Illustration is a huge contributor to the success of the creative industry, but we have a problem. We have reached a pivotal moment, and what we do now as an industry will define our future.
Despite illustration BAs being one of the fastest-growing undergraduate courses in the UK, the emerging talent can get lost in a way that design graduates do not. There is no real emphasis on the fact you will be freelance and are therefore starting a business. Business guidance, financial and legal advice or practical information about fees or how to earn a salary are not provided at university level. This contributes heavily to the majority of illustrators not proactively seeing themselves as a business. This is a worldwide issue with illustrators at all levels so it needs urgent action, which is why we are calling for an illustration revolution!
How do we suggest doing this? Well, it’s simple, but everyone needs to do their part. We are proposing that all illustrators take action by investing at least one hour ideally per day into the business side of your practice.
Illustration is booming, but illustrators are suffering
There has never been a better time to be an illustrator, and the global talent out there right now is mind-blowing! It’s possible to earn £40k to £50k a year, regardless of what areas of illustration you work in, but we don’t want it to take you 10+ years to get to that salary.
You are not just someone who likes to draw; you’ve chosen a career as an illustrator. You are a business and need to take the appropriate steps to ensure that you are at least financially stable.
Very rarely do illustrators understand the true value of their work for a client. They are the reason the advert was funny or successful, the reason why mummy or daddy picked up that children’s book, and the reason why I bought that awful bottle of wine last week (it had an awesome label with a giraffe on it!). Illustration communicates ideas, connects with audiences and makes sales in a way that nothing else can. This is the true value of illustration to the client, and this is the value of your fee.
Knowledge is lacking
Being business-minded often doesn’t come naturally for illustrators. Out of all the creative industries, I’d say they are the most likely candidates to work for free and undervalue themselves. Illustrators can lack client and contract negotiation skills, industry knowledge, and confidence. On top of this, the vast majority don’t understand the factors that go into pricing and licensing.
This means that many are not getting enough work and are not achieving the fees, clients and conditions they deserve. This weakens our community – because more illustrators are coming in and staying at this level – as well as creating space for anxiety to flourish.
“You are not just someone who likes to draw; you are a business and need to ensure that you are financially stable.”
Business education is a must
While many universities produce outstanding illustrators, supported by brilliant tutors and amazing programmes, there is still a shocking number of institutions where students are not encouraged to consider the commercial reality of their work. When we go into universities to deliver our Business Masterclass, it is often the first time that students have thought about their work in these terms.
The majority of illustration grads leave a course feeling lost when it comes to how to monetise their skills; they are not industry-ready. This is unfair on students who have spent years on a course that teaches a commercial art form, often leaving them in huge debt. This lack of support feeds into rapidly increasing mental-health issues.
In recent years, we’ve also noticed a rise in complacency from UK students. There seems to be an obsession with just getting the grade, with little awareness to the fact that it’s your portfolio that is integral to launching your career and determining its overall success. We also see a lot of UK illustration grads following trends or copying other illustration styles – and this urgently needs to change.
It’s great to talk about the issues facing our industry, but the only way that anything will actually change is for every illustrator to take action in their own lives. Every business decision they make affects others – agreeing to copyright assignments; not negotiating your contracts; undervaluing yourself. When you do this, commissioners will expect that of the next illustrator they commission.
Every job needs a contract, and every contract needs to be negotiated. If you don’t negotiate for fairer terms then the client won’t ever expect an illustrator to challenge them. This leaves you and your peers open to exploitation.