The first step to a successful illustration career is to find your voice – a unique consistent style. A lot of artists have trouble committing to one style at first because it kind of goes against an artist’s nature of exploring and not limiting their expression, but as an illustrator, art directors hire you because they want to give a project a specific tone, feeling and they need to be able to count on your work being a certain way for their project, campaign, etc.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you can’t do other styles.. it just means when you present them to art directors have consistency between the body of work. A number of illustrators, writers, and musicians work under various names for this particular reason.
This would have been useful to learn in art school. I always cringed at the idea of “finding your voice” — it implies that you only have one voice. I spend all day using different voices, to confuse the prank callers.
But it’s true: until you know someone well, you tend to think of them in simple, easily-summarized ways. In fact, it’s often unsettling to learn of a different side to someone, and in business you don’t want to unsettle anybody or they’ll run away. Besides, when bidding on a job you don’t have the time to explain all your hopes and dreams; you have to sell your work, and it’s easier to do this if your work is easy to classify. Corporations call this brand management and it works for individuals too.
So if you want to make art, by all means, be a complex and unique combination of conflicting personalities, irritating your friends and spawning “Behind the Music” episodes. But if you want to build a career as an artist, the trick seems to be to do one thing over and over, and avoid confusing the people with the money. Then if you want to explore, pick a different voice, and deny that the two know each other.
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