Dear Inky… Illustration

Last month I announced the start of a sort of crowdsourcing-agony-aunt feature, for want of a better description (and I do. I do want a better description).

If someone has questions, for example, about what their next step should be, how to promote their work, or how to turn a part time hobby into a full time career, I can try to find someone with answers for them (and sometimes throw an opinion in myself).

I’ll then share the questions and answers on the blog in the hope that they are of help to the wider creative community.

So, without further ado, I present to you the first Dear Inky post!


Dear Inky…

I’ve been a theatre designer (set and costume) for a decade but I decided a couple of years ago to stop restricting myself and to take my drawing more seriously and make a go of being an illustrator.


I do a lot of drawings and paper cuts to commission. I’ve become involved in the local art scene and have done some open studios/exhibitions. I’ve worked on specific  illustrations recently so that I would be happy with them representing my work in a portfolio. I’ve also written a couple of picture-book stories but these are not yet illustrated.




I would love to do editorial or advertising work, but I don’t want a job working for just one magazine for example. I’m too used to the flexibility that freelancing gives.

I’ve got the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook but don’t really know where to start. Most publishers don’t seem to accept submissions and then I read that agents want ‘proven’ published artists. I have also read many, many conflicting accounts of how to submit. The agents/publishers seem to mostly request a website link via email, but then artists say you’ll never be noticed by doing that, you should post something printed…


So basically I’m confused and worried about getting it wrong and messing up my chances! Help!



Dear Robyn…

It sounds like you’re already doing all the right things, but rather than say “just keep going!” I have passed on your questions to a few people I hope can help.

A dear friend of mine and collaborator on Inky Collective, Patrick Miller, is looking to do the same thing as you. One of the most helpful moves he’s made (in terms of getting offered work) is publicise his portfolio on Behance. I’d recommend setting up on there.

With regard to children’s publishing, he also offered the following advice which he himself received from children’s illustrators in the same boat as you, as well as those already published:

     1) Don’t send unsolicited work to agents/publishers that don’t say they accept unsolicited work – it’ll likely be a waste of effort and postage. Check their websites to see if they do or don’t.

     2) Make sure you send a portfolio which is in line with the work they usually publish. If they usually publish madcap, colourful, cartoony stuff and your work is black and white semi-realism, you probably won’t be considered

     3) Art directors in publishing houses hold great influence – if you know any or can connect with them directly (say, on LinkedIn) or can write them an email asking what kind of work they’re looking for, you could be in there…

     4) Ideally get an appointment to see someone (admittedly very hard) and take a strong portfolio with you. Be prepared to leave your portfolio with them for some time.

     5) With children’s stuff the market is saturated, so give your characters stories to act in. It doesn’t matter if the story is good or bad, but it’ll show that:

     a) You can repeat the character convincingly and can show a range of viewpoints, emotions, actions and interactions. Showing them in different poses and giving a sense of movement will likely be one of the first things art directors/agents will look for.

     b) You have a bit of gumption in the writing department. They’re looking for writer-artists at the moment.


I also asked the Editor of Anorak Magazine, Cathy O, for advice and she suggested you check out YCN and It’s Nice That for freelance opportunities to help build your portfolio further. She agrees it sounds like you’re doing the right stuff otherwise, and she knows her illustrating onions!

Have you tried collaborating with any local businesses? For example, offering a bespoke illustration of a shop or pub for them to display, along with some business cards. Free (if you can afford to do that) artwork for them and publicity for you!

I hope that’s of some use to you. Your illustrations are really wonderful (I think the yeti is my favourite). Just stay true to your own style and remember that once you’ve decided to follow a particular path it can take time to feel like you’re getting somewhere.

Good luck!



Do you have advice for Robyn? Please do leave your suggestions in the comments!

If you have a question too, you can ask us on Twitter or email us at

Jen Wright

Jen Wright

Letterpress printer, maker and freelance writer. I blog about the people and things that inspire me, and that I hope will inspire you.
Jen Wright

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