Q & A
What do I have to study to become an illustrator?
I went to several different art schools and classes, and I'm still doing courses to develop what I do. I don't think there is one magical straight line to anyone's education, and I don't know that many artists that actually do what their papers say they are trained in. I have a BA in motion graphics, but I only do that as a side project now. I run a shop and a business with five employees, that was definitely not something I learned in school. I did printmaking, bookbinding, motion graphics and graphic design, and the illustration part is something I shaped from all this, in addition to hours and hours of study outside of school.
How do you get jobs?
Usually I get an email from a publishing house, magazine, journalist or similar, that like what I do and would like to talk more about a project they have in mind. Then they have usually found my work online or seen other things I've done.
How did you get your first commercial commission or paid illustration work?
I had done lots of smaller commissions for people that wanted to buy illustrations from me, and I kept taking part in collaborative exhibitions and having stalls at markets to expose my work. After one solo exhibition at Cafe Opera in Bergen I got a phone call from someone in Bergens Tidende asking of I wanted to try out to illustrate for them. After working for Bergens Tidende for a few months a publishing house contacted me about making a children's book.
Would you advice for or against working for free when you start out your illustration career?
I would very much advice against it. First, it's rude to ask any someone to do any profession for free. Unless it's for your mum, a collaborative project, or something you have your heart set on. If you are an apprentice this is a little different, but then it's in a set time frame, and in connection with school, and you wouldn't be paid anyway. If less artists took on free jobs after they finished school, doing work they normally would be paid for, we wouldn't be in this mess. And I think it's disrespectful to ask anyone to work for exposure. Exposure does not pay my rent or my dinner, and if a client asks you to do this it means they probably will continue to ask you or others to work for exposure again. Anyone who contacts me asking me to work for exposure will soon find out that this is something I feel very strongly about. If you don't respect your own profession, chances are no one else will either. In most cases the client is not aware that the artist has to go through email after email telling them what a wonderful exposure opportunity this unpaid job is, and might actually also believe that they are helping the artist.
Being said, in between I take illustrative jobs that isn't paid, because it's volunteer causes and I would like to help out. In most of these cases no one in the organization is paid. Or it's just a really fun and nerdy job where I can get some nice illustrations done while still helping out. But if clients with major budgets asks you to work for free, please let them in a polite way know that this is not ok. If you need exposure, I would much rather pull off awesome self initiated work and fling it out through the appropriate channels.
Do you do this full time? Is this your main income?
Are you being funded or have scholarships?
Nope! I got one scholarship I applied for after I had worked full time as an illustrator for a few years. It was 30 000 kr, helping me pay rent on my studio for a while. Now it's my shop and commissioned work that pays my rent.
Any advice to students that wants to be illustrators?
If you have an obsessive passion to work with illustration, you'll be fine. I don't think you can just like the profession. I couldn't have done this if I didn't embrace it all, being self employed it's not just the drawing part. It's late night deadlines, excel spread sheets, invoices, emails, paperwork, contracts, tax, standing your ground, being flexible, and maybe changing your path along the way. If this sounds like a good challenge, you'll be just fine. And of course, excel at your work.