The Business of Watercolor Illustration

With growth in the advertising and publishing industries, many watercolorists are finding success as illustrators in a freelance environment. Once you’ve thought it through and made the decision to pursue a freelance career, consider investing time in mastering your craft. Next, spend some time learning about sales, promotion and websites. Here are some important starting tips, helpful resources and things to know for the future watercolor illustrators of the world.

Representation: Art representatives guide artists much like talent agents guide actors. Representatives find work for artists and help them negotiate money and contracts in exchange for an agreed-upon percentage of the payment. While a good agent can be invaluable to the right artist, many illustrators choose to go without them, handling promotion and contracts themselves.

Promotional Postcards: In order to catch the eye of art directors—crucial friends for any illustrator—individual artists put a sample design on the front of a 4×6 postcard and mail that postcard to hundreds (or even thousands) of people. This is not an inexpensive process, but one good assignment can more than make up for the cost of postage. Select only your best illustrations and aim for a good first impression.

Websites: First of all, it’s important for any freelance professional to have a website where potential customers can visit and see your style and accomplishments. Whether or not you have your own website, visit to learn about listing your work online. Another online source for creative illustrations and art is

Resource Books: Stock books and source books are important industry resources. Illustrators pay a fee to have their best work reproduced in large books that go out to thousands of art directors across the country. Representatives also commonly purchase large sections in books to showcase all of their clients. Because the cost of space in the books is so high, it’s a bit of a gamble, but one that can pay off nicely. Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market (Writer’s Digest Books) is a must-have book for any aspiring illustrator. Visit the website at

Self-Promotion: Even if you have a representative, no one knows your vision and your goals better than you do. Learn to stay on top of your portfolio and think of yourself as a one-person show. The bottom line is that you have to get your work out there to get it noticed.

Chuck Sambuchino is a writer, an editor for Writer’s Digest Books and a former staffer of Watercolor Magic and The Pastel Journal.


Learn more about selling your art:

  • Complete Guide to Selling Your Work Online
  • Quick & Easy Guide to Photographing Your Artwork
  • Read more articles about selling your art
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