How Illustrators Find Their Business Position?

May 4, 2023

For illustrators to transform into freelancers, it is essential to find out their own business positioning and continue to cultivate in the corresponding subdivided fields. So how do you complete the first step and find your own unique position in this already highly introverted industry?

Explore inside and out

There is a well-known theory in the field of career planning, called cognitive information processing theory. This theory puts forward the key role of high-quality information in a person's career decision-making - only with sufficient information can it be possible to form effective cognition and make correct judgments and decisions in career. In the same way, if an illustrator wants to find his own unique position in professional development, he needs to complete basic high-quality information collection first, that is, self and industry exploration.

airship & the city

01 Self-exploration

Self-exploration is a long process, and to find out your own business position, you need to focus on the following two issues: passion and expertise.

Maybe the little friends will feel confused. Isn’t the love and expertise of illustrators just painting, but it is not the case. From my own observation, the illustrators around me have different degrees of love for painting, including:

Love: I regard painting as a lifelong career, and I will always paint regardless of whether I earn money or not.
Likes: I am willing to develop painting into a career, hoping to support myself through hobbies.
Good impression: Try to see if painting can make money, and if you can make money, you are willing to develop it into a career.

In fact, there are very few illustrators who can really reach the level of love, including myself, who only stay at the level of liking. If you still can't achieve your love, or you can't find your love outside of painting, you can focus on what you are good at.

There is a classic questionnaire question in career planning: Looking back on your life, what glorious events have you achieved, and what abilities do these events reflect about you?

You can also try to recall, maybe you will find that in addition to painting, you also have other abilities more or less, such as the ability to communicate and coordinate, the ability to learn quickly, the ability to deal with people, the ability to plan and coordinate, etc. . Even painting itself can be disassembled. Is the place where I win lies in aesthetic ability, innovation ability, professional technical ability or content creation ability?

Perhaps for simple painting, it does not require too complicated abilities, but people who have experienced society will have some insights, and some abilities are even more important than painting itself. Especially for those who aspire to become freelance illustrators, comprehensive ability is an essential quality for us to continue to succeed.

If the enthusiasm for painting is already limited, you can try to allocate some time to explore and cultivate your talents and advantages in other aspects. When this advantage can intersect with the work of illustration, it is the direction we can develop in the future.

02 Industry exploration

In addition to self-knowledge, it is also necessary to have an understanding of the industry if you want to gain a place in the illustration industry. Only by going deep into an industry can you know whether you really like it, evaluate whether the industry has prospects and struggle value, and see the pain point needs of the market so as to seize business opportunities and solve your own livelihood problems.

The first company I worked for was a cultural and creative company. Although I left the cultural and creative industry soon after, some of my colleagues at that time are still active in it. The best among them started their own online stores a few years ago, and made their first pot of gold by selling creative red envelopes for young people.

It is precisely because of long-term commitment to the cultural and creative industry and accumulated a lot of industry experience that it is possible to cultivate a keen sense of the market and discover the pain point of demand for young people who do not have trendy and personalized red envelopes. And through the accumulated network resources along the way, a complete product development and sales supply chain has been built.

If an illustrator wants to find his place in the industry, a similar business model is essential. It doesn’t have to be a great career, but he must have a specialized direction that can effectively solve a specific need of a small number of people . This means that we need to decide which industry to devote ourselves to, which market to tap, and what kind of business to develop.

The market industries in which illustrators are highly active include brand design, packaging, advertising, cultural creation, publishing, etc. I have analyzed these major industries in the article "Why is there such a big gap in the manuscript fees of commercial illustrations", so I won't go into details here, and friends who need reference can read it by themselves.

To sum up, the most ideal situation for illustrators is undoubtedly to find the direction they can strive for at the intersection of love, expertise and market demand. If you can't take care of both, you can give priority to the "love + need" approach to hone and improve your skills in practice; or the "good at + need" approach to slowly develop your love in the handy field.

Segment targeting

When you have enough understanding of yourself and the industry and find the direction of future struggle, you can start your own business when the time is right, which means you need to establish a mature business model in a segmented field. And how do illustrators design their own business model? I think there are two key points, clarifying one's professional identity and positioning, and mastering the business model behind it.

03 Occupational Identity Orientation

The issue of identity positioning is very important. Although everyone is an illustrator in a broad sense, the industry markets they enter and the monetization models behind them are different. If you don’t have a clear positioning of yourself, you will easily absorb any information, want to learn any style of painting, and ingest any money-making tricks, and finally fall into anxiety and confusion.

Through continuous internal and external exploration and accumulation of information, and filtering out those invalid information that do not agree with, do not match, and low value, we will gradually form a new understanding of the profession of illustrators. This understanding is to help us redefine our identity key.

I subdivide illustrators into the following three different identities: senior illustrators, slash illustrators and traffic illustrators.

Senior illustrators refer to illustrators with high-end business capabilities. They are realized through outstanding illustration skills. They belong to the category of winning by their works, and they are most in line with the general public's general understanding and imagination of illustrators.

A slash illustrator refers to an illustrator who develops another identity in addition to the identity of an illustrator, and realizes through the integration of the two identities. This type of illustrator does not need a high skill threshold, but comprehensive ability is more important.

There are many slash illustrators in illustrators’ personal entrepreneurship, such as a former colleague who sells red envelopes. She is not only an illustrator, but also an online store founder. They are not only illustrators, but also illustration lecturers. They need to know how to plan courses, explain knowledge, script writing and video recording, etc.

The emergence of slash illustrators is the inevitable result of market segmentation, and more and more illustrators have realized the difficulty of receiving orders - 20% of high-quality companies will only favor those 20% of senior illustrators. However, in the low-price market, there is no way out for introversion, so I found another way to find my own way of making a living by means other than receiving orders.

Traffic illustrators refer to illustrators who are active in self-media and monetize through the influence of fan groups. This type of illustrator does not need to be a professional background, in essence, he is more inclined to self-media people who use illustrations as the content carrier, and can be subdivided into illustration bloggers and Internet celebrity illustrators.

An illustration blogger refers to attracting fans by producing a series of works with a unified and popular style, and then monetizes them by developing peripheral products in the later stage; an online celebrity illustrator refers to setting up an operating account through a planner and attracting fans with illustrations as a highlight And form influence, and later realize it through cooperation with brands and receiving advertisements.

How to evaluate product traffic illustrators in the new era, my position has always been neutral. Back to the issue of positioning, the reason why they are listed separately is that it is difficult for traffic illustrators to find their place in the illustration world. For traditional art students who have been studying hard for many years, making money through traffic instead of solid skills is as unacceptable as opportunism.

I think traffic illustrators are more suitable to position themselves as self-media people, and their professionalism and moral standards should also refer to self-media people rather than traditional illustrators. If you want to integrate into the illustration industry to gain identity, the professional threshold is always unavoidable. Although the self-media industry is mixed with fish and dragons, and the overall situation is impetuous and profit-seeking, there is no shortage of high-quality self-media people and content creators. They are all role models for traffic illustrators to follow.

04 Business model positioning

There is a corresponding business model behind each professional identity, and the biggest difference is whether the sales target of the business belongs to To B or To C. To B refers to To Bussiniss, which means selling to enterprises and brands. To C refers to To Customer, that is, selling to customers and the public.

I once summed up several monetization models for illustrators, which are commercial solicitation, work authorization, product self-operation, knowledge payment and self-media.

Among them, commercial drafting and work authorization are more recommended to adopt the To B model. Enterprises and brands have higher aesthetic power and economic strength, and the cooperation process is more formal. It is suitable for senior illustrators who win with high-quality business capabilities.

However, product self-operation and knowledge payment belong to the To C model, which needs to go deep into the market and understand user needs. It has lower requirements for professional skills and higher requirements for business awareness and entrepreneurial thinking. It is suitable for slash illustrators who win with comprehensive capabilities. .

In the self-media field, illustration bloggers are more suitable for the To C model, and they need to create popular content that can provide interesting value to others; Internet celebrity illustrators are more suitable for the To B model, and they need to create sufficiently attractive, yet Creative content suitable for brand promotion.

To celebrate International Women's Day, we've put together a great selection of awesome female graphic designers and illustrators that it's worth keeping an eye on.

Our list covers a wide range of disciplines, different approaches, and levels of experience, but everyone here has a knockout portfolio that's well worth checking out.

1. Jane Bowyer

Jane Bowyer is a graphic designer and illustrator based in Manchester, UK. Previously senior designer at Raw Design Studio, she now works as an independent designer, illustrator and consultant. Her practice balances playfulness with purpose, to deliver work that is both beautifully crafted and leaves a lasting impression. She is also the curator and creator of Women in Print. She is also the commissioned illustrator behind Creative Boom's International Women's Day takeover week. Thank you, Jane!

Women in Print
Women in Print

2. Abbey Lossing

Abbey Lossing is an illustrator based in Brooklyn. Having worked as a staff illustrator at BuzzFeed and then Vice News, she took the leap into full-time freelance in 2017, and her clients now include Facebook, Target, Google, The New York Times and The Washington Post. Working with a Cintiq in Photoshop, she loves to integrate patterns into her work, which is often inspired by fashion and textiles.

Illustration for Lyft & The Atlantic
Illustration for Lyft & The Atlantic

3. Agathe Singer

Born in Normandy and now based in Paris, Agathe Singer worked as a graphic designer at an advertising agency until 2013, when she left to become a full-time freelance illustrator. Her work is reminiscent of her childhood dreamy garden, exploring a universe of colourful and native fauna and flora, with special attention to birds and flowers. Her first book, Anywhere, Anytime Art: Gouache, was recently published by Quarto Group.

Leopard with walls print
Leopard with walls print

4. Danielle Ferretti

Daniella Ferretti is a Chilean illustrator who currently lives and works in Barcelona. Represented by Anna Goodson, she has a colourful, conceptual style of illustration that mixes digital shapes with organic textures and is inspired by nature, travels and daily life.

Bear illustration
Bear illustration

5. Petra Eriksson

Born in Stockholm and based in Barcelona, Petra took a journey via Dublin and Malta on her way to becoming an illustrator. Working mainly in Adobe Illustrator, she creates bold imagery that’s awash with bright colours and anchored with strong compositions.

Pinterest packaging
Pinterest packaging

6. Alexandra Francis

Alexandra Francis is an illustrator and designer based in Manchester. With a background in fine art, in 2017 she decided to switch career paths and study graphic design at Shillington. She currently works as a designer at Flow Creative, making web, print and illustrations for animation.

Send Noods
Send Noods

7. Emily Comfort

Emily Comfort is a designer and artist living in Brooklyn. She has spent over a decade working in design, most notably as a visual designer for Xbox. Her beautiful collage work, much of which is posted on her website, is stunning and well worth checking out.

Femme Maison – Hand-cut collage
Femme Maison – Hand-cut collage

8. Anna Parini

An illustrator born in Milan, Anna Parini currently works and lives in Barcelona for clients including The New York Times, The New Yorker, El País, Rolling Stone, The Guardian, Penguin Random House and Save The Children. Her work has been recognised and exhibited by the Society of Illustrators, Communication Arts, American Illustration and Society for News Design.

Can Hollywood change its ways? The New Yorker
Can Hollywood change its ways? The New Yorker


Based on the content of the full text, I have summarized the business positioning of illustrators in the following table, hoping to provide reference for confused colleagues.