A few of my followers on Instagram and fellow fashion illustrators asked me a lot of questions about my live sketching events lately. How do I find the confidence to draw a portrait in public in 5 minutes? Did I do any special training? How did I decide my rates?
Different artists were asking me very similar questions, so I decided group my answers and write a post about it to share my experience (albeit still limited).
I feel like I need to add a little disclaimer before I start.
I am in no way an expert illustrator. I still have another full-time job (very different from my artistic passion) and I started to work as a free-lance illustrator part-time just
one month ago recently. And even if I did a few events and I know that more are coming, I still panic every time I sit down at my illustration station and the first guest of the event arrives, full of expectations…
I still have a perfectionistic attitude to my drawings and I very much look up to much better and experienced illustrators and sometimes I sigh and I think “I will never be like them”.
But I’ve learned a few things and I would like to share this with you. If I can help you in any way with this, I’ll be the happiest girl on this Planet.
So let’s get started. It’s going to be a very long post so I’ll break it down into points to make it easier for you. Or so I hope.
As usual, I can’t just be concise and skip telling you a lot of stuff about myself in between but that’s how it goes with me guys, sorry for that :p
How did you start to get sketching jobs for events? Did you contact the brands or the brands contacted you?
I’m gonna be honest with you: it was all about luck. Namely, being in the right place at the right time.
I went to Singapore Fashion Week last November. Honestly, I didn’t want to go. I had just arrived in Singapore less than two months before and I was still right in the middle of this huge move across the planet. You know, stuff like getting used to a new job, starting a life in a completely different culture 13,000 km away from my friends and family, re-setting all the parameters of my relationship (both with my boyfriend and with my cats, who weren’t very happy about this whole Singapore thing at start) and, last but not least, making efforts to stand the freaking humidity and heat of South East Asia (getting my hair frizz-free is still a real struggle).
I wasn’t really drawing or caring about my social media at that time. At all.
But then my friend Aggie kinda forced me to join her to Fashion Week (I think I’ll never be able to thank her enough for this) so off I went, sketchbook in hand.
After a show, a girl noticed me with my sketches and asked me what I was doing. I talked to her barely two minutes, I was rushing to another show, and left her my business card.
Turns out she was a media manager for the publisher of L’Officiel Singapore.
We followed each other on Instagram.
After a while I manage to resume my drawing activity. I started updating my blog and social media more often and got into the drawing mood again, the months passed by… And in March, I got a message from her on Instagram: she asked if I could do a job for the 10th anniversary of L’Officiel Singapore, in partnership with Louis Vuitton. A big part of this involved sketching live at the anniversary party.
*I will skip the description of the total freak-out moment I had when she contacted me*
*I will also skip the description of how I almost passed out when they told me the brand involved was Louis Vuitton*
I never did a live sketching event before and I was scared to bits but I was like “WTF Alessia it’s L’Officiel. And freakin’ Louis Vuitton. You can’t say no”.
So I said yes.
And that’s how it all started: the event was a success (oh man the adrenaline! Really incredible experience, I don’t think I am able to describe it), a lot of people took my business cards from the table and… now it’s April, just one month after the L’Officiel event, I already did three events with Piaget (what an amazing job! And what a great team… I’ll have to tell you about this one) and the requests keep coming in my mailbox at an impressive rate. It’s CRAZY, I would have never imagined this just one month ago. It might be just a lucky stretch but it’s OK, I’ll simply try to enjoy this amazing time until it lasts.
Lesson learned 1: you gotta have some luck, but you gotta have the guts to grab it. So go out there, turn off your Instagram for a few hours and get in the real world, network, show your skills and get it.
Lesson learned 2: be patient. I’m telling you this because I am TOTALLY not patient, and I kinda see this in some of my illustrator friends as well, but I am learning to be.
I’m sure you’ve heard this somewhere else before 😉 but if you work hard and really believe in it you will start to see the opportunities popping in. Don’t rush and don’t be discouraged if your efforts seem to stay unnoticed: it might take months or even years before the machine starts moving. In the meanwhile, just focus on growing your portfolio and your skills as an artist.
You need to draw someone’s portrait in front of them, in 5 to 10 minutes, with no room for errors. How do you beat the fear of not being good and/or fast enough?
I’m the one who was painting only with a very accurate pencil trace before putting down the colours and would never publish anything slightly imperfect (at least in my view of “perfect”, because I am aware my drawings might look like blobs to you).
I totally didn’t know I had fast sketching (read: no pencil trace. Pure panic) abilities in me. I thought I would never do something like that, ever. So I came exactly from the same place you stand at right now.
I am going to skip telling you the whole process that happened inside me and that involved a lot of visits to my therapist to improve my self confidence and a very expensive live figure drawing course. I will directly skip to the lessons learned, which are:
Really, it sounds obvious but this is the most important thing. Just sketch, even if you think you’re not able to fast sketch and it looks like s**t, just do it. Try to sketch quickly and ignore the need to be precise: forget the pencil trace, the perfection and the Instagram posts.
You think you don’t have time? Think again. I thought I didn’t have time, with my at-least-9-hours-a-day-totally-not-creative job and the whole relocation crap I talked about above, but you can find time if you really want to. I went to Moleskine, I bought a sketchbook and I started carrying it with me all the time. I started drawing everywhere: in my lunch break, on the train to work, in a bar waiting to meet my boyfriend on Friday night, in bed before sleeping. Literally everywhere, at any time. I soon realized I could do a drawing in 15 minutes. Then in 10. Then in 5. And the more I was drawing the more I realized I didn’t need that pencil trace anymore.
- Invest in a live figure drawing course
Please follow this suggestion, I cannot recommend it enough! Not only it teaches you the technique but it also teaches how to draw a quick figure in a few minutes (gesture warm-up drawings are my favourite!), observation skills, proportions and more importantly, you start to learn to go with the flow and accept imperfection. You also really learn to push yourself: I tend to get frustrated and trash the paper sheet if a drawing is not coming out fine, but in an art lesson you need to keep going. And with difficult exercise like foreshortening this really helps to change your approach to drawing difficulty levels and mistakes.
- Learn to let go your idea of perfection
You have to understand that a 5 minute sketch of a person sitting in front of you, with a line of 30 more waiting for their turn, is very different than drawing your favourite photo and model from the comfort of your own home. You can’t aim for perfection, you can’t aim for exact resemblance either: you have 5, maximum 10 minutes to get it done. Instead, focus on a few features of that person that will make them recognizable and depict that. Draw them from the perspective that is most comfortable to you: for me it’s frontal, for others it’s slightly angled. Understand that very often the people in front of you can only draw stick figures: they are amazed at your skills, however experienced you are, and they love watching you paint this unique drawing just for them. Don’t think about what they’re thinking of you, focus on the pleasure you get from painting (you can thank my amazing psychologist for this suggestion). And in the meanwhile, try to chat with them: you’ll be amazed at the great time you can have.
- Learn that your fast sketching is different from your usual full illustrations
Again, this is all about practice. In my full illustrations at home I usually first draw the shape of the face with pencil, and then I start filling it in with facial features. With practice, I realized that I can’t do this for fast sketching because I have problems with proportions otherwise, and since I can’t use a pencil trace I can’t correct it. I learned that I need to start from the mouth, then I mark the nose position, then I trace the eyes and eyebrows in skin colour (I’ll pass over it with darker colours later), then the chin, the neck, the hair and only at this point I finish the face shape. Find your own fast sketching method and understand that it might be very different from the drawing method you use for your illustrations at home.
- Find your way to calm down before the event
OK, this is very personal and you’ll have to find it out yourself.
I love drinking wine and drinking a glass before an event really helps me to let go and socialize with the guests (Piaget was serving champagne and boy was I happy). Of course I am talking of a glass here, you don’t want to get drunk during your job (I am aware this was a useless remark, but still). I do a few breathing exercises just before leaving for the event and I repeat to myself that guests are usually very nice and my drawing skills will be appreciated no matter what. I ensure I look at my best too, so that I don’t have to stress about pictures being taken etcetera. I wear my favourite dresses (not necessarily the most fashionable but the ones I feel most comfortable and good looking in), I try to get a good night sleep the day before, I do some extra skin care (hello Korean sheet masks!) and I wear my favourite make-up look. In general, I do everything possible to feel confident and focus only about the drawing once I am at the event.
How do you decide your prices?
OK, for me this was one of the hardest parts. When you’re just getting started and you don’t know the industry very well, it’s hard to guess which rate to request for your illustration services. Unlike other types of business, it’s not easy to get a grasp of what clients would be willing to pay and what your competition is charging (which, together with the value you give to your artwork, are important elements to decide your rate).
When I started, I literally had no clue. I did some research online that helped me understand what the hour rate for an event includes:
- Your actual presence on site (the basic hour rate)
- Materials (usually)
- The value of your finished artwork
- The value of the “show” you are providing
In my opinion, these factors play a role as well:
- Are you a seasoned illustrator or are you just starting?
- What is your social media following?
Even then, it took me some trial and error to get to my current rate. It all boils down to what you’re feeling comfortable with.
Start from a price considering the things I mentioned above and then see how you feel about it: are you in panic every single time you’re proposing your rate because you’re scared they’ll reject your offer? Your price might be too high. Are you feeling that each work you do is not paying your efforts enough and you are feeling kind of exploited? Then you’re not asking enough. Trust your instinct and always value your work.
Personally, I would start from the lower end of the price range you might have in mind: if you’re just starting, your main goal should be to get as many jobs as possible to grow your portfolio and your contact network.
I also suggest to request advance payment for this type of commissions, because you might have trouble getting paid afterwards (don’t assume that everyone is as honest and professional as you are…).
Would you do this type of works for free?
This is another tricky one. My friend and fashion illustrator extraordinaire Meagan Morrison (I bet you all know her awesome work, but if you don’t check out her Instagram @travelwritedraw) once told me: you need to value your work. You’re not only putting effort and time, but you’re also producing a very unique product. It’s a very wrong (and common) assumption to think that since you love what you do, it should be no problem to do it for free.
And very importantly: when you’re working for free, you’re not only lowering your value, but also the value of the whole artistic community. Think about it.
That being said, in my opinion it’s not always black or white and there might be exceptions, especially if you’re just starting your business. But limiting this question to live sketching events only, my answer is one: I NEVER do it for free.
It’s simply too much work, time and organisation to do it pro bono. If a client says they don’t have budget and you’ll be paid back in “exposure” then say no (don’t be scared to miss out, more requests will come): would they tell the same to the catering company serving champagne and appetizers at the event? Or to the photographer, or the DJ? No they wouldn’t. You are doing a job, and jobs need to be recognized for what they are and get paid.
So that was it!
I know that this is a humongous post and I hope I wasn’t too boring but since I was at it I just wrote everything I could think about the topic 😉
In the end, in my opinion, it all boils down to finding confidence in yourself and in your skills and have the guts to grab the opportunities that appear before you.
If you have more questions don’t hesitate to ask! And if you already have experience with live illustration at events and have more suggestions for me do tell!