In need of career advice... Illustration, design


New Member
Hello, good people. :) I am a third year student in the UK. I study illustration and design. My degree comes to an end soon and I need to reconcile my career options. In the upcoming year I'll be doing a dissertation and my final major project.

However, I feel the past few years haven't prepared me enough for it. I still haven't found my style, and if more than anything, I don't think it belongs in illustration.

My highest marks so far have been on design theory, as I enjoy reading, doing research and analyzing far too much than actually producing something on my own.

I like doing editorial and print design but I'm not sure how it relates to my degree, as it's more illustration focused and they didn't let me move to Graphic Design. Also, the lack of jobs on the market, related to illustration actually intimidates me...

Therefore I haven't been able to find anything that really sparks a passion in me and my tutors haven't helped me so far. And here I am, I registered to this forum so I can find some inspiration, maybe, and use your advice. Yes, I like doing illustration, but mostly as a hobby and now I understand how hard it actually is to become a professional illustrator, when your portfolio is down to non-existent.

I clearly lack the talent and the ambition. On the other hand, I'm not on the same level as graphic designers.
But I am very, very interested in using the knowledge to apply it somewhere else. How can I make my final year related to something practical, and not a children's book (I'm not good at narratives)?

I am thinking about a curator, art history, art theory, management and I am planning to do MA somewhere else further on. But is there something in them, that I can use in the outside world easily?

I would be very, very grateful for any advice here. Thank you.


Staff member
too much in one big block, it's hard to read.... can we get some spacing/paragraphs to make it easier to read.

Thanks. :)


Well-Known Member
You need to apply what you have learnt and focus on the things you are best at and try to combine that with what you might want to do eventually.
For instance, why does it have to be a children's book? It could be a historical, technical, arts, self-help etc or whatever you're interested in - all of these
could use illustrations in some way. Then you need to decide what style of illustration you're most happy with and apply it to that subject. You could even look to
self-publish your book eventually. Alternatively, there are lots of authors out there in need of an illustrator for their books, and they won't be expecting top quality
artwork if it's a collaboration.

There are numerous areas where your illustrative abilities could combine with your design capabilities - book design, editorial, advertising, logo design,
greetings cards, publishing, infographics etc.


New Member
Hi, sorry about the difficult spacing! I see you've edited it already, thank you.

Basically when I said children's book, I meant that this is mainly what they want us to work with... They push us into illustrating for them, I'm not sure why. And the rest of the possible outcomes for an illustrator kinda get ignored. I'm feeling as if drawing had been just a hobby for me cause I don't feel any passion doing it under pressure. I've tried 3D modeling, medical illustrations, printmaking, nothing interests me. Except maybe printmaking. On the other hand, I love researching and writing for example, or developing design and concepts with a purpose.

I can not think of what I'd like to illustrate. I haven't even developed some sort of style. I enjoy editorial design and publishing but I'm not sure if it counts as illustration... So I'd need to research colour theory and layout, I guess.

My aim is to get excellent in at least one area of illustration and design. I could post a link to my portfolio, if you allow me to.
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Paul Murray

Ultimate Member
Honestly, I don't know anyone that left a creative course at uni and felt like they were ready to jump into the industry. The way the industry works and the way higher education is taught are very different.

Basically when I said children's book, I meant that this is mainly what they want us to work with... They push us into illustrating for them, I'm not sure why.

If I had to guess, probably because it's a common field that requires illustrators. There's also a chance that a tutor or someone on the faculty has experience illustrating children's books. I noticed a few of my tutors trying to guide us down the path they took because that's what they know. Some of my friends who took an illustration degree also complained that their tutor was trying to guide them towards a particular medium, when one of them was more interested in 3D textiles.

If you're stuck between design and illustration, it's entirely possible to combine the two. Editorial design often transcends both and is probably best classified as 'art direction'. Two of my favourite designers, Craig Ward and Sean Freeman create illustrated type using all manner of mediums. Neither has a distinctive style which here I think it's important not to have.

Some of Craig's editorial stuff

Some of Sean's editorial stuff (he mainly does advertising stuff)


This is illustration, but it could also be design, or photography, or creative direction. Illustration doesn't have to be drawing or painting, it can simply be an image that accompanies text or a visual metaphor. How you create that is up to you. For now I'd focus on ticking all the boxes to get through your degree. Once that's out of the way you can focus on finding your style and an approach that you enjoy.


New Member
Thank you, Paul! Yes, one of my programme leaders is a children's book illustrator.

It's just that they're pressuring us into specifying exactly which direction we want to go and I can not find inspiration even among my peers, most of them are just as confused, lest I say maybe only about 5 people are actively trying to achieve something. No one is doing internships over the summer. No one is looking for grad schemes so far.

From what I hear from book illustrators, it's quite hard to find a publishing house that is willing to hire them as they already have enough people. And the amount of illustrators and graphic designers is huge. The images you've shared are quite nice, but I don't think I can find myself working with this sort of stuff. :/ I feel like I don't belong anywhere, yet.


Well-Known Member
Looking at your work, it seems quite graphic in its style - the map and the infographic. You don't mention the stipulations for your final project, but could it something
like a display or information panel for a visitor's centre, for instance, including maps, diagrams, logos, infographics etc. It could be about a famous person from history?
Or maybe a book or brochure about a subject or person that interests you?

Most illustrators are freelance, you won't find many jobs out there, and most don't start off with a definite style - that's something that develops over the years.

Paul Murray

Ultimate Member
If you had the choice tomorrow to be doing a particular job or working in a particular field, do you have any idea what you might pick?

When I left uni I thought I was going to work designing lovely printed books. Years later I'm now doing web design, branding and UX design, with a bit of everything else thrown in, with the exception of lovely printed books. It's impossible to know what you're going to be doing 10, 5 or even 2 years from now, the industry changes, the economy changes, life changes, you change. You might find that job you thought you wanted isn't all you thought it would be.

The problem for illustrators is that many are typically freelance or work through an agent and "how to survive as a self-employed creative straight out of education" is not on the curriculum. You should think about how you can apply your skills to other fields. Ironically the work I market myself as doing is not what pays the bills with regular clients (but it is what attracts them in the first place). It's a good idea to find a secure form of income you can rely on whilst trying to expand your skillset to the field you want.

Not many studios have dedicated illustrators in house, and if they do they're often not doing traditional illustrations. I know someone who does storyboards and visuals for motion graphics studios and another who worked at an events studio doing visualisations of stages to present to clients. You may find you have to be able to do a bit of everything to stand out, and studios love having multi-disciplined talent on the team.

Get as much experience in studios as you can, now. Not only will you get to meet people who can help you get a job, you'll also meet people (likely freelancers) who can offer you first-hand advice. Pretty much every creative director I've met in Manchester is more than happy to have new creative talent working with their team. You may not think you're what they're looking for, but you'll be surprised how many are actually really keen to have a student or graduate working with them. People in this industry know what it's like to be fresh out of edcation with no idea what to do, and the vast majorty, at least from my experience, are more than happy offer help and support.


New Member
Well I don't mention any stipulations cause there aren't any. It can be whatever we want. I've been thinking about producing my own book on a subject. These three books are what I have in mind. 1 2 3 Also if I had to choose a topic, it would be something philosophical, political, environmental.

To answer your question, Paul, I'd be fine just working as a graphic designer with illustration skills on the side. I can see a lot of artists add UX and UI design to their set of skills as well. I don't mind learning more on the way. Working in the film industry as a designer would be interesting to me too. Thank you for the encouragement. :)

Paul Murray

Ultimate Member
Then you should definitely be doing internships and networking as hard as you can. Knowing people in the industry and having them see firsthand what you can do will drastically increase your chance of employment when you graduate. :)


New Member
Degree learned you can see it as an advantage.
Important what your dream job is
Are you sure to pursue your passion for success?
Choose a studio or TV job


Active Member
I think there is not a lot I can add to this, as others have already said much of what I would say. I do agree with Paul, I think you need to start pushing to get internships in areas you want to work, ie, graphic design, rather than directly illustrative. Naturally, you will be competing against people who took the gd route for their degree,

However, this could be an advantage, as potential employers will be seeing hundreds of portfolios with similar projects and similar approaches. If you structure a portfolio to have a more design approach, then you may just stand out from the crowd.

This is exactly what happened to a friend of mine, Her work was much less structured and formal than most, but it was very illustrative, creative and free. She ended up getting picked up by a packaging company and over the years worked on her weaknesses and became a rounded, graphic designer, but with a strong illustrative ability, which many don’t.

i went the gd route at college, but now find myself working on projects that are a combination of the two. A lot of my time is now spent working on non-fiction, illustrated (in the wider sense of the word) trade books. I have done kids’ non-fiction books and there is always need for illustration. Sometimes I commission an illustrator/photographer. Usually the publisher already has one in mind. Sometimes I do that side of it myself too.

i think where I am going with this, is to show that there is crossover. The two areas are fluid and just because you went down one route doesn’t mean you can’t adapt. Just learn the bits that are your weak points.

If it helps, i have a good friend who studied and worked in textile design and after a few years, decided it wasn’t for her and became a graphic designer. She understands creativity, and is naturally talented, so to change paths is just a matter of learning different technical skills.

Creativity, is always creativity irrespective of the field. If you have it, you have it. Just learn different skills – on the job or in your spare time. Take some of your illustrations and design context for them. Magazine spreads, etc. just tailor your portfolio towards the people you want to work for. it’s about finding the right fit.

Do you have a link to your work?

So much for me not having much to add. Honestly, verbosity is my middle name!

Never give up. The only people who fail are those who do. Successful designers adapt.