PK 043: Nancy Drew Illustrator Erin McGuire on Self-doubt and Getting Your Art Noticed

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Like many artists, Nancy Drew illustrator Erin McGuire still struggles with self-doubt

鈥淭he Biggest Demon I Wrestle With is Self-doubt鈥滭/em>

Children’s book illustrator Erin McGuire is well-known for her Nancy Drew book covers and work with Disney Hyperion. But it wasn鈥檛 always this way. In fact, she started her creative career as a concept artist.

So how did she make the transition from one style of art to another? And how did she get her first break in this incredibly competitive industry?

鈥淚 was working at Reel FX when a blogger from Publisher鈥檚 Weekly picked up an illustration that I鈥檇 published on my blog,鈥 she explains. 鈥淭his led to my work being featured in their newsletter, and my website suddenly started getting many more visitors.

鈥淔rom this, I landed my first freelance job as a children鈥檚 book illustrator. This led to more and more work, and eventually I decided to quit my job and go full-time freelance!鈥滭/p>

How to Get Your Art Noticed

Erin puts a lot of her success down to luck, but keeping her blog and social media feeds regularly updated with new work must have helped.

She says: 鈥淎lways be putting up new work and engaging with other artists. Don鈥檛 just try and sell your work 鈥 talk to people, get to know them, and support their work too.鈥滭/p>

Erin also joined the Society of Children鈥檚 Book Writers and Illustrators, which she says was a big help. 鈥淎ttending conferences and talking to people is a great way to get noticed,鈥 she explains.

She also started working with a literary agent some time ago, which she describes as a great relationship which has led to a constant stream of new illustration jobs.

鈥淚t鈥檚 great to have someone like that on your team,鈥 she explains. 鈥淢y agent looks after all the stuff like invoices, contracts, and dealing with any issues that very occasionally arise.鈥滭/p>

How Erin McGuire Copes With Self-doubt

It seems like Erin McGuire鈥檚 career has panned out pretty nicely, but she still struggles with the demons many artists face, saying: 鈥淭he biggest demon I wrestle with is self-doubt. There are just so many great artists out there posting their work on social media, and it鈥檚 easy to start questioning your abilities and telling yourself you鈥檙e not posting enough new stuff.鈥滭/p>

Her solution? Just to keep working regardless, plus a handy app for her smartphone that blocks all those distracting Facebook and Twitter notifications.


Happy Reading – an illustration by Erin McGuire

Making The Transition From Concept Art to Children鈥檚 Books

When she started out as a concept artist at Reel FX, Erin McGuire says her style was 鈥淎ll over the place鈥? but thinks this was what helped her land the job. 鈥淟ooking back, I didn鈥檛 know what I wanted to do, but this actually worked in my favor. The people at Reel FX were looking for artists with varied styles, so this suited me well!鈥滭/p>

While at Reel FX, she became friends with writer and illustrator, William Joyce, who helped steer her work in the right direction and introduced her to the possibility of making art for children鈥檚 books.

What the Children鈥檚 Book Industry is Like for an Artist

The children鈥檚 book industry has never been stronger. It seems we鈥檙e in a golden age of publishing, where families just can鈥檛 get enough of the thousands of new titles that come out each month.

But what鈥檚 it like for an artist working in this industry?

鈥淚t鈥檚 very competitive, but there are lots of opportunities,鈥 says Erin McGuire. 鈥淚t鈥檚 a great time for children鈥檚 books 鈥 sales are up, and this is one of the fastest-growing areas of publishing right now. It鈥檚 great for artists too, because there鈥檚 a snowball effect 鈥 you鈥檒l do work for one publisher, and this will get picked up by other book publishers and lead to more work.鈥滭/p>

Like many other artists, the average working day can vary quite significantly for Erin McGuire. One day she can be sketching away happily with a mug of coffee to hand and her cat sleeping peacefully by her side. At other times, she can be hunched up over Photoshop and burning the midnight oil to meet a looming deadline.

Jobs can be very slow-moving, so she says it鈥檚 important to keep a steady flow of work going and work on something else in the meantime.

Why Children’s Books Are So Popular

So why does she think the children鈥檚 book industry is so successful?

鈥淥ne theory is the Harry Potter effect,鈥 she explains. 鈥淎ll the kids that bought these books a few years ago grew up and started getting into Twilight etc.

“Then, when they had kids of their own, they passed on their love of books to them. It also helps that there鈥檚 so much talent out there 鈥 it鈥檚 a really exciting times for creatives.鈥滭/p>

But is the success of the children鈥檚 book industry down to innovations in publishing such as the iPad? Erin McGuire doesn鈥檛 think so.

鈥淭he majority of sales are still in paper books,鈥 she says. 鈥淧arents and their kids love sitting down together and turning the pages. It鈥檚 a tried-and-tested format that kids still really enjoy!鈥滭/p>

Listen to this week鈥檚 show and learn:

  • How to聽get your art noticed online
  • Why joining a group can help you make new connections
  • How to deal with self-doubt
  • Why a career as a children’s book illustrator is so rewarding

People on this Episode:


Mentioned in the episode:

Erin on Instagram
Erin on Pinterest

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