So you're good at drawing and you want to be an illustrator huh? Well taking it to the next level, ditching the bedroom office and making some coin from your skills is a whole different game, trust me, I've been in the game for more than 10 years! 


Illustrator Kelly Thompson at her desk

So what are the important things you should get on to so you can fast forward everything and not muck around? I've compiled a little edit below to help you along.


1. Sit down and have a serious discussion with you. 

You can do it out loud (maybe close the door to avoid embarrassment) or just in your head, but it's important to ask yourself " do I really want to turn this hobby that I love and feel warm in my heart about in to a job?", remembering that the word job takes "hobby" and turns it in to "work", a much more serious and strenuous incarnation. This is something I never ever considered when I was starting out, I followed my creative love, (and a teenage love) and just slowly rolled in to this job. So while sitting down and being honest with yourself think about if you want this bundle of happiness (your drawing) to be related to money, the constant direction of others and the everyday grind, or would you rather keep that separate and save drawing for your own time.


2. Stop looking at everyone else

If you made it past GO high fives to ya, you may go back and re-read the above in six years, but until then welcome to your new illustrator life! First things first you need to get your style sorted. I don't mean your wardrobe (although that can help), I'm talking about your signature illustration style, what makes your work yours, and what makes you stand out? It's tricky these days with everyone on social media, it's easy to get caught up and accidentally find yourself copying everything your favourite artist does, but you're cooler that that, you need to find your own way otherwise you're not going to go anywhere fast.
My tip - stop looking and start drawing, play, experiment, splash some paint around and find what you're in to. Don't think about what's cool, it's happening already it's done, just think about what you like, what makes you you? Style takes time and it happens without you noticing, so the more work you do for yourself the faster you'll grow a unique body of work and that's what gets attention.


Kelly Thompson illustration

3. Have a voice

I used to love drawing beautiful naked girls and that gained me attention. I tapped a market which gained me much press and recognition and I happily spoke about women's bodies and had minor arguments with uptight people about female nudes and sexuality at my exhibitions.  It was this work that was shared, published, sold and grew my brand and my following, introducing me to clients (who asked me for everything but naked girls). I have never had the same response since commercial work took over, having a "thing" that I did, open opinions and my own voice made me interesting. Don't be afraid to speak out, be opinionated, say no to things and be an individual . Ask yourself What do you love? What do you want to say (it could just be that you like burgers, anything), Who are you?


4.  Make friends & come to ends with frenimies

Being nice and making an effort with people is an underrated way to get ahead in life. Some of the people I used to party with in University years later have become some of my favourite clients, people I randomly met at an exhibition, are now people I reconnect with to discuss future plans. Similarly now, fans who have supported my work on social media for years are now people I watch as possible future talent for my agency. You really never know who will become relevant on a different level in six years time, so be nice, be genuine and engage. On the flipside evaluating your social circle and being honest with yourself about who makes you feel good and who gets you down is a slightly uncomfortable self conversation, but necessary if you want to be successful and happy. Surround yourself with people who genuinely like and support you and show interest in what you're doing, people you respect and who inspire you. Having a solid support network is essential if you're stepping out freelance. 


5. Self motivate and self evaluate

When you're working solo it's easy to just fall in to the daily routine, scrambling to make money and then accidentally lose a couple of years without achieving your goals. Goal setting and self motivating is hard, but key. When you're starting out write a list of goals for yourself, who do you want to work for, what do you like, what do you want to achieve, shows? Merchandise?
Once you have a list open your calendar and write a date that you would like to have achieved each task by, be realistic, considering how long you would need. From there move backwards towards your current date writing in milestones so you have sub goals planned out that work towards that main goal. I personally find that having regular reminders keep me on track and keep me focused on what I really want to achieve. It's also important to sit down once every couple of months (or more regularly if you wish) and remind yourself of where you're wanting to be and check yourself to make sure you haven't gone on a random tangent. Look at your work and try to view it from the perspective of an outsider or your dream client, is this good, how can it be improved, is it the kind of thing you need to be doing to get where you want to be?


Remember that not all work is supposed to be fun, BUT if you do a good job working as an illustrator it is always going to be better than working for the man, have fun and enjoy your creativity, but get your creativity working for you.