how to start out as illustrator

I've been repeatedly asked by illustrators how I started out. I'm sure much of this has been said before, but here are a few suggestions from me from my learnings.

Design what you love, not what you think the market needs. You’ll find a market for it when you have the portfolio. If you only do what the market wants it probably won't make you happy. Of course some design jobs may not inspire you creatively but pay the bills. We've all done those. My recommendation is that you don't lose sight of your passion. Life is too short.

Have fun in school! Use the school time to play in all kinds of media and techniques, keep an open mind, and go crazy! This is the time where you can find yourself and discover what you love doing. Going freelance isn't always easy - you will need to be passionate about what you do to make it through the tough times. So find your passion!

How do you find your style? This was a major riddle to me when I started my design studies. But I shouldn't have worried - I didn't have to find the style, the style found me. Just design what you love (and sometimes something you hate!), and the more you design, the more your work will become "your style".

Should you have one style or many? This is an ongoing controversy. I would say this depends on the needs of your target market, but also on your business model. I know of a successful illustrator who is extremely versatile and works in many different "looks". His clients are advertising agencies, and they love to hire him because he is so flexible and versatile (advertising agencies pay rather well too, by the way). I also work in different illustration techniques, but all of my work can be recognized as "my style". I love to work this way because I essentially always illustrate in a look that comes naturally to me and that I love - at the same time I can offer different illustration techniques to clients. This allows me to recommend a design technique to them that works best for their particular project and target audience.

On the other hand there are super successful illustrators out there like Jason Brooks who clearly have their signature style. Some of such illustrators are in the business of licensing, and became very famous and successful this way, and with their signature style. So there is no simple yes or no to the style question. You have to look at the big picture, and at you particular business.

To sketch or not to sketch. I am such a bad example for this. I have a million sketch books, but never really perused them much. BUT. And here comes the big "but": practice makes perfect. I started out with about a year of school and initial experience in drawing and painting from that time, which gave me some drawing experience to start out. After this, I have refined my skills with years of client projects, which have also helped shape "my style", and how my lines flow today.

When I work with clients, I definitely work with sketches. In my case they are all digital though (I work in Corel Painter). I involve clients in every step of the way. I find this is important to avoid misunderstandings and unnecessary corrections, and I want to make sure they are always happy, and on board with everything. Not everyone can visualize an idea in their head without seeing a sketch - submitting sketches is not only helpful but often required by clients.

Learn about business while you are in school. Unfortunately there are still schools out there who don't teach the business aspects of being an artist. Even if you are a fine artist, you will have to make a living, don't wait until you graduate to think how you will go about it. If you have in mind to become a commercial illustrator, take some business classes, start meeting people in your favorite industry, do internships, make friends in companies you'd love to work at, speak to other designers and so on. Finding clients and getting your name out there takes time. Don't wait until you graduate.

Is freelancing even for you? Starting your own business needs a lot of passion and energy. It comes with a lot of benefits and freedom, but also bears risks and uncertainties. Not everyone is cut out for it. Speak with other designers or read books about this topic to see if you want to try this path. I was employed for many years and never dreamed about going freelance. One day however, I stumbled across a class about opening my own business. I learned the basics of being on my own, made a business plan, weighed my risks and realized that I had a portfolio and not much to lose (financial security for about 4-6 months). So I dared to jump. I love it, and never looked back!

Think about who your dream customer is, your dream design projects, and what your dream-industry may be. Is there a niche that you absolutely love? What type of business may benefit of your art? The more you specialize, the more likely people will remember you as the specialist in (insert your specialty). "Be a big fish in a small pond", as the famous saying goes.

Write a business plan.
Every business owner who wrote a business plan is statistically much more likely to succeed. If you're serious about your career, do it.

How to get customers? Many companies will try to sell you advertising space. Not everything that is expensive however, will lead your dream clients to you. Targeted marketing is the key When I started out, I literally met magazine art directors personally with my portfolio. Today I either advertise on portfolio platforms like, or send out my portfolio as pdf upon request. For my new wedding illustration business I am submitting exclusive content to wedding blogs, which brides frequently peruse as inspiration. Where would your ideal customer look for your design service?

Never ever leave your house without a business card – you won’t believe how many business people I’ve met who don’t have a card on them. Too bad, I may have recommended them and brought them business otherwise...

Make a customizable portfolio that can be geared toward each individual customer (pages can be shuffled / taken out). Make it nice, make it count, only show your best work, and show only work that is interesting to the particular client you are about to meet. Always research your clients before you meet them, by the way! I learned this the hard way. Nothing more embarrassing than not being up to date on their magazine or business needs. The more you know about them, the better you can consult them on how you may help them.

Consider carrying a small portfolio with you at all times – I have mine in the form of business cards! The back of each business card shows another illustration. Other ideas are small laminated cards on a key-chain, fit into every purse. I’ve gotten jobs from this before – you never know who you meet at a coffee shop or in the train!

Have an online portfolio that is clean, user friendly, and up to date. If you don't have time or money to start a professional website, work with a portfolio site like or start a blog.

Make friends. Take every chance to meet people, tell everyone what you do – a lot of jobs come from people you know. Network with other artists, with business professionals, potential clients, friends, people on the train... everyone you feel comfortable talking to. I've gone to conferences before and it turned out the person next to me was the owner of a big corporation. You never know - the person next to you may actually need your services.

Read and learn. Marketing books, business books, design books, art and business magazines, podcasts, audio training tapes – there are learning opportunities everywhere, you can never learn too much. Some of the websites that I visit for general illustration inspiration are If you look for motivational business training, check out tapes from Brian Tracy or Jack Canfield. Sean Low writes regularly about The Business of Being Creative. Make sure to indulge in the industry or field that inspires you - in my case I've become obsessed with gorgeous wedding blogs!

If you want to grow, consider getting a mentor or a business coach. Be careful though, as far as I know the title "business coach" doesn't necessarily require a certification. Make sure your mentor or coach is an expert in the field you need guidance with.

Attend design conferences – stationery fairs etc. which pertain to your industry and the field you love.

Become part of business associations – have a look around, in almost every bigger city there are associations that help new businesses, many of which are free!

Believe in yourself
and reach for the moon and stars :-) One of my favorite quotes. Don't listen to negative voices. It's good to listen to feedback, but don't let it drag you down. Learn from it and move ahead. Stay around positive people, not negative people. Visit my blog every weekend to see the latest inspiration card that I posted!

These are just a few thoughts... there are many many tips out there. Further interesting articles are tips by illustrator Nate Williams or the blog living the creative dream More tips on how to market yourself as a designer on to just name a few.

Hope this helped! Wishing you fun and success in everything you do!

She's alive!

For all of you who were wondering - I'm still alive! Sorry for not posting for so long. I've been super busy - with building my new company! Everything is starting to come together, slowly but surely - I officially incorporated my new company in the USA this week! Champagne Promises LLC - modern, romantic wedding invitations with my illustrations!

And check this out, I just branded my iphone! Hah!!!

my branded i-phone and my brand new business cards!

Greetings from New York everyone!

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When we give to others, it makes us happy in return! This is my inspiration for this weekend. Why not surprise a friend with an unexpected gift? We'll both share a happy moment. Hmmmmmm, what can I give to whom?

The illustration also fits the theme 'balloon' - we can't see the balloons, but they will be at the birthday party she's going to!

Happy Weekend!

PS: I created this illustration for DIESEL, for a store anniversary promotion

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Work like you don't need the money.
Dance like no one is watching.
And love like you've never been hurt.
~Mark Twain
One of my favorite quotes!

The illustration you see here is a glimpse of a design that I created for the German magazine DECO. Can you believe it, there's a gift service that sells Yodel lessons in the alps! That's what my illustration was for. I wonder if earplugs come with the package ;-)

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Photographer Critsey Rowe from Couture Boudoir photographs brides-to-be in a very sensual way. The brides then often give the art photos as a wedding gift to their grooms. Great photography, very classy - compliments Critsey! I'm not a feminist - but let's just muse for a moment: why are women always the ones who have to be sexy? How about some role reversal? (smile)

In this illustration that I created for LAURASTAR SA - one of the world's leading producer in ironing systems - the guy is topless, and he is also doing the ironing. How sexy is that, ladies?

By the way, if you're interested in buying the illustration, it is available on a limited edition ironing board cover - only 3000 pieces sold worldwide. More info on

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Feeling tired, strung out? Exercise is always a good remedy to revive your spirits. Illustration Friday inspired me to this card, by asking for submissions to the word "strings". Strings...strung...strung out - there you go!

I created the illustration for the German magazine LISA. I worked in Corel Painter, using a thick and thin ink pen, coloring areas with the fill tool, then adding a chalk-like brush on rough paper for texture, and airbrush for the cheeks.

Happy Weekend!

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Illustration Friday asks for illustrations to the topic "sugary" this week - and here it is! Does this remind you of a sugary romance or what? Smile. This is a glimpse of the illustrations I created for the inner bride tool, which is now online on Check it out - it's fun! You can create your own bride, and email it to friends...

I've been in the shoes before where I almost chose a love that wasn't the real thing. Everyone has to judge for themselves, and everyone has different needs, so there's no one recipe. But what I wish for everyone out there that we all wait for the "real thing", the one shoe that fits. It's not always easy, but it's definitely worth it.

Happy weekend everyone!

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"A woman can never be too packed with shopping bags!". Laugh. Well that's kind of absurd, and not very deep. But hey it fit's with today's Illustration Friday theme "packed"! For all fashionistas out there, the stylish fashion blog also inspired me to post this inspiration card for this week's Illustration Friday theme.

I created this illustration for German magazine LISA, to an article that was wondering if shopping is in a woman's genes. How superficial. Of ourse it's not. Right?

Laugh. Have a great, happy weekend everyone!

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Illustration Friday asks us creatives this time to illustrate something to the topic "clique". I created this image for Radio Energy Zurich, Switzerland, for a casting show: seeking a "Heidi" from the mountains that wants to come to the city and moderate a radio show. In any case, I feel the illustration fits to the topic well. It shows an important aspect of cliques that immediately came to my mind: We still have to listen to ourselves, even if we are in a clique. And sometimes this may mean that we have to leave the group.

When I was younger I was strongly influenced by what others were doing for a while (I was a teenager, what can I say). While that was good for me at the time, I started feeling stronger once I started to listen to my heart more and follow it. Duh - you may say. Yes, I know, it sounds so logical doesn't it? But it's not always that easy, sometimes we have to be brave when we want to follow our hearts. That doesn't just count for teenage cliques, but also for later in life. Sometimes we're stuck in a situation that's very comfortable to be in, but not necessarily following what our heart is saying.

That's what this weekend inspiration card is for: to give us power to be brave and always follow our heart.

I received "I love your blog" award

I'm so excited - Senta gave me the "I love your blog" award! Senta, thanks so much, it's an honor to be nominated - especially by you: your illustrations are very nice! For everyone who hasn't seen Senta Plyer's blog, have a look, and see for yourself!

The rules for this award are:
1-Display the logo on your blog
2-Link back to the person you received the award from
3-Nominate 7 other blogs
4-Put links of those blogs on yours
5-Leave a message on their blogs so they know they've been nominated.

Here the seven nominations of blogs that I love:
Brooklyn Bride
Hostess with the mostess
Erin Skipley Makeup-Artist
Glamour This Wedding Inspiration
Marguerite Sauvage's blog
art of the masses, by Emily

Wedding Invitation and caketopper figurines

For customers of a high-end Swiss wedding planner, I developed a stylized illustration of the couple and a design concept, which were both being used throughout the wedding: on "save the date" cards, invitations, the menu, and as a unique extra, as caketopper figurines. The caketopper ornament was produced on plexiglas, and not only complemented the styling of the cake, but now serves as beautiful keepsake for the couple.

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I have to admit, things work out so much smoother when we face challenges with a solution-oriented, positive attitude... but isn't this a challenge sometimes? Even this Buddha seems to think so (smile). I created this icon along with 4 other attitude Buddhas for the 2008 fall issue of Girlfriend Getaways Magazine, New York.

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These days, I'm working on a new business endeavor. I read and learn as much as I can from successful business people. One thing I hear time and time again is that we have to dream big to achieve our dreams. If we hold ourselves back and don't dare to believe, don't even dare to have small goals, let alone big ones, we won't get there. So this is one of my credos these days, one that I keep repeating to myself. DREAM BIG!

Thank you for this inspiration Brian Tracy, Napoleon Hill, Leili McKinley, thank you Jon Goldman, thank you my friend Gabriela, thank you Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King, and countless others.

Being that I'm from Switzerland, I have to internally fight against our culture a bit. Back home, when one is too proud, too go-getter, it can have a negative image, people may call you arrogant, caution you to be careful and go slowly. It's such a pity, this can hold people back from living their dream! Just because one dares to live their dream and believes in it, it doesn't mean one is arrogant.

Another thing that can hold us back from dreaming big and achieving our dreams is clutter. This week's Illustration Friday theme "clutter" reminded me of this - thank you IF! Indeed, if our mind is cluttered, as opposed to clear and strong, we don't dare to dream big! So here's a wish to us all. Let's go for it! Let's get rid of clutter in our minds, find our dreams and dream big! Let's turn our dreams into goals, our goals into baby steps, and start walking.

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Today, asks for submissions to the topic "memories". This led me to create this inspiration card.

Many psychologists, philosophers, buddhist leaders, and other successful people have written about "staying in the present". Lisa Smith-Batchen is a world class athlete and successful coach, whose athletic achievements have appeared on the covers of The NY Times, The LA Times, The Washington Post and Winning Magazine. She writes on her blog:

"You know what's interesting - I've been reading a lot of Buddist literature and books lately - it talks a lot about staying present, focused, here and now, positive etc. I notice when I run if I stay focused on the step I'm taking at the moment - not the last or the next one- and if I keep a positive attitude my energy level increases - now this isn't that surprising - but - I also notice - if I start to think about resentments I have or people I don't like in a negative way- I actually start to get weaker- and if I than re-focus on something positive- or reframe the resentment to understanding I immediately begin to feel stronger..."

Here's inspiration from the political arena: Today, Gov. Sarah Palin, who's serving her first term as Alaska's governor, made the nationwide news. Not only is she the first woman and the youngest person to hold the state's top political job, but now Sen. John McCain chose her as vice president! Go Gov. Palin!

Do you think she would be this successful if she often dwelled on her past? No way! So let's not dwell on the past, but focus on the now, and we'll have a future to look forward to.

This blog post is also dedicated to a friend of mine who still is being bothered by her past (and a very obnoxious, psycho boyfriend who can't let go and keeps bothering her). Girl, try to focus on the present. You left him, be glad! Try to ignore his efforts to still make you feel bad - focus on the now, on what you can and want to do for yourself, and work on your future.

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This week's inspiration card is for all you hard workers out there! It is also my contribution to today's Illustration Friday illustration theme "routine". Let's not lose sight of what's really important - let's remember to take a step back and see the bigger picture. It's so easy to get lost in everyday routine, isn't it?

I remember when I was still employed (as opposed to having my own business now), it was so easy to get busy busy busy, and just go from one day to the next, from one task to the next. Today, I enjoy working a lot more - for my own company. It still happens to me sometimes to lose sight of the big picture. Not so much regarding what's important to me personally, but regarding my business and all the things I want to accomplish. Here, I have to send a big thanks to my coach, Leili McKinley from - she really helps me to focus on clear goals now. Thanks Leili!!

I created the illustration in the card for Swarovski. Maybe you recognize her: she's "Stella", the fashion magazine editor who has her own column on!