FAQ Children's illustrators and their job. Q& A with Kayleen West
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FAQ Children’s illustrators and their job

More questions about Children’s illustrators …

Students, usually in their final year of an Illustration course contacting me for information to help with my business plan assignments. These questions are frequently asked by students. Some of these questions are extremely relevant when planning a career in illustration. There is so much I could share (and will via my blog over time) but this is a good start.

Here are a few I was asked this week:

How long have you been doing illustration?

I have been an artist for decades but illustrating children’s books since 2010. I turned direction in late 2009. I began setting myself up as a children’s book writer by launching an online portfolio website. I have kept adding to it and updating it ever since. I had a popular blog on blogger but needed a shop front. I do think my web presence is a major reason for the work so far. That and a 200% attitude.

How did you get started?

Illustration or art?

Art: When I was at senior school, my cousin Debbie who came and stayed with us a few months. She drew a lot and I loved drawing. I made the decision that was what I could do well so I would follow that path. I chose it as electives in school and entered college with art as my subject. Disappointed with a what I felt was an unstructured drawing course where I felt I wasn’t learning a thing I left school and entered any job that was creative. I still regret not choosing to do the illustration course instead. My fine art got more attention when my kids went to school and I got the opportunity to study under a master painter. He taught me the important basics of painting. I exhibited as a fine artist, demonstrated and took students into my studio.

Illustrating picture books: To be honest, it was God inspired; I felt confident that God wanted me to create a book for orphan children – so I did. Making picture books had been a desire since I was a teen, but I didn’t pursue it because I didn’t believe I would succeed. That lie held me back for too many years. I began with Adoptive Father and work took off.

Are you mainly freelance?

Yes 100% freelance. I am offered contracts or illustration opportunities and pick what I think is a good fit for both parties.

How do you source your work?

I have fallen into my work so far. My first publisher discovered me when I accidentally emailed with a conference inquiry (always have your portfolio links in your email signature and use it every time!) The other publishers have found me via my website. I have had intentions of approaching agents, art director and publishers but have been working around the clock on my projects and their deadlines. For me my web presence has been vital.

The usual and recommended method of sourcing work would be to approach suitable publishers with a professional looking PDF portfolio and website. Make sure you read their preference for submission and stick to it exactly. Network with publishers at SCBWI events – get to know them genuinely – but don’t sell to them – wait to be asked. Publishers are looking for people they will work with and get along with well, not just good illustrators. Be yourself.

Do you work in other areas apart from children’s books?

I offer my services in other areas such as editorial illustration, product and surface design. I used to do web and print design, logos etc. but it is not my direction now. There is plenty of work in this area though – for anyone interested in this. I want to get a variety of portfolio examples together in these specialised areas over the next 12 months. I will split my website home page and portfolio into my whimsical style and a more corporate editorial work to make it clear. Then I will approach the appropriate people.

I also write faith inspired articles.

Finally, do you have any advice for someone hoping to start out in this area?

Practical application: Draw, draw, DRAW! Draw everything – practice, experiment and have fun with it. Your drawings skills will be what set you apart in some areas.

Motive and expectation: Don’t expect to get rich overnight. Not a lot of illustrators make a living in picture books. There is very little return on a book unless it is a hit seller and sells 100,000 copies, then you might take that beach holiday from the studio. You need to spend just as much time networking on the net and illustrators rely on paid school visits and speaking. So consider if you want the whole package because it is a big one to take on. I love teaching and sharing my enthusiasm so it suits my personality but not necessarily my wallet. I expect to build my income up over time by being versatile and generous. From what I understand, editorial illustration pays the best – very well in some cases- so determine your motive before deciding. I want to get into an agency myself (haven’t tried yet) but I need to have a portfolio of relevant illustration in my style to present. It is on my action list.

Illustration Marketing: Don’t! Take it from me it doesn’t work. Instead, make lots of friends and connect with as many of them on a genuine level (not easy illustrating all day alone in the studio) and make sure you are serving them. Give of yourself often and hopefully people will show their appreciation by supporting you. Be professional in EVERYTHING you do.

Social and Education: Join associate societies e.g. Picture books – SCBWI and ASA and Illustrators Australia. Follow other people’s blogs; the ones who are generous with their information. Comment on their blogs too. When they know they are helping and not talking to the air, they will share more.

Balance: Be organised and plan – revise- and plan some more: You have to be really organised in your office and a visionary to be successful. I am still working on improvements in this area – it’s a juggle! Read all you can about the entrepreneurship and how to organise a business – it helps! But don’t get into the marketing trap. I see some book authors and illustrators shouting “buy this book!, buy this book” non-stop. You don’t want to read anything from them if it is all advertisement.

Courage: Have the courage to be uniquely YOU. There will be a flavor to your work that will seep out if you are genuine and not trying to mimic anyone. Keep growing and hammer your sketchbook – it is your best friend. You never arrive at perfection but when you plan consistently, your direction will be clear. Keep moving forward until you knock off your milestones one at a time.

And the list goes on…

If any other students have questions, feel free to send them through to me and I will add them here for everyone to benefit from. You can contact me here.

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