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7 things I would have told my younger self about working as a freelance illustrator

By Pathways

By Hannah Jayne Lewin

If you could have a conversation with your younger self, what would you say? Lately, I have been thinking about the things I wish I knew when just starting out in the children’s illustration industry. Here are 7 lessons I have learnt since graduating in Illustration from university and starting work as a freelance illustrator. 

1. Working as an illustrator is so much more than just drawing pictures

Pathways has not only taught me visual skills, but business skills too. Although I’m still learning, I have become more discerning when it comes to judging which projects I should accept and when I should turn a job down. 

2. For most projects, my illustrations won’t be the right fit

It can feel disheartening when a project doesn’t work out. However the creative industries are large and global and even if your work is just suitable for some projects, that still leaves many commissioning opportunities. Being part of Pathways has been hugely encouraging for me as I have seen that commissioners are often on the lookout for new illustrators.

A spread and character design in response to a Pathways brief to illustrate a folk tale, by Hannah Jayne Lewin

3. No response or “not yet” doesn’t mean no

Despite sending out updated portfolios, attending events and showcasing my work, there are times when no immediate opportunities arise. This can feel disappointing. But sometimes, people I approach return to me with work weeks, months, or even years later! 

Keeping in touch with potential clients, attending industry events and developing new illustration projects is not in vain. Often, people are just waiting for the right project to come along before commissioning you. 

Character designs produced at the Fiction illustration short course with Usborne Publishing, Hannah Shaw, and Jonny Hannah, made by Hannah Jayne Lewin

4. Working as a freelance illustrator can be very isolating

I found this particularly hard in the first few months after graduating as I went from having a busy life in university to being back at home, trying to secure my first few freelance jobs. One way the Pathways programme has really benefited me is that I have been involved in a creative community of other like minded people. It has been so helpful to be part of such a supportive group. While I have learnt lots from the teachers on Pathways, my fellow mentees have taught me lots too!

Character designs produced by Hannah Jayne Lewin at the Fiction illustration short course with Usborne Publishing, Hannah Shaw, and Jonny Hannah

5. Managing your time and creative energy can be challenging

I have found that sticking to a routine and having a structure to my day helps me with this. I have also found that writing down what I want to achieve each day on a post-it note and sticking it up somewhere visible helps me to stay focused. Pathways has helped me to be productive too as it sets me deadlines and meetings with mentors and tutors where I need to demonstrate that I have made progress on different Literature Briefs. 

6. Working on a book with publishers involves a winning their trust

You will need to be able to illustrate believable characters and show them in different poses and with different expressions to convince a publisher you are capable of illustrating a book. I have learnt that publishers will want to see a range of projects in a portfolio showing a consistent visual voice applied to a range of subjects. This is why it’s so important to make time to work on personal projects and develop areas of your portfolio that are weaker.

Illustration from a personal story about a fish that Hannah Jayne Lewin has been developing

7. The first few years working as a freelance illustrator will be hard, but you are not alone!

I love that so many of the mentors and teachers on Pathways are so authentic and honest about their own struggles of succeeding in the children’s book industry. Finding out about other illustrators’ journeys really motivates me and gives me hope for the future. I’m the first person in my family to go to university, and Pathways has shown me that no matter your background, with passion, skill and lots of hard work, you can illustrate and tell stories to inspire future generations. 


Hannah Jayne Lewin is a freelance Illustrator based in Yorkshire. Her work is colourful and character driven. She attended Loughborough University and studied Graphic Communication and Illustration, graduating in 2018. 

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