Wednesday, March 9, 2011

For What It's Worth 28

My recent Escape from Illustration Island podcast seems to have stirred up some discussion especially about web sites. It’s timely since this is one of the two times a year that I’m researching illustrators; my go-to site is because it has the best selection of international illustrators featured. And I’ll also checkout the site as well as responding to mailers, emails and postcards. 

In looking at illustrator sites no two are alike and I’m certainly not advocating that they all look alike but you should look at not on what other illustrators are doing but what designers and photographers are doing. This is what the audience is most familiar with. There is way too much fluff on an illustrator’s site, too many life drawings, too much confusion, too many mediocre images, complex loading, cumbersome navigation so yes if it were up to me I’d makeover the bulk of the sites out there and go to a format with simple thumbnails, easy navigation and large images just so an art director can easily view a site.

If illustration was held in higher esteem you could (any illustrator could) say and do anything you wanted to, but unfortunately illustrators aren’t well-respected...yet. So you have the play the game by their rules, violating them makes you look less professional and therefore less worthy of making the money you rightly deserve. First impressions are everything, when illustrators make their sites difficult it really says they themselves are difficult and are not up to meeting an ADs expectations. They have high expectations but want to pay you peanuts—there is a reason behind that.

I’m trying in every way possible to build up the respect an AD should have for an illustrator. When you are as busy as most art directors are you just don’t have the time to spend more than a few seconds to decide if you want to see more of an artist’s work. It doesn’t take me more than a couple of clicks to determine if I want to stay on the site and bookmark it. And I’m not going to your About page, your Links page, your blog or even your shop—my mindset is to find new illustrators. The image is king. And believe me I spend more time on a site than the typical art director will. When I consider the volume of illustrators I’m personally researching at the moment—there are twelve illustrators per page and 593 pages on, that’s over 7,000 illustrators. I’m going to this site because I’m doing a broad search of the market but that’s much too big of a job for a busy art director or even an art buyer. Getting an art director to even know your site exists is even more of a challenge. Something has to prompt an art director to find you—you can’t just put up a site and do nothing.

Web site design is certainly just one of the issues but not even with one template could we do anything about showing mediocre work or showing everything the artist has ever done—our job is not to overwhelm an art director and we should only show our very best work. And I disagree with comments that suggest an illustrator has to show an AD that you can draw an apple for them to believe you can. Any really good art director can determine your talent base and how you could be best utilized. Judge your sites harshly, don’t show any mediocre work—it’s no different than in the old days of the hardcase portfolio. All the work has to be at one level, you're judged by the weakest piece in your book as that’s the least an art director will expect; they’re hoping for your best work but if your weakest piece is so distant from your best you’re just not going to get the job. Art directors don’t want to take the risk that you don’t deliver your best.

Fees are never going to go up if illustrators are considered the “cheap alternative”, illustrators do much more work than any photographer out there and get paid pennies on the dollar. People are spending $10,000 on a photographer and a $1000 on an illustrator—it's totally backwards. But illustrators have to earn an art director’s trust and respect; the entire industry has to do a much better job and it all starts with their web site. I’m sorry to say but there are too many web sites I’m seeing over the past few days that take illustration down, not up.

You just need to present your best work in the fastest, simplest way possible. It’s not important that your site has bells and whistles so your site stands out. Being different doesn’t make you good, being good makes you different.


  1. As someone who works in both the illustration and web design world I couldn't agree more!

    It pains me that no one wants to either spend the time or money to get a good site together. Most illustration schools have a graphic design program. Why couldnt they pair illustration students with design students and have awesome sites?

    The design students would have "live" examples for their portfolio and the illustrators would have well put together sites.

  2. I really enjoyed the podcast! I graduated from Sheridan and we got a few graphic design courses. They were exceedingly useful in helping us learn how to design promos and websites. Nothing fancy, just the basics.

  3. Agree with you Mike and thanks Julia. My new book Nuts & Bolts: A blueprint for a successful illustration career is out now and has lots of other tips on getting into the industry.

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