A more reflective post this time than my usual business oriented tips. I want to share a more personal side of being an illustrator and hope these insights will encourage my fellow creatives as much as I am inspired by hearing their career stories.
2020 started off with promise. I had just wrapped up a picture book project a few months before with a great launch event at a prominent bookstore. I was continuing working on a picture book series and had opportunities to illustrate a whole line of educational materials for a children's publisher. My business was on trajectory for another year of exponential growth. I was so excited and determined to take my career further. Inevitably, the pandemic soon started to hit Hong Kong where I was at the time. The educational sector, bookshops and events faced delays and closures. As a result, projects had to be put on pause while clients adjusted to the new environment.
Seeing the global spread of the pandemic made me realize that absolutely everyone would face long-term challenges on its impact and now is the perfect time to really focus on myself to take my skills further, nailing down my portfolio in what I want to dedicate my energy on which is children's picture books especially for the North American/ UK market. Placing the seeds in where I want my roots to be by returning home to Toronto for almost a year now. You are the one to drive your own future and I think this is so true to freelance creatives that spark their passion through constant development and self improvement.
The challenges of this pandemic really brought a new perspective to the client relationships I formed. Whether through developing new strategies for communication or navigating difficult situations where I stepped up to protect my rights. Through it all, I narrowed down the types of opportunities and relationships I hope to pursue moving forward and greater insight towards finances.
My growth plan consisted of education, outreach and looking for professional development opportunities. I invested in classes to further my picture book making knowledge and bought directories of publishers and agents which I researched, compiled and strategically executed an outreach plan. Through the professional illustration association I'm part of, I am extremely grateful to have been selected to pair with an experienced illustrator in children's publishing. Her critiques and encouragements have really helped me to sharpen my portfolio, think in greater nuance to visual storytelling and understand the fine print of the industry.
The past year was still a busy one for me. I took on a big job to illustrate a card game (with over 100 illustrations) featuring 50 different unusual holidays and designed every aspect of it from the packaging, layout, to the illustrated activities on the back of each card. Through this project, I successfully planned and executed an extensive checklist of tasks on time and found the most efficient work flow from traditional to digital media for the way I create. I also had a big branding job with a major corporation for their community care campaign creating illustrations for their souvenirs.
Aside from client work, I dedicated my time to writing my own stories and pitching to publishers as well as constantly curating my portfolio (its a never-ending quest! and I love that!). I'm currently working on a new pieces for my art book, Hong Kong Travelogue as it is preparing for its second edition printing. It's been incredibly uplighting to receive messages from readers all around the world saying how much they enjoyed the book and continuing to hear interest in supporting my work. I also updated my shop with some new products.
2020 = Year of Me :
The take away for the past year was all the initiatives I implemented to elevate my craft and knowledge for future opportunities that best align with who I am and who I aspire to be. I tend to be quite critical of my art but happy to note my growth! Keep an open mind to change and embrace feedback from industry professionals. I always believe that empathy, dedication and accountability will get you further than just skill alone.
Things are picking up again in 2021, and I'm glad to see the world slowly return to some semblance of normalcy. I'll expand upon my goals for this year in my next post.
Thanks so much for taking the time to read about my past year. Did you have a fruitful 2020? Come say hi over on instagram: @natalie.illustration