Getting Your Illustrations Featured on Products

We recently interviewed Allison Cole about getting your illustrations on products. Allison Cole is an illustrator and artist who never stops creating. Over the past twelve years, she has worked with a wide variety of clients that span many different industries, including advertising, editorial, stationery, wall art, giftware, home furnishings, apparel, bolt fabric, and book covers. In addition to her client work, Allison launched her own boutique stationery line in 2014, Handmade by Allison Cole, that specializes in eco-friendly printed cards featuring her whimsical illustrations.

What is the name of your business? And what do you do?
 
Allison Cole Illustration is my freelance illustration business, and Handmade By Allison Cole is my greeting card and stationery line.

How did you get started as an illustrator?
 I went to the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) for my BFA, and studied Printmaking. I loved the freedom the department gave me to explore my own interests, while learning technical skills at the same time. I took most of my electives in the illustration department, and always tended towards drawing and creating images that related back to illustration and more commercial / product-based art.

What kind of art do you make? How would you describe your art?
 
It has been described as whimsical and cute but I typically describe it as bright, colorful and playful. I work in many different markets for many different types of clients — surface design, editorial, book, advertising, stationery — and I try to weave it all together with style and color being the consistent thread.

When did you start your career as an illustrator? How did you get started?
 
I started while I was in school, my first illustration piece was published in 2002. It was a 10 page comic for Kramer’s Ergot, an independent comics anthology. My career started in independent comics, alongside my handmade product line. In the early days I would make buttons, t-shirts, bags, wallets and stationery screen printed with my illustrations.

How did you find your first few illustration clients?
 
A few of my early clients came to me as a result of my handmade products and comics. One of my first clients was Little Otsu, a store based in SF (at the time) that carried my comics and products. They commissioned me to create a t-shirt for them, and then we worked together on two journal/planner projects. Some of my early editorial illustration clients were magazines that I read and subscribed to, like Bust, Bitch, The Stranger, Swindle, and a lot of shelter publications that no longer exist in print.

How many hours per day or week do you spend creating art? Or how many pieces of art do you create on a weekly basis?
 
Since my son was born (he’s one!) it is much less than it used to be. I used to be able to go on marathon art-making binges and I would average 40+ hours in my studio per week. Now it is more like 30 hours if I’m lucky, in 3-hour increments scattered throughout the day. It is sometimes frustrating if I want to work on a personal project or play around with a new idea, and it requires more planning to meet my client deadlines. But my son definitely helps keep things in perspective and brings much more balance to my life, which in turn is making me a more efficient and focused artist.

What are the different ways that you have monetize your illustration skills?
 
I have always found a way to monetize my art — initially when I was in school it was through selling my products at student sidewalk sales. From there it lead to more juried craft shows like the Bizarre Bazaar and Renegade Craft Fair. I have always made products by hand that I have sold, while maintaining my freelance illustration business. For the past six years I have also been teaching illustration at the college level and teaching workshops online and in person.

Who are some of the clients that you have worked with?
 
I’ve worked with Target, Hasbro, Scholastic, Houghton Mifflin, Little Brown, Keds, The Land of Nod, Camelot Fabrics, American Greetings, Galison/Mudpuppy, Madison Park Greetings, Family Circle, Peaceable Kingdom Press, Nike, and Badge Bomb, to name a few.

What project are you most proud of?
 
I have so many favorite projects — one of my favorite clients that I’ve been working with for a few years is Badge Bomb, they collaborate with artists to create unique buttons and magnets and more recently, enamel pins. I love creating collections and collaborating with them. It is always fun to work with clients that understand your vision and point of view as an artist.

What advice do you have for illustrators who are interested in making this their full-time career?
 
Keep a sketchbook and try to draw every day. Make a website. Create tons of work, and don’t get too attached to any of it. Keep creating more and more and you will get better and better. If you are passionate about who you are and what you do and it is coming from a genuine place, the work will come to you if you put it out there.

Where do you find your inspiration?
 
Antique stores, books, going for walks, talking to friends.

Who are three illustrators that inspire you?
 
Naming just three is tough! Almost all of my friends are illustrators, and I love all of their work equally, but here are a few off the top of my head:

Helen Dardik is a longtime favorite, I am continually blown away by the volume of work she creates — and that she creates so much at such a high quality and standard of work. She is also an amazing person and mom to three great girls.

Tuesday Bassen is an illustrator that has been fun to watch grow — she is also incredibly prolific and I admire her drive. Her illustrations are smart and the products she creates are clever, funny and empowering.

Gina Triplett is another illustrator I admire — I have so much respect for her style and professionalism and I admire how fluent she is in the worlds of both surface design and editorial work.

What are your three favorite illustration/art blogs?
 
I have kind of stopped reading blogs as much as I used to, I tend to be a more visual person and now that I am short on time I am obsessed with Instagram. Some of my favorite illustrators that I follow that have really great curated feeds include:

Mike Lowery — @mikelowerystudio
 Mike is a good friend and an insanely prolific illustrator and shares great peeks at his process and sketchbooks.

Suzy Ultman — @suzyultman
 Suzy also shares her work in progress and experiments with color and technique as well as her beautiful finished products.

Souther Salazar — @southersalazar
 I’ve known Souther and his work for a long time (since the days of comics conventions in the early and mid 2000s) and I am always impressed with his process as an artist and incredibly unique point of view.

Allison Cole will be teaching a session on building a career illustrating products during our live online workshop The Business of Illustration. The workshop will give you an inside look at how three professional illustrators built their careers, and leave you with new ideas for growing your own illustration career. You can get access for $67 if you sign up now with discount code “allisoncole.” See the full schedule and reserve your spot here.

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