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Contemporary Topics Week 2 Save-worthy Illustration Promotion

"If you don’t feed your portfolio somehow then your clients will come after the old work and you’ll start replicating yourself a lot." -Martina Flor

"Again, that’s why those of us who do lettering (illustration) seriously have a responsibility to educate clients and art directors as to what is good lettering and what is not." -Martina Flor

Our class discussion about my topics/projects really got my wheels turning thinking about what is the line between successful and unsuccessful self-promotion. Also I am thinking a lot about how our different definitions of successful and goals will influence our self promotion methods and efforts. I have been reading a lot of interviews and taking skillshare classes this we with illustrators talking about how to get the work you want to do. A big common sentiment is to put out what you want to get back. In other words show pieces in your portfolio that represent the kind of work you’d like to do in the future.

A story that will shape my project... I was offered and accepted a job as Graduate Assistant for the VPA dean's office this fall. I wasn't sure I should take the position because I didn't feel like my work was at its best yet. But I am taking the challenge as a way to push my work further. My supervisor is wonderful! Very encouraging and really open to anything I design. I will be a great learning experience. She and I have discussed how this is an opportunity to build my portfolio and expand my work.

As part of my duties, I was asked to introduce myself to all of the chairs of our school (6) at a meeting. My introduction was framed, "like you were pitching your work to a client,". OH SHIT! I have never pitched my illustrations to a client! I had planned on it being much less formal just saying hello and offering my design services.... I didn't have my business cards, my portfolio, my book to lean on, just my voice. Well I introduced myself and included that I am particular to illustration, but up for any design challenge! It went well, but could have been better if I had samples of my work along.

So all week since this meeting, I've been brainstorming and researching how I can make up for the lack of work to back me up at my introduction. Of course it doesn't really matter and I could just leave it as is and accept that I was mediocre in self promotion or pitching, but I will make up for it with the designs I create for them.... but will I create designs for them? How much will they be influenced by my lack of sample work? Or will they seek me out because I'm a warm and welcoming person?

I realized that my new Graduate Assistantship and my interest in exploring successful self promotion in Contemporary Topics can have a lot of cross over and teachable moments. I think it would be really interesting to go back to each chair, explain that I wasn't completely prepared for my introduction and ask their honest opinion of what their first impression was of me. Also to follow up my under performing pitch with a series of promotional mailings that would be sent to each chair to remind them that I am here for them if they need me and genuinely excited to work with them. Reintroduce myself in a much more planned and polished way and get their reactions. In other words, the chairs of the departments could be part of my target/test audience (if they are willing to participate).

The second thing that has been spinning around in my head since our discussion, is the idea of global versus local designer. This actually delves into the self promotion topic as well. After Meloney's Personal Explorations class ended and my children's book was finished and published, I was suddenly an illustrator! I shifted from fine artist/folk painter to illustrator during that class. I finally understood the difference between designer and artist. I was excited to move forward with illustration.

What happened next was unexpected. I had people coming to be that had seen the book and my art work and asking me to illustrate for them and design for them in the style of Penny Olive. Here's where the self-promotion pitfall happened... when people were coming to me and seeking me out to hire, self-promotion took a back seat to word of mouth as I got busier and busier. Now about 9 months later, things have slowed down a bit and I don't have strong promotional materials to reignite interest in my work. But I think what I have learned is the most important aspect of self-promotion is being very clear in planning what kind of work I want to be making and putting out there. Many illustrators and designers that I have listened to this week say not to put out old work that you wouldn't want to make again, and quality over quantity. The other thing I found particularly interesting about self-promotion in the talks I listened to was that it takes a lot of time to promote yourself, especially since it's not just a website, its multiple social media platforms, etc. Maybe illustrators aren't doing such a great job at self promotion because they're too busy illustrating to take a huge chunk of time out to promote their work.

So I thought a lot about my work. What kind of work I did in the past, what I do now and want to do in the future. When I was in my 20's-30's I focused on drawing and painting portraits, mostly self-portraits to discover who I was and challenge people's opinions of women and sexuality. It was really good practice for illustration because I was drawing all day every day. When I hit my 30's and started having children and settled into my marriage with my creative partner and husband, my work evolved to include my children as part of my visual narrative and target audience rather than just self. I was painting within the context of our heritage and culture to help promote it and preserve it. Now as I turn 36 my work has continued upon a very focused path of being highly influenced by my heritage and culture and geographic ancestral land (Berks County).

I have created a style and an expanding audience in a very specific genre PA Dutch folk art, and there is a need for a designer within this community that I serve. Trust me! So I thought about this a lot, the idea of global versus local within the context of small business small design firm with very focused style of work. The truth is that I am actually quite new to Berks County, though my family lived here for generations, and find it absolutely fascinating! I have lived a few different places on the East Coast, but this place is my particular favorite. There is so much history and beauty, I feel obligated and energized to share it through my work.

Since I am working on self promotion, I think the biggest challenge I have is beefing up my portfolio so that I have work to include in my project. I think the idea of a self promotional post card set or small booklet zine is great. So based on all of the babbling.... I realized that are two topics that can work together to become one topic and my topic. The fine art of self-promotion for an illustrator begins with first clearly defining what boundaries you want to set up before you accept work that may be working against your goals. So I think particular to illustrators there may be less money to be made and less demand for the use of illustrations because they are less likely to take on any job and maybe more fixed on a certain style and less interested in self-promotion because they may still be stuck in a mindset that they don't want clients to dictate the style of illustration they create.

Projects ideas

  • A self-promotional packet for myself as illustrator (something fresh and atypical... map of my work or atypical packaging)

  • A talk, illustrated guide or class on the most efficient ways to self-promote your work that take the least amount of time any from working (which has been done well)

  • A zine/booklet called the art of self-promotion: Being an illustrator and advocate for using illustration also as an illustrated guide making illustrations of the best advice.

  • I want it to be (at least partly) something people can hold and look at.

  • I also think as a minor part of whatever project I do, getting feedback on website redesign or making a quick guide to beautiful websites would be good.

Target audience

I'm not sure yet... potential clients? Illustrators? Or college students in the KUCD program (I like this one the best)


Illustrators to look at:

the art of self-promotion



Map Making: Learn to Communicate Places Beautifully

Anne Ditmeyer Skillshare class

Lessons in Launching Your Creative Career: The Art of Self-Promotion

Brad Woodard skillshare class


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