As an illustrator having worked in the industry about five years now, I've been doing a lot of thinking recently about the longevity of an illustrator's career in general. It's something not many take into consideration when taking their first steps into knocking off bits of Carson-inspired type or Burgerman-based doodles whilst at uni but the fact of the matter is that even honing a style that’s completely unique is not enough. Evolution as an illustrator is absolutely integral to ensure that your career continues long after what ever trend that’s popular that year has run its course.
It can take years to develop a style that's unique to you and the last thing you probably want to hear is that once you get more established is that you already need to be thinking about the next step - but it is true. It's a tough old game making a decent living from illustration these days, so it's a necessity to keep ahead of the game and have a few extra tricks up your sleeve.
Be it a keen eye for design, an ability for web design or just crafting a broad style that lends itself to various different avenues, in this age, illustrators need to be a lot more clever about how they market themselves and how they get work.
Have a look at my work, for instance. When I started out in the industry, my style was almost completely hand rendered collage. It is what I was doing at uni, I enjoyed experimenting with that sort of style and saw no real reason why I should change just because university was over and I wanted to start working on actual commission based work but after a fair old time slugging it out, creating artwork for bands and exhibition work, it was time to lock myself away and work out where to go from there, how to build on something that was and is fairly sought after, just quite restrictive as a style in terms of what work could get commissioned through it.
After a while I started working on blending the collage idealism and taking the small bits of bright vectors I implemented into my work and making them the focal point of what I did, as after consulting a few senior illustrators, their advice was to make more of the colourful flat work. Over the course of that year my work changed a lot and I was able to gear the briefs I was getting to work into the new style which seemed to drive much more excitement in the right places and still keep enough of me in the work.
I'm actually now working on a number of experimental type prints which feels like another string to the bow. I think that’s the key really, to evolve your style but with every evolution, keep enough of you in your work so that people can make that instant connection.
Looking at many successful contemporary illustrators work over the course of a number of years you can see a vast change that doesn’t just jump on any trend, I think it’s good to be aware of trends in design and illustration and to make your work open enough to embrace the trends is a good thing, but to get stuck in one particular fashionable style can be detrimental in the long run.
Words: Gordon Reid (opens in new tab)
Illustrator and designer Gordon Reid, aka Middle Boop (opens in new tab), has developed a solid reputation with his international client list, including BBC, Red Bull, Bombay Bicycle Club, Starbucks, and American Express. When he’s not designing for global brands and bands, Reid is the editor of Middle Boop Mag (opens in new tab), a website dedicated to reviewing the best new music and design.