Dave Eaton is an illustrator, and has been practicing for the past 30 years; he came in to talk to us about what life as an illustrator is like, what to expect and general advice about being a working freelance illustrator.
Important things I learnt from Dave were necessary facts such as reinventing yourself fairly often, in order to keep clients old and new interested. Being able to be flexible in many aspects of your life will help get you more jobs; for example being able to stay up all night for a two day project, or being flexible about the work you can do, so you have the ability to do drastically different projects, but still be able to complete high quality pieces of artwork for each project.
Dave then went on to tell us that the other thing to take into consideration when deciding to work as a freelance illustrator are that there are many hardships; there can be moments of financial difficulty because of lack of jobs coming your way, and it can get lonely working by yourself all the time rather than as part of a team in a proper company.
He worked for the The Association Of Illustrators and learned many things about who he wants to work for and what kind of image he wants to show; another important fact he emphasized was that you should always think about the job before you agree to it; think about who it is for and how it could affect your image as an illustrator; for example doing an advert promoting something that could be seen as controversial, if it could damage your image, you may get not as many clients and working as a full-time freelance illustrator may get difficult. You have to be professional about work when choosing it. However he also told us that working for a client can open a lot of doors; as they have contacts with people that alone you may not be able to speak to. They would also be more help to you financially, in being able to get you a higher rate that you possibly would have been able to get on your own.
“You have to keep your morale up.”
An important and essential skill to have in this industry is to be able to produce a good amount of work pretty fast, while also possibly having 5-6 jobs at one time. You cannot let people down – this is another issue that could hurt your reputation that you have tried hard to built up and maintain, you have to be able to churn a lot of work out at any given time if it is necessary. Thumbnails are a very important step to work into your stages of working as this can benefit you in pulling ideas together on paper, and sending them to clients to make sure you are working to something they will like. They don’t have to be neat and professional looking, they can be scruffy and rough but they give you a good idea of composition and how the final piece may look when everything is properly done and together on the same page.
You must be working. even when you don’t have any jobs, this will not only help develop your portfolio, but also keeps you from slipping and losing skills you’ve gained over working through the time you have. Making your own luck is a large part of getting work in this industry; you have to really push your own name and get yourself known to as many people as you can, through networking with as many different potential clients and people.
One medium Dave preferred working with was Gouache – a medium similar to acrylics. The results that he showed us looked unreal, the lines and blocks of colour were so solid that they appeared like prints rather than hand painted. Working with this medium is definitely something I should consider. He also has a woodcut style developed drawing style. Working larger than the final print size is something you should always do, this is so that you can get a lot of detail in before it gets shrunk down.
Related to what we were working on, packaging, the Graphic Designer will send you a trace of the layout of the text etc, however as the illustrator, you only add the artwork, none of the text work comes from you. Dave illustrated a children’s book and told us the stages that he worked to get to the final stage; he first had the sketches for the art, went over the line art with a fine liner that doesn’t bleed when water washes over it, painted it with light washes of ink colour and then in the final stages, added shading, tone and detail on top using colour pencils.
One final point Dave made was don’t make assumptions about clients, don’t think that they know about the process and what you do, you have to imagine that they don’t know anything about the process of illustrating. You cannot send only your roughs, they may not understand what they are and get confused. It is important to explain your idea to the client. And to ALWAYS work from a visual reference.