Hi! When you first graduated, did you manage to find illustration work right away or did it take a while? I just graduated from college and I feel that I need time to rework my portfolio before applying for things....
If your instincts are telling you to take the time and add some new work to your portfolio that you’re more proud of, then I think you should listen to them! Everyone’s path is different and there isn’t a right or wrong answer. Now that you’ve graduated you have the chance to step back and take a fresh look at your work, you’re probably going to have a clearer idea of what your strongest work was, what you need to work harder at, and what you should leave behind. I definitely went through that when I graduated too. As long as you’re able to subsist in the meantime, take whatever amount of time you need to take to make work that you can show to potential clients or employers with confidence and pride — but remember that you’re never going to feel like your portfolio is “perfect”, none of us ever do, and don’t let that discourage you or make you lose the motivation you had during school. It’s also totally okay to show your portfolio around and be actively improving it at the same time. (Just don’t apologize for your old work while you do!)
I don’t know whether your goal is to freelance or find a job, but if you want to freelance, always keep in mind that you are not solely dependent on the elusive callback from a potential client. Your income can come from so many different places, and you can work towards tons of profitable personal projects in the downtime between client work. No projects coming in? Design a stationery set and start an Etsy! Make a pattern collection and shop it around to textile companies! Participate in group shows! Screenprint some tote bags! Take personal commissions! Create a font! Collaborate with a fellow illustrator! Post everything online everywhere until people start noticing you! Do whatever the hell you’re interested in and find a way to make it pay for itself. I know it’s easier said than done, but the most successful illustrators are resourceful and self-motivated, and don’t sit around waiting for jobs to come to them.
You asked about my personal experience so I’ll admit that I’ve been very very lucky. I’ve been freelancing here and there since before I started college, and was working pretty much full time by my senior year, and I’ve never had to really solicit work. I honestly believe that I get more jobs and attention than my work merits, but it doesn’t all fall in my lap either. I’ve been working for almost 10 years, since I was a kid drawing shitty anime fanart, at being very visible online, and I also have a diverse portfolio which leads to lots of different kinds of job opportunities (children’s illustration, technical illustration, typography, patterns, etc) — if my work only functioned as one of these things, I wouldn’t be doing very well. I also don’t think of slow periods as slow periods; I think of them as opportunities to do that personal piece I’ve had in my head, or be in a gallery show, or teach myself to make an animated GIF.
I’m not trying to say that you should be able to do everything under the sun, or even try to. What I’m saying is that you have so many options beyond sending out mailers and waiting for responses, that you are in control of how you spend your time and where your money comes from, and that drawing literally anything at all will move you the littlest bit closer to your goals. And that’s cool, you know? It takes a long time and a lot of work and isn’t easy for anyone and some days when you haven’t slept in 48 hours you’ll want to say fuck it, but eventually you’ll always remember that if you have even a faint chance of making money from sitting at a desk in your own home with a cup of coffee and Bomb the Music Industry on at full volume while you DRAW STUFF, you are already lucky, and it’s worth every bit of work you put into it.
Sorry for being a total sap, goodnight!