Burning Questions for those ‘In The Know’

Thursday, 10 November 2016

IA’s recent In The Know Seminar at Docklands gave experienced and emerging illustrators the chance to fire questions at an industry panel comprising Lara Chan-Baker and Li Liang Johnson of illustration agency The Jackie Winter Group, Erica Wagner of book publisher Allen & Unwin, Aimee Carruthers of Frankie magazine, and Kane Rowlingson of animation studio Jumbla. Here is a handful of Q&As we couldn’t resist sharing.

How are expectations of illustrators changing?

The opportunities and demands of social media, the shift to digital publishing, the liberating impact of self-publishing, the proliferation of affordable, easy-to-learn design and animation software, threats to Australian publishing and copyright protections, the rise of client expectations (though not, sadly, budgets) – there’s no shortage of issues affecting the role of illustrators and the landscape they’re working in.

One recurring theme amongst panelists was the need for illustrators to market their work and themselves, with a real focus on passion projects. Kane Rowlingson said portfolio sites like Behance were a magnet for clients looking for high quality, experimental work from illustrators whose style they love. “Everyone’s trying to outdo each other a little bit, or stand out from the crowd,” he said. “I’ve seen a shift towards people becoming more generalists. They can illustrate and they can animate and do a whole bunch of other stuff in between.” 

Where should Illustrators look for commissions?

For Erica Wagner, the Australian Society of Authors’ The Style Files and IA’s own website remain go-tos for publishers and editors with particular projects or styles in mind. She advised showcasing established rather than experimental styles. “Put work up there that you’re really comfortable doing,” Erica said. 

Lara Chan-Baker said art directors regularly look for fresh talent on Instagram as well as Behance. A carefully curated mix of client work and personal projects can grab attention, show your personality and build an influential social media following in the process.  “We get (clients) wanting to leverage not only the actual artwork but the artist themselves – their behind the scenes content, their social media followings, and things like that,” Lara said. “It’s not just about how talented you are as an artist. Often it becomes about how you represent yourself as a person and the story behind your work. All of that is marketable, and people want to … utilise that.”
The old-school personal touch is important too. Kane, Amy and Erica agreed that a well-timed postcard or web link (to a freshly updated website, for example) is often a welcome prompt to revisit an illustrator’s work.

What skills might help an illustrator succeed?

Embracing change is paramount: trying new tools, understanding processes like animation so you can illustrate to suit it from the start, developing your craft by pushing your boundaries and keeping yourself fresh via passion projects. 

Ultimately, though, we all prefer to collaborate with – and recommend – people who are a pleasure to work with. That means being a team player and problem solver rather than a pushover. “I’ve been doing this now for 30 years and have kind of made a pact with myself not to work with difficult people anymore,” Erica said. “Life’s too short.”