At the start of April, I ventured into London with some other students and my tutor, Gary, where we visited some commissioning clients and had portfolio surgeries with some respected practitioners who are now working in the design industry.
I thought this was a great opportunity and I'm very grateful to our tutors who helped organise this for us, as it gave an insight as to what commissioning clients expect from an illustrator. We were also given constructive feedback from people who have already gained lots of experience in the industry. I felt lucky to have their opinions and input as they provided us with direction, which I think was very useful as I'm nearing the end of the course now and this advice was very welcomed.
On the Monday evening, I attended a portfolio visit at a company called Billington Cartmell who work mainly in advertising. We all sat around a table and one by one showed them our portfolios. There were six people viewing our portfolios and they all gave us valuable feedback on our work. I thought this was a good step as the atmosphere was quite laid back and it was a nice warm up/preparation before the rest of the visits we had planned over the next two days.
They mentioned that my work was well suited to advertising briefs and they asked me if I had been in touch with fashion agencies and magazines like Vogue. This was quite a shock to me because I didn't see my work as being suited to that particular genre but this has now made me consider other ways of displaying my work which may get me noticed by different companies and open up more opportunities for me.
My image of the house in Hansel and Gretel for the iPad was something that sprang out to them because it seems really up to date. Someone mentioned that if I found different ways to make the story interactive and consider possible animations then it would be something that would really spring out from my portfolio and make them think 'whooah'. He advised me to look at 'Wired Magazine' (which I was already aware of and have a previous post about) and their new ideas towards E-magazines and the interaction ideas where an advertised product would rotate 360 degrees when tapped. This feedback gave me a lot of confidence and motivation in my final major project.
They also said that if I wanted some work experience I could inquire about it when I finish the course. I think I may consider this as it would be good opportunity and, would no doubt be, something to put into my portfolio! I just have to get into contact with Tom Genower after I graduate!
Faber and Faber
On Tuesday morning, we attended a meeting with Faber and Faber, a book publishing company. We spoke to a woman called Donna Payne and two other very helpful people. I thought this was the most useful visit of them all because they provided us with really helpful advice and I now have a much better understanding of the process of being commissioned. I have never properly understood the importance of providing 'rough sketches' for commissioner's but seeing the amount of drafts and images for each of their finished images (AT LEAST 15 STEPS!) really highlighted the importance of roughs. I think this really hit home and made me realise fully how much I need to do of this in my own projects.
We asked them how they prefer to receive examples of our work and what sort of things they like to get in the post. They initially said they firstly and formerly prefer online pdf files, containing around 6 images and if possible two images to a page. They said they are not impressed by fancy parcels or small printed out books that have been folded in a creative way and tied up with ribbons. They just like to be able to tell what it is you do, the style of your work and what each image is. They explained that they don't have the time to search and properly look at fancy things, they just want to quickly find someone who looks like they will be capable of producing work for a particular brief.
They mentioned that it always helps if you can be found easily on the internet, so having your own website really helps. They like to see a simple, easy to use website where they can view your portfolio straight away and find your contact details easily. I have since looked into this and it is something I could build up after this course is finished.
Another great piece of advice was to always ask for names (or business cards where possible) and keep notes on all of them because the more contacts that you have the greater your chances of getting commissioned. People are a lot more impressed if you have taken liberty of finding out their names and it adds a personal approach which helps to build good working relationships.
After seeing Faber and Faber, I think I now understand more clearly the process of being commissioned and how many people have to be involved within the process. Until now, I have never really seen the importance of being able to produce 'roughs' for a commissioner but now it has become obvious how important that process is and it's what they really want to see before the finished thing. In light of this knowledge I intend to get into the habit of doing this starting with my final major project.
Big Orange Illustration
When visiting Paul Davis and Robin from Big Orange they really gave us an insight into what it is like to be a practitioner in the design industry right now. They mentioned the values of sharing a huge space with several other practitioners, and how they were always constantly inspired and motivated by others. And because there are a lot of people using and paying for one huge room, the rent is actually considerably cheaper!
The advantages and disadvantages on having your own agent were discussed as well and there was a question which we were left to ponder, 'will an agent benefit me in any way?' One thing they did make clear was that if you do somehow 'manage' to acquire an agent, don't think that this will sort everything out for you, you may not get that much more work. The main advantage of having an agent is that you don't have to deal with money aspect and whether or not your getting enough money for the work that you have put in.
We were also warned to watch out for agencies who tend to boast of many illustrators joining their ranks, this in fact only makes your work harder to be seen because of all the other illustrator's work. When commissioners are browsing these websites which feature two hundred illustrator's portfolios they easily forget your work and it's much harder to stand out.
Currently agents tend to get you about 20% of your total work and you have to get the other 80% by promoting yourself. Self promotion is the most important thing for an illustrator to do, it's just as important as the work you produce if not MORE important.
They also spoke about your actual portfolio very rarely getting seen by art directors, everything these days seems to be done by sending your online PDF portfolio to commissioning clients. So this is something I'm going to have to work on to get absolutely perfect.
Association of Illustrators
We also had a meeting with the AOI (Association of Illustrators) who also rent a part of that same room and they gave us great advice on why we should join the 'Association of Illustrators'.
These were the main things we were given to think about:
* We were advised to join while we are still students because we would get the whole year's benefits for a cheaper price.
* They are good at protecting young graduates like ourselves who might be naive about the industry because we have little experience. Apparently to advertising commissioners we are 'fresh meat' and they will try and get us to do jobs and take advantage of us by paying far less than they would for an experienced practitioner.
* We could see people who would do professional surgeries on our portfolios and would provide us valuable feedback.
Portfolio surgeries with Gillian Blease and Andrew Pavitt
I thought this was one of the most helpful visits, aside from Faber and Faber as we were given professional guidance and advice from two very experienced and highly respected illustrators, Gillian Blease and Andrew Pavitt.
We were given pretty much one on one time with each professional who not only provided feedback on our portfolios but were able to give their own personal input and make different suggestions which would aid us in the direction we wanted to head in.
The advice that really stood out to me was
* 'Stick with the style you have and keep at it, no matter what trends and styles seem to be successful at the time, if you conform to other styles that aren't really you, you will sink'
* 'Keep self promoting, even if you aren't making money from it, always find a way to get your foot in the door, it's that break through that you really need, once that happens it should all fall into place soon after'
* ' This is the most important year, just when you are finishing as a student and you have fresh ideas and lots of inspiration'
* 'Make sure what you are doing you are passionate about'
* 'Always think how would an art director like to view your portfolio, what would they like to see? Things in context always help an art director because then they don't have to imagine it themselves'
* 'Get out there, go to theaters and ask for work experience or volunteering on set design'
* ' Visit shops and offer to do an attractive window display for free and then take picture for your portfolio, more work experience'
Overall their input was really insightful and I will certainly take their advice on board. It was really helpful to hear another professionals opinion on your work because then you can tell whether something you have produced is communicating the write message or is as successful as you first thought. They were ruthless whilst searching through the portfolio's but in a constructive manner, from which I am very grateful.