“Top Seven Mistakes Made by Aspiring Illustrators” – Article by illustrator Kristina Gehrmann

1. Selling yourself as a beginner

I found a prime example of this in a forum for artists seeking work. The thread title was „Starting-out artist looking for a chance”,, and the thread told that the artist is „looking for a client for whom I may draw” and has „just graduated from art college”.
We all were at this point once, but usually it takes too long to realize that „beginner” is the wrong mindset, even if you are one. Such statements sound like excuses and are guaranteed to weaken your position. Don’t make excuses. Do not justify your work, and do not justify your prices. This is a tricky habit to acquire since we’re not very confident by nature, but remember the image you want to project, no matter what your actual experience level, is this:
‘I am a professional illustrator. I know what I am doing. I am successful. I’m on the same level with my client and in an equally strong position. I am not a clueless servant but a business partner and expert who finds problem solutions.’
To recap: you are not looking for a „chance”. You are not „allowed” to draw for the generous benefactor client who might even pay you a little. You are a professional business (regardless of your actual experience and portfolio) acting as such, and deserving to be treated as such.

2. Not looking for nor making use of opportunities

Did you know there are hundreds of scholarships and grants out there for students? Not just in the United States but everywhere else as well!
When was the last time you have taken advantage of portfolio reviews at illustration conventions and book fairs?
Have you searched for websites that list contests where you can send in work (read the terms carefully)?
Are you aware of the many illustration and digital art books and annuals that regularly accept submissions (such as Spectrum, the Illustrator’s Society annuals, the Ballistic Publishing books, etc.)?
If you want to work in the games industry, have you seen how many game development studios expressly welcome unsolicited art submissions in the „jobs” section of their websites?
Are you reading blogs on freelance life and illustration and learning from your peers? Many great folks also post in forums (such as ConceptArt.org), sharing invaluable insight and experience.
Do your research. Learn from everyone you can. The internet isn’t just a playground for lolcats and a porn goldmine but first and foremost the most comprehensive professional resource in the history of mankind. Use it.

3. Relying on the client for all the paperwork

As beginners we’re often inclined to expect the client to handle all paperwork such as contracts, purchase orders, written agreements, etc. on everything from an illustration job to agency representation to an art licensing agreement. „Who wants to worry about all that – I just want to draw!”
What illustrators often don’t realize is that by sending their own written agreements they put themselves in a stronger negotiation position. Client contracts are – surprise! – often more in favour of the client than of the artist. Of course, many companies will send your their contract immediately and hopefully it has good terms, but you will also have private clients who simply have never done this sort of thing before and will feel helpless if you don’t send them a contract.
This means you have to do your research about what a standard written agreement needs to contain to be understandable and reasonable to both sides, and how to adjust it according to the needs of each project. It has to be in clear, precise language – no legal gibberish – and English speakers can refer to the „Graphic Artist Guild’s Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines” for standard documents outlining the major points: Description of work, deadlines, payment times, transfer of usage rights, cancellation fee, etc. … etc.
German speakers should refer to the Illustratoren Organisation e.V. and review the AGB (Terms of Use) that contain all important points.
And even if you don’t want to handle your own contracts there are documents you MUST know how to write – for example, the invoice. Depending on where you live a legally valid invoice must fulfill several points (such as having your tax number on it, the VAT, invoice number, etc. – for example).

4. Not knowing standard fees in the professional industry

Many of us, when doing their first art or illustration jobs, are still highschool or college students, perhaps still living at our parents’ home. So when we barely hit the minimum wage with that commission, it still feels like a nice, fat extra allowance, and one step closer to the new ipod we’ve been saving for.
But when it comes to making a living, that’s a whole new league. Until recently I could barely imagine what living in a big city costs. To live comfortably in Hamburg, Germany, it takes about 2000 euros per month – for a single person before taxes! Personal preferences will vary greatly, but no matter how frugally you live, you’ll need to calculate with an hourly rate of 50-60€ for your average job. For you Americans: that’s between $60-70 per hour – and that’s just the minimum recommended by the German illustrator’s association. Sounds like a lot? Check out a few examples of standard industry fees for different types of illustration:
USA: [link]
Germany: [link]
The „Graphic Artists’ Guild Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines” contains even more examples of professional fees.

5. Thinking that the unpaid or low-pay job will pay off

It will. But only for the next DVD or book you’ve been planning to buy – it won’t cover any living costs and you will probably earn legal minimum wage or less. Should you, an expert, really be making that little? If you do, you are probably not an expert nor a skilled master illustrator, and your client knows it, too.
Many a client promises „exposure” to compensate for a meagre payment, but if you’ve ever spent more than ten minutes on the internet you already know that you can get exposure for free, on dozens of different art communities, social networks and portfolio sites; and that you also have the brains to find a market to your work and send your portfolio to specifically selected art directors and potential clients.
You are the #1 expert when it comes to creating your own exposure. It is something you can take for granted. By the way, it does not pay the bills.

6. Not having a portfolio

This one might sound like a no-brainer here on the internet, but when I was an illustration student at the Akademie Leonardo in Hamburg I was shocked that at least half of my co-students did not, and probably still don’t, have a professional-looking online portfolio or blog. It is nothing complicated: all it takes is simple selection of your best work, easy to flip through and clean looking, with your contact information visible everywhere.
It’s true that a few professionals don’t have one, or only a Deviantart gallery – their careers just took off before the need arose.
But most of us aren’t child prodigies and need to present ourselves for a while or even years to get noticed. Your portfolio is what you show clients. For me personally other online galleries and forums have been very valuable additions as well – such as Deviantart, ConceptArt.org, Shadowness, Cghub… There is no shortage of online galleries where you can show your work, and if you have the time and dedication you can upload to work to dozens of places where people will see it, and even if your dream client doesn’t see it you will win new fans and discover beautiful, inspiring new work by other artists.

7. Thinking that art school will teach you all you need to know

In the three or four years that standard illustration or art studies take, it is impossible to get thouroughly prepared in both your craft and the business skills. There is simply not enough time in the curriculum. Therefore most art schools focus just on painting and drawing, allocating a bit of leftover time to everything else.
Furthermore, many teachers have been out of touch with the professional art or illustration business for a long time – they won’t be able to prepare you for what awaits you in the future, when in their own 1980s career they were still sending art portfolios on slides, and have never used a graphics tablet.
Some teachers are very up-to-date and know their stuff but they are rare. You must educate yourself along with your studies in art school. Don’t think that after graduation you’ll instantly be a pro. Start pretending to be a professional right now! Do your research – find out where your market is, learn about paperwork and taxes, get organized, and refine your drawing skills beyond classes.

Source: Article by illustrator Kristina Gehrmann – www. mondhase.de

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