The Freelance Creative

To the Drawing Board: Life as a Freelance Illustrator for The New Yorker

Would-be Art Spiegelmans and Adrian Tomines of the world want to know: What does it take for a freelance illustrator to grace the pages of The New Yorker?

The answer, of course, is the illustrations should be created to mirror the magazine’s usual lineup of thoughtful, concept-driven pieces. The New Yorker is typically published on a weekly basis—meaning turnaround is quick. And once an illustrator receives an assignment from the magazine, he or she may have only a few days to complete it.

After speaking with freelance illustrators who worked for The New Yorker, here’s what they had to say about how the creatives process takes shape.

Think clean

In terms of aesthetic, The New Yorker certainly is known for its unique design sensibilities and typefaces, but for illustrators, there isn’t a steadfast policy. “They don’t have a distinct in-house look that goes across the board,” said illustrator Dan Krall. “But, I gather that they do more with less.”

Though there isn’t a distinct style, it could be said the magazine isn’t generally about rendering. “They have a clean, elegant look,” Krall said. “Mostly shape-driven… I see it working for them because they might have a color theme for a section, and it’s easy for them to put that in.”

The publication has different illustrations that run in print and online: Online illustrations generally earn a flat rate of $200 per piece. Print illustrations might range between $500 and $600, depending on the size.

When working on illustrating a concept, it’s best to keep it simple. “Clarity is the most important thing for The New Yorker,” said freelance illustrator Roman Muradov. In order to illustrate with clarity, he explained elements have to be rearranged to convey a simple message. In Muradov’s illustration for “Freemium Access,” the initial drawing featured a shared newspaper between the five characters. When revising, Muradov replaced the newspaper with a pair of headphones to awkwardly sandwich the characters together. This change emphasized a piece of media being shared, and portrayed a conceptual vision of the article’s theme.

Research, research, research

In order to nail the story’s concept and convey it clearly, Muradov said the best thing to do is to hit the books: “I do unnecessary amounts of research so I can do justice with the piece.” Muradov is echoing the advice other illustrators have for tackling The New Yorker, like Kris Mukai, who has done comics and illustrations for the publication.

“I do so much research for The New Yorker,” Mukai said. “Especially if it’s for a specific cultural event or a film or a band.” For example, Mukai spent hours looking into prints, architectural drawings, and costumes from Renjishi kabuki performances, so her illustration for an article about Kenji Mizoguchi’s films at the Museum of the Moving Image correctly referenced the Showa period in Japan.

What the art director is like

In order to get in touch with Jordan Awan, the magazine’s art director for illustration, most freelancers send out cold emails—Agency Access is a good general resource for an art director’s contact information—and correctly addressed promotional materials. In Mukai’s case, however, she worked as an intern before landing an assignment. The New Yorker doesn’t accept illustrator pitches and instead looks for styles that may work for certain stories and their design aesthetic.

“We’ll have a discussion about ideas, but [Awan is] always open to things I come up with,” Krall added. “I try to get him two or three sketches if I can, and we’ll discuss the one that he likes.” Krall also mentioned working with Awan involves a general discussion about each potential piece, followed by helpful feedback and suggestions. If revisions are needed, illustrators usually are expected to complete them within a couple hours to a day after the request.

“Having something from The New Yorker is a treat,” Muradov said. “You get to read an interesting article and work with a great art director. It’s more of a collaboration than just selling your style.”

Image via Maureen McLaughlin

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