How I Built An Illustration Career Without Going to Art School

First things first, this is NOT an argument for or against art school. That is a debate that has been going on for a long time and not one that I am going to get into here. This post is for those who are interested in building a freelance illustration career without going to art school, whether or not it is by choice.

In all honestly, I often wish I had had the chance to go to a great art school for undergrad (I went to a small, private liberal arts college in the midwest) and even more often I wish I could afford to go to grad school and get an advanced degree in illustration. For many reasons those things weren’t and are not currently possible for me.

What I have been able to do is build a successful freelance illustration career without all that. Rather than tell you what you should do, I am going to show you the path that I took to get where I am now.

In 2009 I was living in New York City with my soon-to-be husband and working a 9-5 job that was not satisfying at all. It was a good job with good people, but that’s all. I was itching to move on, but I wasn’t sure where I would go or how I would get there. I had a BA in Studio Art and had a weird resume that wasn’t easily categorized.

The decision to pursue illustration came very quickly and unexpectedly. It was a combination of discovering Twitter, learning that a colleague was doing freelance illustration on the side and stumbling on the Escape From Illustration Island podcast.

Listening to Thomas James’ interviews with other illustrators and art directors had really piqued my interest. Growing up, I hadn’t known that illustration was a career path I could have taken and as I listened it started to feel like that was the only career path I should have been considering all along....more