Helping Illustrators Work: Interview with Hire An Illustrator founder Darren Di Lieto

If you are a freelance illustrator who wants to build your reputation by working on exciting new projects, you’ll probably know just how hard this is to achieve. With so many talented illustrators out there, it’s a great challenge to find your own audience, define your style, and most importantly – attract clients. Fortunately websites like Hire an Illustrator and The Little Chimp Society can play a crucial role in improving your chances of getting noticed and being approached to work on new creative projects.

Curious to learn more about these two online platforms for illustrators, we got in touch with their founder and lead creator – Darren Di Lieto. Here is what Darren shared with us about the illustration scene and his passion to improve the services on offer for all freelance creatives…

Darren Di Lieto1. Tell us more about the two big projects you’re involved in – Hire an Illustrator and The Little Chimp Society – when and how did you start them, what is their purpose, etc.

Hire an Illustrator and The Little Chimp Society are more than projects themselves. The LCS is an outlet for us to run art projects and HAI is a member-based community. I started the LCS in 2006 and HAI less than a year after that. The LCS is loose and free, enabling us to try out new things and take chances, while HAI’s primary purpose is to support freelance illustrators professionally and to connect them with clients. They were relatively easy to start, it was making them a success that took a lot of commitment and hard work.

Hire an Illustrator logo

2. What made you start these websites? Do you work on them full-time and if not – what other job(s) do you have?

I work full time on HAI and give 99% of my spare time to the LCS, so essentially I have two full time jobs. I also take on the occasional web design or programming job along with 24/7 email support for the clients of LCS hosting (one of many LCS projects). I’m kept pretty busy.

3. Tell us more about yourself – what boosted your interest in illustration, do you do illustration work personally?

I’ve always had a passion for illustration and I trained as a graphic designer, specialising in illustration. It wasn’t until I was actually out in the real world that I discovered CSS, PHP and data driven websites. That was when things really started to fall into place. Although I work in code, everything I do is still related to illustration and most of the job is actually good communication and keeping organised.

Hire an Illustrator

The Hire an Illustrator website

4. What do you think the advantages of illustration education are?

A good education is very important and having a solid foundation when it comes to actively working in any profession is essential. When you’re training, you get to mix with other like minded people, plus the lecturers tend to really know their stuff, which is inspiring. Going to college, university or even taking a short course can give you the drive you need to succeed. You do need to realise, though, education is only a stepping stone. To get the most out of your education, you always need to be thinking about what you’re going to do next, how you will earn a living out of what you’ve learnt.

Little Chimp Society logo

5. What are the biggest struggles of managing two big illustration websites?

I find the biggest struggle is allowing them both to have their own independent voices, without too much cross contamination. Obviously, it makes sense for them to be talking about the same thing on the odd occasion; they are both illustration websites. And currently, the LCS is running a project called Showcase 100 exclusively for members of HAI. Showcase 100 (or SC100) will have an exhibition in London (April 2015) and a publication that features 100 fabulous illustrations, along with sketches and descriptions.

I’m very proud of both sites (businesses), they both do what they’re supposed to do and they’re constantly growing and changing. HAI finds work for its members and offers them a safety net of advice and support, while the LCS continues to push the envelope (pun intended) with projects like Mail Me Art and, more recently, Secret Self.

I’ve been doing this for almost 10 years now and I’ve still not really figured out how to explain to people what I do for a living. I’ve got a few labels, but most of them don’t really do it justice. Not having a title actually bugs me more than not having a 9 to 5 schedule.

Little Chimp Society The Little Chimp Society website

6. How does a “day in the life of Darren” go?

Coffee, toast, support emails, job requests, general emails, post office, social networking, coffee, web and sever maintenance, emails, check to-do list, send lots of emails, business meeting, social networking… Lunch, web and design work, emails, social networking… Dinner, support emails. Put devices on charge!

I work from home most of the time, but due to the nature of my work I also work from coffee shops on my laptop or while traveling to meetings. That is unless the client is over the pond, in which case I’ll talk to them via Skype. Headphones, a good playlist and a bit of regular exercise is what gets me through the day. Each day tends to have its new and interesting challenges, plus I’m always working on and developing new projects, sometimes years in advance.

7. How does the illustration scene look from your perspective?

It’s changed a lot in the last decade. When I first started doing what I do, Facebook was only a year old and Twitter hadn’t been created yet. Suppliers and publishers used to have more control of the market, now everyone is creating their own products or self-publishing. It’s not a bad thing that things have moved on, it’s just that for freelancers this means they need to adapt if they want to survive. Many of the old clients are gone, or budgets have been so squeezed you need to look outside the box to find those new revenue streams. It may seem scary, but the illustration market is alive and as strong as it’s ever been. The self-employed don’t need to work more to earn the same incomes, they need to work smarter. I’ve seen some really good examples of this from illustrators who have a good grasp of rights management.

Mail me art

Mail Me Art project

8. What do you regard as your biggest success so far? What about a success story from one of your websites?

I’m still here! … The LCS with Mail Me Art has made the biggest splash, if you’re counting press coverage, but I consider seeing our HAI members hooking up with high profile clients, as a result of us recommending them for a project, to be our biggest success.

9. Who is your favourite illustrator? Why?

Do I have to name just one? There are so many people who’s work I admire! I’ve interviewed dozens of amazing illustrators via the LCS and they’re all brilliant people, along with being very talented. My favourite used to be James Jean, with a soft spot for Bob Staake. Now I’m fascinated by Paul Kidby’s work, but would jump ship to see an exhibition of the work of 2000AD artist Jock. I also hold Colin Johnson, Dan May and Michael Slack in high regard. Most of them are artists, though, and not primarily commercial illustrators. My favourite illustrator for 2015 is… You’ll have to wait until I announce the winner of the Little Chimp Award in April.

Mail me artMail Me Art project

10. How do you see the future of your websites? What are your ambitions for them?

We’re looking to update the Hire an Illustrator website in the next few months with some big improvements and added benefits for our members. Not that we ever stop making improvements, but this will be a big update, with member-generated pricing advice on our list. With The Little Chimp Society we’re looking to keep adding new projects while continuing to work on our current properties and increasing the value of the LCS brand. It’s also been talked about many times, but we’d like to produce some LCS merchandise (it has to feel right) and publish some third party books and zines. The only problem is, all of the Little Chimp’s time is currently taken up with its own self-generated projects, but you never know what the future holds.

Mail me art book

Mail Me Art project

11. If you had to give one piece of advice to up and coming illustrators, what would it be?

If illustration isn’t an obsession, give up now! Look at any artist or illustrator who’s been working consistently for the last 20 or so years… Their work is amazing and it’s obvious they’re totally committed to what they do. It’s easy to say you’re an illustrator, but it takes blood and tears to actually be one.


One thought on “Helping Illustrators Work: Interview with Hire An Illustrator founder Darren Di Lieto

  1. Brilliant Interview. Particularly Q7 which gives an integral honest insight. Thanks for sharing.
    As suppliers and publishers have had to adapt and loosen their control over what gets seen in the marketplace. Individuals can shine and I have seen amazing examples of independent projects over the last few years emerge ! And as always, quality and original content will always prevail. The world is big enough for us all, when we share.

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