How to get work as an illustrator



  • Hi all!

    Personally one of the hardest things about illustrating is finding a personal style and being consistent with it. Lee White had an excellent course about this. So far it has been a challenge due to having limited time with kids and work. You don't really have the time to experiment that much. I decided to create my own website and portfolio (www.wouterpasman.com). I'm confident this will give a boost to developing my style even more and shape consistency in my work.

    Next step for me is looking for writers etc. to get the opportunity for work. I remembered Will Terry talking about contacting publishers to show your portfolio. Question is do publishers have a network with writers and do they connect writers with illustrators? How does this work and what will I ask the publishers? Or are there any other platforms I can consider?

    Even if publishers have no interest in my work, at least I can get some vital information how to improve my portfolio. I have zero knowledge in this area, so any help or tips will be greatly appreciated! πŸ™‚


  • SVS OG

    @Wouter-Pasman hi! So from what I understand, Publishers have manuscripts sent to them by writers or literary agents. Publishers usually keep the ones that they like and search for illustrators that they think will be a good fit for the book. They usually consult illustration agencies, connect with the artists they’ve worked with in the past, or sometimes go through the artists who made a direct submission to their team.

    After pairing the right book book to an illustrator, the publishers facilitate the whole thing. No direct communication happens between the Writer and illustrator.



  • Hi! Very helpful. So the publishers have a kind of art director within their team to work with you on the illustrations for the book (if you are selected). The writer doesn't play a big part in this.

    It is clear to me that contacting publishers is a good way to go, as they manage the selection of illustrators and do art direction for books. Thanks for the insights πŸ™‚


  • SVS OG

    @Wouter-Pasman correct! Sometimes publishers will ask for the writer’s input but they’re not that active in the illustration stage. Also, Publishers tend to hire illustrators from illustration agencies nowadays. Also try to apply to illustration agencies if you can.



  • Getting an agent is definitely helpful (and a step I'm currently working towards) but it's not always easy. An agent already has contacts at the publishers and can get your work in front of them more directly. I would definitely aim for that but also submit to publishers if you feel your work is good enough because it can't hurt!

    If you look through publisher's websites (and you can find lots of lists of publishers around), most of them have direct submission guidelines for illustrators so you can see how they prefer to be contacted. You can also find contacts for art directors and send postcards or emails.



  • Yes I will definitely check it out. I think in the Netherlands we don't really have agencies focused purely on illustration. Most of them are automatically graphic design/branding agencies focused on editorial design. Kid book artists are mostly freelancers (from what I see on Google), but I will also try to reach out to some well-known illustrators and see what happens πŸ™‚



  • @Melanie-Ortins Thanks for the tip! Some of the publishers have a decent guideline to follow. They don't mention agents and I also didn't see it on websites of well-known (Dutch) illustrators.. maybe it doesn't work like that here, but I will surely ask around πŸ™‚ Thanks.



  • No experience there yet but just wanted to say, wow, I love your site! πŸ˜ƒ



  • @djlambson Thanks a lot! Created it myself with a bit of coding experience 😁


  • Pro

    @Wouter-Pasman It's good to know that you do not have to partner with an agent/agency from your own home country πŸ™‚ Many agencies nowadays are international. I'm in Canada and my first agent was a UK based agency. I left that agency and signed with Astound Us, which is a US based agency. It does not matter that I'm not in the same country. Most of my work has come from US or UK clients, with some in other European countries and one time, from Asia πŸ™‚


  • SVS OG

    @Wouter-Pasman it's cool if your country doesn't really use children's book illustration agents. That's one less hurdle if you ask me. But don't you want to go international?



  • @NessIllustration @Nyrryl-Cadiz I'm not sure if they use agents. I'm completely new in this area. Once I connect with the publishers I will understand how it works better I assume. I would love to go international, but I first have to work and build my portfolio a bit more. I have the idea I'm missing a few more dynamic pieces, show a bit more environment as well. What do you think? When did you decided your portfolio is suitable to share to publishers or agents?

    I'm working on this artwork in the evenings at the moment, but it is going to take a while to render all the books πŸ˜‰
    alt text



  • @Wouter-Pasman Hi there. I understand the whole publishing world can be hard to navigating. I was really shocked to learn that illustrators do not communicate with writers in general when producing a book (especially in the English speaking world). I wounder if one of the 3 point pespective podcast has covered the topic of how publishing industry works (anyone could recall something?).

    For me hang out in the forum has helped to fillin my knowledge gap a lot. Currently I work through Plum Pudding, a UK based agency. I live in Norway - same here, most of the illustrators work without agents. Before I signed with the agency, I had started emailing publishers with my portfolio. One of the biggest job of emailing english language publishers is track down their email addresses. Editors/art directors in the US and UK seems to intensionally hide their email addresses online. If you are interested in direct emailing the English laugnage publishers, I can share some experiences on what I did. I did not get a project directly by emailing yet. But I did get replies from the editors and art directors.

    If you want to work with your local publisher, they might be easier to reach (it was the case in Norway). In Norway, editor's email was not hard to tract down at all, and I also have a higher chance to get a reply from a publisher by sending an email to their general email address listed on their website.

    It is also wise to check around if there are stipend/grands supporting illustrator's personal projects. Illustrating Norwegian books really does not pay well due to the market is tiny - I would guess this probably applies to most of the European countries. Many illustrators here have part time jobs and plus stipend here and there to be able to pursue a personal project.


  • SVS OG

    @Wouter-Pasman i started submitting to publishers and agents years before I was ready. Of course nothing came out of it but it gave me an idea how the process works. I kept submitting until an agent took interest in my portfolio. I must’ve done at least 4 rounds of submissions over 3 years?


  • Pro

    @Wouter-Pasman I started emailing before I was ready too, and although it took me 3 mailings to really start getting traction, the feedback and responses I got from the first 2 mailings were absolutely invaluable to identify what I was missing, help me market my art to the right industry, and give me motivation that this was possible for me. It was also great experience. So I'd say even if you don't feel 100% ready, it's always worth it to start mailing πŸ™‚ You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. You can also keep working on your new pieces while you await answers.



  • @xin-li Yeah that was also my first thought.. you would think that the writer has some ideas or an opinion how the illustrations for the book would be. Especially in children's books the illustrations are very important. Maybe they give ideas to the art director in an earlier stage..or maybe writers only focus purely on the story.

    It is easier to connect with publishers here. They have clear contact details or even guides to send a portfolio. Internationally I don't know yet. I was thinking to first contact Dutch publishers, see the results and work from there. If I'm thinking going internationally later on, I'm happy to hear your experiences! That would be great and very helpful. Thanks πŸ™‚

    @Nyrryl-Cadiz @NessIllustration Yes, that's what I'm thinking as well. At some point good is good enough. You learn more from feedback from people in the publishing business. They know what they are looking for in a portfolio and what the market needs are. I will finish 2 more pieces and then drop some lines in the water. Lets see what will happen. Thanks a million!!



  • @NessIllustration

    Can I ask what your email mailings usually look like? I feel like there isn't a ton of info on best practices for emails like there is for postcards (and with most people still doing work from home, it's much, much harder to do a postcard campaign this year!).


  • Pro

    @korilynneillo This is actually on my mind because I'm working on a course about getting work, contracts, agents and such, and I've just recently written the section about emails! πŸ˜ƒ Basically I advise to keep in short and sweet, as these people are busy. Put the portfolio link right up top, then a little info about yourself (such as relevant experience) and why you think you may be a good fit for working with them. Don't include a description of your style (such as: my style is colorful and textured) because they can see that in your portfolio and don't include rambly details that aren't really relevant to your collaboration proposal (such as: I've been drawing since I can hold a pencil and like to do children books because it brings me joy to think of the little children enjoying them) because while that's sweet, they are busy and those details aren't strictly necessary in their decision to hire you or not. Being respectful of their time is always a good way to put your best foot forward πŸ™‚



  • @NessIllustration Thanks so much for answering, that was really helpful!

    Do you add an image in the email usually? Like the way that a postcard is an "advert" for your portfolio? Or is a promo image not as necessary if you're sending an email and they've got to click on links anyway?


  • Pro

    @korilynneillo You can add an image if you want, but make sure to reduce the size and optimize it πŸ™‚ Nothing worse than blowing up their inbox with a huge attachment! Instead take a small picture and insert it directly into the email as a signature. I use my little cat avatar! Think of it as a little incentive for them to click on your portfolio.


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