Columns / Creativity

Navigating the Labyrinth

Lisa   L. Cyr
For illustrators, the road ahead presents many challenges. A persistently uncertain economic climate has changed the playing field, forever altering the competitive landscape and significantly diminishing the traditional role of the freelance illustrator. To penetrate the instability in the marketplace and remain viable for the long term, illustrators must take a more active, forward-thinking, leadership role. They need to become more entrepreneurial, looking outside traditional venues to discover alternative markets for their work to move, grow and flourish.

AUTHENTIC VOICE & VISIONTo navigate and find their way through the complex, global labyrinth, illustrators need to look inside themselves to discover their authentic voice and vision. Clarity, insight and understanding unfold the map, revealing the true pathway in which to follow. Creative self-evaluation and definition require honest and deep introspection, with an ongoing commitment to the process of staying true to the soul of one’s work. Artistic self-awareness generates a personal, meaningful and vital connection between the illustrator, the work and the market, building a foundation that will not only cultivate artistic distinction, but also sustain market viability throughout the creative lifetime of an artist.


By embracing entrepreneurial thinking and promotional innovation, illustrators not only create a breeding ground for imaginative and thought-provoking artistic content, but also open the doorway to a global communications presence that penetrates a marketplace on many fronts. As inventors, managers and promoters of their own intellectual properties, illustrators hold the map to the labyrinth.

For illustrators to effectively assert their unique voice and vision, they must adopt a brand-savvy, globally-aware, multimedia strategy that crosses platforms, markets and disciplines. To survive, they can no longer afford to limit themselves to the traditional venues. Illustrators need to explore untapped territory that expands past the boundaries of commercial illustration, seeking outlets in authorship, animation, film, video, TV, merchandising, gaming, design and the fine arts. As multidisciplinary content creators, artists open the door to new opportunities in which to fuel their passion, energy and work ethic. No longer limited to visually translating and promoting someone else’s content, illustrators can take control of the overall direction of their work, gaining creative independence where they don’t need to rely on an intermediary to drive their futures.

To jumpstart a self-initiated project, entrepreneurial illustrators are looking to Kickstarter.com. For a nominal percentage, the site offers the opportunity for interested parties to financially back an artist’s prospective project. Illustrators are completely in charge of their creative endeavor, from setting the goals, establishing the funding requirements and developing the deadlines. Fans, friends and interested investors can pledge a small or substantial amount to kick start a creative project. Once the endeavor has reached its financial goal, the pledges are collected and the illustrator is committed to produce the project by the set deadline. There has been some amazing creative and imaginative work put out into the culture as a result of this venue.

ENGAGING COMMUNICATIONSTo communicate with key market players, illustrators are developing signature promotions that are engaging and thought-provoking, creating a custom-tailored experience across multimedia platforms. To establish a long-term, lasting connection with a targeted audience, promotional endeavors must be not only brand aware but also very market savvy, speaking to an audience in ways that they value and respond to. Initiatives need to instantly grab the recipient’s attention, motivating them to look further and participate in the overall brand messaging. An effective promotional endeavor communicates an artist’s creative personality in a way that is distinctive and memorable to an audience who is engaged and eager to listen.

Print promotions are boasting alternative formats, unique constructions, unconventional surfaces, custom bindery, clever die-cuts and engaging add-ons, creating active interaction and participation with a promotional message. The custom architectural aspects of a signature print initiative make it one-of-a-kind, standing out from a sea of mediocrity that only seems to find its way into the circular files instead of the coveted active files of prospective buyers.

With high-quality, custom printing available through desktop technology, many signature promotions can be cost-effectively produced in-house using inkjet printing on both porous and nonporous surfaces. They can also be outsourced by utilizing the on-demand services of digital printing companies such as Lulu.com or Blurb.com. Print-on-demand allows illustrators to produce only what they need at any given time without the financial burden of printing a large run.

As a way to create a bridge between the print and online environments, illustrators are utilizing quick response (QR) codes. Employed in print materials, QR codes allow instant access to web-based, audiovisual enhancements such as interactive landing pages, bonus materials, gaming components and other supportive promotional elements online, each engaging and entertaining an audience on many fronts. The QR code featured in this article links to a video book trailer (cyrstudio.com/workasplay.html) for my book Experimental Painting. The monetized trailer has been embedded from YouTube onto my site, my publisher’s landing page for the book, many industry association sites and every promotional venue that advertises my book and associated online and on-ground workshops, lectures and webinars. It has also been shared through-out the industry via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social networking sites. The video is also featured on my monetized blog Confessions of a Mixed Media Artist (lisalcyr.blogspot.com). In addition to bringing global attention to my fantasy-based, mixed-media work, the print and e-book, video trailer, associated webinars and workshops, publisher’s landing page with bonus materials and my blog cumulatively serve as a brand-building promotional initiative that also generates income through book sales, print and online magazine article licensing of the content and work-shop, lecture and speaking engagements, as well as other opportunities.


To bridge the print and online promotional environments, this QR code links to a monetized video book trailer (cyrstudio.com/workasplay.html) that promotes my recent book Experimental Painting.

MULTIMEDIA STRATEGYOffering sound, motion and interactive elements, the Internet provides an exciting array of promotional venues and presentational outlets for illustrators to share their artistic vision. From portfolio-based websites, animated slide presentations, electronic books, online magazines and blogs to podcast interviews, video biographies and step-by-step process demonstrations, artists can cost-effectively communicate with a worldwide audience almost instantaneously. With the employment of social media, syndication opportunities through RSS newsfeeds and online sharing create the potential for promotional initiatives to go viral. With social networking sites, artists can successfully build their fan base by cultivating a vibrant and robust community that spans continents, strengthening brand recognition and market value over time.

In addition, many online venues, such as Google AdSense, offer monetization opportunities by hosting ads, banners and the like within creator-owned content on a blog, video or website. This allows artists to capitalize on the online traffic gained through their ongoing promotional efforts. As content creators, illustrators can also participate in corporate affiliate programs that offer a percentage from purchases made on an affiliate site that is either hosted by or directed from an illustrator’s site. Affiliate programs are available through a vast array of online retailers, from known booksellers like Amazon to art supply dealers like Dick Blick. Through a dynamic presence on the web, illustrators are discovering unique opportunities for not only promoting their work, but also funding their projects and initiatives with subsidiary income generated by their ongoing promotional efforts.

To have a rich and rewarding career for the long term, illustrators must venture out from the traditional nomenclature in search of new ground to stake their claim. By embracing entrepreneurial thinking and promotional innovation, they not only create a breeding ground for imaginative and thought-provoking artistic content, but also open the doorway to a global communications presence that penetrates a marketplace on many fronts. For those that are willing to forge the new frontier, there is a unique opportunity to make a lasting mark on the world. As inventors, managers and promoters of their own intellectual properties, illustrators hold the map to the labyrinth. ca

© 2013 Lisa L. Cyr, Cyr Studio LLC, cyrstudio.com

Lisa L. Cyr is an accomplished author and multidisciplinary artist with a content-driven focus. Her books, Innovative Promotions That Work, The Art of Promotion, The Little Book of Big Promotions, Brochure Design That Works and Graphic Design That Works (Rockport Publishers), feature top national and international promotional work with sidebars that go beyond the basics to explore strategic and innovative thinking. A graduate from The Massachusetts College of Art (BFA) and Syracuse University (MA), Cyr’s artistic oeuvre has been exhibited both nationally and internationally in museums, galleries and universities. Her work is also included in the permanent collection of the Museum of American Illustration as well as private collections. She is an artist member of the Society of Illustrators in New York City and works in partnership with her husband Christopher Short, painter and 3-D illustrator.

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