Every once in a while I get an e-mail from somebody who is interested in becoming an illustrator. This happened lately too. After having written my answer, I thought, that this might be interesting to other people also. Here is an edited and slightly generalized version of the question I received and answer that I gave.
I want to study illustration through some course that will give me a much deeper insight into it or through a masters program.
For you as an experienced but still learning illustrator, it would be great if you can give me some inputs/suggestions as to where shall I get some meaningful courses for illustration or colleges/universities for the same.
If you have any other inputs, I will be more than happy.
First: illustration is such a wide field: children’s books, editorial, scientific, documentary, comics, …
My field is mainly editorial, so my experience is somewhat limited to that. There are many ways to make a living from drawing/illustration. I get directly paid by magazines, newspapers etc. But there also people who make there own products (posters, textiles, …) from their work, and sell it directly to people. … and so many other ways. But I assume you are interested in the editorial field, so most of what I say applies to that.
Courses and university education are of course dependant on where you are located or ready or able to move to. Unfortunately, I cannot comment on places that are available where you are. I knew that there are a few places in Britain and Germany that offer university-style courses, but my knowledge about these is also limited.
The reason for all of this is, that I am practically self-taught. I studied industrial design. Then straight after studies, I decided to become an illustrator. I was reading up online and from library books pretty much anything I could find about illustration when I started out. I had a look at annuals, like Communication Arts or American Illustration, to get an overview of what is out there. I read on forums about the business side of things, agencies, pricing, licensing etc.
For me the basics I learned in my industrial design studies still apply to my work. Research, concepts, variations, revisions, results, ... If you have already had some design background education (graphic design, product design, etc.), I would venture to say, you may not necessarily need formal illustration education on top.
One thing that cannot be replaced by self-study, however, is having the people around you, who are also learning and often give good insight and motivation. I guess you could find some online communities, that would give critique and support. There are open platforms/groups/competitions like Illustration Friday, where they would give a theme each week, and everybody can contribute work. That would be a way to get some practical experience. If you join a community try to get (and give) proper feedback. This is, of course, easier said than done.
You could also join life drawing courses, that are more generally available and specialized illustration courses, and possibly there you would find people, that have also an interest in illustration.
The main task for a young illustrator is, in my view, finding an own voice. The way you draw things, handle subjects and so on.
To get there I often recommend: Work on something every day. Make a blog or Instagram and post - one drawing every day. You could assign yourself a task like:
- I will draw one of my friends/family members every day.
- I will make a drawing about the first thing on the news this morning (this is something very close to the actual job I am doing in my work).
- I will make a drawing for every chapter of my favorite novel. I will make an alternative cover for all my favorite albums.
- I will draw all items of my clothing I have. I will draw one person from the bus every morning.
The ideas are endless. Important is, that you find a subject, that really motivates you. Give yourself also a time-limit maybe. 30 minutes or 1 hour - so it is not impossible to fit it into your day. Your work does not have to be finished.
If you have an "illustrator crush” on someone - which means you like their work very much - try to copy it. How could they have done it? What is their thinking behind it? The medium etc? You will learn a lot from that. But of course, do not get too stuck on somebody, after all the idea is to find your own voice. Practicing in this way will show you also your own weaknesses and strength and motivate you to move on to your own way of working.
Another thing I often recommend, and you have done that already: ask other illustrators. I also did that and do that and almost always I get very nice and helpful answers.