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Illustrators Ride the Wave of Innovation

Question: What trends do you see and how do you see the industry moving forward?

The Empowered Artist

Whether you are an illustrator, photographer, graphic designer, art director or any other type of creative professional, you may have noticed a rising tide in an area of our industry that in the past was either unheard of or considered a privilege of the few. Some call it innovation, some call it an entrepreneurial spirit, but by any name it is undeniable that more artists are being empowered and encouraged to take more direct control over their creative and intellectual property, think outside the box, and blaze a trail independent of the gatekeepers of the past. You can see it in self-published content, start-up companies and collectives, and especially in the more evenly-leveled field of the internet.

The Creative Lab Thomas James Illustration Industry Trends Building resized 600

© Illustration by Thomas James

Artists are taking their creative vision and turning it into something beautiful without necessarily having to claw their way to a book deal, a gallery showing or an in-house job. The doors available to today’s professional artist are varied and many - rather than limited and few - largely due to advances in technology and communication, along with a loss of what was once considered “traditional” work and the appeal of the sole-proprietorship.

Innovation Trailblazers

There are several great examples of illustrators who are taking control of their own businesses by thinking differently and deciding to do things for themselves. For example, rather than wait for someone to license her work, illustrator Kotryna Zukauskaite has taken matters into her own hands by establishing her own online brand of illustrated products called Kata Kiosk, which allows her to exercise greater control over the branding, pricing, and distribution of her work.

The Creative Lab Thomas James Illustration Industry Trends Kotryna Zukauskaite logo for Kata Kiosk resized 600

© Kotryna Zukauskaite

Another artist who is applying innovation to his business is Jesse Kuhn of Raw Toast Design. Jesse decided to work with a developer to create his very own iPad app, Art of RTD, that art directors and other creative buyers can download to see his portfolio and keep up with his latest work.

The Creative Lab Thomas James Illustration Industry Trends Jesse Kuhn Raw Toast Design iPad portfolio app resized 600

© Jesse Kuhn

Illustrator Dani Jones decided that rather than wait for a publisher to create a store for selling webcomics online, she would do it herself. So, with the help of some fellow artists, she created The Illustrated Section as an online platform for self-publishing this new and growing genre of art.

The Creative Lab Thomas James Illustration Industry Trends Dani Jones webcomic store The Illustrated Section resized 600

Embracing Innovation

It is often difficult to see the creative industry in this optimistic way if you resist the idea that change is here to stay, and instead stubbornly cling to the methods and business models of the past. But the fact is there are more and more opportunities to make a living doing what you really love to do. This is the true definition of success for professional artists. All it takes is the will and determination to dust off your dream project, your crazy idea, your private masterpiece, and muster the drive to bring it to life by your own hands. While you’re at it, go one step further by cultivating a positive, adaptive attitude toward change and see it as a catalyst for your innovative, entrepreneurial spirit.

About Thomas

Thomas James is an Illustrator whose work has appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Seven Days, The City Paper, The Chicago Reader, The Portland Mercury, and many others, and has been recognized by the Society of Illustrators and American Illustration. He is also the Editor and Art Director of Illustration Age and the popular Illustration website and podcast, Escape from Illustration Island, and is proud to serve on the Board of Directors for the ICON Illustration Conference. Thomas James Illustration

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