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Six tips for artist entrepreneurs

Kathleen Jennings has developed an international reputation as an illustrator and has created illustrations and cover art for many authors and publishers. We asked her for suggestions about how artists can find and make opportunities to sell work. Here are her six tips for Artist Entrepreneurs

A successful entrepreneur is both productive and generous. In my experience, this is what that looks like:

Illustration by Kathleen Jennings1.  Make Art

Artist-entrepreneurs I admire:

  • Make things. A lot.
  • Get work out in the world. Blog, exhibit, submit, self-publish, hand sell.
  • Make things better. Improve, question, learn, help.

Paying it forward: Pull others up with you. Collaborate. Advise. Promote.


2. Respect Art

Art (yours or others’) is blood, time and money. Value it:

  • The correct price is whatever the market will bear.
  • You can charge more accurately next time. I once snuck up on a correct price by charging $5 more per job.
  • Develop guidelines. If people come to me without a budget, I start by pointing to the Australian Society of Authors rates.

Paying it forward: Encourage others to pay artists and credit them (I’m often asking authors who did their book cover). An influential client scolded me for charging too little, and paid a higher rate. When you can, be that person.


Illustration by Kathleen Jennings3. Be Professional

Here’s a reliable minimum:

  • Meet deadlines.
  • Communicate.
  • Provide clear, brief emails. Before sending, put the main question or short answer at the top under a heading (Main Question/Short Answer). Add headings and numbers to the rest.
  • Rant and scream where clients won’t hear. I’m in two marvelous private Facebook groups for this purpose.
  • Learn how successful entrepreneurs in other fields operate. Adapt advice that resonates with you.

Paying it forward: Train regular clients to be professional. Other artists will thank you.




4.  Be Deliberate

Leave room for both disappointment and happy accidents. Approaches I’ve liked:

  • A semi-public wishlist helps make decisions that might lead towards or away from something on it. I’ve still never designed endpapers but I’ve illustrated several books which started as discussions about endpapers.
  • Regular reviews of aspirations to adjust either what I’m doing, or what I’m aiming for.
  • Mottos and principles, e.g. ‘Story, not decoration’, ‘You can’t fix what you don’t have’.

Paying it forward: Know other people’s wishlists. Send suitable jobs their way. Approach people if your dreams fit theirs – it could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship!

5. Be Surprised

Illustration by Kathleen Jennings

Hold plans lightly, be delighted with the unexpected:

  • Try new opportunities (grants, online markets, crowdfunding).
  • Jump, but know what you’ll do (or how you will behave) if it doesn’t work.
  • Preparation for failure is not the same as expecting it.


6. Make Connections

Create community:

  • Know other artists, share advice and angst.
  • Meet people outside your area altogether. Share information. You never know who could lend you an art reference, get you strange materials for a project, recommend you to a publisher or feed you in return for drawing on a café wall.
  • Know the gatekeepers in the area you want to work in. In illustration  it’s authors, editors, publishers and librarians.
  • Pay things forward.


Paying it forward: Connect others. Tell clients about other artists. Introduce newcomers to safe people. Drag them to convention lunches. Let authors quiz you when they’re researching an artist character.

Kathleen received an Arts Queensland Individuals Fund grant in 2014 to attend the World Fantasy Convention in Arlington, Virginia. Kathleen’s blog can be found at

Kathleen Jennings
Kathleen Jennings is an illustrator raised in western Queensland but based in Brisbane. She works mostly in the literary science fiction and fantasy genre, and has won multiple awards (being twice nominated for the World Fantasy Award). As an illustrator, she was raised by wolves, and learned most of her practice from writers and lawyers before she made illustrator friends.
All images provided by Kathleen Jennings