From my posts, it probably sounds as if we were just given five assignments and that’s it– bam!— you now know how to draw. But this is NOT (entirely) an illustration course, and it’s not as simple as it looks and sounds. Contrary to the course title, it is not just about the physical act of making and drawing. The course goes into a lot of detail about WHAT makes commercial art sellable, what manufacturers look for in buying artwork to put on their products, what steps you can take to not just make great art but HOW to get that art on the market, and how to spot emerging trends so you can act accordingly and ride the trend wave (leading to sales for your work). Personally, I’d say this course is 90% about the business side of art, and 10% making art according to what you learned about the business side of it.
So, given all that, is it worth it then?
For me, a resounding YES.
The two-part course costs £798, or £399 each part. That’s approx. $600 USD, or Php 26,600 for just one part of the course. I signed up for the course (Part B only) earlier this year and if I remember right, I got an early bird discount so I got a few thousand Pesos off the price. It’s still pretty expensive (I gave up a trip outside the country and spent my travel funds on this course instead), but if you’re DEAD SERIOUS about illustration as a career and you know you can make a profit off your work, I think you’ll agree with me when I say that the course price is merely a drop in the bucket in the long run, especially when you consider the value this course brings.
Here is my personal list of things I liked the most about the class and why they’re important:
1. Lilla Rogers
There are a lot of people offering paid online courses these days. Just about anyone can offer paid classes/courses/workshops… so they do just that. Sometimes you wonder what gives them the right to teach a course when they don’t have any relevant credentials/experience/a portfolio to back it up. Haha! (No, really.)
If anyone has the unquestionable right and clout to teach a course like this though, it’s Lilla Rogers. With over three decades of experience as a commercial illustrator (her client list includes Levi’s and The New York Times, among others) and a highly successful agent who’s currently still active and working in the industry, it’s hard to think of anyone else better suited to teach this class.
2. Insights from industry professionals
Most online courses offer you the knowledge and insights of just one person– the teacher teaching the course. That severely limits the information you take in, because you’re only learning about one person’s perspective and their way of doing things. That may not be the most ideal because there are a lot of other ways to learn how to do something.
Lilla gives you several other relevant industry professionals to offer their insights, apart from her own. We’re talking about decision-makers from sought-after companies that put a value on design and illustration, like Land of Nod, Chronicle Books, Anthropologie, Paperchase— companies Lilla Rogers Studio has worked with.
As someone whose list of dream clients includes these companies, I appreciate the peek behind the scenes about how they work, what they’re looking for when they seek out art, and how I can approach them with my work.
3. A wildly talented, diverse group of artists bringing a wide variety of experience and styles to the table
My classmates are mostly female, with ages ranging from mid/late twenties to their fifties (some may be older?). We have fine art painters wanting to branch out to illustration, art directors, graphic designers, artists wanting to get back to making art after their children have grown up, experienced illustrators with high-profile projects already under their belt but want to try something new, and new artists looking to find or refine their style. My classmates are from all over the US, Canada, Europe, Australia, South America. There are a handful of us from Asia. I’m the only one from the Philippines (third world reprezent, yo!).
Lilla gives us all the same assignment. A few days later you see the work pouring in and everyone’s diverse background comes into play, showing how they tackled the given theme in their own different styles (whether it’s painterly, collage, graphic, etc), with ideas added in, concepts you never thought of, and clever executions and perspectives. We get one brief each week, and people turn in 100+ different interpretations of the same brief. Amazing. And the talent! You can either be discouraged and intimidated (very much so) by the amount of talent, or take it as inspiration to do better. Personally, I was both intimidated and inspired 😛
4. The community
Being part of a community of artists that was so supportive and helpful was something I didn’t expect to be “part of the package” when I signed up for the course. All registered course participants have access to a private Facebook group and this group has been extremely helpful for work critiques, industry questions, support, and encouragement. This, for me, is a very valuable “bonus” that makes signing up for the course a hundred times more worth it. Illustration is mostly a solitary career and it helps when you have people with you who understand how the industry works to offer support, advice, and a sounding board.
5. The intense, fast-paced, professional-level assignments
I’ve worked as a graphic designer for the primetime news so I know all about working fast under time pressure, with a producer shouting in your ear because the graphics you’re working on will need to go on live, nationwide television in five minutes. It was stressful, but I did learn to work fast. Working fast means meeting deadlines, which is extremely important in this industry (or any other industry for that matter). It separates the professionals from the amateurs.
“But I’m an artist, I work at a leisurely pace, and when I want to.” If that’s you, then close this browser as this course (and industry) isn’t for you. Illustration is different from fine art. Illustration is problem-solving/storytelling, and making commercial artwork for manufacturers to put on their products to sell. And these all come with deadlines. The assignments in the course go live on Wednesdays, and you have until Sunday to turn them in. That’s FOUR days to get your work done, and with your regular day job / household commitments / needy children thrown in into the chaotic mix. If you can learn to turn in your (professional level) assignment within four days, then you’d have no problem making deadlines in the industry.
The course assignments take a considerable amount of time to finish. I myself heaved a sigh of relief when the course and assignments were over– it meant I could go back to sleeping 8 hours a night.
6. Trend insight and market analysis
I can’t ride the owl trend, a trend that’s still going strong. I’ve considered jumping on the owl bandwagon and sell owl artwork, but owls just doesn’t interest me. And that’s ok. You don’t have to ride on every illustration trend. Lilla teaches you to keep an eye on the market and spot emerging trends before they hit mainstream (big box stores like Target/Walmart). That way you analyze what’s out there, decide which emerging trend speaks to you, and apply it to your work, ahead of everyone else.
And personally, because of Lilla’s insight on trends, weeks after the course I started noticing trends “in the real world” while I was out shopping or malling. Scandinavian art is big, and geometric shapes, too. You see them on posters, store displays, shirts, brochures. Whether here in Manila or in Hong Kong where I was a few weeks ago, the trends were all the same.
7. Conquer that art licensing learning curve
I first heard and learned about art licensing in 2009. Art licensing is granting a client the right to use your artwork on a specific product for a specified amount of time, in exchange for royalties. I started learning all I can about art licensing in early 2013. I read blogs and interviews, listened to podcasts, and downloaded e-books about the subject. There’s a real steep learning curve to this whole art licensing thing, especially since I don’t know anyone in the Philippines who licenses art. Not a lot of people know what art licensing is, even (maybe that’s because local companies don’t give an importance on design and we’re not really into manufacturing). So I have no one to ask.
Research (a lot of it) helps, though. I’ve learned a lot in the past year, and I’m still learning. But if I had taken this course earlier in the year, I would have conquered that learning curve faster and cut down on months of research as some pertinent art licensing insight is presented in this course, on a silver platter.
If all these sound like worthwhile reasons to you and you can see how these will benefit your commercial illustration career, I’d say go ahead and take the course. I personally feel like the course is very much worth it and that I got more than what I paid for. Already there are similar courses popping up online, but it’ll be hard to beat the level of expertise and insight being offered in Lilla Rogers’ course.
Already I feel like my work, post-course, is getting better and stronger. I’ve had people comment on my more recent work, too, and tell me they think they see an improvement as a result from taking the course. I’m excited to start off 2014 armed with the knowledge and insights I gained from the class.
Have you taken the course yourself? What did you think of it? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!