5.2 Self directed projects

The purpose of this exercise was to research other illustrator’s self directed projects in order to understand the kind of brief they would have set themselves.

Key words from the brief:

  • Find other examples of self-directed projects set by illustrators.
  • What sort of brief did they set themselves?


A description of the use and importance of self-directed projects can be found in A Companion Guide to Illustration: Art and Theory (Male 2019). “Illustrator Jessica Hische describes a method of naming to inform her studio practice. She coined the term “procrastiworking” to embrace the idea of doing what you want to do as an illustrator. She popularised the term “side projects” or self-directed projects an illustrator does while working on paying projects.The act of naming is powerful and a new project becomes a source of inspiration to motivate her overall studio practice”.

Wylie Beckert has a more specific definition in her blog The Art of Self Directed Project: “A self-directed project is more than just personal work; rather, it’s a focused, coherent body of work with a specific purpose and, even more importantly, a plan”

I used the internet to find three interesting examples of illustrators that use self-directed projects as part of their practice:

  1. Wylie Beckert
  2. Michael Parkin
  3. Jessica Hische

Wylie Beckert

Wylie Beckert was born in 1987 in Boston, Massachusetts. She currently works as a freelance illustrator creating book covers, advertising illustrations and fine art for a range of clients.

Her blog article The Art of Self Directed Project describes in detail her project to illustrate a deck of cards in a project called The Wicked Kingdom. Her insights, lessons and motivations are instructive.

What is the project?

To produce an illustrated poker pack: twelve face cards, four aces, two jokers, a card back, and a package design.

Wylie Beckert pack of card designs
Fig 1 – The Wicked Kingdom deck

What was brief?

  • To prove her work could be marketable
  • To produce a coherent body of work with a clear purpose
  • Create a body of work from which to draw new content
  • To generate income
  • Taylor a project to her own strengths and interests
  • It had to be sustainable so was a balance between comfort and challenge
  • To appeal to her existing fans in the fantasy art community
  • To attract new followers/customers by adapting the artwork into the universally-palatable format of a card deck
  • Finish the project in 12-months (assuming completion of 2-paintings a month)

Michael Parkin

Michael Parkin is a London based freelance illustrator. This example is very simple but has proven to be an effective way to generate new work/clients.

What is the project?

  • To produce fun mock-magazines to send out to Art Directors, to introduce myself and my illustration.
Michael Parkin magazine covers
Fig 2 – Mock magazines

What was brief?

  • Self marketing promotional items to showcase illustrations in a fun and different way
  • Produce one or two mini-mags a year
  • Print a small run of 50-75 copies

Jessica Hische

Jessica Hische is a letterer and illustrator who works in New York.

What is the project?

  • Daily Drop Cap is website of hand drawn letter that are free to use for personal (non-commercial) sites and blogs.
  • The objective is to prettify the internet and beautify your blog posts.
  • The site has been running since 2009.
  • The website is here: http://www.dailydropcap.com/ 


Jessica Hische H-3
Fig 3 – H

What was the brief?

  • To post a new letter every day.
  • To be a showcase for work, encourage self-promotion and gain new clients.
  • To make interesting work.

Advice on starting a self-directed project

The following information was extracted from the articles and interviews I read as part of my research. These are the criteria I will refer to for my own self-directed projects.

  • How do you answer the questions, “What should I do?”. Imagine the perfect commision appearing in your inbox.
  • If you’re just starting out, steer clear of huge, sprawling projects; since your style and skill set are still evolving.
  • Warning for long projects: Your best work now may look clumsy alongside your best work a year from now, making it harder to create a cohesive collection of work.
  • Choose a small project first to use as a prototype and learn lessons.
  • Manage the project yourself – to learn lessons before using 3rd party services.
  • Research the technical aspects of production and fulfillment early on.
  • Finding ways to monetise the product you’re creating is crucial if you’re hoping to eventually supplant some of your client work.
  • Some options could be:
    • Online shop – prints, original artwork
    • Online art tutorials
  • Use social media to boost visibility and generate followers who might become future backers for a kickstarter campaign.
  • Look at the successful self-directed projects of artists that have gone before you.
  • Make sure there’s more in it for you than just the dream of cash in your pocket.
  • Strive for a goal that’s personally meaningful.

Useful links



There is a lot of helpful information and lessons to be learned through looking at how and why other illustrators do self-directed projects.


Male, Alan A Companion Guide to Illustration: Art and Theory (2019) New York: John Wiley & Sons Inc

Beckert, Wylie The Art of the self-directed project At: https://www.wyliebeckert.com/?show=process-selfdirected (Accessed 10.04.20)

List of illustrations

Figure 1 – Beckert, Wylie The Wicked Kingdom deck At: https://www.wyliebeckert.com/?show=process-selfdirected (Accessed: 10.04.20)

Figure 2 – Parkin, Michael Mock magazines At: https://folioart.co.uk/starting-out-in-illustration/ (Accessed: 10.04.20)

Figure 3 – Hische, Jessica At: http://www.dailydropcap.com/about (Accessed: 10.04.20)

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