Top 60 resources for freelance illustrators to learn, get inspired, and connect
No matter where you are in your career, there are three ways to grow: Learn new skills, gain some inspiration, and build your network.
To help, we’ve pulled together the top resources for freelance graphic designers and illustrators. With everything from YouTube channels and online courses to books and conferences, here are some of the best resources for freelance illustrators to advance their career.
Resources to learn
Whether you’re brand new to illustrating or you’ve been at it for a while, there’s always something new you can learn—to improve your craft, develop new skills, set optimal rates for your work, and become a better freelancer on the business side.
Below, we share some of the top courses, books, podcasts, and more for illustrators to learn from.
From formal college degree programs to self-led online courses, there’s a course to help you learn just about any skill, when and how you choose.
If you’re looking for a formal degree, here are a few of the top-rated colleges and universities for illustration and design:
If ad hoc digital learning is more your style, there are thousands of courses out there to choose from. Here are a few of the top learning platforms for creatives, along with our top course picks for the larger platforms.
Society of Visual Storytelling courses
The Society of Visual Storytelling is a resource created by three tenured illustrators with a passion for helping others learn the ins and outs of creating compelling visual stories. Started back in 2012, the community now includes over a hundred courses on everything from illustration techniques to the business of earning a living as an illustrator.
Skillshare is an online course platform designed for creatives. The video-based format works well for illustration-focused learning, and there are tons and tons of options for illustrators—all taught by seasoned creative pros.
- The Style Class: Work Out Your Illustration Style in a Daily Project
- Mastering Illustration: Sketching, Inking & Color Essentials
- Transition Into Illustration: Breaking Into the Industry
CreativeLive is another learning platform dedicated to creative work. The website features thousands of affordable online classes, plus their new livestream classes are 100 percent free.
- Becoming a Working Artist
- Drawing the Everyday Every Day
- Make Things Make Money: The Business of Illustration
While Udemy isn’t exclusively for creatives, it’s a huge learning platform—meaning there are still a bunch of classes available for illustrators. Here are a few of our top picks:
- The Complete Drawing & Painting Illustration Course
- Adobe Illustrator CC for Beginners
- Find Your Digital Illustration Style
Must-read books about illustration
Universal Principles of Design
by Kritina Holden, William Lidwell, and Jill Butler
While an older design manual, Universal Principles of Design is a classic for a reason—walking readers through “125 laws, guidelines, human biases, and general considerations important to successful design."
Illustration That Works: Professional Techniques for Artistic and Commercial Success
by Greg Houston
Houston’s Illustration That Works bridges the gap between artistic education and real world skills, teaching readers everything from illustration essentials to the business of illustration.
by Andrew Loomis
Loomis’ Creative Illustration is the culmination of a wildly successful, decades-long career and several prior books on illustration, including “instructions, tips, insider experiences, and incredible illustrations."
How to Be an Illustrator
by Darrel Rees
One of the most comprehensive and practical reads on our list, How to Be an Illustrator covers everything freelance illustrators need to know, including how to create a portfolio, client management, and finances.
by Lisa Congdon, Meg Mateo Ilasco, and Jonathan Fields
All about the business of earning a comfortable living as a creative, Art Inc. teaches aspiring illustrators how to make money, set goals, and build confidence as an artist.
Picture This: How Pictures Work
by Molly Bang
Bang’s Picture This details the science behind effective illustration and visual storytelling. The book explores how and why visual elements evoke emotional responses, and how illustrators can use their work to elicit emotion.
Podcasts to listen to
3 Point Perspective: The Illustration Podcast
The illustrators behind the Society of Visual Storytelling also publish a regular podcast on all things illustration—how to make art, earn a living, and make an impact.
The Illustration Department Podcast
On The Illustration Department podcast, Giuseppe Castellano talks with a variety of illustrators with careers of every kind and length.
The Women of Illustration Podcast
Hosted by illustrator Dina Rodriguez and her husband, the actionable Women of Illustration podcast aims to help women illustrators “be heard, make art, and get paid."
Make It Then Tell Everybody
A seasoned illustration educator, Dan Berry started Make It Then Tell Everybody by following his passion to learn about how successful comics work, make art, and make a living.
Adventures in Design
The Adventures in Design (AID) community offers a number of podcasts and other shows. From Wake Up Call’s daily dose of inspiration to Shop Talk for freelancers, there’s something for every illustrator.
While not exclusive to illustrators, Jon Sorrentino’s Wellfed podcast explores how a wide variety of creative professionals carve out successful creative careers.
Illustrator awards and recognition
Whether you’re looking for inspiration, top illustrators to learn from—or you’re ready to submit your own work—here are a few of the most talked about awards in the illustration industry:
- The V&A Illustration Awards
- The Association of Illustrators’ World Illustration Awards
- Penguin Student Design Award
- Applied Arts Illustration Awards
- The Caldecott Medal
Resources to get inspired
If your know-how is up to snuff and you just need some inspiration, you’re in the right place! Below, we share the top illustrations of 2021, inspiring illustrators to follow, and top websites to find even more inspiring illustration work.
Our favorite illustrator designs of 2021
Here are some of the illustrations and designs blowing our minds this year:
TIME Magazine’s Person of the Year cover
by Jason Seiler
Jason Seiler’s illustration for TIME’s Person of the Year cover is nothing short of illuminating. We love the digital oil painting approach and the breakdown Seiler shared with Workbook on the process that went into bringing this cover to life.
The Hill We Climb cover illustration
by Jenny Volvoski
After Amanda Gorman’s performance at the Presidential Inauguration, book cover illustrator Jenny Volvoski was tasked with illustrating a super quick cover for Gorman’s forthcoming book. We love the simplicity of Volvoski’s design.
Celebrating the Letter Ñ Google Doodle
Illustrator Min’s Doodle was featured by Google on April 23rd—a day in celebration of the letter Ñ. We love Min’s bold, geometric design and how they integrated typography into all the color. Read a Q&A with Min and see alternate versions of the Doodle on Google.
Inspiring illustrators to follow on YouTube
From inspiration to how-to and tutorials, illustrators on YouTube share it all. Here are some of our favorite illustrator channels.
Sinix Design is one of the most comprehensive illustrator channels on YouTube. With tutorials on everything from anatomy illustration to art theory and digital painting, there’s something for everyone.
Society of Visual Storytelling
The team behind the Society of Visual Storytelling also operate a YouTube channel. In addition to videos for each podcast episode, they also publish Q&A videos with other illustrators, detailed tutorials, and more.
The Draw with Jazza channel features weekly videos, drawing how-tos, and even challenges to get you flexing your illustration muscles.
Jess Engle’s YouTube channel includes illustration lessons, along with videos on the business of freelance illustration—like how to get jobs, what to do when a client doesn’t pay, and more.
Inspiring illustrators to follow on Instagram
On Instagram, Nneka shares finished and published children’s book work, pencil sketches, and even some reimaginings of classic illustrated characters (we love her version of baby Moana).
Gun Karlsson shares a wide variety of work on Instagram, including illustrations done for huge brands like Budweiser, modern digital work, and still-life styled illustrations.
We love Shawna’s bright, almost psychedelic illustration style and how she shares a wide variety of work, from editorial illustrations to this concept work done for one of Nike Live’s NYC stores.
Sarah Alice Rabbit
Sarah’s editorial illustrations are modern, diverse, warm, and bright. Her Instagram is a study in developing your own consistent illustration style. Plus, we love to see the works in progress and alternate versions she shares.
Illustrator Janice Sung showcases a variety of styles on Instagram, most including comic-style character illustrations with a vintage feel. We love to see the sketching videos Janice shares showing her end-to-end process.
We love the electricity in illustrator Juliette Oberndorfer’s work. The dynamic use of color and subtle animation she brings to fantasy-inspired concept illustrations add tons of energy and motion.
Top sites for illustrator design inspiration
Looking for even more inspiration? Check out the websites below to find top illustrations and additional inspiring illustrators you can follow and connect with.
Resources to help you connect
When you’ve got the skills and the inspiration, you’re ready to start making connections and turning your art into paying work. The resources below will help you both connect with like-minded illustrators and artists and find freelance clients.
Illustrator communities and organizations to join
- Adventures in Design
- Corvid Community on Slack
- Wellfed Creatives on Slack
- FreeLance Graphic Designers on LinkedIn
- Designers Talk on LinkedIn
Top illustrator design conferences for 2021 and beyond
- The Association of Illustrators events
- ICON11: The Illustration Conference
- Adobe MAX
- Creative Works Conference
Learn, get inspired, and connect
Whether you’re a seasoned freelance illustrator or a beginner, you have all the resources you need to take the next step in your career. Now, get out there and create!