizarre melding of the biological and the mechanical went on to attract the attention of Ridley Scott, who put Geiger’s talents to good use on a little sci-fi film called Star Beast. Of course, this was later entitled Alien and the rest is history, with Geiger’s horrifying eponymous creation having endured in pop culture to this day.

As an amusing aside, the artist was once held up and searched at an airport. Of the experience, Geiger recalled: “Dutch customs once thought my drawings were photos. Where on earth did they think I could have photographed my subjects? In Hell, perhaps?”

4. William Blake

While the English poet’s art and illustrations didn’t garner much acclaim during his own lifespan, his artistry – both written and illustrated – had a huge influence on the world from the pre-Raphaelites onwards, and his depictions of biblical and other subject matter have endured in popular culture ever since.

Blake influential artist

Incidentally, when speaking of the most influential illustrators of all time, Gustave Doré’s name frequently crops up. A curious link is that William Blake wrote and illustrated Milton: A Poem in Two Parts, which was centered around John Milton (real-life author of the epic poem Paradise Lost) returning from his tour of the heavens to recount his tales in poem format. Gustave Doré had earlier illustrated Paradise Lost, and also provided the illustrations for Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy

… an epic poem which featured the author taking a tour of the heavens to recount his tales in poem format.

5. Maurice Sendak

Sendak illustrated and wrote a huge array of highly popular children’s titles, but it was his 1963 creation Where the Wild Things Are that arguably influenced American children’s illustration moreso than any other title (by Sendak or otherwise).

Maurice Sendak famous illustrators

Where the Wild Things Are eventually became an unprecedented success, having sold around 20 million copies since its publication and tangibly changing the way countless illustrators thereafter approached artwork for children’s books – while dark themes have always been common to children’s literature, it was very rare for illustrators to mirror this darkness in the graphical elements. This could be the reason why early reviews of the book were negative, and many libraries refused to carry it.

Despite the huge popularity of the book, Sendak refused to create a sequel, calling it “the most boring idea ever.” Following his death in 2012, New York Times heralded his lifelong achievements and noted in their obituary that Sendak was “the most important children’s book artist of the 20th century.”

Few would argue that distinction.

The Dangers of Illustration Competitions

If you surfed on in at random hoping for a slew of 2015 illustration competitions to enter, you’ll find a link below which will take you to a whole host of them.

… but don’t scroll to the bottom just yet. First, a few words of caution.

the dangers of illustration competitions

An increasing amount of debate is being held as to whether illustration competitions are worth entering in the first place, with many professionals going so far as to saying they actively damage the industry. On the face of it, they seem like a great way to promote new and established talent; on the other side of the coin, they can be seen to take advantage of – and exploit – the eagerness of new illustrators.

Today, we’ll take an impartial look at both sides of the debate, starting with:

The Case For Illustration Competitions

You’re a student at illustration school, working hard to master all facets of the craft and get ahead of the competition. You may even be at the level that you’re consistently producing excellent work with the skills that you’ve learned and feel that you’re ready to take on paying illustration work.

Question is, how best to get your name out there?

Obviously a website to act as a one-stop shop for your services is important (check out our guide to creating a photography website, since most of the advice is transferable). But drawing attention to it, as well as having some accolades to put on the site in the first place, can be an uphill struggle.

That’s where illustration competitions come in. With only a few hours of your time, you can submit your work to numerous applicable competitions and – fingers crossed – win some, or at least get yourself some recognition on the short list.

2015 illustration competitions

In a nutshell, you stand to gain some useful recognition and whatever prize is up for grabs in exchange for just a little of your time. What could be wrong with that? Isn’t it nice of whoever is curating the illustration competition to give up their own resources to create this opportunity?

The Case Against Illustration Competitions

Detractors of such contests are quick to point out one solid point: your time and work as an illustrator should not be considered valueless, and you’re potentially giving both up – for free – with nothing to gain.

Of course, a freelancer of any profession needs to put in a little bit of unpaid time to get their career rolling, but that’s for their own benefit. It’s ill-advised to devalue yourself in order to further someone else’s agenda. And therein lies the crux: what is the competition actually for?

Before entering any illustration competitions, ask what the ultimate aim is. One of the biggest sticking points is what is known as ‘on-spec work‘ – i.e. carrying out artwork for a company with the hope that you get selected for payment, all under the guise of an ‘illustration competition’.

The Problem With On-Spec Work

Particularly prevalent in logo illustration, a contest holder – usually a business – will run a competition asking illustrators to submit branding designs. Fifty illustrators will make a bespoke logo, and the best one will be chosen (and hopefully paid for). The upshot? Forty-nine people worked for nothing – the company took advantage of fifty people’s expertise, and only paid for one.

on spec work

Even worse, some illustration competitions go on to use all of the work submitted despite only giving ‘prizes’ to a select few.  But there’s a practice that is even worse still, and something you should avoid like a plague:

Big Red Flag: NEVER Pay to Enter Illustration Competitions

Just don’t do it. Plain and simple.

Whereas it’s argued that some companies are unaware of the devaluing nature of on-spec competitions (like the example above) and should be educated by those of us in the field wherever possible, those who charge entry fees are simply out to profit off your unpaid work. Look out for any unspecified ‘admin fees’ associated with entering the competition, and go the other way.

competition fee to enter

$20 might not sound much to you, but five hundred illustrators all paying the same amount represents a lot of cash to the competition runner who nearly always offers nebulous promises of recognition and prizes in return. Even if the entry fees are used to fund a monetary prize pot, this is tantamount to a pyramid scheme.

Further Reading

The organization No!Spec explores all of the ideas touched upon here in greater detail, and offers resources to help keep yourself from being exploited (and as mentioned, a lot of parties offering on-spec work are genuinely unaware of the harm such illustration competitions cause, so feel free to point them in the right direction too.)

The Logo Factory also has further information on contest and crowdsourcing related work, and the pitfalls associated with it.

And finally…

2015 Illustration Competitions

A concise and comprehensive aggregator of 2015 illustration competitions can be found over at Contest Watchers, but you’ll have to comb through them with a skeptical eye now that you’re armed with the above information.

on spec work

10 Essential Twitter Accounts for Illustrators

When you imagine Alice in Wonderland, most likely you bring to mind John Tenniel’s iconic illustrations of the bizarre characters which inhabited the book’s pages (or possibly the classic 1951 Disney animated imagining of them). For decades before and since, illustrators have been bringing characters to life and create rich visuals worlds in numerous industries from animated movies to video games.

If you’re an illustrator working in the field or currently studying at illustration school, here are some Twitter accounts worth following.

10 Essential Twitter Accounts for Illustrators

New York Film Academy

Because NYFA offers a one-year program in illustration, our Twitter account is a good source of information for illustrators and visual content creators.

Want to be inspired by other artists or to share your work? InspireFirst is an open publishing platform for artists to display their work, making them a worthy entry in the list of most essential Twitter accounts for illustrators the world over.


The Association of Illustrators is a trade association that promotes and serves illustration professionals. Follow AOI’s Twitter stream for news, advice, and open positions related to illustration.


Pictoplasma promotes character design by publishing character collections and arranging conferences and events around the world. If you illustrate characters, this account is a must-follow.

Directory of Illus.

Another online community for illustrators, the Directory of Illustration Twitter stream posts links to articles, interviews, award announcements, and striking examples of recent illustrations.

Adobe Creative Cloud

Today’s illustrators are as likely to use a computer as they are a pen or brush, and Adobe’s suite of design programs is the industry standard for visual content creation.

Cartoon Museum

Based in the UK, the Cartoon Museum collects and exhibits British cartoons from the 18th century to today. If you’re an illustrator with an interest in cartoons, this account will appeal to you.

Polly & Chris

Wrap Magazine highlights outstanding examples of contemporary illustration, focusing especially on novel stationary, greeting cards, and wrapping paper.

Michael Kutsche

Michael Kutsche has done work for Disney, Dreamworks, and Marvel, to name a few. He  also illustrated the Red Queen and the Cheshire Cat for Tim Burton’s production of Alice in Wonderland, and the insight he offers from the upper echelons of the industry make this one of the most essential Twitter accounts for illustrators to follow.


Some of the best work in illustration is found in children’s books. This Twitter account showcases the work and portfolios of contemporary illustrators for children’s literature.

The Drawing Renaissance: Digital Illustration vs. Hand-Drawn

The resurgence in drawing in recent years is a refreshing step away from the deluge of conceptual art pieces of the 1990’s. Not that there hasn’t ever been a time when drawing was not essential to the production of art, but it seems that there are more exhibitions devoted entirely to hand-drawn art now than at any other point in the last 50 years.

To boot, there has also been an increased interest in the study of illustration, with professional illustration schools coming into prominence in recent years… and it’s easy to see why.

Drawing is instantly accessible. There is not one person who has not drawn something at least once in their lives. Drawing can be used in all manner of settings, from detailed anatomical drawings from the field of biology and architectural drafts to illustration, tattoos and comics with a subversive undercurrent. From the simple process of mark-making to more complex abstract techniques there is a wealth of artists producing fantastically emotive pieces which are bringing the art of draftsmanship right into the forefront of 21st century art.

The Versatility of the Medium

artbike1Illustration is notably versatile, with an amazing variety of different mark making processes which are bringing a new breath of life into this traditional art form. The mediums used can be as diverse as the artists. Thinking beyond pens and paper, anything can be used in the creation of great illustration, from using rocks and bones as a canvas to Joseph L. Griffiths amazing bicycle drawing machine.

Part of the reason so many artists are returning to illustration as a medium for creative expression is the fact that it is relatively inexpensive to produce and does not typically require investment into a huge studio. This makes drawing the perfect medium for today’s troubled economic times, especially for young artists who are struggling in a climate that would never have supported the likes of a young Damian Hirst or Rachel Whiteread in the early years of their careers.

The Roots of the Movement

While the resurgence in the art of drawing may seem like the antithesis of the great conceptual pieces of the end of the last century, the roots of the movement started at the same time.

For example, in LA in the 1990s the drawings of Ray Pettibon were being distributed through the growing e-zine movement, as well as being exhibited in various locations around Los Angeles and New York.

Raymond Pettibon

While he was one of the most well known artists of this period, there were plenty of others who were already moving towards this simpler and more accessible aesthetic.

Known as ‘Low-Brow’ or ‘Pop-Surrealism’, there were clusters of artists across the scene who were re-visiting the techniques of the 60s with hand drawn lettering and detailed pattern making. These techniques have unquestionably become a driving part of the revival of the folk art movement and the increased appeal of the hand drawn image. At the same time there were many more fine artists working with embroidery or beading to create work which is beautifully individual and unique.

It seems that the greater hold the digital age has on our collective consciousness, the more people crave the craftsmanship that goes into making a truly unique, one off piece.

Illustration to Make Sense of a Turbulent World

Although the art of drawing has always been an integral part of creating pieces in all different mediums, the idea that a hand-drawn illustration can indeed be a finished piece of work is something to be embraced. There are some truly innovative approaches happening in contemporary drawing which see the conventional being turned on its head as the art world reawakens its sense to the immediacy and purity of the mark-making process.

contemporary illustration

3D Animal mural by Fiona Tang

In an age where digitally-produced art seems all-consumng, today’s renewed interest in this most fundamental of artistic techniques is a sign of the times as society enters one of the most challenging periods it has seen for centuries. The immediacy and creativity of the process allows the concepts of social and political turmoil to be addressed in the most simplistic of lines and forms.

Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop have changed the industry landscape forever – generally for the best – but hand-drawn illustrations can be created anywhere, with anything the artist has to hand which makes it one of the purest forms of expression in an increasingly turbulent world.

Illustration by Pejac

Illustration by Pejac

Whatever the medium for the process of mark-making (and whatever the digital die-hards might proclaim), the art of contemporary illustration is still integral to the creative interpretation of the 21st century.