9-Square Self Audit for Illustrators

I love listening to podcasts and audio books while illustrating, they really help to keep me focused on my work. Today I listened to a new podcast by SVSLearn called 3 Point Perspective: The Illustration Podcast. In the first episode, Will Terry described his 9-square self audit activity for illustrators which goes a little like this:

  • Study the published things in the realm that you want to go in, and have the “right heroes”
  • Pick 8 top illustrators, who are getting their work published, by the big publishers, i.e. Harper Collins, Random House, Scholastic, etc.
  • Make a 9 Square grid. Put your best piece in the middle and surround it with a piece from those 8 illustrators that you admire
  • Identify what you like about it. Don’t just say, “I love this!”, you need to verbalize specific things that you love about their work, create a specific list, and write it down. These are the things that you need to work on incorporating into your work.
  • Hang the list by your desk in order to remember these principles and to try to incorporate them.

I was intrigued and inspired, so I decided to give the activity a go. You can see my 9-square grid below. 

Art vs Illustration Heroes.png

In the center is one of my illustrations for Max the Mighty (Josey Hurley, Little Steps Publishing). I'm not sure if it's my 'best' illustration, but it is one that I like. Then from top-left and working around clockwise, there is work by Oliver Jeffers, Gus Gordon, Shaun Tan, Lee White, Laura Woods, Anna Walker, Beatrix Potter (one of many historical illustrators I love) and Dan Santat. 

I haven't completed the rest of the exercise yet, (I want to take some time to do it properly), but already I can see some sharp differences between my own work, and the work of those that I admire and wish I could be like "when I grow up". 

One of the difficulties for me is that I was originally asked to illustrate my first children's book digitally, and this has meant that as this is the work that now resides in my portfolio, this is the work I am continually hired to do. I am not complaining! But it does mean that should I wish to use a different style (my heart belongs to watercolour illustration), I need to take time to work on those illustrations and put them in my portfolio. You are only hired for the work that others can see. 

I wanted to share this with you as I felt it's a fantastic task for illustrators that is incredibly simple, yet powerful (seriously, check out the podcast and read the accompanying episode notes). I hope it's useful to you also. Time to get back to work!