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Are you exploring enought books? That’s the secret sauce.
If you want to have a great illustration career – read more books.
I figured that out, when, after researching all my favourite illustrators and attempting to emulate their careers, (which is fruitless), I started looking for more.

Through emulation I’ve found that there’s only so far one can go until, like all the others who came before and who will come after, I realized that there’s not much room for illustrators who are exactly like my heroes. Mine are all 1950’s fashion illustrators; talk about no more room.

The career of an illustrator is limitless if you allow yourself to think in limitless ways and a good place to start is by reading more books. Mix it up a bit and maybe add the odd business book. On the pages of professional business writers, you will find ideas that many professional artists have never thought of. This only makes sense, since an artist is in the business of making images, not in the business of consulting services.

It’s important to read the opinions of other illustrators and I will make recommendations in the future, but my goal with today’s post is to talk about how we can widen our horizons to other opinions and ideas. As valuable as the opinion of these other illustrators can be, we need to form some of our own, so we can make the career we’ve chosen, even better.

With that in mind I share with you 5 books every exploring illustrator, freelancer or studio, should read to create a better business. The ideas in these books should stretch your mind and give you inspiration when you feel stuck.

These go in order from most exciting to most practical.

1)Mischief Marketing: How the Rich, Famous, & Successful Really Got Their Careers and Businesses Going (and How You Can Too!) by Raymond Simon.

This book is a little piece of gold, so if you can get your hands on it you should. It’s full of entertaining stories about how famous people have used a bit of mischief to accelerate their career.

Whenever I see Banksy do something new, I wonder if he read this book.

For illustrators who think there is a one size fits all career path, this book will open up your eyes to new marketing ideas. I use a few of the tricks every time I deal with my clients to WOW them and keep them guessing.

Bolder illustrators will find ideas for world wide high jinx. As I get bolder, I find the stories in this book give me new courage to take on some new risks.

2)The Magic of Thinking Big by Davd J. Schwartz.

I’m not a big fan of self help books. I’ve read enough to know that the philosophy of a good attitude, generosity, and a belief in yourself are the minimum starting points for a successful life. These books often forget to consider the reality of people’s financial circumstances. They often skirt the line between self help and selfishness.

This book is very different. The reason I like it is because it’s more about opening your mind to possibilities and how that leads to more a more interesting career and life.

Many illustrators I know have put themselves into a particular box. It sounds like this. “I want to illustrate for (insert company name here).”

Anything outside that paradigm is, for them, a failure.

Imagine the difference in your life if instead of saying, “I want to work for Disney”, you said “I want to compete with Disney.” It’s a huge and scary idea, but it’s a magical one.

This book is not just espousing ideas. There are practical methods for making progress on those ideas.
3) The $100 Startup: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future  By Chris Guillebeau.

I’m not quite finished this book, as I write this post. The $100 Startup is number 3 because while the first 2 books will inspire you, this book will help you to get a business up a running.

You can make money doing almost anything. This book shows you practical methods for getting it started on the cheap. My favourite chapter is on hustling and what it really means to advertise and then do the work. The author believes that you don’t really need to pay for advertizing and if you read Mischief Marketing mentioned above you should have some idea why.
4) So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love by Cal Newport

I don’t know why this happens, but a lot of artists I meet are in a constant rut. They continue to sketch the same things, they don’t practice basic art techniques, and they’re waiting for inspiration, or worse, for somebody to discover them.

As illustrators we have certain bankable skills, but so many of us are focused on things like prestige and affirmation from our peers, so we forget what’s really valuable – good work. The only way to do good work is to work on your skills.

5) The Secrets of Power Negotiating: Inside Secrets of a Power Negotiator by Roger Dawson

If I have one complaint about my fellow illustrators, it’s their inability to negotiate a fair price for the service we provide. I see complaints all over the internet about low pricing and about clients trying to take advantage of artists.

Somehow we have made this industry hierarchal and believe you need some sort of club card to get in. There are already many factors working against the idea of illustrators being paid a decent salary, yet we continue to say yes to unfair deals.

Read this negotiation book and any others you can get your hands on. Every illustrator should have one skill that is on par with their ability to draw, and that’s negotiation. The willingness to talk it through so that you get a fair deal.

As I continue to explore and learn about my business of being an illustrator, and how others made their business’ better I will post more inspiration.

Until then… What books do you think folks in the creative industry should be reading?


About Michael

Michael Grills Illustration is located in Calgary Alberta Canada. The business was established in 2005 and since then I have been collaborating with design agencies, editorial, publishers, video directors, and game makers from all over the world. As well as doing art for illustration fans.