Story in Colors represented what Nina Podlesnyak was always going to do. But on her way to becoming an illustrator, crafting children’s book illustrations, she had to start as the software engineer she thought she was meant to be. Because growing up in Russia, where art and design were not highly paid or looked at as careers, it meant that software became her safe and conservative choice.
When I was in high school, becoming an artist was not an option for me. I was guided to chose a ‘serious’ profession. Mathematics was something I enjoyed, so I ended up attending a university that specialized in math.
She eventually graduated and took an boring office job. Nina toiled away at her career for a few years, but could not let go of the idea that she was meant to be more creative and expressive. She would doodle and draw in between work and raising a family.
One day, after an unusually frustrating project, it occurred to her that she needed to make a change. She finally made the leap, leaving her office job behind, and instead becoming a freelancer. Her creative side demanded it. And so, Story in Colors was born. As a result, she has now been a successful illustrator for over four years.
Illustration is my passion and drawing has always called to me.
Nina Podlesnyak, Illustrator and entrepreneur - Story in Colors
The business of children’s book illustrations
It’s one thing to be passionate about your work and another when you have to do it for others. Pricing is one of the most stressful things about the business of children’s book illustrations. Asking too much may cause a client to walk away, but asking too little will mean possibly working more for less. As a creative, this one is hard to grapple with, since you really just want to do what you love.
You would think that finding an agent or rep for your work would be the best way to go. Why not let someone else handle the negotiations on your behalf? But agents are also in the business of making money. And they tend to favor taking on illustrators who already have established themselves.
And as with most things, there are pros and cons in terms of working with illustration agents. The lure of larger fees, publishing deals, and relinquishing the hassle of negotiation while getting exposure to bigger clients becomes compelling. But being represented costs money, since they take a cut on nearly everything you do. And that’s fine, as long as they are working hard on your behalf. But they aren’t just focused on just you, which means that they are spread between numerous other clients end engagements. Nina is currently freelancing without an illustration agent.
I still struggle occasionally in terms of finding the right clients. I’m adjusting as I’m learning and growing, but I’m doing this on my terms and it feels right.
The right clients for Story in Colors
Nina has found that there are a lot of clients who just want children’s book illustrationsat the lowest possible cost. Sometimes, illustrators take on every job, whether the price is fair or not. They reason that, the more work they do, the more exposure they might receive. But ultimately, selecting the right client is much more important than exposure in the long run.
For me, the right client is the one who has passion; a passion for their book and project. They come to me not because of price, but because they believe I’m the right fit for the project. They’re confident that I have the ability to help fulfill their vision.
There is no question that it’s tricky. Her advice to illustrators starting out is to test the waters.
If clients are often rejecting your fees, it means you’re probably overbidding and need to adjust your pricing. But on the other hand, if clients are eager to say yes without any negotiation, you might be underbidding your work. The best place to be is somewhere in-between. I feel I’ve succeeded, when people come to me because they want my style, not just low-cost illustrations.
It’s clear that budgets will vary, depending on the client. And sometimes, it might be worth it to take on a challenging project because of the learning aspect. Now, Nina has enough experience under her belt to be able to determine whether a client is a good fit or not. But she will still struggle sometimes, and that’s normal. However, the decision to take on a client or not is getting easier all of the time.
There are a lot of advantages for freelancing, especially when you have three children like Nina does. She loves being able to work from home, set her own schedule and take advantage of holidays. She admitted that with children, being an artist is a lot easier than working a software engineer.
In the beginning, when she was starting out, having little ones running around was challenging. Trying to create a balance between work and life seemed futile. Now, however, she feels that there’s much more of a balance.
Every day is a new adventure. I love sharing stories through images. It represents my vision of the world around us.
Nina has illustrated several books for self-publishing authors. Currently, she has one that is almost published with two more in process. She’s also working on her own series of stories with characters she developed.
I’m creating my own world with animal characters, which brings me so much joy. I hope to eventually share many of these stories with everyone!
Her advice to those illustrators starting out is to just put yourself out there.
When you consistently practice your craft, your unique style will emerge. And those skills will only get better with time. As for working with clients, you’ll get familiar with this as well. Eventually, you become comfortable with doing certain kinds of work. Yes, there might times when you question everything and wonder if you should even be in the business of illustration. But if it feels right, it is right.
Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.