blog 1: So you want to be an illustrator…the basics


My first blog – Yay! 

So, I’m often asked to share tips and tricks of the trade, from technique to equipment…’what is it I need to do to become an illustrator?’. Now, I know you’re probably thinking ‘What makes you so qualified to give this sort of advice’, and whilst there are certainly more qualified people out there, I should probably share with you my accolades. I have a BA Hons degree in Illustration, studied most areas of art, design and illustration for 10+ years, and have a full time, successful illustration business. 

Now, let’s be honest, not everyone was blessed with the ability to draw, but that shouldn’t hold you back! I’ve seen many successful artists make a career out of ‘drawing badly’, albeit, drawing badly with intent is actually a lot harder than it seems. 

Let us start with the basics

  • Define your style 

I’ve highlighted the word ‘your’ on purpose, as it’s important that your illustration style is your own, if it’s not then your work will seem forced and unnatural. Take inspiration from other artists out there (again, I’ve highlighted the word inspiration for a reason. You should feel inspired but should not copy!) use Pinterest and other similar websites to learn about what sort of techniques are out there. Then, experiment! Try them all, make mistakes, use as many different medias and mediums as possible until you produce something that makes you go ‘hold on a minute, that’s not half bad!’ then, do more of it! Try not to get bogged down with an illustration style if you’re not quite sure of what yours is yet – try things out, get experimental. 

  • Create…lots

My illustration style has developed and changed over the years, I look back at stuff I produced a few years ago and can really see how my works progressed on from that. The only way for you to progress is to practice, practice, practice! They say it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something, so if you’ve only put in 50 hours of practice so far, don’t be too hard on yourself if you’re not Picasso yet (or maybe you are…and if so, bravo!). 

Here’s an example of progress over time, my first ever character illustration (left) using watercolours,
my first ever digital character (middle) using the iPad, and present day (right)!

Often, good quality equipment will help you to produce good quality work (there are of course exceptions to this rule) for example, if you’re using watercolours, then invest in that specialist watercolour pad you’ve had your eye on, instead of painting onto paper that disintegrates as soon as any moisture hits it. You’ll often find the purpose-built stuff has been made for a reason. Using the right tools will help to elevate your work, so put the time in and do your research. 

I’m often asked what I use to create my work, and I used to use Windsor and Newton inks (love, love, love) when I illustrated with paper and ink, on a watercolour pad, with a fine liner and a white gel pen. Now, I still LOVE to illustrate this way as I think watercolours/inks give you a raw, unrefined finish that you simply cannot re-create digitally. However, the downfalls I found to working with ink and paper were the mess, the cost of materials, and the fact that if you went wrong, you couldn’t easily correct it (although I do miss what I like to call ‘happy accidents’ where it’s gone wrong, but actually looks amazing for it). 

Now, enter the iPad Pro. This little device changed the game for me, not only does it allow me to illustrate from anywhere (and I mean anywhere, I’ve used that thing on planes, by the side of a pool, in bed…), it also allows me to produce work quickly, and rectify mistakes effortlessly. The iPad is great for people who can’t draw, as you can use it to simply trace over images and pass them off as illustrations (that’s right guys, we know your game!), it has assisted features for those people who might not be the most accurate at drawing, but love to create. 

Transitioning from paper to digital has a learning curve of its own, iPad or graphics tablet, it takes practice and some getting used to. I’m still learning how to create beautiful watercolour effects on a device, and as mentioned above in point 2, the only way to learn is to create…lots! 

  • Be your own cheerleader (market yourself)

Sing it from the roof tops…your work is amazing, and you should tell/show people why. 
Set up an Instagram page, Pinterest board, Facebook page, Etsy shop…let people see what it is that you do. Keep banging that drum until other people start to march to it. It might take a while, hell it might take years, but keep going.

Remember that the definition of insanity is to continue doing the same thing over and over again and expect different results. So, keep it fresh, keep it different, keep it interesting. 

And one final thing…not everyone is going to love what you do, and that’s ok! 

There are plenty of people who will think your work is amazing (shout out to my mum and dad!). Don’t get disheartened, accept it and move on. Keep doing what you’re doing.

If you liked this blog, then please let me know why In the comments section below, I’d love to hear from you!
The next blog will be ‘So you want to become an illustrator…the not so basics’…or something like that.

Thanks!
Robyn x

1 Comment
  • Megan Oneill
    Posted at 19:07h, 24 July Reply

    You work is amazing robyn!!

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