Advice for Illustrators – Q & A with Folio illustration agency, as part of the Illustration Agents Special!

Interview and illustration by Judith Carnaby


Illustration agents are practised at promotion, negotiation, licensing and standing up for an illustrator’s rights. They have experience and know-how that freelance illustrators often have to gain through slow and painful trial and error. But there are ways to develop your professional skills! Nicola Manuel from Folio illustration agency in London gives some helpful advice for freelance illustrators who are just starting out, or experienced illustrators who want to refresh their approach.


Folio’s ‘In the Studio’ with Alexander Wells

Illustrators Illustrated: Hi Nicola! Can you please give some advice to freelance illustrators, who are not represented by an agency?

Should a freelance illustrator sell themselves on their style? Or is it better to show their ability to work with a client to solve their problem, rather than focus on style?

Nicola Manuel: This is a mixture between the two – you need to show that you can solve the client’s problem whilst also focusing on the style you’ve established. Keep both level with each other and you’ll have a stronger chance of working well with the brief given.

With the variety of contexts and media that illustrators are working in, have you seen any changes in the way contracts and copyright have developed? What should illustrators keep in mind when agreeing to commissions?

A lot of the larger brands are looking for perpetuity over bespoke licenses. We tend to look out for clients who are asking for more than they may actually need. Instead of selling out in perpetuity each time, question the client as to how the piece is to be used and for what length of time.

Ensure you’ve read through the contract and highlight any parts that you’re a little unsure on. The Association of Illustrators has a Membership, which gives you access to questioning contracts and copyright. They’re a fantastic organisation, supporting freelance illustrators who are working independently.

As a freelance illustrator there is little transparency and seemingly no financial guide for what or how to charge for usage rights. Are there set criteria that you work with in contracting usage rights?

Account four certain aspects that play a part in helping to establish the pricing. First, you need to know the content that is needed for illustrating and the complexity. Second, usage – how is this to be used. Third, where will this be seen – is it being shown internationally or just in the country briefed. Last of all is the length of time the client is looking to use the illustration.

These factors help you understand the level and complexity of a project and will therefore direct the pricing.


Folio’s ‘In the Studio’ with Nicholas Stevenson

What factors should illustrators keep in mind when finding ways to improve their work?

Make sure you work your style, testing and experimenting with mediums. It’s all very well working your socks off to create a body of work you’re happy with, but question your audience and who will see it. Being confident with your style the body of work then sells itself – you need to purely put it in the right place and in front of suitable clients. The moment a client commissions you, you know it’s because of the style you work in. They’re interested in your adaptation so it’s a matter of placing your style into different contexts.

Alas – do not fret that you may not have established your style. Explore and keep pushing. It’s important to keep your work consistent as a client will notice your work and will expect to see more concepts within the same style.

We have a section on the Folio website called ‘In The Studio’, which allows you a sneak preview into working worlds and how the Folio roster find ways of improving their work. Peter Greenwood touches upon music and events he’s attended for inspiration whereas people and their interaction with one another inspire Nabil Nezzar.

Do you feel social media is an important tool for illustrators? Does having a social media presence really change an illustrator’s ability to get commissions?

Market yourself as a brand, with a presence on social media and the backbone of a great website; you’ve got yourself a good start. Behance is great for showcasing a project from start to finish, Twitter for connecting quickly with other creative and clients, Facebook for awareness of your brand and LinkedIn for the more professional route. Don’t overload your social media, concentrate and strategically post. One thing to keep in mind is to continue creating! Social media will not fund your career unfortunately, but it is a good asset to have.

Once you’ve got these you can direct the way your work is shown, either through printed handouts or digital send-outs to network and share what you’re creating.



Illustration by Kate Evans, courtesy of Folio

What are the steps an illustrator could take to try and get bigger projects and clients?

Marketing yourself and establishing that your portfolio of work has covered a variety of work – key subjects often are lettering, icons, maps, portraits and landscapes for example. To make sure you’re covering and illustrating the right work for a commercial portfolio, take a look into the sector you’d wish to work in. Say, for example, you’re interested in editorial; your market research is sitting on the shelves of shops in your local town. Take a peek what work is being produced and how you can shape yours to fit. Alexander Wells, Son of Alan and Andrés Lozano are perfect for inspiration when it comes to editorial projects as they each have a very different style but have worked consistently for magazines.

How can freelance illustrators convey or generate that same level of trust and professionalism in order to develop their careers?

Once you work with a client try to get a testimonial – an aspect you can showcase on your site. Also show your process and the development, including the length of time taken on the project itself and the variety of roughs to final artworks.

Thanks so much Nicola and Folio!

See some great illustrators’ work on the Folio website.

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