How to promote yourself as an illustrator

By heather at 9:08 pm on Sunday, September 10, 2006

Here are a few tips of the trade…and faux pas…that helped me get going in my illustration career when promoting my work to potential clients.

1) Research the target market
First things first…know your target audience so that you can tailor each sample package to each company you are approaching.

  • • Ensure that all information you have gathered (contact names, addresses, etc) are current and correct before sending out anything.
  • • Make sure that the samples you send are appropriate…you don’t want to be sending adult themed sci-fi artwork to a children’s book illustrator!

2) Test the waters
Send an inquiry email or make a quick phone call to the company to find out who exactly to mail the samples to and to confirm that the address is correct. When you follow up later, you’ve already spoken with someone, are more familiar with their phone system…so a simple bit of contact really breaks the ice.

3) Write a brief Cover letter
Whether it is printed out or hand written, make sure to include a cover letter…this is your call-to-action, identifies why you are sending this company samples, and ties all your samples together. When I print or hand write a cover letter, I like to :

  • • Copy the content of the letter into an email and send it back to myself to keep track of what I’ve written
  • • In the email I also include a short note of what samples I included in the package, and any notes I may have made when testing the waters with a phone call.
  • • Remember to spellcheck.
  • • Keep the cover letter fresh by personalizing it each time and tailoring it to that particular company. Express what it is about them that draws you to them and why you would like to work with them.

4) Quality over Quantity
Avoid printing from low-resolution scans. It is better to send LESS good quality samples than to send a lot of poor quality prints that won’t do your work justice. With sending JPG samples via the web, be sensitive to the file size (5-10 images at less than 100Kb each)… also, you don’t want to irritate an art director or waste their time by sending a hundred mediocre samples, when 5 or six excellent samples show you in a better light anyway.

5) Clearly & descriptively label each sample
When mailing samples, if you don’t label each sample, you run the risk of it being lost and not traced back to you. Include on EACH sample :

  • • Your Name
  • • Phone number
  • • Website URL
  • • Email address
  • • Copyright information
  • • Mailing address (optional)

When emailing samples :

  • • Include your name in the file name for easy reference.
  • • Make sure your name & copyright symbol are directly on the image (or a watermark will work too) to protect it.
  • • Set up a swanky email signiture including the information listed above when mailing samples.
  • • To avoid corruption to your JPG, make sure your file name does not have spaces or special characters in it (underscore _ is fine though.)

6) Group your promotional items by style
Try to send one thoughtful group of samples.

  • • If you are approaching a potential employer, show samples that demonstrate your breadth and quality of work.
  • • If you are approaching a book publisher, send samples that show you can illustrate the same character in different situations and with different emotions…the purpose being to demonstrate your consistency.
  • • If you are approaching a greeting card publisher, send a lot of seasonal and everyday card design samples, showing a breadth in style (if you have different styles). Keep in mind that illustrations that are portrait format are easier to apply to greeting cards than landscape format.

7) Snail mail printed samples
This old-school method of reaching out has been my most effective promo endeavor. You know the little thrill you get when you get a package in the mail? That’s exactly how it feels to art directors & designers when they receive a package by mail of goodies. I’ve mailed printed samples from greeting cards to printed tear sheets to portfolio booklets of my work. Because you have taken the time to put together a thoughtful package, and because it is a physical object in someones hands, it is generally valued more than say sending samples via email. It is too easy to hit DELETE, whereas it’s a lot harder to throw away something that is tactile and is pleasing to look at.

8) Business cards make great labels
I always drop in two business cards when I send promos or mail final artwork to a client. One for my client, and one in case they want to pass my card along or lost my original card. Often I will attach my business card to the back of EACH sample as a label.

9) Catalogues
I keep a running Catalogue of my available illustrations.(To see an example of a recent catalogue I put together click here)

  • • Occasionally email a PDF of it to stock agencies to see if I can move some of it.
  • • Printing entire catalogues of your work would be expensive, so I occasionally print out a few tear sheets from my catalogue to email / mail directly to specific target audiences.
  • • I tailor my samples to the particular client as there’s no sense in wasting their time sending them artwork they aren’t into.

10) Calendars
Shhhhh. I think this is a fabulous idea. The nice thing about a calendar is it is useful as well as it reminds them of your work. (Check out the print-on-demand calendars you can print through

  • • Keeping a theme to it will make it an easier promotion to keep up on the wall.
  • • Put your contact information subtly on each page, and you’re being remembered every day of the year.
  • • Send 2 calendars to each client…in case they want to give one to a colleague or family member.
  • • Mail calendar samples in early December.

11) Printed portfolio booklets
This year I designed a Portfolio Promotional Booklet of my whimsical illustration styles which I have been using when meeting new contacts and also for sending out to publishers. The content includes information on each of my published books, greeting cards, and stock illustration collections.

  • • Make sure to include copyright information
  • • Credit the art directors involved on the project
  • • Include contact information on EVERY PAGE
  • • Feature any written reviews of my work

I designed my booklet with :

  • • InDesign…9 x 12 inches, 16 pages.
  • • Saving the design as a hi-resolution PDF for printing
  • • Saving the design as a low-resolution PDF for emailing
  • • Laser-printed back-to-back on tabloid paper
  • • Stacked the papers up neatly and stapled them along the fold line.
  • • Once it is folded, use a paper cutter and trim down to size
  • • You end up with an attractive booklet style portfolio that you can leave with your contacts or mail as a promotional piece.

12) Emailing online portfolios
Communicating with current clients via email and web is a dream, but I recommend leaving emailing samples exclusively for your existing clients and for direct requests for your work that way. There is a lot of hype about the ability to email portfolios…it’s so easy to send your samples to a mass of potential clients at the touch of a button. But, just as easy as it is for you to send it, it’s just as easy for the receiver to hit DELETE. Sending random emails with samples is extremely impersonal, and samples are too easily filed away or deleted.

13) Follow up
Having researched a company and mailed a package directly to the art director, following up with a PHONE CALL (eeeeeek!) is the next most important step. The nice thing about this is that it isn’t a cold call…which I hate doing (but have some good tips on how to do it here)! Just ring up and ask to speak with the person you sent your samples to…if asked why you would like to speak with that person, just say exactly why : that you want to follow up with them that they received your package. Often the receptionist will take a message to filter your call…but often they will put you through if you are friendly. And what do you do once you have that special someone on the phone? Just relax and chat…this is basically an impromptu interview where you have the advantage of knowing ahead of time what you want to say! Ask if they received your samples and if they feel it suits the sort of work they do. Express your interest in the company and if any projects come up that could use someone with your skills, you’d love to be involved with them. The purpose of this is to just show that you’re not a crazy, that you can communicate well, and that you are someone they can picture themselves working well with.

14) Repeat
Persistence and Patience are the keys to promoting yourself. It is easy to feel discouraged when you don’t hear back after sending a sample. You need to have a bit of a thick skin…sometimes you will hear back within days, sometimes it could be several months to a year to never. So continuing to send samples every six months to a year continues to remind people of who you are and what you do. Some of my favourite clients I sent samples to for a couple years before I heard back. So just be patient and persistent.

15) Remember to say thanks
Being in the illustration business is different than having a painting hobby…part of the enjoyment is working with other creative people, and sharing those experiences with them. Because you are your own boss, and because you mightn’t see your freelance clients on a regular basis, you don’t have those natural opportunities of just saying “thanks” as you would every day in a work environment. So sending a little token of your appreciation every now and then is a great way to say thanks. Clients, professors, colleagues, and friends should not be forgotten.

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Filed under: business of illustration


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Comment by Ella Parry

January 17, 2007 @ 10:36 am


this is very helpul pages. the information that you give is great!

thank so much!!!

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Comment by jessica

June 25, 2007 @ 5:56 pm

thanks so much for posting this! it was extremely helpful to newbies like myself!

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Comment by Melissa

July 9, 2007 @ 8:17 am

I truly thank you for your time. This information is great! I’ve been looking for a long time how to get started. Please keep in touch with more information.

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Comment by Paper Cutters

June 29, 2008 @ 12:24 am

Thank! this is very helpful page.

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Comment by Helmy Aulia

November 10, 2008 @ 7:58 pm

hei thanks!! im very new in illustrator things.
this is very helpful, thanks a lot.

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Comment by Rob

September 10, 2009 @ 11:53 am

Fantastic page on self-promotion.
Really well laid out and communicated for the novice and practicing professional alike. Thank you for posting.

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Comment by How to Market Yourself

October 2, 2009 @ 6:10 am

This is a great help. Thanks for the article. it’s a great read.

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Comment by Cheryl Akins

October 22, 2009 @ 6:43 pm

Thank you so much! Great information and help for illustrators that are new to this field. I just sent out my first batch of postcards and the sense of accomplishment lasted all of five days… Feeling just a wee bit lost. Your advice and information makes me feel like I write out a to-do list and set some plans in motion.

Thank you!

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Comment by Nobuko

February 14, 2010 @ 7:07 am

Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and great information. It’s very detailed and helpful indeed. I’m only starting my promotion now and gathering information.

Good luck with your future work and I’ll peep back in again.
Thanks a million and All the best.

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Comment by kyung lee

October 13, 2010 @ 7:09 am

Thanks for the information with great tips !

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Comment by Brigid

May 22, 2011 @ 5:17 pm

Thank you! Really helpful!

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Comment by Marina Aizen

August 11, 2011 @ 3:23 am

Hello from Argentina!

Wow! This information is so precious. If only I’d have all these recommendations a year ago, maybe I would be being commissioned right now! ;) Oh! Thanks for your input!


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August 12, 2011 @ 2:18 pm

[…] Indispensable advice also provided by illustrator Heather Castles on How to Promote Yourself as an Illustrator. […]

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Comment by doublexuan

December 22, 2011 @ 9:28 am

Thank you so much for the detailed information! I am just starting out in promoting myself and to be honest feelings rather overwhelmed and quite lost!

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