What would it take to work professionally as an illustrator?

Part of the learning outcomes I need to show I have achieved for my options module ask me to “consider what it would mean to work professionally as an illustrator.” So here is where I shall reflect on this point, providing a summary to the research I have done, and will provide links to the relevant resources as I go.

What options are there? 

The two main options open for illustrators are either being freelance, so to be self-employed and hired by companies to work on individual projects, or to work for an agency, an organisation that employs you to provide a particular service on behalf of a company. There may be a third option to work in-house for a design company, but for now, I will keep this to discussing freelance and agencies. First of all, I will look into what some examples of both.


A couple of agencies I came across during my quick research was the Central Illustration Agency, who are based in London, and the Inky Illustration Agency, also based in London. Visiting both websites gives you a idea as to the appeal of working for an agency, and also they show the individual artists they work with, detailing their name and one piece of work. A thought that sprung to mind is that for that piece of work to represent you within an agency, it is going to need to have a lot of your identity in it and showcase the style that you either have or are best suited to.


I found a page on the Planet Illustration website that is run by a freelance illustrator, Adrian Cartwright, which is very in-depth as to all of the different requirements for anyone who is looking to become a freelance illustrator. I also looked at a couple of other freelance illustrators, such at Matt Williams, whose work can be seen at his website, Uberkraaft (an excellent website at that) and Gavin Campbell. As visiting both of those websites show, being a freelance designer requires strong attention to build up an identity that allow clients to establish trust and a sense of whether that illustrator is right for them or not.

Something else I came across during my research is the Association of Illustrators, which aims to “advance and protect illustrator’s rights and encourage professional standards.” Looking through their website, I can see that this is a organisation would add a lot of value and knowledge to someone who is freelance for the resources and advice that is available.

Which is better? 

Well, this is where it depends on what you are looking for. So I will provide a few statements (that may not always be proven to be the case for everyone) to summarise why one path could be seen to be a better option for someone. Some may overlap more from illustration to graphic design in general but I still think are relevant points to make.

The resources I used for this were an article found on ‘JUST Creative’ run by Jacob Cass, which weighs up the benefits and drawbacks of both paths, and David Airey’s blog post on Agency vs. Freelancer, that led to a healthy discussion. I would recommend reading them as they both make for a very interesting read as they go into greater detail than my reflection on this.

Why freelance is better than agency.

  • You can choose who you work with and what you work on.
  • You can produce more cost-effective work, which attracts clients.
  • If you are successful, the satisfaction is immense.
  • Greater flexibility, from working hours to social life to holidays.
  • Greater freedom, agencies can restrict ideas and stifle inspiration.
  • Social networking provides opportunities to enhance your creative process.
  • A personal relationship with clients, with the ability to know them better.
  • The potential to work with other freelancers if other skills are required.

Why agency is better than freelance.

  • You are employed, which can provide more security.
  • You can gain experience, crucial for a beginner in the industry.
  • Can take a long time to build up cash flow if you’re freelance.
  • With not much work around, reliable agencies may have a better chance.
  • More time designing, less paperwork to do on day to day basis.
  • Atmosphere is livelier, ideas can be shared, aiding creative process.
  • A good agency can offer a wider skill set, which you can be the illustrator for.
  • More likely to work on larger projects that are too big for one freelancer.

What would I do if I had to choose today?

I have found it to be very interesting as a graphic design student, as this could be where my future lies. I can see the benefits and drawbacks of both and am struggling to think what I would rather do. However, if I had to choose one today, I would have to go for an agency, to build up the experience, gain an insight into how agencies and companies work, and have a job that has a greater chance of being secure potentially. However, freelance could be an option if I decided I would work better on my own.

It is also worthy of note that some people do both, work for an agency as their ‘week-day’ job and do some freelance work on the side so that could also work for me depending on circumstances.

If anyone who reads this has opinions they would like to share on this topic, feel free to leave a comment below. 🙂