Skip the Degree: Top 7 Books to Kickstart Your Career as an Illustrator

Skip the Degree: Top 7 Books to Kickstart Your Career as an Illustrator

As a creative person, getting paid to do what you love is the ultimate dream. However, the road to get there can feel unclear and scary. University degrees sometimes seem like the only route to get your foot in the door, but this isn't always the case - especially for creative career paths.

Before founding Odd Orange, I was a freelance illustrator with an illustration degree under my belt and a couple of years of working as a mentor on the course I graduated from. Whilst at university, I discovered some books that I found invaluable on my journey to becoming an illustrator and left me thinking - is this degree necessary?

Don't get me wrong, I adored my time at university, and I don't think I would have got to where I am so quickly without it. My degree gave me the time and space to figure my work out, learn specialist techniques, and get constructive feedback. However, I know I would have eventually found my way even without a qualification - and no student debt weighing me down too!

These seven books were instrumental in my path to becoming an illustrator and eventual creative business owner. They cover everything I learnt at university and more - and are a great place to start if you're wanting to make a career out of your creativity. 


The Top 3

Out of all the books I'm recommending today, these three were the most vital. If you take anything from this post, let it be these three recommendations!


Becoming a Successful Illustrator by Derek Brazell & Jo Davies

The perfect starting point! This fantastic book covers everything you need to know to become a professional illustrator - from building a portfolio and getting your work seen, to best practices and legal know-how.


Graphic Artists Guild Handbook: Pricing & Ethical Guidelines*

This is a chunky book packed full of gold! A brilliant guide to pricing your services, building professional working relationships, and adhering to legal expectations. *Please note: Make sure to get the latest version, which is the 16th edition at the time of writing.


Starting & Running a Business All-in-One ForDummies by Colin Barrow

Before even considering the illustration part of professional illustration, it's important to understand how you want to work. Do you want to be employed? Go freelance? Or run a limited company? All options are viable in this industry but are set up very differently. This book is a must-read if you're going down the self-employment route. It covers everything you need to know to start up and work with confidence. I referred to this book religiously when I was freelance and even more so when developing Odd Orange.


4 Very Helpful Books



The Fundamentals of Illustration by Lawrence Zeegan & How to Be an Illustrator by Darrel Rees

Two great all-rounders for becoming an illustrator and getting into the industry.


The Illustrator's Guide to Law and Business Practice by Simon Stern

Whilst not as in-depth as the Graphic Artists Guild Handbook, The Illustrator's Guide is much more specific for illustrators.


Find Your Artistic Voice by Lisa Congdon

This is a brilliant resource if you feel lost in your work and need motivation and guidance. I found the interviews incredibly inspiring, giving me lots of motivation during the low points of my degree.

Top Tip #1: Many university courses post their reading lists online! This is a great place to look if you're searching for even more recommendations.

Top Tip #2: If you're in the UK, I highly recommend joining the AOI (Association of Illustrators). They're a key resource for pricing your work, negotiating contracts, legal advice, and industry news. They also host talks, events, and awards.

I hope these books give you lots of inspiration, knowledge and guidance in your creative journey! Please let me know if you read any of them, and feel free to comment your recommendations below.

Thanks for reading! I hope you have a wonderful day full of joy, inspiration, and colour.

- Morgan


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