How I started as an illustrator

I am happy to write this post because it is going to be a storytelling type of post.

Many times we ask this question “How did you start?” and it’s really interesting and special to know how people become illustrators and artists.

When I was a child I used to draw a lot, I used to copy the drawings and characters I saw in magazines or books and I kept them all (here I leave you a few) it is so special for me to see these drawings and to know that since then I liked to draw.

During high school, it was time to choose what to study in college and I asked someone, who guided me that the best option would be advertising instead of graphic design because I would see a whole panorama, and I could do not only one thing but several.

I was not sure where to go, I was only 16 years old, and finally, I ended up studying advertising, if you know a little about advertising there are many paths and emphases that you can follow, (Marketing, strategy, graphics, and planning). In the assignments and group projects, I was always the one who did the graphic part, but I felt that the objective was always to sell or show people that my product had certain special qualities so that they would buy it.

During those final days of my degree, I was already working in an art studio, more with the profile of an advertising agency. I worked there for almost three years, learned a lot here, and had the best team ever.

We did organizational communication projects for companies, but again something was missing, it was not what I was passionate about.

Follow your passion:

I wanted a change and I wanted to learn something new, so I started looking for opportunities outside Colombia, and I found one that I really liked. I went to England to be in the YWAM Art DTS.

It was very inspiring for me because I had the freedom to create, serve and learn a new language. During these 7 months, I discovered my calling, my purpose, and also new strength to dream more about the arts and illustration.

The first steps:

When I returned to Colombia, it was clear to me that I wanted to learn more about illustration, I only had the knowledge from my degree and my last job but I didn’t really have the basics to start “being an illustrator”.

I started working in a children’s magazine in Colombia and with them, the world of illustration opened up to me. I was able to go to the International Book Fair in Bogota where I met editors, writers, reading promoters, and illustrators.

In addition, I was helping in the design of the magazine and I was in contact with the illustrators, I could see their files, their sketches, and the different styles they had.

Go to classes:

During my time at the magazine, I started taking some courses in Domestika, if you are a beginner I recommend you start with these ones.

Also, I started studying illustration at Casatinta, Bogotá where for almost six months I had classes in human anatomy, graphite, color pencil, inks, watercolor, gouache, botanical illustration, art history, and children’s illustration. At the end of this course we made a final exhibition, (You can find it here).

  • And this was my final project all done with watercolor and colored pencil, a story about leaving home called “It’s time”.

Practice and practice:

After this point, I started painting, buying student gouache paint, and learning from other artists and youtube videos. The key here was to observe, how they were using the paint, mixing color and composition.

Build up your portfolio

I started my own portfolio, and for me the best way it was to create my own commissions, making a list of illustrations that were more commercial at that time, for example

  • Spread of adults and kids (family) 
  • Fairytale or folktale
  • Spread in the backyard garden or ice skating/building snowman
  • Character studies, one of a boy and one of a girl

Those themes are still commercial, but for sure drawings and illustrations of topics you are interested in, like:

  • Global warming
  • Animals
  • Your favorite recipes 
  • How to gardening
  • Funny memories from your trip

Send your portfolio:

I started making and spread sheet with different clients I wanted to reach, close to my style and profile. Normally those clients would have on their websites guidelines to who to apply with the words (Work with us or submissions)

My first publication was with Honest History magazine.

Be active on social media:

At the same time, I opened my art/illustration Instagram: lorena.illustration .I was super scared of that because it meant my friends would see my progress and my art. But I took the plunge, repeating in my head “It’s a process” “It’s ok” and the goal it’s making a community.

For some of my first publications, I didn’t have a style or anything I just upload what I like

Find and agency:

Finally after that many prayers and dedicated work I was able to apply for an illustration agency. It was a long way to find one it fit me and of course the first step it’s making a spreadsheet with the different options you have, looking at their guidelines and the artists they represent. (If you would like me to talk more about agencies, write in the comments your questions for me for the next blog post) 

I finally became part of Bright agency (Here it’s my profile)

Slowly I started receiving work from children’s magazines and small editorials that wanted my illustrations on their books. It’s a slow process but it’s really amazing when you start getting more work. 

Have a side work:

It’s not a mystery that while you get these commissions you also need to pay bills, not all artists and illustrators work full time on their dream job or commissions, a lot of them needed to work on a side. In my case, it was graphic design, for other people can be working in the food industry or being an engineer.

Don’t be ashamed of that, to the contrary, it’s a blessing to have a job in the meantime, and for sure you will be working full time as an illustrator or artist in the future.


Thanks for reading!
Means so much to connect and share every time.

Let me know, how do you start as and illustrator or what else you would like to know about my process. See you soon. 🙂

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