It’s that time of year again when thousands of expectant and wide-eyed students plunge themselves into the world of work… Or, shall we say, looking for it at least. I’ve had a number of them contact me, asking for tips about how to make it in the world of graphic design and illustration and, although I’m not exactly Quentin Blake (though I do resemble his drawings of the witches first thing in a morning), I wanted to write this blog to give you students some honest advice.
It’s really hard for any graduate, but I have to say I think it’s particularly hard for those pursuing a career in the creative industries (sorry!). The main reason is that there is no ‘one size fits all’ and no single route to becoming an ‘artist’. In many cases, an artist or designer will be successful because their work is unique and individual, but with that comes the cost that their work will not fit in elsewhere. And how do you get that work out there in the first place? Who do you contact? Where do you start? Well, here are a few tips if you’re interested in a career in visual communication.
1. What’s in your portfolio? In reality very few creative jobs will ask you whether you got a 2:1 in Graphic Design or an A in GSSE art. They are only really interested in your experience or your work. I’m guessing your experience is pretty limited so that’s where your portfolio comes in. It needs to be good… No, actually, it needs to be amazing! If you’re applying to be a graphic designer or get illustration work make sure it’s full of ‘live’ briefs (by that I mean not just full of pretty pictures, but work that can be used commercially: re-brand a well known company, illustrate an article in The Guardian… You get the gist.
2. How is your CV presented? At the Graphic Design agency I used to work for I was continually surprised at some of the cvs we got through the door that had no thought gone into the design. By sending in your CV you are saying that you feel you are worthy of a job as a Graphic Designer, but if your CV has been typed out in comic sans with no thought to the layout then we would say you are most certainly not! The same thing goes for how your portfolio is presented; is it worth having an online portfolio? Or getting it made into a little booklet?
3. Think about who you are approaching. It’s not always a case of sending the same CV out to everyone, you may need to tailor it to specific agencies or businesses. You want to stand out as someone who fills the gap, the perfect candidate. Take a look at their company website, see where best you feel your work fits in, compliment their work on your covering letter.
4. Work for free. This is a tricky one because I do not condone artists who lower the standard of design by churning out rubbish for free, nor do I suggest undercutting other artists to get work. However, if you have very little experience you need to build your portfolio somehow and this means working when there is no money involved; self initiated projects and briefs. Get work experience at an agency if you can, though be prepared to make lots of cups of tea! For illustration rates it’s well worth joining the AOI who give valuable pricing guidelines.
5. Get inspiration from other artists. No, that doesn’t mean copying! Especially If you want to work as a freelance illustrator, then you’ll need to make sure that your style is unique but that doesn’t mean you can’t get inspiration from them - in fact, the more you experiment with your work the better. Make sure you have time to develop your personal work so your work is moving forward.
6. Keep your eyes and ears open. Are there competitions in your field that can help to raise your profile? Is there gallery space that you can display your work? Get on twitter and social media and see what other artists are doing. Google! Search for opportunities, but always be polite and don’t get too big for your boots.
7, Be realistic. You’re not going to be the next Big thing overnight, these things take time. Are you in it for the long haul and prepared to put the work in? Are you prepared that people are not going to answer your emails and tell you your work is great (some will tell you the opposite). Do you love what you do enough to stick with it through the hard times and to keep pushing doors?
8. Take advice. Take any you can get. There are people who have a wealth of information; these may be other artists or simply people who run their own businesses. Find someone who’s where you want to be and ask them how they got there. If someone criticises your work, take on board their comments but stay true to yourself. Advice needs to be weighed up but that doesn’t mean that criticism is a bad thing - it’s been very helpful for me to try new things with my work.
9. Be yourself. Don’t take people as gullible, they are experts in their field and they know what they’re talking about. Give them respect by being honest.
10. Don’t give up. You will get there in the end. At least that’s what I tell myself every morning…
If you have any other gems of advice I’d love to hear them! Good luck to all you students who are venturing into the world of work!