The Seven Deadly Website Sins for Freelance Illustrators

This is a list of the things that illustrators sometimes do that they really shouldn’t – or in some cases that they don’t do. Generally, it’s the really simple stuff that tends to be overlooked and for the life of me I have no idea how it happens half of the time. What freelancers sometimes forget is that they’re running a business and they need to present themselves as such. Uploading your artwork to the internet for your own satisfaction is a far cry from landing the client you’ve always wanted or being hired for a private commission. For a viewer to become a client, they need to get from A to Z with as few obstacles as possible. Shall we begin…

  1. Not having a personal website with a custom domain name. Building a custom website is fun and can enable you to really show off your work and talent, but if that’s not for you, it’s OK to use a platform that uses templates where you just insert your own content. All of those systems allow you to have a custom domain name, whether you buy it through them or a 3rd party, so there’s no excuse not to have one. In the digital world, it’s the difference between having a business card or scribbling your contact details on a napkin . Show you’re a professional by having a custom domain name for your portfolio. It can take as little as 5 minutes to set one up and cost less than a couple caffè macchiatos each year.
  2. Not having your name on your website or using too many different names. Or using a business name, but not telling the client the name of the person to address their email to. This one is a pet hate! It’s less common these days, but there was a trend for a while for illustrators’ websites not to display the artist’s name, full stop. I don’t know if this was an oversight or not in some cases, but if you ever had to get in contact with any of these illustrators and their name wasn’t in their URL or email address, you could feel the annoyance in their reply when you’ve addressed them with just ‘Hey’. Tell people what your name is! Don’t make the client feel uncomfortable before they’ve even got in contact with you.
  3. Not showing your email address or any alternative contact method. You’ve created a beautiful website to showcase your amazing artwork and then you reveal no way for a client to contact you. Why?!
  4. Keeping your social networks more up-to-date than your own website. Social networks may be easier to update, but this just looks lazy and like you don’t actually care about your personal brand. You’re only as strong as your weakest link.
  5. Having broken links to your social pages on your website where the URLs have changed when you’ve faffed around with your usernames. It’s like moving home; make sure a redirection is in place and everyone knows about your new address including your website. If you don’t, users are going to get lost and become irritated. It’s the little things like that which can put clients off when they’re on the fence as to whether to approach you for a quote or not.
  6. Showing work of varying quality: either be crap or amazing, not both! You need to make sure you’re showing your best work and the quality of your portfolio isn’t being dragged down by including work that isn’t your best. Sometimes it’s better to show too little work than bulking it out with older work or pieces that should have been archived in a private corner of your hard drive and become a distant memory. Be proud of everything you produce, but also be aware of what works and what doesn’t. Quality over quantity and don’t listen to your mum.
  7. Not having a consistent style or not showing a degree of separation between your different styles. This one has some similarities to number six. If you’re a jack of all trades and you’re approached by a client, there will always be a concern in the back of their head as to what to expect from you when you deliver an illustration. If you have more than one style, you want the client to be able to say before they commission you that they like your children’s illustration, or your pointillism artwork, or your horror pieces. But you need to have shown these in their own sections on your website and the styles need to have not cross-pollinated between the sections. Don’t make it difficult for the client to tell you want they want based on what you do. Keep it simple! Get them from A to Z as quickly and effortlessly as possible.

There are many more things an illustrator should do to optimise their operations and workflow than the list above, but we just wanted to highlight the most common mistakes we’ve seen in the wild over the years in relation to illustrators’ websites. Please feel free to leave your pet hates and advice in the comments below. We’ll add the best ones to the article.

Archangel illustration image credit: Brian Allen

More advice…
Professional conduct for freelance illustrators
To agent, or not to agent: that is the question

To agent, or not to agent: that is the question

Star Monster by Jason Heglund

Image credit: Jason Heglund

Following a conversation about illustration agencies with one of our lovely members, we’ve decided to publish and share the advice we offered. This is a subject that gets brought up a lot with illustrators, new and old, and we thought it was about time we did a post on the subject.

I’m curious to talk to someone about getting portfolio advice and what to look for when seeking out an agency to represent my illustrations.

If you’re looking for an agent, first of all you need to look around and make a list of agents who represent illustrators with a similar style to yours, but not too similar. You also need to search online for forum posts and comments where illustrators are talking about their agents and their experiences with them; it’ll be very telling as to whether an agent is worth signing up with or not. There’s such a mixed bag of agents about these days that you really only want to sign up with one who has a good reputation, rather than having an agent for the sake of it. Signing with just “anyone” who’ll take you is a sure way to be taken advantage of. Agents who represent illustrators are as varied as the illustrators themselves in terms of business prowess and that’s not even taking into account potential personality clashes.

Here is a link to get you going… http://www.thelittlechimpsociety.com/agents/

Note to HAI members: Every so often we’ll send a list of illustrators who’re looking for representation to a selection of agents who we trust. So, make sure you’ve marked that you’re looking for an agent in your profile if you want to be included in those lists.

Ideally, representation sounds best for me as I’m not 100% sure of how to bring in projects. A rep will have contacts and be able to find good matches for me. Also, my assumption is that being represented would make the work more steady.

I hate to scupper your plans, but you’ll probably find that until you have steady work coming in, you’re not going to find an agent willing to take you on. It’s a bit of a catch 22 situation. I’m not saying an agent won’t take you on, but they’re more likely to when you’re more established (unless they’re generally unestablished themselves). Don’t get me wrong, there are exceptions, but this is normally what I see happen in the industry if you’re looking for a top notch agent. There are some agencies that take on large numbers of illustrators for the sake of quantity rather than focusing on quality. If going with an agent is the path you really want to take, then this may be a compromise you’re willing to make. However, you may find there is a small group within the agency who get all the jobs and the rest will get the odd scrap.

As there are so many illustrators who represent themselves these days, it’s not necessarily a case of an agent opening doors anymore, it’s all down to marketing and time management. Normally an agent takes people on when they’re pretty sure the illustrator is going to bring in lots of work and when the illustrator is happy to hand over their 15-40%, as it means they’ve got someone handling the contracts and billing for them and they can focus on the creative side. Some agents are good at marketing their illustrators, others aren’t. It never does any harm to ask illustrators what they think of their agents before you agree to join the agency.

Things to note: Agents tend not to take people on who produce stock illustrations as it devalues the illustrator’s style. Agents tend to take people on who already have lots of work coming in or if they think someone is going to be the next big thing. The other reason an agent might take an illustrator on is that they already have an illustrator on their books that gets requested more than they can handle and you have a similar style to them. If an agent can recommend another illustrator on their books so they don’t miss out on a job, they will do. If you do sign up with an agent, make sure you’re happy with the contract you sign with them, as some of them can put you in a very tricky situation if things don’t work out as planned. Cover your bases and ask questions before you put pen to paper and sign away your first born. In the same way you can negotiate terms with a client, you can negotiate a contract with an agent.

My long term goal is to primarily illustrate and write my own picture books while still illustrating books for other people. I’d also like to manage and grow my own brand. Do agencies help artists develop with these goals in mind?

Agents will only tend to help you develop the aspects of your brand they can control and take a cut of. Generally, helping you to become independent isn’t in their interest as they want people to see the agency as the one fulfilling the client’s brief, not the illustrator. Some agents are really good and will support the illustrator and their growth as much as they can, but the agency still needs to make money and build their own reputation. As far as they’re concerned, illustrators will come and go and it’s the agency that’s important, not the illustrator’s growth. Agents are supposed to work for their illustrators, but in reality a good number of agents will treat their illustrators as if they are employees. A nice balance is when it becomes a partnership between the two. Just remember that in the same way there’s a huge variety of illustrators, agents are just as varied.

Final thought…

Make sure you’re only contacting agents who you think will take you on based on who they already represent, and only contact agents you actually want to be represented by. There’s no need to waste anyone’s time if you’re not a good fit! If you put no thought into your initial contact, they’ll put no thought into their reply (if they even send one).

The best way to get an agent’s attention is to start by making sure your website and portfolio is up to date. Don’t forget about your social pages, either – if an agent is savvy and serious about taking you on, they’ll check everything. Once your side of things is ready, visit the agent’s site, search for their submission criteria and make contact with them. Normally you’ll need to reach out to them; things won’t magically happen and don’t forget they’re probably receiving anything from ten to several hundred submissions from illustrators per day. Most of these submissions will have been done without any research and the illustrators are just getting in contact with every agent they can find. Be patient for a reply and make sure your email is crafted to the recipient and isn’t just a one-size-fits-all message… The less spammy, the better. Lastly, do try to look objectively at what you’re offering from the agent’s point of view. The opinions of family and friends don’t really count when it comes to business, so unless your mum works in the industry and is willing to tell you if your work isn’t a good fit with an agency or that you’re not established enough yet, ignore them and trust your gut.


If you’re an agent and would like to become a member of HAI like these guys, send us an email to get the ball rolling. Likewise if you’re an illustrator and would like to join our ranks, fill in an application. ❤️✏️ #loveillustration

Professional conduct for freelance illustrators

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If you create artwork or illustrations based on instructions or a client’s brief and you get paid for it, you’re a professional illustrator. So with this in mind (regardless of whether you personally consider it just a hobby or yourself an amateur), you need to treat all of your clients and potential future clients with respect. I’m not saying that you won’t continue to get paying work if you don’t show respect for your clients, but when you don’t you’re damaging the general image people have of professional illustrators as a whole and this does have a knock on effect.

We’ve seen an increasing trend in recent months where freelance illustrators are just letting off a bit of steam by the way of posting rants or comments on their social profiles. This is fine if their privacy settings have to been set up to only allow their actual friends see their posts, but with a good number of illustrators this isn’t the case. Their profiles are public for all the world to see. As a company that promotes illustration and helps connect illustrators with clients, it’s quite disconcerting to see people moaning about clients in such a public way.

The bit that normally riles people up on both sides, when it comes to commissioning an illustrator, is budget and what a client can afford. This is where an illustrator’s professional conduct needs to come into play. It’s quite simple really…

Scenario A –
Client: I need this and have £600.
Illustrator: I’m afraid I can only do what you’re after for £1400.
Client: I’m sorry I can’t stretch to that, maybe next time.
Illustrator: Thank you for your interest.

Scenario B –
Client: I need this, how much would it be?
Illustrator: I can only do what you’re after for £1400.
Client: How about £600.
Illustrator: I’m sorry £1400 is the minimum I charge for this sort of job, maybe next time or let me know if you can find any more for your budget. Thank you for your interest.

Scenario C –
Client: I need this and have £600.
Illustrator: I’m afraid I can only do what you’re after for £1400.
Client: How about £900?
Illustrator: If you can stretch to £1200 you have a deal.
Client: Yes, I can do that.

Scenario D –
Client: I need this, how much would it be?
Illustrator: I can only do what you’re after for £1400.
Client: How about £200?
Illustrator: Thank you for your time, if you have a more accommodating budget in the future please keep me in mind.

Clients either have a set budget for the job or they’re looking to get what they’re after at the lowest possible price. There’s no reason to be offended if they can’t afford you. That’s just the way things are.

How to burn bridges and put people off hiring an illustrator in the first place…

Following any of the scenarios above, the illustrator then hops on Facebook, Twitter or any of the other social networks and shares something like… “Client wanted me to illustrate 4 covers for £200! LOL.” … This status update is public and then gets 200+ retweets or likes, as people enjoy gossip and coffee shop chatter. It also gets 30+ comments from other illustrators saying how disgusting and insulting an offer like that is.

Now, all that’s been accomplished is that the illustrator’s ego has had a jolly good stroking. The illustrator could have made sure their privacy setting were set to allow only close friends to see the comment if they only wanted to let off steam, but many don’t even touch their privacy settings and they post comments like that for anyone and everyone to see. If potential and future clients see the comment it’s not going to put them in their place and make sure they offer proper remuneration when they approach an illustrator, all it’s going to do is leave them with a sour taste and doubts. I wouldn’t say it would be an extreme case either that someone thinking about hiring an illustrator might see that and then decide to hire a professional photographer instead or (heaven forbid) go with stock for their project.

Professional illustrators who make sniping comments like that have a lot more influence on the industry as a whole than they realise. The price range that illustrators charge is so much wider than in other professions due to the uniqueness of the work they produce. It’s not easy for a client to compare one illustrator to another, but they often still do. This means illustrators need to keep themselves in check at all times and not just when dealing directly with clients. By all means let off steam, have a rant and chat with your mates, just make sure it’s in a private forum rather than a public circus.

Positivity breeds positivity; don’t get stuck in a social network echo box for the sake of a like! Showing people what a joy illustrators are to work with shouldn’t just be the task of a few, it should be the default setting for anyone who loves illustration and working in this wonderful industry. Don’t get pulled into the gutter, reach for a higher standard. Be a professional.

Image Credit: Andy Potts (2011) for the Design Week Supplement