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8 Tips for Getting a Successful Start in Stock Illustration

From finding your style to connecting with buyers and everything in-between, check out pro tips for starting a career in stock illustration.

While trends come and go, there’s always room for inspired designs and expressive artwork. Take these insights on everything from maintaining your creativity to growing your business acumen from pro illustrators who make a living with their art.


Get started creating your own, unique illustrations. Image by Vividdiy8.

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Develop a Unique Style

“Having a unique style is so important. I always want clients to see my illustrations and immediately know it’s my work,” Thailand-based artist Vividdiy8 explains. “Some people prefer minimalism and others like the luxury market. Your personal style is up to you, but I’ve created my brand based on illustrating cheerful characters for children. I think my work is popular because it’s easy-to-use and simple. Also, almost all of my work goes through my little niece to make sure she likes it!”

Aim for Quality

Make a point to always create high-quality illustrations. Image by mashakotcur.

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“People will always search for high-quality content, regardless of the subject,” artist and designer Maria of mashakotcur explains. “Put quality first. Keep learning and improving, and don’t skimp or cut corners when making illustrations. It will pay off in the long run.’

“Another tip I have is to keep your illustrations versatile so they can be used in as many different designs and contexts as possible. For example, I often create big sets of elements for designers to buy and use to build almost anything—from greeting cards to wallpapers to textiles.”

Find Your Niche

Use your personal strengths to nurture your skillsets. Image by Rosapompelmo.

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“Do your research to see what the market offers and what the market lacks,” artist and textile designer Elena Belokrinitski, a.k.a. Rosapompelmo, advises. “Some subjects are already covered so well by other artists that it will be difficult to compete. However, if you have a unique knowledge of something special, developing that may be your key to success.’

“For me personally, I found my niche in tropical patterns and elements. Floral patterns have a long history that I’ve been able to study in-depth, and as the owner of dozens of plants, I’m able to illustrate from life.”

Imagine the End Buyer

Stay on top of emerging trends. Image by Paitoon Patisonticharoen.

“I think, for beginners especially, it’s so important to survey what kinds of images the market needs and also to think about ideas and topics that are relevant to your target buyer or industry,” illustrator and designer Paitoon Patisonticharoen tells us.

“For example, I think in the coming years, illustrations relating to health, wellness, medicine (vaccines), science, and the environment will continue to trend across many industries, due to the lasting effects of COVID-19. I’m always seeking inspiration by reading books and surfing the internet for trending news and information about what might be in demand.”

Try New Things

Keep your mind open to new techniques. Image by Anna42f.

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“Trends and styles are constantly changing, so I don’t think I have a favorite theme or subject,” Ukraine-based graphic designer Anna42f says. “I use different techniques all the time, as this seems more interesting to me than constantly creating illustrations on just one topic. I often take inspiration from my travels, since I see and learn different styles from different countries.”

Experiment with new styles and techniques. Image by Voysla.

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Keep an open mind, and don’t be afraid to mix it up. As the Belarus-based artist Voysla tells us, “I find it difficult to give advice to young illustrators because they never cease to amaze me. Part of the reason is that they are great at seeing and creating in their own way. The main thing is to keep experimenting with a combination of styles, colors, and techniques. That’s what I’m always doing—from creating colorful neon signs to drawing minimalistic icons.”

Look for Local Inspiration

Find inspiration in your own passions in life. Image by Ms Moloko.

“There are so many popular global themes—like the holidays, business, family, love, etc.—but it is also worth looking around and finding something totally unique to you, whether it’s your hobbies or your local culture,” the artist Nadezhda Shikina, a.k.a. Ms Moloko, tells us.

“Perhaps you are an origami expert or you have a sport you love. Perhaps you’re more qualified than the average tourist to capture the flavor of your national holidays or create an illustration of local cuisine. Look at your surroundings, and find inspiration based on your own lifestyle, hobbies, and worldview.”

Think Long-Term

Build a strong portfolio with numerous images. Image by Visual Generation.

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“I don’t have any universal recipes for popular illustrations, as getting to the top depends on so many factors, and a best-selling illustration is one in a thousand,” Andrew Kravchuk of the design studio Visual Generation says. “The only advice I can impart is to create a large and prominent portfolio with a huge collection of high-quality content—not just one image. Build a portfolio that clients will want to come back to and subscribe to. In my mind, there is no quick strategy—just a long-term commitment to building a strong portfolio.”

When in Doubt, Keep it Classic

Follow what’s trending but focus on timeless themes. Image by Olga Korneeva.

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“I’ve always liked vintage and classic designs,” Russian-based artist Olga Korneeva says. “I often use my illustrations as a reminder to slow down and take my time, as everything nowadays changes so quickly. I will always invest my time in quality illustrations.’

“When I was working as a designer who bought stock illustrations, I saw so many changing trends. They were like clouds drifting in the sky. So, I knew I wanted to keep my feet on the ground. From the very beginning, I’ve focused on simple, eternal themes over trendy subjects.”


Discover additional illustration tips, tricks, and advice with these articles:

  • Breaking Gender Stereotypes Through Innovative Illustration
  • Creating Hand-Drawn Illustrations for Stock with Anastasia Lembrik
  • 16 Illustration Subjects that Successfully Sell on Shutterstock
  • Helena Perez Garcia on Artistic Inspiration and the Business of Illustration
  • 16 Tips on Creating Gorgeous Watercolor Illustrations for Stock

Cover image by Voysla.

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