The Freelance Creative

Become a Content Creator: Chatting With Expert Illustrator and Graphic Storyteller Zhenia Vasiliev

Illustrations and infographic designs that truly captivate and engage an audience don’t just happen; they require a skill set that can take years of practice to hone. That’s why it can feel like hitting the jackpot when you find an illustrator who understands both the target audience and the client’s unique needs.

Zhenia Vasiliev is a talented illustrator based in Great Britain. For over four years, Vasiliev has been wowing Contently’s clients with his incredible illustrations. His work speaks volumes about his ability to capture attention and create a lasting impact.

We had the pleasure of chatting with Vasiliev to gain insights into his illustration and infographic design expertise. He shared valuable information about his process and best practices and how to become a content creator. Get ready to be inspired as we delve into Vasiliev’s artistic journey and uncover the secrets behind his captivating creations.

Could you provide a quick bio of who you are and your background within the content marketing industry?

Vasiliev: I am an illustrator and information designer passionate about storytelling with simple and bold vector graphics. My career began with local marketing agencies and first kicked off with magazine design at Grazia, a fashion publication, and at TimeOut. Soon enough, I realized, however, that I’d like to get involved with creating images as well as typography and layouts, which led me to pursue an MA in illustration at Kingston University in London.

After completing the degree, I went on to work at The Guardian, where I was mostly doing information design. This allowed me to develop my illustration skills in many different formats, from printed graphics to interactives, animations, and presentation decks. In my next job, I shifted gears a bit and took on the role of creative product lead at a non-profit media organization. Here, I was coordinating the work of a small team of designers and web developers, which expanded my technical knowledge and was great as an experience of leading a team and developing a production strategy.

Right now, I’m focused on illustration, splitting my time between exploring my visual aesthetics and blogging to promote the discourse on illustration as a craft in the context of recent media interest in AI-generated imagery.

What inspired you to become a content creator, and how did you get started?

Vasiliev: My first inspiration came from children’s picture books and cartoons I saw on TV as a kid. Even though I always liked drawing, I wouldn’t say I particularly enjoyed art classes at school. The art classes were mostly watercolors, which were too difficult for me back then and are still too difficult for me now! My very first illustration commissions came from magazines — I got in by simply calling up as many art directors as I could.

Piggybacking off of the previous question: What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out as an illustrator?

Vasiliev: The best advice I had when I was starting as an illustrator was to get a sketchbook and simply draw in it all the time. That took some time to form a habit, but it eventually worked for me. For infographic design, the most important skill is being able to tell stories with data, which is best learned as part of a day-to-day job when dealing with real-world data sets.

In the beginning, quantity is key, just grab whatever comes your way, and fill your portfolio with as many projects as you can. Deliver work strictly on deadlines, and keep up good communication—especially if you are remote—and the clients will keep on coming back.

Follow industry news, but do not spend too much time on it. Social media like Twitter may be a good option because they aggregate information from other sources. Lastly, seek out a mentor—this will boost your confidence and help you rapidly become an industry player.

What is your creative process like when developing new content?

Vasiliev: For both illustrations and infographics, my steps are usually similar. I begin by reading the brief very carefully and compiling a mood board, which is a collection of images that are relevant to each image that I have to produce. Some of them are more content-related, for example, photographs of particular clothing, hairstyles, and postures. Other images are illustrations and graphics that inspire me in terms of style, color, and overall expression. Collecting the references is useful both to me and the client, who can get a feel of what kind of illustrations I have in mind. The second step is the pencil sketches. Sketches are great as a quick means of approving the illustrations and making any changes before committing to color versions. Finally, I proceed to create the final graphics. I always think about vectors when I draw the sketches so that when I get to color and characters—I especially enjoy working with their hands and postures.

How do you balance creating content with other life responsibilities?

Vasiliev: I love spending time with family and friends, traveling, cooking, and getting active with yoga and cycling. Among all the various activities, I like to set up a routine that takes care of day-to-day stuff so that it’s easier to plan the time for more important life events. I use online to-do lists for organizing tasks and a time tracker to keep an eye on how much time I spend on different tasks—see my tools below.

What has been your biggest challenge as a content creator, and how did you overcome it?

Vasiliev: Not going to lie; the biggest challenge for me is self-marketing. Despite knowing how important it is, I find it difficult to be disciplined about things like actively posting my work on social media. I realize, however, that this is a challenge for many creatives because being active on social media is difficult and extremely time-consuming work all by itself, and it tends to pile over the other daily workload. I try to overcome this by thinking of how this process can be simplified. For example, I have discovered that I like populating my Instagram feed with work-in-progress screenshots from my current projects.

What has been your most successful piece of content, and what do you think made it so successful?

Vasiliev: The more successful ones so far have been the two self-initiated projects: ‘The 39 Stats: Charting Hitchcock Obsessions‘ and ‘10 Signs You’re Reading a Gothic Novel‘ infographics. The former got an Information is Beautiful award and made it into a few design blogs—and even print. The latter got picked up in publishing and is now used in educational books. Both infographics were made in collaboration with the author Adam Frost, who is a big Hitchcock fan and an avid gothic novel reader. Looking back, I think what made those pieces successful is precisely the collaborative nature of both projects. No matter how much creative work happens in the individual minds, there is magic in teamwork!

What are some of your favorite content creation tools or resources?

Vasiliev: In terms of tools, I stick to tried and tested Procreate and Adobe Illustrator. For data analysis, I use Google Sheets, and for management, two of my favorites are Jira for organizing tasks and Toggl Track for time tracking. In terms of resources, I usually browse through Dribbble, a social networking platform for digital creatives, when I work on a client project. I also keep a list of my favorite illustrators from the past and the present, whose work I look at regularly while working on my illustrations. They inspire me and make me feel a part of a community of like-minded practitioners. Cartoon Modern by Amid Amidi is my best source of inspiration of all time!

To finish off, what content marketing blogs/newsletters do you read?

Vasiliev: Over the past couple of years, I have been closely following the creatives working in the NFT space, the open-source communities, such as Blender, and the content created with AI tools. Usually, I discover new names and trends on Twitter, Youtube, and podcasts. There are too many to be able to pick just a few! The best answer to this question would be to point you to Moral Economy, the Telegram channel about digital culture, which I run with a few other contributors. I publish there daily, so you’d be able to find all my most up-to-date references.

Do you have an interest in infographic design or want to become a content creator? Take a look at Zhenia Vasiliev’s‘ portfolio—and be sure to subscribe to the Contently blogs: The Content Strategist and the Freelance Creative, and follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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