Guest Post Feature from Will Terry-What kind of Illustrator are You?

Today we feature a post from Will Terry’s Blog that asks you to consider your role and purpose as an Illustrator within the Children’s Book Market.  Will Terry is an accomplished Illustrator and teacher whose work and contributions to the collective intelligence of the Children’s Book illustrator community is monstrous. Don’t believe me, take some time to peruse his blog and multiple videos that deal with multiple issues for up and coming Illustrators.  So read through the article and ask yourself the question, “What kind of Illustrator are you?”.

Find the original post here.

Will TerryI’ve been wanting to make this post for a long time and it’s taken a long time to formulate my opinions on this subject. If you’re an illustrator perhaps you really haven’t thought too much about who you are. One thing’s for sure – you need to know who you are to be able to exploit your strengths and work on your weaknesses.

1. The Gunslinger. Like Clint Eastwood wielding his Smith & Wesson the gunslinger illustrator wields his paintbrush, stylus, or drawing instruments with great skill. Great craftsmanship, design, and rendering skills are his/her trademark and the reason clients want him/her in their posse. This illustrator is typically brought in when the job has been defined and visual communication is needed. The skill level of the gunslinger can vary greatly. Most illustrators fall into this category. Examples: David Catrow, Dan Santat, Kadir Nelson, and Paul o. Zelinsky.

2. The Story Teller. This is a writer turned illustrator – a dangerous combination. Not willing to allow someone else to visualize his/her dream – the Story Teller has developed the art of picture making second -to pair with his/her master story telling skill. Often primitive, the art communicates quickly and effectively while craftsmanship and rendering are less important. Examples, Mo Willems, Laura Vaccara Seeger and Gerald Hawksley.


3 The Renaissance Man. The rare combination of story teller and gunslinger – this complete package can tell a mean story and back it up with very skilled illustrations. The renaissance man (or woman) dares you to find a weakness in his/her game. The R-Man is often a strong contender for the coveted Caldecott award. Examples: Lane Smith, Chris Van Allsburg, and Peter Brown.


4. The Gambler. With no real polish to either the story telling or visual communication skills – the gambler hopes to get lucky. While some gamblers are working hard to earn a higher rank others are content to roll the dice. Sometimes gamblers get lucky and win a contract – sometimes they wait and wait wondering when their luck will change.

I won’t give any examples of gamblers because it would be too controversial and potentially hurtful. If primitive unrefined art is your thing and you’re good at communicating with it I would suggest that you incorporate storytelling with it. It’s a much harder sell to editors and art directors to catch your vision if you send them a portfolio of basic art. You’re much more likely to sell rudimentary drawings with a great story.

If you’ve mastered good design, drawing, and rendering skills and are having a tough time finding contract work it might be due to the rough economy. It also could be that your style isn’t exactly what editors are looking for. With so many changes in the world of digital publishing you may find it more attractive to partner with an author or write your own stories and go directly to market with digital ebooks or apps.

Knowing who you are and what you can become is crucial to making a good living as an illustrator.

One of the cool thing about this article is that no matter which Illustrator you think you are, you can always grow to incorporate yourself into one of the others. We should always be growing as artists and the more we learn about ourselves and the art form of what we do, the closer we can get to reaching our goals and evolving as artists. Best of luck to us all and KEEP STUDYING and GETTING BETTER!!!

Be sure to check out Will Terry’s blog and all the tutorials and videos he has available.
Also be sure to check out Will’s new Kickstarter project, I Hate Reading!!


1 Comment

  1. Joan Holub

    Great article, Will! Here’s a 5th category (which I fall into): illustrator turned writer. Love your work!


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