How to hire an illustrator for your team
Need an illustrator for your project or team? Here’s where to start.
What does an illustrator do?
Using artistic techniques, illustrators create visuals for magazines, books, animated films, newspapers, websites, advertising, packaging and more. While some illustrators specialize in a specific area, for example editorial illustrations, most work in an array of industries on a project by project basis.
Illustration has the power to draw our interest to a product or book, to imprint a concept or message in our minds, to bring emotion to an event or idea, or bring a story to life. It’s a skill as meaningful and important to society as writing.
Illustration traditionally referred to hand-drawn images, created with physical tools (like a pencil). Today, illustration combines both hand-drawn techniques and digital ones. An illustrator might draw a visual by hand, then bring it into a digital tool like Adobe Illustrator to clean up the lines or add dimension. Or they may pick up a few animation skills to make their illustrations move. Fully digital art is also common today, with illustrators creating their entire visual on apps like Procreate or SketchBook.
Illustration is a broad term. It encompasses everyone from artists to cartoonists, and character designers to fashion illustrators. Here are the many types of illustration people do today:
- Editorial illustration
- Product illustration
- Packaging illustration
- Children’s book illustration
- Film storyboarding
- Film character design
- Fashion illustration
- Comic book illustration
- Medical illustration
- & more
Illustrators often work as freelancers, since most companies don’t need illustration work every day. A publishing house might have a select group of freelance illustrators on file to illustrate book covers, or a branding agency might hire one on a contract basis for client projects.
What skills should an illustrator have?
Illustrators have a natural talent for drawing, painting or sketching. That talent is honed through specific techniques and skills, from the tools they use, to certain styles they’re known for, to a mastery of a specific medium. Their unique skills will depend on their preferred mediums and styles.
An important skill for illustrators is the ability to understand a topic, message, idea or concept and translate that into an image that’s understandable at a glance. The best illustrators can summarize a complex cultural event, for example, into a compelling visual that moves a viewer, or expands our understanding or perception of the topic.
Specific techniques are not as important as the final result. If an illustrator’s style fits your project or brand, it usually doesn’t matter how they created it. However, you can expect most illustrators to possess some of these skills:
Hard illustration skills:
- Drawing, painting or sketching skills
- Mastery of illustration tools such as Adobe Illustrator & Photoshop
- Animation skills
- Graphic design skills, including an understanding of balance, color and typography
Soft illustration skills:
- Communication skills
- Ability to turn complex ideas, messages or concepts into compelling imagery
- Can create detailed, polished imagery on a deadline
Common illustration tools & software
- Adobe Illustrator
- Adobe Photoshop
- Gravit Designer
What to look for when hiring an illustrator
Your first concern when hiring an illustrator is whether their style fits the visual direction for your project. In some cases, their style may even define your project, for example when you’re using their work in branding or marketing. So what matters most is the work itself.
The best place to get a feel for an illustrator’s work? Their portfolio.
Scan their projects and you’ll quickly see what type of illustrations they typically do, what styles they’ve explored and their past experience. For some projects, relevant experience is necessary. Illustrating for film is an expertise, as it requires technical details and processes specific to that industry. Creating an illustration for an online article doesn’t necessarily require the illustrator to know the ins and outs of the publishing business.
What to ask when interviewing an illustrator
Considering a 3D but unsure if they’re the right fit? Here are the questions to ask.
Q: What project are you most proud of in your portfolio?
This question will reveal the illustrator’s skill level, values and passion for what they do.
Q: How would you describe your style?
Most are hired based on work they’ve done before so chances are, if you’re interviewing them, you already know their typical style. However, this question will open conversation as to what you’re looking for and whether that fits the illustrator’s interest.
Q:How many versions and revisions are included in your deliverables?
It may be useful to include more than one version or concept in your agreement with the freelancer, so you can explore different directions together. You can define this together in your agreement. Make sure you also understand how many rounds of revisions are included in your contract with the freelancer, so there are no surprises or frustration for either of you later.
Q: What is your standard turnaround time for a project of this type?
You’ll want to make sure expectations are clear from the start so you can both plan schedules accordingly.
How to get work as an illustrator
Looking for freelance illustration work or a full-time illustration job? Start here.
Getting started with illustration
The beauty of illustration is that you don’t need any special education, tools or permission to get started. Many illustrators are people who loved drawing and creating as a kid, and turned it into a career.
Just absorb inspiration everywhere and start drawing. Begin with a pencil and paper and then try out some free illustration tools online. With a few tutorials and some practice, you can quickly learn how to refine your illustrations digitally, and even add special effects or animations to them.
As an illustrator, your opportunities come in roundabout ways. Someone may see your work on Twitter and want to collaborate. You might create a small illustration for a magazine who calls you two years from now to illustrate their cover. So share your work everywhere and often, and it will get noticed in ways you don’t expect. When people do discover it, it’s important they have a place to go to see more and to contact you: your portfolio.
How to make an illustration portfolio
An online portfolio is what tells companies and collaborators you are an established illustrator. It’s here you can present your work in the best possible way, and increase the possibilities of being discovered online.
To start, curate a selection of your favorite projects. For most creatives, the work you’ve already done is the work you’ll get hired to do. This is especially true for illustrators. So choose the projects you’re most proud of – the type of work you want to continue doing in the future. And if you’re interested in shaking up your style or projects, start experimenting on your own and publishing those projects. You might publish one piece of work you made for yourself, and if someone likes it and hires you to create something similar, it could spark a new direction for your illustration career.
Consider putting your projects in categories so viewers can understand your experience at a glance. For example, creating a page or label for all your editorial illustrations, and another for your packaging illustrations. This allows us to see your range, and makes you more discoverable via SEO.
You have the power to tell your story here, so take the opportunity to put your work in its best light. Upload high-resolution images so we can see your illustrations in all their beautiful detail. Customize the background color for different project pages, to complement the color and style of each unique piece (with Carbonmade, little customizations like this take less than a minute to do). Write a few sentences explaining the project: The concept you started with, the process you followed and any people who collaborated with you.
Finally, tell us about YOU. Add a short introduction to your homepage that sums up what you do, and write a short bio that shares a bit of your personality. Add your contact information, any relevant social media links and you’re done!
How to prepare for an illustration interview
Lined up an interview for an illustration project? Congrats! Here’s what to expect.
If a company reached out to you about a project, they’ve likely already seen your work and like it. So relax and rest easy! The rest is just about making sure your priorities and process align, so what matters most is to be honest and be yourself.
Make sure your portfolio is in tip-top shape, as you might need to pull it up during your conversation, and it’s likely the company will visit it again in anticipation of your interview. Check each project page and make sure images are loading, links work and everything shows as you intend it to.
Review the company beforehand to understand the work they typically do, and how it compares to what you do. Assuming you have an idea of the project, think over your rates, the process involved for this type of project and the turnaround time. These are all questions the company will likely ask, so the more confidently you can answer them, the more confident your client will feel in you.