Self Initiated Illustration

Every illustrator enjoys the prospect of working outside of what constitutes the commission norm. For some it can be frustrating to find that after a couple of years of regular work, commissions start to become repetitive or even mundane. Keeping things alive and fresh can lake the illustrator into new areas of interest and can help push one or two boundaries at the edges of the discipline.

Maintaining a progressive approach to illustration can be achieved by continuing to work independently in sketchbooks, creating new artworks and generally spending time researching and exploring new ways of visualising and new forms of expression.

Finding time to work on self-initiated projects can be problematic when an illustrator is busy with art directors and designers requesting commissions, but it is crucial in keeping one step ahead of the game. It may be as simple as taking a morning out of the studio each week to visit exhibitions and galleries, or an afternoon drawing on location, It may be a local life' drawing class or a print workshop, either way it can help feed the imagination, give some perspective to the activity of illustration and assist in finding new directions to work in and towards.

Linked with much self-initiated work are spin-off commercial projects. These commence because of an illustrator's desire to work in new and different areas of interest or can start purely through financial necessity when commissions are not forthcoming. Organising an independent exhibition of new work is a useful way of keeping clients informed about developments in a body of work and can be financially positive if sales are accomplished. Creating limited edition screen-prints or digital prints can mean that prices per unit can be kept reasonably low, but can accumulate as an image can be sold numerous times.

Illustrators with an eye for both fashion and business find that investing time and capital into designing and producing a small range of T-shirts can be another form of income. Small independent fashion retail outlets will often take a range of T-shirts on a sale-or-return basis and this experience can be helpful when approaching fashion companies and labels for freelance commissions.

A growth area in recent years has been in the production of 'toys'. Originally starting as promotional devices for independent record and fashion labels, a sizable interest has grown in limited-edition toy characters. Created for and aimed at an adult audience who have grown up with toy figures based on characters from movies, animations, comics and video games, the new genre concentrates on hipper, more streetwise and stylistically cool figures. Often starting life as 2D sketches within illustrators' sketchbooks or in commissioned artwork, these toys have gone from purely promotional items to collectable objects of desire.

1. Self-initiated exhibition project

Kiki and Milo - Mademoiselle Pretty Depressing fourxfour 222 Gallery Fafi, 2004

2. Self-initiated exhibition project

Irina - Mademoiselle Pretty Depressing fourxfour 222 Gallery Fafi, 2004

For an exhibition in the Los Angeles gallery, fourxfour, French-based image-maker Fafi created a series of self-initiated pieces around the self-titled theme of Mademoiselle Pretty Depressing. Working in both 2D and 3D formats, Fafi's work investigates themes of fantasy and desire.

3. 'Jeff, 'Aaliya', 'Kurt', 'Tupac', 'Biggie' and 'Michael' paintings from the 'Little Angels' series Michael Gillette, 2003

This series of portraits was originally created as a self-initiated piece of work (or his own personal website, but was later reproduced in print by Gillette's agent as a promotional piece.

A, Magazine cover

New York Times magazine

Michael Gillette, 2004

Producing new sell-initiated work in a style that differs from lhat work most recognised by clients can lead to new commissions. British-born, San Francisco-based Michael Gillette's portrait of George Bush for the cover of the New York Times is a case in point.

The Self-Initiated Illustrator

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