Do you have what it takes to succeed as an illustrator? The field is quite competitive. Although you definitely have to have talent, it will take much more than this for you to establish a stable and fulfilling career.
You need to focus – and focus hard. You need to be able to motivate yourself, to drive yourself hard, and to keep your heart and energies centered on the goals that you set for yourself. This, of course, is premised on the understanding that you already know what it is you want. You have to have a deep sense of self, to have the conviction that to be a successful illustrator is what you want beyond anything else. If you are not certain in an absolute way, you may have qualms about your goals, especially when the going gets rough – and that will certainly set you back to a significant degree.
Once you have set your goals – preferably both short-term and long-term, you need to cultivate a strong eye for business prospects. Although an illustrator is fundamentally an artist, you need to have the business savvy to promote and sell your artistry.
Take the effort to find out what sells. Many clients may have a clear sense of what they want; make sure that you listen to what they have in mind. You definitely do not want to compromise the integrity of your work – but adapting to what your clients want does not necessarily mean this. But it certainly requires intelligence, sensitivity, and a sincere desire to understand and render what your clients want.
In the same manner, you must have the flexibility to respond to the different markets – murals, advertising, apparel, stock illustrations, print, graphic design and others. When you have the ability to use your talent in a broad range of applications, the better it is for you.
When things are slow, do not be disheartened. Take this time to take stock of what you have to offer. Do you need to expand your portfolio? Are there new fields that you have to explore? If you get a flurry of rejections, take the time to get feedback so that you know exactly what you need to do to improve your work or to be more responsive to the market.
Work on your marketing strategies. Sometimes the most successful illustrators are not really the best ones; they are simply the ones who excel in the fine art of selling themselves. Create a strong website. Get referrals. Get in touch with people. Write a blog. Send e-mails. Consider getting an agent. Arrange for meetings. Look for ways to show your stuff.
Appreciate the value of networking. Your work will often call for extensive periods of being alone with your art. However, you need the stimulation of being with people. Nurturing relationships with fellow artists is not only good for the soul – it also affords you the opportunity of convivial interaction and of stimulating exchange of ideas.