Sunday Mailbag

January 16th, 2011 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: Finding clients and jobs seem to be the biggest challenge for freelancers. Of all your freelance marketing efforts, what seems to be the most effective for you these days, and has that changed over the years?

A: Things have definitely changed over the last decade when in comes to how clients are finding illustrators for jobs. Back in the late 1990’s, printed sourcebooks like the Directory of Illustration and Workbook were arguably still the primary place art directors went to find illustrators. These sourcebooks are big printed volumes with glossy pages of ads by individual illustrators and representatives of illustrators showcasing the styles of said illustrators. They were a convenient place for art directors to go to browse for a style and look that fit their particular project’s needs, and copies were mailed free to tens of thousands of illustration buyers by the sourcebook publishers. However, I think the printed sourcebook is fast being replaced by web based resources that allow for easier, faster and more specific search results.

I’ve never had a great deal of success with on-line illustration “sourcebooks”. I’ve advertised in the iSpot in the past, as well as a local Twin Cities on-line illustration resource and only gotten a smattering of jobs from them, many of the “looking for a cheap option” variety. Just in the last year I have seen a dramatic jump in the number of jobs that have come directly from these types of resources… jobs from good clients with solid budgets. In fact in the last month I’ve gotten three big projects from three different clients exclusively from my on-line portfolios.

I think two things are happening that are increasing the effectiveness of these online illustration resources:

  • Art directors are finding that the constantly improving keyword search engines of these sites are making it easy to find the exact kind of style any project they are working on demands– The sheer size of the printed sourcebooks are staggering… I can only imagine how time consuming it must be for art directors to flip through these monsters trying to find that one style they are looking for. No question, online resources like The iSpot make this much easier. You can search for subject matter, styles, techniques… almost any manner of category and come up with a page of results in thumbnail form allowing quick comparisons and browsing to find the right looks instantly. That’s a lot more efficient than paging through telephone directory sized printed volumes. An art director looking for an illustrator to do a cartoony-style caricature of a politician for an article can search for “caricature, politics, humorous, cartoon, line and color” and get a number of “hits” for their quick perusal. That’s efficient.
  • Online resources are now being populated by top professionals so an art director’s confidence in finding the right illustrator for the job is high- Up until the last few years a lot of the top pros were not to be found on web-based resources. The perception was that serious illustrators stuck with the traditional sourcebooks, which were more expensive to participate in and seemingly more selective (they were NOT the latter to be sure, but definitely were the former) and online sources were populated more by startups/younger talents and cheapskates. I’m not sure if that perception was ever fair or accurate, but I do know that in the past my participation in those online resources netted only calls from small clients with low budgets, and printed sourcebooks were the ones that got me calls from bigger magazines/more legitimate clients with larger budgets. Now you find the likes of Mark Fredrickson, C.F. Payne and other big names on places like The iSpot, and I think that is making art directors understand they are searching pools of top professionals with these online resources. The recent surge of more well known and higher budgeted jobs I’ve gotten demonstrates this to me.

Of course no marketing effort is effective unless you are presenting your work properly, and online resources need constant attention. Unlike printed sourcebooks, you can’t just turn in your page and wait for the phone to start ringing. You need to constantly upload new pieces to your online portfolio, refine your keywords and keep your presence active.

Not being stupid, traditional printed sourcebooks are getting in on the internet surge. The Directory of Illustration in particular has a strong online presence, and advertisers in the Directory are also on their website. It might now be long before the printed sourcebook is a thing of the past.

Right now I find that a combination of online, printed sourcebook and direct mailing efforts are still best, but the online resources are on the outside lane and moving up fast.

Thanks to Grant Jonen for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar, e-mail me your questions and I’ll try and answer them here!


  1. Something I’m just starting is Linkedin. It seems to be a good way to network among professionals.


New profile pic courtesy of my self-caricature for the Scott Maiko penned article “Gotcha! Mug Shots of Common (but Despicable) Criminals” from MAD 550

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