Hi guys! Today I'm going to chat about that bit before you get the job as an illustrator, the place where you're offered something, and you have that moment of 'yes or no'; to take the job or not to take the job. This is a bit of a murky place when you're just starting out, and it's still murky even when you're a couple of years down the line (like I am). You may feel like you have to take every job that comes your way - I certainly did (and boy there were some doozies). You may be afraid to take jobs that are daunting, and so refuse them, but in doing so hamper your ability to grow. So today I want to offer a little bit of advice gained in hindsight, and also chat a little about illustrating The Bird Book (my dream job!).

A beautiful spring morning from my artist studio
Spring/Summer in my studio

Top Tip Number 1: Listen to your gut

This has got to be the best top tip I can give you. There are difficult clients everywhere and you can very quickly find yourself in a nightmare scenario; trapped in a cycle of change after change on a project you never really wanted to work on that was never in your wheelhouse. Especially if you're going it alone and are afraid of saying what you want still, or putting your foot down. What I've learned is that my gut is always right. It always knows when a job will turn into a nightmare. It, without fail, will be able to pick out a terrible client from the get go. In the past I've mostly ignored that gut clench, the little warning signs, and I have been wrong to do so Every. Single. Time. Listen to that gut. One of the reasons I wanted to work on The Bird Book was because every single part of me celebrated the minute I was offered the job. I knew it was so right for me and that I was the right fit for it, and that allowed me to do my best work.

Top Tip Number 2: Say yes to the job if it'll help you grow

There's a fine balance here. If you think a job is outside of your comfort zone, but you're willing to work on it until you get it right, then take it, it'll help you grow. Grab the opportunity to progress with both hands. However, if you think a project is beyond you right now, Do. Not. Take. It. Unless you want to be stressed out of your mind and miserable, that is. One of the things that was beyond me has always been faces. I've had to say no to a few projects in the past that needed me to draw people. However, I've been working on it for a while, and when I was recently offered another job that involved drawing people, I felt that balance tip: this job was outside of my comfort zone, and I was honest with the client, but I felt that with a little bit more work than I perhaps would spend usually drawing an animal or something similar, that I could do it this time. It worked, I could, and now I feel more confident progressing this way.

Drawing of The Mad Hatter for the book Momenticon by Andrew Caldecott
My drawing of The Mad Hatter for the book Momenticon by Andrew Caldecott, out Jan '22

Top Tip Number 3: Do not work for free.

Without any question, every single person who I've ever done any free work for has completely taken the piss, asking me to give more and more and more for very little return. I can not stress this enough. Do. Not. Work. For. Free. I can promise you, 'exposure', even to thousands of people, does very very little except gain you a couple more followers. Beyond that, you devalue your art, and you will devalue others' art as well, because that person will learn that they can get things for free. The people behind The Bird Book offered me a very fair wage with a good contract, and I might get more work in the vein I want to work in because of it. It was worth every single second I spent on it.

Top Tip Number 4: Check your values and your brand values

Does the work align with these? My values and my brand values are all centred around sustainability, honesty, forward thinking, helpfulness, fun and creativity. These things are so important to me that I want to work for people who demonstrate these qualities. When I accepted the job of illustrating The Bird Book, its goals aligned so closely with who I am, that it was literally a dream to work on. The goal was to educate people who were perhaps just starting to learn a little more about nature during lockdown, perhaps people like me who moved from cities and really didn't understand the wild. The goal was to gently show others how we could help the birds featured, in a handy little illustrated pocket guide that wasn't too daunting. It was nature illustration (right up my street), it was forward-thinking, helpful, educative. It was written by people who have those same passions and desires. Working on this made my heart happy. You want that feeling when you're working on a job. And if you're not being offered these jobs? Go find them! Research your dream client, send them your work.

A page from The Bird Book by Dr Meriel Lland and Roxy Furman featuring a dunlin
A page from The Bird Book by Dr Meriel Lland and Roxy Furman

Top Tip Number 5: If you're not going to have some measure of fun, don't do it

Let's face it, what do you do this job for if not for fun? I've taken plenty of not-fun jobs and regretted it sooooo much. It's painful, slogging away at something, dragging ideas kicking and screaming from your brain until they come out half-formed on the page and you're eternally self-conscious about the result. In order to take the fun jobs, you might have to have another job while you wait: I work in a bookshop one day a week, I also proofread. I find it more painful working on creative jobs I'm not inspired by, than just having a second job that brings in the vital extra income that I need, whilst also not heaping responsibility on my shoulders. and if you're not being offered the fun jobs, make your own fun work, your passion and joy will show in your work and that will attract more clients. Your fun and your passion and joy are what you are really selling!

That's it for today! Check back on Thursday for my first guest post of the month, with the senior editor behind the idea and creation of The Bird Book giving us a sneak peek into the publishing industry.

As always, thanks for reading,


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