Emma Block Illustration


The creative life of an illustrator living in London

Top Tips for Recent Graduates

emma block illustration

Graduation is always a scary time, and after the degree show comes down it’s easy to feel a little bit lost. Here are 10 little nuggets of advice to hopefully get you through this transition period.


1. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it

When I was preparing for my degree show a lot of people were saying things like ‘well obviously I don’t expect to work as an illustrator’ and ‘everyone knows there’s no work in the illustration industry’. These things aren’t true. It’s not easy but it’s not impossible, and somebody’s got to take the photos, design the clothes and draw the pictures we all enjoy, so why shouldn’t you be the one to do it. I have made my living solely as a freelance illustrator since graduating 5 years a go. (update: I’ve now been freelancing full time for 8 years and I’ve just bought a flat in London. Nothing is impossible)

2. Stay passionate and keep producing work

If you’re passionate about your, work prove it. Don’t put down your sketchbook for 6 months after graduating. Keep writing/drawing/taking photos and producing new work. A portfolio with nothing but uni work in it doesn’t look great. I update my website every time I complete a new project.

3. Get a website

This is essential, and something that really should be sorted out before your degree show. A web address on a business card that leads to a blank page doesn’t leave a great impression. Making a simple but effective website doesn’t need to be expensive or difficult. SquarespaceCargo, and WordPress are all great platforms. In the 21st century your website is your CV, so keep it updated. Also make you you use own your own domain name. You can buy yours at 123reg or godaddy. I currently use Squarespace for my website and blog: it's easy to update and comes up well in Google searches. A very large percentage of my customers are also readers of my blog, so for me this is one of the most important aspects of my online presence.

4. Look out for graduate opportunities

There is a relatively short time span when you are classed as a graduate, not just a student or a run of the mill freelancer. Take advantage of graduate schemes and awards while you can. Lots of big website and agencies like It’s Nice That and YCN run graduate showcases that guarantee a lot of exposure. This is something I really wish I had known about when I graduated.

5. Make the most of student discounts

You probably have about a month left of your student discount. Now is the time to join the Association of Illustrators and take advantage of your Apple student discount. Another thing to be aware of is once you’re are no longer a student you have to start paying council tax straight away, potentially making the last month of your tenancy agreement an expensive one.

6. Get a part time job

Working full time in your chosen career field is always the ideal, but sometimes you need a part time job to pay the rent before you get there. I would advise a part time not full time job so you still have the time and energy to devote to your work, but you know what will work for you. Look out for studio assistant job where you can learn from a successful artist as well as earning money.

Emma Block Live illustration

7. Set up an online shop

Setting up a simple online shop somewhere like Etsy can help you start making an income from your artwork straight away. Whether you’re freelancing or working a day job it’s always nice to have another stream of income. Selling something like prints or greetings cards is fairly low risk as the minimum orders aren’t huge and they sell well. I recommend Printed.com and Awesome Merchandise for all your printing needs. Doing craft markets is also a great way of making an income form your work and getting yourself out there.

8. Use social media

I can’t see why you wouldn’t want to utilise this amazing (free!) platform. Social media is a great way for clients to find you, as well as building an audience, interacting with like minded people, getting your work out there and finding a community. The platforms I get most work from is Instagram. As a highly visual platform it makes sense to use it was an illustrator. I also use TwitterPinterest and Facebook and I blog.

9. Keep your options open

When I first graduated with a degree in Illustration I thought I might do some drawings for greetings cards and magazines. I never imaged that I would draw live at big events, that I would teach hundreds of students brush lettering and watercolours, that I would be whisked off to France with Stylist Magazine and that I would write books. My career has developed in ways I could have never imagined. Be open to trying new things.

10. Don’t give up

To be honest the only person that can put an end to your dreams is you. Success never comes overnight. It takes years of hard work to build a career in the creative industries.