Starting to freelance

Owing to current deadlines, I regret that I am unable to answer your questions until further notice ~ Thank you


Q - How did you make the transition from student to professional?


A - It was quite a shock for me, going from being at college with a room full of other students to working alone all the time, although it was less distracting and I probably got more done. It took a long time to learn how to be disciplined enough to keep my head down and also to build strategies to compensate for working alone and avoid feeling isolated.



Q - How did you get into the industry?



A - After I left Cambridge Art School I moved to London to look for work. I had already illustrated a pack of Happy Family cards for Dinosaur to be sold in National Trust shops. It was great to have that in my folio to show that I could see a job through, as well as my student projects which included a series of drawings for Old Mother Hubbard. I rang round lots of publishers and made appointments, which you could still do fairly easily then. I had done a bit of work experience while still at college, at the ‘Part Works’ company Orbis in Covent Garden, and then went on to work for an ex-tutor in a graphic design studio near Tottenham Court Road. I also worked for a typographer/designer I was put in contact with and who designed books for ELTA OUP – part of Oxford University Press –  from his studio in Clapham. I worked there on and off for a few years and would get odd bits of illustration for the OUP books to take home and do on a freelance basis – that gave me a start. My ‘Old Mother Hubbard’ pictures were spotted by a man in an antiquarian bookshop in Covent Garden who made me an appointment to see someone at Aurum Press. They commissioned me to illustrate the rest of the book, so I was of launched like that. Looking back it was all a bit haphazard.



Q - Was it hard to find work?


A - Yes, there was lots of plodding around London seeing people with my folio, getting work here and there. It’s easier now in some ways, as work can be seen by publishers on an illustrator’s website, although the publishers themselves are a lot less accessible now.



Q - Has it become easier now that you’re more well known?


A - Yes, most definitely. I turned a corner around 1994 and have had work consistently since, apart from a five-month period in 2005. I still update publishers with my latest work though, as there is so much competition around.



Q - Is it good to have your own website?


A - I do think this is a great option when you have enough professional standard work to show.



Q - Are websites such as worth it?  They are so huge!


A - It can be worthwhile, as a site like that is going to get a lot of visitors, especially if you haven’t yet got enough work to create your own website, or you could put some of your work on a website like as a showcase in addition to having your own site. Obviously these sites cost, so you’ll need to weigh it up. However, you can of course offset any charges against tax, as long as you have a receipt.



Q - Is it helpful to have contacts within the publishing industry? Might they be helpful in spreading your name around?


A - If you have a contact within the publishing industry, it could be really useful to ask them if you can have a chat to find out how their side of the industry works. However, you could be putting them in a difficult position if you expect them to represent your interests by talking you up to their colleagues – unless they offer, of course!



Q - Are there any other good ways you would suggest to get an insight into the industry?


A - It’s worth finding out whether there is a local group of illustrators who meet up in your area. In Cambridge, we had a group that ran for many years. There were illustrators from all stages of their careers and we met one evening a month in different people’s houses and had a natter over a glass of wine. It was really useful – people got a lot of informal support from each other, as we all had different experiences. It didn’t work so well when we tried to organise events such as exhibitions and talks on a more formal basis within the group as I think we were too diverse.



Q - In response to your request for illustration queries on your website, I am writing to ask if you would consider taking a look at some of my work and advising on it’s suitabilty for book cover illustration. I graduated ten years ago in Fine Art printmaking, but frustratingly I haven’t been able to find the commercial niche for my ideas, and so currently work shifts in a factory and make images in my spare time for the love of it. I work almost exclusively digitally nowadays, but will often incorporate any number of techniques to get a result. The work I produce is a little unusual, and would probably be best described as a combination of whimsical and dark in it’s themes, which probably explains why I’ve found it difficult to place in commercial terms. I do however, think that it may well lend itself well to book covers and wondered if you would be kind enough to give me your opinion on it’s suitability to that end. It would be a delight to hear from you via email. In the meantime, many thanks for the advice you already offer on your website.


A - Thanks for getting in touch, your work looks really interesting, I like the images very much, they appeal to my dark visual tastes. I’m afraid the book jacket market isn’t an area I know very much about these days. I did a few covers in the 1980′s, but as you’ll be aware, the imagery has changed so much since then. Your work may well be more suitable than mine, possibly for CD covers too, but I guess it would be a matter of you being used for just the right project – so in the right place at the right time – as it has a very specific look. Are you, or have you considered becoming a member of the Association of Illustrators? I know they do portfolio reviews and can give good commercial guidance. It sounds frustrating to have to earn your living from other work when you enjoy your art so much. I wish you well and hope you find your niche and can make some money from it. The commercial outlets you find for your work will probably depend on how happy you are to adapt your style to fit a brief and you’d need to demonstrate that range in your portfolio. If you wouldn’t be happy doing that, looking for a gallery through which to sell your distinctive images could be a better route to take.



Q - My background is decorative textiles, costume construction and theatre design. I have always wanted to Illustrate. After a long career break, children and far too much procrastination I am trying to develop my style and put together a Portfolio. For a first portfolio do you think it’s best to use copyright free written material, or does this really matter? (more procrastination). Love your work and will try your technique for successful paper stretching tomorrow.


A - Thank you for your enquiry. I wouldn’t have thought that you would be infringing writers’ copyright by basing your samples on their texts, as your images would be under your own copyright – however, I’m not a copyright expert, so you might need to research that further. Would you just see these pieces as samples to show publishers what you can do in response to a text? A point to bear in mind is that if a publisher were interested in basing a picture book idea on some of your samples and the text you’d used was out of copyright, then the copyright aspect would present no barrier. Decorative textiles, costume construction and theatre design all sound wonderful areas to work in – I imagine that your decorative skills could translate very well to book illustrations. Good luck with it anyway and with the paper stretching – I found that method online and it’s been pretty full proof!



Q - I am a young illustrator from Mexico, I am studying Graphic Design, I specially like illustration and your gallery is amazing, which took me to your website and your VERY useful Manual for Book Publishing, a few questions if I may…


What do you think about Digital Painting?. Do you think is the future?. Is it underrated, overrated? I’m 20 and had been trying to find a way of putting together pencil drawing with Digital Art, I tried for a time to make a drawing then coloring on Photoshop but the effect was very amateurish, now I bought a Wacom tablet and is amazing, but I don’t know the status of it in the illustration world.


A - Digital art is a very good way of illustrating and many published illustrators use it, either by creating images totally in electronic programmes, or by scanning drawn and painted images to develop further in Photoshop or in other programmes. My opinion is that both painting and drawing by hand, working digitally, or a combination of the two  - as described – are all ‘the future’. I also use a Wacom for certain tasks and find it very useful as it helps you to work in greater detail.



Q – I live in Mexico, do you think I will face trouble while trying to find an agent or to work as a freelancer for being foreign?


A - No, I think the standard of your work is what matters – and whether an agent thinks there is a market for it.



Q - Should I stick to only 1 illustration style? I was thinking on developing a style for children’s book, other soft-editorial and another hard-ish editorial. Is that good or can it be seen as weak?


A – I think it can work well to develop different stands to your work and it is important to be aware of your images being appropriate to the brief you have been given – again, that is what many illustrators do. I would suggest you look at the websites of some of the large illustration agencies that have illustrators who work for different markets – if you do that research I’m sure it will answer many of your questions.


Q - Finally, I don’t have a website, all I can offer you to see is my DeviantArt gallery, I hope you could give it a little glance at least. Thank you so much for reading and I promise I will put 100% attention to every word you type, again, thanks in advance.


A - I have taken a look at your site and enjoyed it very much. I think you have real talent and should approach some agencies to get their response to your work.



Q - hi, i am an artist and mostly work digitally, i recently offered to illustrate a childrens book for a woman who has written some books, she is a poor woman so i offered to do it for her and if she sells she can give me a percentage of the sales. she has published before, can you give me a few guidelines.


i realise that i love this work and am good at it, i want to do more illustrations for well known publishable childrens book and want to start a genre of my own. i have a very talented family who can write the stories and i can illustrate. any suggestions or advise would be great.


i have worked in many different media. i would love to do embroidered childrens books as one of my media is machine emboidery. thank you


A - I understand. Briefly, I would strongly advise you to leave all payment details and arrangements – flat fee/ or advance on royalty etc –  to the publisher who will produce the book. This should be entirely independent of the arrangements they make with the author, and they would have a separate contract. Anything else would make for a seriously difficult and unnecessarily complex emotional and legal situation, no matter how kindly you feel towards the author. The same goes if you decide to work with a member of your family. These are business arrangements, so you need to really read up about contracts and how the children’s publishing market works.  I surmise that you are in the US – is that right? If so, there is a very helpful book called Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market that comes out in the US every year. This book has a lot of useful advice on setting up as an illustrator for the children’s market, it has a little on contracts too. I am based in the UK, so some of the legal issues are different here, but if you haven’t seen them already there are some FAQs on my website on working collaboratively, which can be done, but you need to have clear parameters from the outset.



Q - I’m an illustrator and I made a new project  that I will present int the book fair in Bologna 25-28 of March 2013. I saw your web site and wanted to ask a question that wasn’t in the list of FAQ. I’m going to the book fair in Bologna, I don’t know if you ever went but if you did or somebody you know could you give me advice  to avoid time waiting in line to show the work and not getting to the right publisher or better the right person in the company .


A - Yes, I have been to the Bologna Book Fair twice, the last time was in 2008. I understand that it is frustrating to have to wait in line to see publishers with your work, so to avoid that the last time I went I did  a lot of preparation, but some months in advance.


You may well find that the publisher’s diaries are already full as it’s coming up so soon. Also remember that they are there to do business, sell rights etc, so as a result many of them have very little time to spare to see illustrator’s work unfortunately. It may be that waiting in line is your only option at this point – so be prepared for that this year!


In general the best way to  approach in fair is to research the publishers who will be there, then research which of their staff will be attending the fair if you can – publishers usually only send a few people from their company, so they may not have art directors, art editors attending:


You may be lucky and be able to email a publishing house in advance to make an appointment to see someone relevant at the fair with your project. If you do manage to make contact in advance, then ask the publishing house for as much advice and information on how/ whether they like to be approached at the fair as possible – and always take their advice.



Q - I recently graduated with a second class honours degree in graphic design and visual communications. I am looking for either a permanent position or freelance illustration work.


I have developed a website where you can view my portfolio. This includes a section on my drawings – my final degree project in which I illustrated the hit album, 19, by Adele. I realise this is partly college work but I think it will give you a good idea of my capabilities. I am adding new illustrations to my portfolio as much as I can. I would hope that this work has given me a good grounding for commercial projects in future.


I would love to be part of something where I could contribute and be encouraged to move forward in my career in illustration. I would appreciate it if you would take some time to look at my work and offer any advice that you can.


A - I’m not really sure what sort of advice you are after. Just to clarify that I am an individual illustrator, in case you thought I was an agent. Have you taken a look at the FAQs section of my website there’s lots of advice on getting started? If you have a specific question after that, I might be able to help.




Q - I enjoyed perusing your website. Userfriendly, informative and a joy to look at your work.


Your FAQ page is very helpful. Lots of good general advice. I suppose I am at a quandry where I have no idea of the percentage that I would be entitled to in a book project. My first ever childrens book commission. Is there a general percentage? I am now having to consider becoming officially a freelancer as I have a potential prospect of doing a series of books.


I do prefer the ‘Royalities’ approach. The book consists of 32 pages, a full page illustration on each page. And five character designs. And the preference is watercolour theme. I did give an idea to the publisher of a timescale, on average, I predict approx 3-4 weeks. I have given him a breakdown of what the timescale entails.


He did indicate he had a tight budget, and therefore I requested would let me know of the budget he had in mind before I consider this any further.


I suppose I wanted a” figure” in mind that would be acceptable….as a watercolourist…each of my peices would be priced at 350.00 and upwards. Is this a guide I could base this on per illustration…?, plus a percentage.  Bearing in mind there would have to be some roughs done prior to final peice.  So in my minds eye I feel 500.00 per illustration.  AS I know to their would be some to and fro-ing on my behalf.  Thankfully the publisher is fairly local to me and work can be delivered personally.


I have just put this out there, and if I am fortunate enough to receive a reply from you, it is so very much appreciated. I would hope to have had some detailed advice from another illustrator. The information I have received is general and appreciated. My next meeting very shortly with my publisiher will determine the final figure, and I do wish to give this project a hundred percent…but not at my own expense, as has happened in the past. You do mention in your site that they will always offer lower to begin with and seek for higher and take it from there. That I will do and would hope for a satisfactory amount. Though I appreciate this is a new opportunity and could change my future, and am willing to compromise, and just want to strike a healthy balance in order to work with a full heart.


A - I’m glad you’ve found the FAQs helpful. Your work looks great! To answer your questions – I would say as a general rule, most of the picture books I do are on a royalty basis (educational work, sometimes not). Every contract is different and percentages differ, also  depending on whether you are the illustrator of someone else’s text, or the writer too, when you can expect to double your percentage. So be prepared to negotiate if you feel there is room for that (as you say you will try to strike the right balance). It’s very wise of you to ask for as many facts as possible before you commit – good to get it all in an email too, so that it’s there in writing. As I think I say in my FAQs, you should then receive an advance on those royalties while you do the work, broken down into different stages, so not an amount per piece of work, plus the royalty as you indicate.


It is though, a very good idea, as you outline, to work out how much you would realistically need as an advance – I always look at the number, scale and complexity of the images required to make my own calculation. People work at different rates obviously, and my style is fairly slow, but your estimate of 3 or 4 weeks sounds very optimistic to me, I usually take about 6 months! If you needed more time (and therefore more money to allow you to live while you work), the publisher should be prepared to extend your deadline to something more realistic, so that you are not under too much pressure. You need to calculate your time based on what you know about the way you work. You also need to include time for the concept, the roughs, the research as well as the finished artwork – as you are basically doing this as a business. Have you ever timed your self – it’s a good exercise?


I hope this is helpful – the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook has a lot of sound general advice if you need further reading.


Q - As you say I do agree I was may be a bit over enthusiastic with the timescale.  I think a trial illustration certainly would be a good exercise indeed.  This I will put on my list of to do’s this week.  It would be healthier for me next time I meet with him to have a feeling of confidence and more truth in timescale and to be under no pressure.  Particularly as I do have other projects ongoing. Also I do not wish to overwhelm myself with too much information at first regarding “getting off the ground as a freelancer”.

I will need some further advice regarding this. I imagine the tax office is the first port of call following any agreements/contracts with publisher on this matter.


A - Yes, this is a whole other area and beyond the level of advice I’m able to give I’m afraid. Have a good read up on these areas in the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook - there’s a chapter on ‘Finance for writers and artists’ in the children’s edition.


Q - Just to clarify, the advance payment, (this is an advance on the Royalties…?  So whenever sales take place and my percentage accumulates to the sum I have been paid, then I begin to receive the royalites from the book…am I interpreting this correctly..?)


A - Yes, that’s it exactly!



Q - I have recently discovered your website and FAQ which I have found very insightful.


I’m very sorry if this question has already been asked but I did not notice anything similar to my question.


I have recently graduated from an illustration and animation course and I am looking towards building up my portfolio before approaching agents as I am aware at the moment it is not consistent or developed enough.


My question is whether you think there are many advantages to living in London if you want to work as a freelance illustrator? whether you think it is necessary or would be helpful when starting out?


My reason being having just finished university I am trying to decide whether It would be best to go home even if only for a while; to try and save money so I can focus on illustration work.


Or to stay in london where I would at least have to get a part time job to cover rent and would have less time to focus on illustration.



A - It’s probably 6 of one and half a dozen……….. really. The advantage of being in London would be that you could plug into illustration events more easily (which obviously mostly happen in London) – things put on by the AOI and SCBWI for example, but yes, it does take time to build a folio, so working might really get in the way. You don’t say where ‘home’ is – if London is an hour or so away by train, then you could still access those events while building up your folio – and save your money. I guess you could put a time limit on it, which would also focus your mind while building your work up, then move to London to launch yourself, look for an agent etc.


I enjoyed my first professional years in London before moving to Cambridge where I now live, that period did give me an insight into the industry and was good fun! I found part time work with a designer, so it was related to the publishing world and I got some illustration work from it, as the designer was putting together educational books. I know it’s hard getting such work these days, but might be worth looking around to see what’s out there.


It’s a hard one to weigh up – I can’t really advise you further, it’s your choice in the end, but maybe this will help you think about the options



Q - Thanks very much for your response, home is in Devon so quite far!


I have another question if you don’t mind. You mentioned moving back up to London when trying to find an agent.


Would you recommend being in london then when I am ready to find one?  Would you say agency’s might be more likely to sign someone who is living in London?


I appreciate its a hard question with no definite answer!


I wasn’t sure what difference this would make seen as so much communication is done online now and I could always go back up to London to visit if I needed to.


Thanks again! Its nice to see someone who is so wiling to offer advice.


A - I really don’t think it would be a factor from their point of view, I was thinking that being in London could be an advantage for you as you could connect with what’s going on for yourself more easily – as I said. Obviously illustrators operate from wherever there’s an internet connection these days. SCBWI also have regional groups, maybe one in Devon – you could check it out.




Q - This is my very first book illustration and I am trying to get established…do the right thing… And do a favor for a friend at the same time. The book is a children’s book and will involve about 25 or 26 illustration (probably watercolor) or something to that effect. I have no idea how long it will take me therefore I have no idea how much to charge since this is a friend. Are there guidelines per hour… Per day that I can use when drawing up a contract? I would appreciate any help you might offer.



A - Can I just ask you, is this a self publishing project, or would it be published by a publishing company? In the meantime, I imagine you have had a look at my 15 x FAQ pages – where there’s lots of advice on illustrating questions, just scroll down the menu on the left of the page. If you haven’t looked already, you may find answers to some of your questions there.


Q - The book will be published by a publishing company. I don’t know how large the company is or any of the details yet as I’m just meeting with the author today. I suspect there will be a limited amount of copies at first run but I do know he is receiving an advance and they have agreed to allow me to do the illustration ( yeah).


A - When you say you don’t know how much to charge, who are you thinking will be paying you – the author or the publisher? That’s why I asked about whether it’s through a publishing company or to be self published. As it is a publishing company, they would normally be the ones to pay you, not the author. The publisher ‘should’ offer you an advance, so that you have some money to live on while you are working, or a flat fee, but usually with picture books it would be an advance on royalties. This ‘should’ be set out in your own contract which would be drawn up by them and nothing to do with the author, who would have their own, separate contract. You should consider whether what the publishing house are offering will be paying you enough for your time and that really is up to you. You also need to be able to understand the other terms that will be covered within the contract and make sure that you are happy with it all – and ask questions and negotiate if you are not happy with their terms. They would usually offer you an amount, hopefully several thousand pounds, there aren’t really any standard rates I’m afraid, so it’s hard to put an exact figure on it. When I do work for a flat fee, as sometimes happens with educational work, it’s often for US publishers and they mostly pay a rate per page – around a few hundred dollars, that’s per double spread.


It’s great to get something in print and you will really have to take your own view on how much, or little you are willing to work for, once you have seen the extent of the work involved. You mentioned wanting to do the right thing, what I would say to you is – you and the author are two businesses and you need to see yourself as such, even though this is your first book and the author is a friend – you are in business, so, remember that you are not doing the author a favour, this is a financial deal! Please do have a good read through the FAQ pages – there is a page at the end of the list Other Sources of Advice and more than I can possibly go into here again. There is an excellent book called Children’s Writer’s & Artists Yearbook , if you live in the UK, if you are in the US there is a similar book called Children’s Writers & Illustrators Market. In those books there’s a lot of guidance that you would I’m sure find very helpful.




Q - Illustrating has always been my far-fetched-if-all-the-stars-aligned dream job that I’ve had in the back of my mind. Like my friends who wanted to be dolphin trainers or race car drivers, I shelved it when I was in high school to look at more “realistic” careers. Now I’m in college for something completely different, but I’ve always kept drawing. This semester I’m in a drawing class, which is the first art class I’ve had in a long time. My teacher saw my work and immediately suggested that I submit it to be an illustration in a children’s book. I thought she was being nice at first, but she’s repeated it several times since then. I was shocked, but delighted. I definitely want to pursue it, even if it is a side career. The problem is, I don’t know where to start. Do I contact a publisher? Should I mail them? How do I know which publisher I should send them to?


Thanks for sharing so much information on your website. Your work is delightful, and I enjoy the textures and colors very much. If I could be as half as successful as you are, I would count myself lucky.



A - Nice to hear from you and I’m so pleased that you like my work. The best place to start is to read through the FAQ pages on this site, if you haven’t done already.


Click on the list to the left to take you to the relevant pages, where you’ll find masses of advice on the questions you are asking about.


In terms of who to approach, best thing is to go and explore in children’s bookshops and see who publishes what. Also, if you look at my last FAQ page, you’ll find a list of books. I’d recommend the one called Children’s Writers & Illustrators Market, you can read through to find out what each publisher publishes, then check out their websites from the info on the page.




Q - Looking online, I came across your website. You seem to be very informative of the Illustration industry. I’ve read that you have been illustrating since 1986….that’s amazing. I’ve wanted to be a children’s book illustrator for YEARS. Probably since 2007. I’ve attended an art middle school and high school. I’ve worked as an apprentice for years. My father is a sign painter. He has tons of work in Chicago, IL and Milwaukee, WI (US).


I’m in the process of building a new portfolio with items that would be appealing to publishing companies. I am somewhat confused as to how would I start a freelance illustration career. I was thinking about getting an agent to begin with because I am not too familiar with what would be best for me as far as contracts, rights to artwork,…etc. But, I might send artwork to publishing companies that allow illustration submissions. Could you answer a few questions for me?


First, I am detail-oriented. What is the typical length of time given for a standard picture book (32 pages)?


Second, my favorite medium is colored pencil. When picked for an illustration job, are you ever told to use different mediums?


Lastly, what is typical pay? I’ve searched around, but the information I’m reading is vague. If I’m chosen to illustrate a standard picture book, about what range of pay should be offered? I wouldn’t know if I’m being extremely under-paid or not.



A - In answer to your questions, I hope you have had a good read of all the information already on all 15 FAQs pages in the list on the left. You may find answers to some of your questions there already.


Just briefly – it sounds as though you are making a good start by building a focussed folio of work. If you do or don’t get an agent it’s still very important to inform yourself as much as possible about how the process works with regard to contracts etc. Not all agents are benign, so get empowered by reading up, then you’ll know if you are being exploited. There are some excellent books with essential industry information mentioned on the last FAQs page Other Sources of Advice. That’s a very good place to start!


In terms of detailed work and payment – I’m afraid there isn’t a standard amount of time that publishers allow an illustrator, it is partly down to negotiation, but also a matter of when the publishers will have scheduled a book in, in terms of production. My work is very detailed, it means I do long hours. A 32 page picture book rarely takes me less than 6 months, a collection can take a year. However another illustrator I know can turn out a book in a couple of months as his style is a great deal quicker than mine.


Your question about media is a new and interesting one. Basically, if a publisher likes your work, they would like it because of the way you work, so they would no doubt like your use of coloured pencil. I have never been asked to use another medium by a publisher!


On pay – as I said, there really isn’t a standard amount, it just doesn’t work like that. You need to work out how long the work will take you and work out how much you then need to generate top live on. It is often a hard balance to achieve. You’ll find a lot more on Getting Paid when you read my FAQs.




Q - I recently graduated from the University of West London with a second class honours degree in graphic design and visual communications. I have now moved to Falmouth and I am looking for either a permanent position or freelance illustration work. I have developed a website where you can view my portfolio. This includes a section on my drawings – my final degree project in which I illustrated the hit album, 19, by Adele. There is a section on my illustration – I have illustrated parts of Alice in Wonderland, Wind in the Willows and the Velveteen Rabbit. I realise this is partly college work but I think it will give you a good idea of my capabilities. I am adding new illustrations to my portfolio as much as I can. I would hope that this work has given me a good grounding for commercial projects in future.


I would love to be part of something where I could contribute and be encouraged to move forward in my career in illustration. I would appreciate it if you would take some time to look at my work and offer any advice that you can.



A - Thanks for your email. Glancing through your email, I’m not really sure what sort of advice you are after. Just to clarify that I am an individual illustrator, in case you thought I was an agent. Have you taken a look at the FAQs section of my website there’s lots of advice on getting started?