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I’m useless at networking, it brings me out in a cold sweat. I once signed up to a large conference in Bristol called ‘Vision', with the hope of overcoming the fear. I worked out who I would introduce myself to and went along with bags of determination and a box full of business cards. I spent the entire time sitting in the corner almost frozen to the chair, turning people’s speeches in to little doodled infographics. I spoke to about 3 people all day, and they were the ones serving tea. But I tweeted the illustrations I’d done to the speakers, and the following day printed them out on to card and popped them in the post. And voila, I was in touch with some major figures in the world of advertising. All of them replied personally too. This proved to me that I'm a great communicator after all, just not in a traditional way.
So for the many illustrators and artists (who, like me, often feature somewhere on the introvert scale), social media is the perfect way to confidently and creatively network. It’s possible to tell an idol that we love their work, we can tag a brand into the illustration we’ve done of their new range, or we can share a new project with a simple little RT and a clever hashtag. We can show process videos on Instagram Stories and we can talk to thousands of people on Twitter without actually having to say a word or leave the comfort of our studio. And thankfully this natural and instinctive use of social media is turning heads.
There was a time that the majority of social media stars were young, female and confident (thin, white, pretty should probably be added to the list too). We started to see their faces everywhere and brands were falling over themselves to pay to feature on their channels. But times have changed and social media has made household names of people from all demographics. Social has become more sophisticated and it isn’t just all about numbers anymore. It’s about true engagement, relevance and trust. And it’s about unique and creative content.
So now illustrators and artists are stepping into the limelight, partnering with brands and being considered digital influencers themselves. And there's hardly a selfie in sight.
There are artists who have risen to an almost God-like status now on Instagram. Helen Downie (@UnskilledWorker), was commissioned by Gucci to paint portraits of their collection for an exhibition in Shanghai and has since become an Instagram sensation, amassing 223k Instagram followers. Recently Gill Button (@buttonfruit) worked with Dries Van Noten on beautiful ink pieces for use as invitations, in their stores, as a printed book, and as illustrated videos shared on Instagram. The process video on Instagram attracted more than double the amount of any other video I spotted on the Dries feed. And just last week at New York Fashion Week Julie Verhoeven’s graphic illustrations featured on accessories for Marc Jacobs, the images of which were shared with his 5 million Instagram fans. That's a big deal.
And it doesn’t stop there. Emma Block joined the Stylist Mag team and a whole host of influencers on a weekend trip to a chateau in France, where she was commissioned to paint scenes from the event. Amidst a sea of photographs the illustrations captured something that a camera couldn’t and were a real success on the magazine's Insta page. But not only that, people wanted to know what Emma was wearing, what watercolours she was using and they commented on her Instagram page with questions galore. She now speaks to her followers daily on Instagram Stories, sharing details of her projects and art materials.
I love following Meagan Morrison (@travelwritedraw) for similar reasons. One minute she’s on holiday in Croatia, the next at New York Fashion Week…and she’s painting the whole time as well as sharing details about what store her dress is from and where she’s having a coffee. As well as admiring her talent I'm interested in her as a person, as are thousands of her fans.
And with the increased popularity of illustration on Instagram we are seeing a rise in enquiries to our live illustration group LIL Collective. People want us at their events to illustrate portraits on to postcards, customise tote bags, or paint on to windows because they want to watch us draw, they want to meet us, and they want to share that unique content with their followers. It’s a very exciting time to be someone in love with drawing I can tell you!
So I feel really hopeful and excited about the future. I’m very happy to have myself been nominated for a Digital Influencer Award recently by InStyle Magazine and featured in their Best Illustrators to Follow article (sorry, shameless plug!!!), and I’m hoping it’s just the start. I’m in talks about offering my illustrated Instagram collage to brands and I have some really exciting news too that I can reveal later in the year. It really feels like things are changing and that brands are realising there’s huge value in partnering with illustrators. I can’t wait to see how things develop, for me and for other artists too.
Thanks for reading!
To contact me directly please email me (Niki Groom) at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact Helen Cowley at Dutch Uncle at email@example.com (personally I’d pick Helen, she’s much faster at responding to emails!)
To contact us at LIL Collective for live illustration at events, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s very easy to say, “Don’t work for free”. As an unknown illustrator it can seem the only way to get noticed when all of your attempts to get work aren’t paying off. But by doing a commercial project for a zero fee you’re not doing you, or the illustration industry as a whole, any favours. Attach value to your skills and knowledge and others will do too.
This year I’ve been contacted numerous times asking for free work in exchange for exposure. They’ve seen my work in Accessorize stores, in Red Mag, or they've met me illustrating live for Clinique and have then asked me to do something for them for nothing. If I'm honest it makes me pretty angry and confused (as those who follow me on Twitter will know!) but more than anything I find it disheartening, and as a result it can really affect my creative work. But I have a strict rule, and that is that I don’t do corporate / brand work for free. As someone rightly said to me on Twitter, all free work gets you is more free work. The more brands that receive, "sorry, but I don't work for free" replies from illustrators, the faster they will start to plan their budgets to allow payments for us freelance creatives.
In the past I have on occasion vastly reduced my fee for a large brand, and have lived to regret it. One company in question wanted more and more for less and less. It got to the point where I was receiving messages via Whats App asking, “as a favour please quickly mock up this idea for us”, when the project I’d been paid to do had finished weeks before. I did the favour, I never got a thank you. I certainly learnt my lesson there.
Recently I was approached by a huge tech company asking me to deliver workshops for free. It’s taken me weeks to decide but I’m going to say no. Yes, something great might come of it….but also it might not. I have bills to pay, and sadly energy companies don’t accept flattery as payment…..(there’s some irony in the fact that if I don’t pay my gas bill I might die of exposure).
I've had my work shared by celebrities with millions of followers and been RG's by huge brands. Whilst it's welcome PR it's yet to lead anything (apart from lots of teenage fans messaging me to demand I draw them : ). So don't believe the hype too much! Make sure your focus is the quality of your work and your passion for it, not the fame you can achieve with it.
But all that said, if you’re desperate to do something in exchange for seeing it in print or to spy it on a feed you respect, then do it on your terms. Below are some of my ideas and tips.
Let me know what you think of this post and if you have any further questions by commenting below or emailing me at email@example.com.
HOW ABOUT SOME CHARITY WORK?
Contact a charity you’d love to work for an ask if they’d like to collaborate. You could illustrate an instagram post for Help Refugees, offer to decorate the window of an Oxfam clothing shop, create a fundraising calendar for your local Dog Shelter, design Christmas cards for Cancer Research. This way you’re doing something for the greater good but also you are getting exposure and new work for your portfolio. Take photos and screenshots and promote what you’ve done on your social channels.
One of the most successful campaigns I’ve ever been involved with was Style for Stroke, organised by the brilliant Nick Ede. Twitter went crazy when the T-shirt was launched and I felt proud to have worked with such a great team to raise funds. Just last month my Aunt had a stroke and I felt I in some way have helped towards the care of people in her situation.
That said, some charities have budgets for promotional work - so don’t feel obliged. I’ve turned down two charity projects since August, and that’s fine too.
WORK WITH A SMALL INDIE MAGAZINE
I didn’t really realise this until last year, but most small indie mags don’t have a budget to pay contributors. Once you realise how little advertising they carry you can see why they aren't exactly millionaires. They are often producing these editions for the love of it and really aren’t making much money. If you want to do something for exposure then get in touch with a little magazine you love, with some ideas that you think would suit their voice.
MAKE SOMETHING TO SELL
If you are going to spend time doing something for no guaranteed financial return then why not produce something of your own that you might be able to sell? Greetings cards, postcards, calendars etc can be produced and sold, or sent to potential clients as promotional gifts.
UP YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA GAME
If you have time on your hands and want to attract new work then spend time really looking at your social media strategy. Get really creative, paint something you love just for the hell of it and share the making of it on Instagram or on your blog. You never know who might see it and what ideas it might give them. As an example I wanted to get some work painting large scale on to windows. So I mocked something beautiful up on glass, shared it on my social channels and a couple of months later was paid to paint on a window at Bath In Fashion, whilst a large crowd looked on. Show people what you can do and then they will want to pay you for it!
IF YOU DO WORK FOR A REDUCED FEE STILL SHOW YOUR REAL FEE ON THE INVOICE
On the two occasions that I’ve reduced my fee, I’ve still written my full fee on the invoice and then added a discount. That way if the client contacts you again in the future, you can point out that your fee was reduced last time.
IF YOU DO ACCEPT WORK FOR NO FEE STILL MAKE SURE YOU GET EVERYTHING IN WRITING
If you do decide to work in exchange for exposure or clothes or products then put it all in writing. Make it clear what usage terms you are giving them for the illustration. You still own the copyright so you need to give them permission to share the image as per your agreement, whether that be on social media / in print / on Snapchat. But in all honesty I would advise against giving your talent away for nothing. Stay strong, be positive, keep producing great new and unique work and you will be rewarded.
Since I started posting to Instagram Stories I've realised how interested people are in the equipment I use. I'm forever getting messages asking what scanner I prefer, what pens are best, what pencils I love. I've got drawers full of art stuff, but I do have my favourites - so I thought that this blog is probably a good place to tell you all about them.
I've just finished a commission for a small company that will go live in a few weeks. I was asked to paint seasonal leaves and berries, and for this project watercolour was the natural choice. The brief had a very specific palette of oranges. pinks and greens. I managed to mix my colours really easily from the original selection of paints. The only extra thing I used was a tube of white watercolour paint as for me that's always the first pan to run out.
If I'm really honest I haven't a clue about the colour wheel and colour theory - I've just always had an instinctive knowledge of colour and how to get the shade I'm after. I worked in fashion for years and have spent years looking at thread colours in saying, "that blue needs more red" and "that yellow needs to go down a few levels". Maybe if I learnt it I would waste less paint, but I love the process of experimenting and mixing colour - it's like meditation for me. And so often clients approach me because of my strong use of colour, so I must be doing something right!
I bought this Winsor & Newton Artists' Choice Professional Watercolour set a few months back and it already looks like I've had it years - I've used it so much. It's from Cass Art and available at a huge discount, for 18 colours in a portable metal palette it cost £29.95 (RRP £101.45) so it's a total bargain. Not all of the colours are perfect for my colour taste, but I've added a couple of greens and an extra white that fit in the empty slots and now I'm so happy with it. It's even got a great space inbetween the pans for a few brushes so it's ideal for just grabbing and heading out of the door with. As you've probably seen on my Instagram, I'm planning an overseas adventure at the moment and this set will definitely be coming with me.