How To’s

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.

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

SVG-Edit

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.

Inkscape

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.)

GIMP

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.)

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 And Their Average Salaries

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, why you might love (or hate) it, how to get into the role, and ultimately, what you can expect as an average salary.

It should be noted that salary figures provided below, as with any creative industry, are ballpark figures only. The difficulty rating listed doesn’t denote how hard the illustration job is, but rather how tricky it is to break into paying work for that field.

Jobs in Illustration: Career Paths and Salaries Breakdown

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 is mandatory.

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?

Difficulty: 9/10

Web Designer Salary: For print comic books, commission rates vary on a per-page basis from $100 to $1000 depending on experience.

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.

Difficulty: 7/10

Courtroom Illustrator Salary: Very few salaried positions exist, as work is sporadic. No figures on earnings exist either. The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists average yearly earnings of $42,000, but that includes all fine art illustrators.

Forensic Artists

Forensic artist salary

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.

Difficulty: 8/10

Forensic Artist Salary: As of 2013, the average salary for forensic artists was reported to be $44,000 by Indeed.com.

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.

Difficulty: 7/10

Storyboard Illustrator Salary: Those working in film can expect an average salary of $84,610, while those in advertising and marketing can expect $65,760 (though both are hugely dependent on location.)

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.

Difficulty: 10/10

Medical Illustrator Salary: It depends hugely on whether you’re working on a freelance or salaried basis, the field of medicine you’re in, what level of seniority you hold, and by whom you are employed. This wide range is impressive, however; between $61,000 at the low end, and up to $250,000 at the top of the scale.

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.

Difficulty: 7/10

Fashion Illustrator Salary: Around $50,000 on average, give or take.

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 in order 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.

Difficulty: 9/10

Fine Art Illustrator Salary: It’s one of those jobs in which the vast majority earn very little while, the top few percentiles earn over $100,000 a year. The result is a skewed average that is reported to be $42,000.

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.