How to Be a Self-Taught Illustrator

By Anya Deason
Woman drawing on sketch pad.

Whether it's a children's book or a movie poster, your client's vision will be entrusted to you, the illustrator, to communicate to the world. It's possible to teach yourself the art of illustration, but first, it's important to become proficient in a variety of different art mediums so you will know how best to communicate your client's idea. If there are no art schools near you, consult instructional books and Internet tutorials to learn advanced drawing and painting techniques. A portfolio showcasing your work in variety of styles and formats helps market your skills to publishers and businesses, and a presence on social media allows you to further promote your work.

Perfect Your Technique

Set aside a space in your home with adequate lighting and, ideally, a drafting table.

Study a range of illustrations in books to decide which medium and style fits you best. There are several books available that discuss tools, techniques and styles, including cartooning and flat design. Practice the techniques as often as you can in your chosen style and medium.

Find Internet tutorials on drawing, including the ones found in online artists' forums, which often feature helpful discussions. Do the exercises in the tutorials, using different art supplies and apps.

Master advanced illustration concepts such as perspective, character study, storyboarding, gray scale and color theory, which helps you employ the most effective color combinations.

Become proficient in one or more digital design applications such as Adobe Photoshop so that you will be able to present finished projects in digital form using standard colors and formats recognized by most commercial printers.

Subscribe to art magazines to learn further techniques and stay up to date on news in your field. Visit museums and galleries regularly for continued inspiration.

Market Your Work

Create a portfolio to showcase your work. Most clients will want to view images of your work digitally, but you should also have some examples on paper ready to show them if requested. Your portfolio should include examples of your work in different formats and styles, including cartoons, sample book covers, posters, story illustrations and greeting cards.

Visit local publishers and businesses to get your portfolio in circulation, and send queries to those in other cities. Consult online sources that specialize in providing leads for artists (see Resources). Seek out an agent to help you market your work.

Build a website that serves as an online portfolio. Update the website frequently to provide fresh examples of your work. Include an email address or comments section on your site, providing a way for potential clients to contact you.

Establish a presence on social media to network with fellow illustrators and to become known to potential clients. Participate in forums, offering helpful tips on style and technique. Start a blog. Attend illustrators' conventions and exhibits for inspiration. Participate in local art shows. Enter art competitions to showcase your work.

Warning

Read warning labels on drawing supplies to determine toxicity levels, and always wear a mask when applying spray fixative to illustrations.

About the Author

Based in Franklin, Tenn., Anya Deason has more than 15 years of decor-related experience, assisting leading interior designers and owning a custom frame shop. While working at Lyzon Gallery in 1999, she wrote descriptions of artwork for Sotheby's online auctions. Deason holds a Bachelor of Science from Tennessee Technological University.