Illustration sits within a number of the identified creative industry sectors- most significantly design, visual art and advertising- although this is not an exhaustive list.
Definitions of illustration vary but it is broadly understood to be an applied art that uses drawing/visuals to communicate ideas and meaning.
The big picture
Illustration, like many of the creative industries is a very competitive field. However, things have developed and changed over the years and far from being limited to editorial and educational work illustration has become expansive, crossing over with fine art, performance and socially impactful projects. An illustrator working today is as likely to have an exhibition, develop a product range and run community work shops as they are to create a picture book or design a greetings card.
Working in illustration
A traditional route for working in illustration has been to either work for a design agency or find an illustration agency to represent you. The way that this is usually done is to identify a selection of agencies and agents that you feel most suit your style of work and then to approach them using their preferred method (e.g via email, sending physical samples or sending a web link) and then to wait and hear whether they’d like to meet you and see more of your portfolio. At the time of writing, there are currently no dedicated agencies for illustration in Scotland so illustrators wishing to seek representation should focus on agents in the rest of the UK and internationally. If you choose to work without an agent, speculative approaches should be made directly to prospective clients and collaborators. It is a good idea to define the parameters of your practice and your style, compile a portfolio to back this up and then seek out the opportunities that best fit with your outlook and aspirations.
Developing your skills
A number of colleges and art schools offer illustration or illustration-related courses. Glasgow School of Art, Edinburgh College of Art, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design and Gray’s School of Art all offer undergraduate and in most cases postgraduate courses (sometimes under the banner of Communication Design). Many colleges and art schools in the UK also offer online illustration skills courses. A good starting point would be to find an illustrator, or number of illustrators whose work you admire and identify with and then ask them about how they got to where they are now- some people are educated to postgraduate level and some people are self-taught so the process (much like the job itself) is a subjective one. The majority of illustrators will have digital skills so it is worth investing some time and energy in to learning about up-to-date design software to maximise your employability. Keeping a sketchbook and working on personal projects to feed your creativity are also valuable ways to develop your skills.
Depending on the way that you practice, you may find that your work crosses over several creative sectors (including craft and fine art) so the associated funding opportunities to those sectors may be open to you too. Specific links to funding opportunities that may be applicable will be posted in the resources section below.
The Association of Illustrators (AOI) is the only body in the UK dedicated to representing illustrators and campaigning for their rights and best practice from clients. The AOI offers a reasonably affordable annual membership which includes advice on pricing, ethics and contracts, access to a members’ community and good discounts on other products and services including a very helpful portfolio consultation. Picturehooks is a mentoring scheme delivered in Scotland that aims to match emerging picture book illustrators with established author/illustrators- they also run an annual illustration conference which is full of sector-specific information. Collect Scotland represent textile designers and illustrators at international textile trade fairs as well as putting on exhibitions and events.
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