12 design tips from successful women illustrators

It’s women’s history month — a great time to celebrate female achievement in graphic design. The ladies of the contemporary illustration world have a lot of experience these days, and are ready to share it.

Here’s a collection of quotes we’ve found particularly useful, on everything from developing technique and finding inspiration to managing work/life balance – from some of our favorite ladies designing today.

Famous women illustrators
Featured work (left to right): Leanne Shapton, Jessica Hische, Hannah Stouffer

“There’s this quote that goes, ‘If you’re not doing something embarrassing, you’re not doing anything worthwhile.’ I had to remind myself of this recently, working through some stuff and it’s really valuable. It actually does make sense, you have to put yourself out there and be prepared to feel vulnerable. Exposure is part of our immune system, it’s necessary, it’s how we grow, how we get stronger.”

– Leanne Shapton for Rookie Mag

“As a designer, you need to figure out a process that lets you work through the good ideas and bad ideas in a rough exploratory way. I love doing verbal ideation before visual ideation—making word association lists and letting my mind wander. The more I do this in the early stages of a project the easier it is for me to come up with something unique.”

– Jessica Hische for designboom

“The majority of my work is also just becoming a meditative process, and is more about that for me, the meditation that I achieve while working. Of course, I’m creating with common themes in mind, but usually I’m just working to work. I highly recommend letting your practice fully consume you, then going out for drinks after.”

– Hannah Stouffer for Hi Fructose

Famous women illustrators
Featured work (left to right): Dana Tanamachi, Johanna Basford, Olimpia Zagnoli

My personal advice for young artists/designers is to start building a collection of resources and inspiration that is not from the internet. Step away from the computer. Go to the library, bookstore, vintage shop or flea market and have a browse. Make a nice afternoon of it. Find something that speaks to you — you’ll know when you find it!”

– Dana Tanamachi for Design*Sponge

“Admittedly client work will always take precedent, but if you are canny at managing your time it’s possible to fit it in. I don’t pay for advertising, printed mailers or have an agent, instead I rely on promo projects to sell my skills and win me new clients. That fact alone is a pretty good motivator.”

– Johanna Basford for DigitalArts

“Be different. Keep your eyes open. Record everything you see, process it, and then spit it back out in your own very personal way. Get inspired by something that’s not just illustration. Be serious. Be silly. Get drunk sometimes. Dream a lot. Don’t think you can’t do it, because you can.”

– Olimpia Zagnoli for The Great Discontent

Famous women illustrators
Featured work (left to right): Helena Perez-Garcia, Lotta Nieminen, Isabelle Arsenault

“It’s essential to have a strong portfolio and a professional website to showcase your work. These will be your main tools to contact the right clients where your style and work would fit.”

– Helena Perez-Garcia for Jung Katz

“On my deathbed, I hope I’ve worked less and spent more time eating dinner with friends, seeing my family, talking with my grandparents. Rarely do people think, ‘I wish I would have worked more.'”

– Lotta Nieminen for The Great Discontent

“I like to experiment with techniques and explore the possible visuals for every specific book I’m working on.  I also have a tendency to play with colors and oppose them to grayscale tones in my everyday work.”

– Isabelle Arsenault for Perogies and Gyoza

Famous women illustrators
Featured work (left to right): Malika Favre, Marion Deuchars, Kris Mukai

“In order to own a style, its origin must be genuine. Whether drawing is an outlet for something deeper and unexpressed or a reflection of your perception of the world, it has to come from a personal place.

We all get influenced by blogs and other illustrators – visual tricks and techniques – but what we love is not always who we are – sometimes quite the opposite. So don’t overfeed on other people’s work and try to find influences in domains that have nothing to do with illustration.”

– Malika Favre for Kuvva

“By being influenced by an artist’s technique, you create an entry into making your own pictures. It is a great way of overcoming the fear of the blank sheet of paper, taking you out of your comfort zone and habits.”

– Marion Deuchars for It’s Nice That

“There seems to be an idea that if you have a part-time job, or don’t work full-time as an artist, it somehow makes you less of a real illustrator or real artist. Why is that? Yes, it is difficult to balance a day job and freelance at the same time, but non-illustration work experience is extremely valuable.”

– Kris Mukai for AV Club

What’s your favorite quote from famous woman illustrator? Share it in the comments!

The author

Kaitlyn Ellison
Kaitlyn Ellison

Kaitlyn is part of the Community Team at 99designs.com. She grew up in Boulder, CO and went to school at Northwestern University in Chicago. When she's not blogging, she spends her time having adventures and being generally creative. She's all about having new experiences as often as possible!

Related articles

The amazing stylistic history of comic books

The amazing stylistic history of comic books

In a time when audiences were racing in droves to catch the latest talkie and hand-drawn animation was just finding its legs, a new medium brought kids (and adults, let’s be honest) back to reading. Comic books began as a dime-store novelty, and since then, they have gone through countless transformations, artistic explorations, public excises,…

The surreal and stylized illustrations of Kuziola

The surreal and stylized illustrations of Kuziola

Andrzej Kuziola is a full-time, self-taught artist who joined 99designs to explore new creative challenges and experiences. We first discovered him when he was nominated—and then won—our first 99awards competition this year with his stunning illustration for a fantasy novel. Born in Poland and now residing in the United Kingdom, Kuziola began his career as a dentist…

Is this the year of illustration?

Is this the year of illustration?

Illustration dates back long before the invention of writing. We are talking cave painting—Lascaux and Altamira to be precise. With at least 40,000 years of history, it seems clear that human beings (irrespective of culture or background) have a deep and abiding connection with the illustrated image. While writing was often a tool for the elite, for…

Current Design Contests

Designers, check out these contests so you can start building your career.