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Aurélia Durand wants illustrators to be their own biggest cheerleaders — and charge more

The Illustration Jury President emphasises the importance of knowing how much money you need for your creative practice to thrive

Illustration by Lauren Morsley

Any freelancer knows that while quiet spells between jobs are the ideal time to throw oneself into creative personal projects, it’s not always the chilled, idyllic experience it might appear to be. Paris-based illustrator and D&AD Jury President for Illustration Aurélia Durand certainly isn’t immune to this familiar tension: time to do exactly as you please, tempered while wondering when the next job will come in. With some downtime after a busy 2022 — which saw the publication of her book Dance For Joy: An Illustrated Celebration of Moving to Music, commissions for Google, Warner Bros. and giant artworks covering a public basketball court in Paris — Durand is reflecting on overexposure. Will brands still want to commission her bright, eye catching illustrations after a bumper year? Talking over Zoom from Paris, Durand is clear: “That’s why it’s important to keep experimenting. I'm doing my own personal work so I don't get distracted by those questions!”

Usually Durand works with drawing tablets but this downtime has allowed the chance to experiment with painting. She’s throwing things at the wall with new visuals, colours, characters and canvas sizes, something Durand believes is essential for longevity. “It's important to keep experimenting within your own practice. You can’t just do one thing, it’s not enough. You need to be active, trying to do new things.” Diversifying your creativity helps to bring in more income, but it also opens up new possibilities. Alongside illustration, painting, animation, collage, stickering, murals, teaching and creating a story around her work have all helped progress Durand’s practice. Diversifying your portfolio is key to standing out in a crowded market, but it’s nothing new — Picasso, Basquiet and Warhol were all shapeshifters who understood the power of what we might today call a personal brand. “When you see a Picasso, you see his face. A Basquiat, you see his face. They started this.”

“Right now, brands are interested in who artists are and the meaning behind your work”

“Right now, brands are interested in who artists are and the meaning behind your work. My father is white, my mother is African and I’ve lived in many countries, and I’m trying to convey this in my illustrations.” Durand admits that when she was starting out, she was uncomfortable showing her face alongside her work. But she found her groove when she honed a creative style rooted in her real experiences, something she could be genuinely proud of and wanted to share with people. It took time. “Between the ages of 23-28, I tried many things. You need to live things first to be able to convey your message.”

Durand believes that Instagram, an important tool for her, is a tougher landscape for young artists these days. It can help to grow a following and open that first door to an editorial feature or commission — but there’s a lot of noise to cut through. The challenge, or opportunity, for illustrators is getting out more: “Go to events, meet people, shake hands, introduce yourself, say ‘Hey, I'm doing this,’” For long-lasting professional relationships and finding community, nothing beats meeting in person. Durand is adamant, you have to be your own biggest advocate: “It always works this way. You can’t just work alone and hope for the best. No one is waiting for you.”

“You can’t just work alone and hope for the best. No one is waiting for you”

Durand says for illustrators to effectively advocate for themselves though, they need to know their worth. And a challenge for the industry right now is undercharging, especially on commercial jobs for prestige clients. “Some people are willing to be paid the lowest possible prices to work with big names. It drags down prices and it’s bad for the industry,” Durand says. Undercharging also requires illustrators to forfeit the kind of free, open-ended time that’s essential to a rich, fulfilling creative practice. “Art is about the experiences you have. You need to meet people, listen to stories, go to the cinema and galleries.” For those bigger jobs with hot ticket clients, Durand believes illustrators should “be courageous and ask for way more than you think you can have. They need you to sell their products.” But developing the kind of good working relationships that lead to regular commissions is just as fruitful. For Durand, ultimately it’s about “knowing how you want to live. Do you want to have money to pay for a studio? Do you want to have money to grow your business? For me, I need money to have time. Time to develop my practice. So I can say no to some jobs and have time for myself, for my life, for my interests.”

Durand points out that there’s never been a better time to diversify and build your portfolio, thanks to online courses, tutorials and the chance to watch films and discover new artists and artworks IRL or online. Meanwhile, murals, editorial and illustrations for startups are all ripe areas for illustrators at the moment. But for Durand, one of the most exciting opportunities for illustrators happens to be evergreen: “Observe your obsessions — then make them your practice.”

Written by Stevie Mackenzie-Smith

D&AD Awards 2023 is now open for entries. Download the entry kit and submit your work here. Read more insights from jurors into their corners of the creative industries here.

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