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What to Do When Illustration Doesn’t Pay the Bills Yet

collection of drawing pencils

Congratulations, you’ve decided you want to turn your love of drawing into a career in illustration!

You dove down into the rabbit hole to see how deep it goes, and in your pursuit of excellence, you’ve gone pro—harnessing those hours spent doing something else to make a living, transferring them into your skills. The only problem: quitting your day job suddenly means the weight of your income rests squarely on illustration’s shoulders, and it’s rare to make a decent wage as a beginner.

The good news is that no time spent in your craft is wasted, so even while you’re hustling and just barely making it, you can build some really valuable resources that will provide immense payoffs later.

Read on for a modest proposal of what to do when the wider world doesn’t yet recognize the value of your work!

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Inspiration: Vintage Piano Exercise Book Illustrations

whimsical illustrated piano book

Hey guys! Today we’re featuring a handful of whimsical illustrations from a beginner piano exercise book in our inspiration collection. This is one of those pieces that would have completely flown under the art radar during its time, but now is a fantastic resource in nearly 50 pages of spot illustrations and 1/4–1/2 page scenes. 

There’s no publication date in the book, but the student’s certificate is dated March 1970, so the credited illustrator Ernest Kurt Barth would have completed the work towards the end of the 60’s. There’s plenty of detail to admire in the ornamented cartoony execution, but look beyond the linework and you’ll notice some really pleasing, well-balanced shapes.

(By the way, she did finish the course and get her certificate. Go Kathy!)

More inspiration:

Vintage Disney Vinyl Album Cover

Inspiration: Vintage Disney USA Record Cover Illustration

Old vinyl records are an absolutely fantastic resource for illustration and lettering inspiration! We recently culled our collection down to the essentials, and though we’ve never actually listened to this particular album, it made the cut because of the illustration on the cover. (Come on, surely we’re not the only ones who do this!)

A couple of notes on why it’s awesome:

• The regional symbols are beautifully stylized: 2–3 colors, simple shapes. The choices are interesting, too! Some agriculture, some natural landmarks, and one building for the NY area.

• The map shapes are so much fun! They’re drawn with just enough accuracy to be recognizable, but the outlines have been smoothed over and skewed. Especially check out the curves and points of the southern border of Texas, combined with that drop shadow—YUM.

• The cut-and-paste map is a really nice way of breaking up the standard layout and creating dynamic shapes. It makes you look twice, whereas a normal map is so familiar that it would only get a quick once-over.