Trends and Insight in association withSynapse Virtual Production

How to Get into the Creative Industry

London, UK
Illustration agent at Jelly London Sarah Morris shares her advice on getting into - and staying in - the creative industry

These are really daunting times, especially for new grads trying to navigate leaving university during the pandemic and attempting to enter the industry. The same can be said for those who perhaps are contemplating their careers after being furloughed or made redundant and have been given the push they needed to go for it and break into the creative industry. I see you! 

Build a portfolio
Work hard on your portfolio and take the time to explore and get clear on who you are as an artist. There are artists who develop their own very identifiable, ownable style and then there are more multidisciplinary artists who may be skilled at many different styles and that’s ok too. The most important thing is conveying who you are, your strengths and showcasing your work in the best light. Don’t include any work in your folio that you don’t love or that isn’t the kind of work you’d want to get commissioned for. It seems obvious but it’s important to remember, the kind of work in your portfolio will be the kind of work that you’ll be commissioned for. 

Carefully curate your portfolio. When starting out there is a tendency to want to include every piece of work you’ve done. Quality over quantity. Don’t be overly worried if your portfolio is lacking in commercial projects, after all you’re just starting out but it’s important to get a sense of how your work can be used commercially. Give the illustration some context in the form of relevant mock ups. For example this could be to show how your series of illustrations could be applied to some packaging or as part of a brand identity or an advertising campaign used for print and digital/social. 

Passion projects are just as important as client work and can really help you land the next big client commission. They allow you to essentially write your own brief and to communicate what makes you tick, letting your imagination and creativity run wild. This is often some of your best work. There’s been many times where I’ve seen artists put out some personal work that they’ve created in their downtime or in between projects and that is the work that gets picked up and referenced on client moodboards. Don’t underestimate it. 

Promote yourself
Self promotion is really important, so think about how you can stand out from the crowd and what you have to offer. What is your point of difference? Prospective clients/agents need to see what makes you, you. 

Be confident! Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and don’t be disheartened if you don’t hear back from people right away. Often this is not a reflection on you, people are very busy - it’s about being tenacious! An illustration career is a hustle. It’s totally ok to follow up after a few weeks, and even send an update with some strong new work later down the line. Maybe that’s a strong series of illustrations produced as a passion project. 

Keep your social channels and profiles up to date i.e Instagram, it’s such a great platform to help showcase your work and allows you to follow industry experts and agencies and will keep you informed with the goings ons within the industry, helping to build connections. A lot of art directors have been using platforms like Instagram to keep track of talent, so it’s definitely worth using this as a portfolio platform if you don’t already. The more content you put out about yourself, your work and abilities, the more likely you are to gain the attention of those you are looking to impress.

Read (creative publications)
Research is super important - reading creative blogs, and online magazines such as Campaign, LBB, Creative Review etc also helps keep you up to date with the industry. Doing your research will hold you in good stead and help you to navigate the industry and get clearer on the agencies and work you really like, the kind of work you want to be doing and who you’d like to work with. When reaching out to these people, make it personable - if there’s a particular project of theirs you love, let them know! 

Build a portfolio of contacts
Attend events (right now the digital ones - you can still see who’s attending and connect with people.) Build your network and make connections wherever you can, online and offline. Using The Dots is also a  great way to do so and allows you to showcase your work - reach out and ask questions to your network, look for job opportunities and events to be able to network. I would highly recommend having a Dots profile. 

Work/partner with other creatives
Collaboration is another great way to meet people and build your network. Working with someone who has a different skillset to you allows you to learn from them but also can take the work to new heights. Motion is such a big thing. As an illustrator, collaborating with an animator gives the illustration a whole new dynamic. 

By no means are you expected to be an animator as well as an illustrator, but having a very basic knowledge of animation, in a time where even editorial clients occasionally want a gif for their digital version, can be useful. Even if that is to better communicate with an animator how you envision your illustration coming to life and learning how best to prepare your illustration assets for animation. With the internet and advances in technology you can easily learn these skills from the comfort of your own home (a lot of our artists have learnt this way!).

Taking on an internship can be really valuable in gaining first hand experience in the industry and how it works. These should always be paid! 

Know your worth. Just because you’re new to the industry doesn’t mean you don’t have a lot to offer. The same is to be said for pricing your work. The AOI are great at offering advice on pricing and contracts, it’s well worth being a member.

Be resilient
Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to be the finished article straight out of Uni or in the beginning of your career, it takes time to find your niche and build a career. It’s an ongoing process and should be a fun one - explore, play, create, connect. See what feels right for you and don’t be afraid to reach out and ask other people’s opinion. It’s hard to be objective about your own work, so asking other people’s opinions and gaining feedback can be really valuable. Your work will continue to develop, evolve and progress naturally even when you’re an established illustrator in the industry. You never stop learning and evolving.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Mistakes are an essential part of progress and don’t make you a failure. Sometimes the best things can come out of a mistake. The same with a No. If you receive a no it just means ‘Next Opportunity.’ My advice is to keep going, be resilient, positive and enjoy the journey. Keep taking action, even when a little voice in your head is spouting negative BS (we all have it!). What’s one small step you can take today that will help you get closer to where you want to be? The very act of taking action builds confidence. You’ve got this.