Last year, we interviewed top stock illustration contributors to find out how the graphic design industry has changed. The overwhelming takeaway? In a digital world, it’s easier than ever for artists to gain exposure and build an audience. The quantity of illustrations has increased, and so has the quality. We’re seeing more diversity, more creative techniques, and more surprising designs every day.
As small businesses, bloggers, and big corporations turn to stock agencies for ready-made illustrations, how are graphic designers capitalizing on the trend? We asked nine experienced illustrators to tell us how they use their expertise to create stock images that sell. Read on for their top fourteen tips.
“If you want to create profitable designs, you shouldn’t forget about the end-users,” Ksyu Deniska explains. “Always think about how people can use your image. Explore different websites, banners, magazines, book covers—even packaging on products in stores!
“Follow trends in colors and techniques. If you want to be successful in stock illustration, you need to keep track of world events: read the press, watch movies, analyze social media, and even memes and popular hashtags.”
Even if you’re not a photographer, your camera can be a major asset. “Always take a camera everywhere you go,” Deniska continues. “You can use these photos in your work for reference. Don’t forget about your notebook—you should be able to record or sketch an idea wherever you are. My tablet is my best friend.”
“Emerging graphic designers need to create something unique if they want to stand out,” Deniska adds. “The best way is to find your own style and develop it. It’s not as difficult as it seems. Listen to yourself, and find out what you prefer to draw and how.
“You can even take a few unrelated themes and try to combine them. For example, I like to draw animals and patterns. When I started working with stock, I tried to mix them. The result was pretty good, and I have continued to develop it. At the same time, don’t get hung up on one thing. Always try new topics, techniques, color palettes, compositions.”
Softulka has a similar approach. “A good way to seek inspiration is in areas other than those in which you work,” the artist says. “For example, if you draw doodle illustrations, then why not look at how architectural plans [are made]?”
“The best tools for creating a design are paper and pencil,” Radoman Durkovic tells us. “With all the modern technology nowadays, it is still the best and fastest way to capture an initial idea. Of course, I would by no means diminish the importance of using tablets or other tools—and knowing design software is extremely important! As we gather more knowledge and technical possibilities, more space opens up for new ideas.”
Art is about moments of revelation, but it’s also about hard work and dedication. “Don’t be afraid of routine,” Uniyok advises. “Many people only talk about the creative part of a designer’s work, but this doesn’t happen all the time. Routine is an important part of being a designer. Try to enjoy the process and the work—whether it’s communication with a customer, creating a concept, cleaning [up your] sketches, or making edits you don’t love.”
“Go to the Shutterstock website and imagine yourself as a buyer—come up with a technical task and try to choose illustrations for it,” Uniyok suggests. “Why did you choose this or that illustration? This method helps you to understand the commercial value of your future work.”
Revise, and then revise again.
“Constant work and revision lead to success,” Nadezhda Chunikhina tells us. “Divert your attention from your design for a while and then take a fresh look at it. You could possibly find new interesting solutions—or maybe some mistakes or things that can be improved. Analyze your illustrations as much as possible.”
This is one tip we heard again and again. “I would advise novice designers to select some experienced authors and follow them,” Pavel Smolyakov (Flatcat) says. “However, you need not only to be inspired by other people’s work—but also draw a lot on your own. As a result of that work, you will develop your own recognizable style.”
Get the right plugins.
“Often, novice illustrators and vector designers face difficulties in doing seemingly simple things—for example, how to recolor a complex illustration, or worse, a gradient mesh object,” Ron Dale tell us. “It is rather hard to do with Adobe Illustrator’s standard tools. In this case, the Phantasm plugin from Astute Graphics can help. Its Photoshop-like tools expand the horizons of your creativity.”
“Having extensive experience working in advertising agencies, I can confidently say that ready-to-use designs often look more attractive when searching for images,” Dale adds. “By showing your design in the [right] environment—the way it would look in real life—you increase its potential for sale.”
Almost every illustrator and graphic designer we interviewed mentioned the importance of finding inspiration in daily life. “I create my new work from the things that surround me,” Kritiyakorn Srikum (MSNTY) tells us. “I start when I get up, turn on the TV, and read the newspaper. I observe what my mother and sister and friends wear. I observe everything I can find until I go to bed—and then I create from them.”
Study up on your color theory to learn what combinations work—and which ones don’t. “In my illustrations, I pay special attention to color choice,” Kate Pilko explains. “An illustration can be quite good technically, but the colors could still ruin the impression of your work. I’ve created a separate folder where I store photos, illustrations, and movie screenshots with different interesting color combinations. And if I get stuck in choosing the appropriate color palette, I’ll use it for inspiration.”
“Follow seasonal topics,” Pilko adds. “Think about what people might be excited about in autumn, summer, etc.—what will they do and what interesting events will take place?” You’ll want to get these seasonal illustrations edited and uploaded well in advance so buyers have time to find them when they’re designing their campaigns.
“Today, there are a huge number of online lessons and training platforms in case you lack any knowledge or skills,” Pilko concludes. “The main thing is the desire for self-improvement and self-development, so my main advice is to constantly learn, develop, experiment.”
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