9 Steps to Success for Beginning Magazine Illustrators

steps to successThe magazine market is one of the largest markets for freelancers, particularly illustrators. Since most magazines are published monthly, art directors need dependable artists to provide a steady supply of images.

Art directors look for the best visual element to hook the reader into the story. A whimsical illustration can set the tone for a humorous article and a caricature might dress up a short feature about a celebrity. Smaller illustrations, called spot illustrations, are needed to break up text and lead the reader from feature to feature.

Attractive art isn’t enough to grab assignments. Your work must not only convey the tone and content of a writer’s article, it also must fit in with a magazine’s “personality.” For example, Rolling Stone illustrations have a more edgy quality to them than the illustrations in Reader’s Digest, which tends to publish traditional pen and ink renderings with color washes or cheery cartoon-like illustrations. Chances are with a little honing, your artwork would do well in several magazines.

Nine Steps to Success for Beginning Illustrators

1. Read each listing carefully. Within each listing are valuable clues. Knowing how many artists approach each magazine will help you understand how stiff your competition is. (At first, you might do better submitting to art directors who aren’t swamped with submissions.) Look at the preferred subject matter to make sure your artwork fits the magazine’s needs. Note the submission requirements and develop a mailing list of markets you want to approach.

2. Visit newsstands and bookstores. Look in the stands for magazines not listed in Artist’s & Graphic Designer’s Market. Check these over an interior. If illustrations are used, flip to the masthead (usually a box in one of the beginning pages) and note the art director’s name. While looking at the masthead, check the circulation figure. As a rule of thumb, the higher the circulation that higher the art director’s budget. When an art director has a good budget, he tends to hire more illustrators and pay higher fees. Look at the illustrations and check the illustrator’s name in the credit line in a small print to the side of the illustration. Notice which illustrators are used often in the publications you wish to work with. Art directors need diversity in their publications. They like to show several styles within the same issue. After you have studied the illustration in dozens of magazines, you will understand what types of illustrations are marketable.

3. Focus on one or two consistent styles to present to art directors in sample mailings. See if you can come up with a style that is different from every other illustrator’s style, if only slightly. Maybe it’s your use of color, or use of circular swirls for your character’s eyes. No matter how versatile you may be, limit styles you market to one or two. That way, you’ll be more memorable to art directors. Pick a style or styles you enjoy and can work quickly in. Art directors don’t like surprises. If your sample shows a line drawing, they expect you to work in that style when they give you an assignment.

4. Create a sample showing not only a definite style, but the ability to illustrate abstract ideas. It’s not enough just to draw or paint a pretty picture. Your sample must convey a mood – whether happy, somber, playful or dignified. If you create caricatures, make sure your drawing captures the celebrity’s personality, not just the face.

5. Send simple, polished samples to the right contact person. After you choose an illustration for your sample, get some good color photocopies made, or make an investment in printed postcards or promotional sheets. Each sample must show your name, address, and phone number (and email). Send you samples to as many magazine art directors as your budget permits. Be sure to use the art director’s name in the address line, and spell it correctly.

6. Don’t rely on one mailing to win assignments. Wait a few months and create another sample in the same style to send to the art directors on your original mailing list. Successful illustrators report that promotional mailings are cumulative. As a general rule, it takes about three mailings for your name to sink into art directors’ brains.

7. Submit to trade magazines and regional publications. While they may not be as glamorous as national consumer magazines, some trade and regional publications are just as lavishly produced. Most pay fairly well and the competition is not as fierce. Every assignment is valuable. Until you can get some of the higher circulation magazines to notice you, take assignments from smaller magazines. Despite their low payment, there are many advantages. You learn how to communicate with art directors, develop your signature style and learn how to work quickly to meet deadlines. Once the assignments are done, the tearsheets become valuable samples to send to other magazines.

8. Tap industry sources. A great source for new leads is in the business section of your local library. Ask the librarian to point our the business and consumer editions of the Standard Rate and Data Service (SRDS). The huge directory lists thousands of magazines by category. While the listings contain mostly advertising data and are difficult to read, they do give you an idea of the magnitude of magazines published today. Another good source is a yearly directory called Samir Husni’s Guide to New Consumer Magazines also available in the business section of the public library. Also read Folio magazine to find out about new magazine launches and redesigns.

9. Develop a spot illustration style in addition to your regular style. “Spots” – illustrations that are half-page or smaller – are used in magazine layouts as interesting visual cues to lead readers through large articles, or to make filler articles more appealing. Though the fee for one spot is less than for a full layout, art directors often assign five or six spots within the same issue to the same artist. Because spots are small in size, they must be all the more compelling. So send art directors a sample showing several power-packed small pieces along with your regular style.

Click to Purchase 2015 Artist's & Graphic Designer's Market!*Attention Designers: Some magazines also hire freelance designers and production people to assist with layouts or create and maintain websites. If you are a designer, look for listings featuring a separate heading for design. Needed computer skills and submission preferences vary from magazine to magazine, so read each listing carefully before you approach art directors.

*Excerpt from 1998 Artist’s & Graphic Designer’s Market.

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