How to Survive as a Professional Illustrator, James Davies Shares his Pearls of Wisdom

James Davies, a graduate that joined Bright 3 years ago, shares his pearls of wisdom for artists just starting out. James has had an amazing few years at Bright and we are super-proud of him. Not only has he moved to London and invested in a juicer, but James is currently working on lots of amazing commissions! His work ranges from boys fiction jackets to author illustrated picture books, and his first original titles started to publish last year. James has a great blog, and twitter account, which is always packed with great tips and advice, alongside lots of original portfolio pieces! We agents regularly check in on our artists websites and over Christmas I came across a blog James had written for the aspiring illustrators who follow him on social media. It was such a great overview of how to be healthy and happy as a freelancer I couldn’t help but ask if he minded us sharing it!

Be realistic. (And keep positive!)

frogedit2 It’s very easy to graduate University and believe that you’ll be going straight into working on books. Save for some horribly talented folks, this isn’t usually how it goes. It took three years of hard work for me to find any sort of work, and I’m often told that’s not very long. I found that the excitement fizzled out fairly quickly, taking my enthusiasm with it. My advice is to keep your chin up and don’t let the feelings of inertia get to you. Use this time to update yourself on the market and play around with different styles, Keep positive and get your work out there!

Take a break.

jameshorse If you’ve recently decided to become an illustrator, or just graduated, you probably feel like you need to go full steam ahead, but you still need to chill out. If I don’t take a break and leave the house every day my work suffers. Take the time to enjoy being an impossibly in-debt ex-student, get a standard job and see things. Illustration’s not going anywhere so don’t burn yourself out before you’ve even started!

Get in touch.

jameslast If you’re lucky, you might have had your work noticed at your degree show and you might have been contacted by a publisher or an agency. That’s awesome! This is, of course, as terrifying a prospect as it is an exciting one. Fear not, there are literally no nasty people in children’s publishing, but you do need to find the right people tow ork with you and trust they have your best interests in mind, esp if they are your agent.

If you haven’t been contacted, maybe you just didn’t get noticed among the million other graduates. It may be that no one has thought your work is right for them, and if this is the case – find out what you can do to make it right. The worst that can happen is that you don’t get a reply. Here are some tips for getting in touch with publishers or agents:

  • Find out exactly who you should be writing to.
  • Package your digital self well. Tidy up your website, make a nice PDF portfolio, be aware of social media.
  • Create a physical package to send around. People like to receive items they can keep on their desk & on their wall.
  • Follow everything up with a succinct, personal email.
  • Be patient.
  • Keep working. There’s always something we can improve on and sometimes you just have to knuckle down.



Work all the time, in different places, with different people & with different materials. You could be the most jawdropping illustrator and you could have graduated with a First. Nevertheless, the chances are high that the work you have graduated with is very different to the work you’ll end up doing in illustration jobs. Go to life drawing, go to museums, look at everything, draw everything. It’s really about building a ‘visual language’ rather than a ‘style’ – The more you take stuff in the better you’ll become.

Be prepared to ‘kill your darlings’.


I think a big reason I get on well with clients is that I’m happy to make amends to any of the work I do. As well as being something I love, illustrating is my job. I get paid to make my artwork, but it’s directed by people who genuinely know better…or at least who know what they want… sometimes. Nine times out of ten it is a genuine improvement when I make changes!

 Don’t be lonely.


This job, although fantastic & diverse, is a solitary one and making an effort to be social is very important. Something helpful I’ve discovered are ‘meet ups’. You arrive at an arranged place to talk about something you love with other people who like it too! If you’re a Londoner, there’s a great illustrator meetup called YoIllo every month, where artists from all over flock to London Bridge. It’s really good fun, and you should come. TIP – illustrator meet-ups are great but sometimes learning something completely new can be great, too 🙂

You’ll be great!


If you have graduated this year congratulations and good luck. Good luck to anyone who has decided to make the journey into illustration. Follow the tips, keep up your energy and love what you do. It’s a dream job, and a very important one. James