Nate Williams’ Illustration Career Advice

“Technical” may be the last word you’d use to describe illustrator and illustration community leader Nate Williams’ work. But his advice on a career in illustration is relevant to just about anyone with a career in image making.

I first read it shortly after graduating college, and since then I’ve revisited it every few months to re-evaluate my career and hone my efforts. It’s an all-encompassing checklist, covering the subjects of technical skills, style, online and offline marketing, customer service, workflow, creativity and attitude. I think this is a great resource for any illustrator, at any stage in their career.

Illustration Career Advice from Nate Williams

Auto Show Eyecandy

Most people go to auto shows to see the latest bunch of cars they’ll never be able to afford. I go for things like this:

Bugatti Veyron - Máté Petrány

Bugatti Veyron - Máté Petrány

That’s a Bugatti Veyron stripped of it’s panels, and displayed in all it’s glory.

To me, displays like this are the best part of auto shows: the exploded and animated engine, the gutted drive train, the new Mustang that’s been cut in half  so that you can walk between it.  Seeing into everyday objects and learning how they work has always fascinated me.

I’ve also found that auto shows are a great opportunity for photo reference. Not only may you find a gem like this, but you can also observe all the various textures on the car under ideal lighting conditions.

You can see the rest of the pictures over at Jalopnik, here.

Adobe Illustrator – Live Trace


On the few occasions that I have found it useful, I’ve used Live Trace to create vectors from a 1 or 2 color logo that I only had a raster of. It’s not bad at that, though you rarely get a professional print quality output as it’s still hard to get really clean, straight lines and of course it depends on how high of quality your source file is. I have used software at a former job that was proprietary to them and did not have any kind of vector export feature so I would make a .jpg of a technical line drawing in the software and live trace that in illustrator. Results are hit and miss most times and really depend on how much time you want to spend tweaking the settings and how high of quality you want the final output to be.

Like all programs that I’ve ever tried out that promise easy vector conversion, I’ve usually found that I can actually trace it faster myself and get MUCH better quality without a lot more time invested. In every program I have ever seen you could easily spend as much time cleaning up the vector trace as you could drawing it right the first time.

What are your thoughts on the Live Trace feature in Adobe Illustrator? Do you use it? What do you use it for? Have you used other software that works better for vector conversion? Let us know!

Online Portfolio Sites


Whether you already have your own website and domain name to showcase your work, or you’re just getting started building your online presence, there are a myriad of existing free and paid portfolio sites to help you get your work in front of people. Some of these pre-fab portfolios are suitable to stand on their own, while others are great ways to direct an audience to your own website.
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Pricing Technical Illustration

Pricing Technical Illustration

When freelancing as a technical illustrator, deciding what to charge clients can be as delicate and precise an art as technical illustration itself.

Here are three key factors to consider when quoting on a project:

  • How much of my time & resources will the project take, and what is that worth?
  • What is the ‘going rate’? What do other illustrators charge?
  • What will the market bear?

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Design Drawing by Francis Ching

D. K. Ching - Design Drawing

Francis D. K. Ching - Design Drawing

Basic drawing techniques are an essential part of the technical illustrator’s skill toolbox. Design Drawing by Francis D.K. Ching proves to be an invaluable resource; whether it be for perspective drawing, isometrics, or orthographics. It offers a wide range of lessons that slowly allow you to build upon your skills, starting with the theory behind representing three dimensional objects on a two dimensional surface.

As an all-encompassing drawing resource goes, this book has it all. It covers the details of perspective drawing right from the planning stage, explaining how to best represent your object, what angle to choose, how to draw from plan drawings, and so on. Even if you already have a good handle on drawing in perspective, this book still comes in handy as a quick go-to book for those times you get stuck.

Orthographics of a Ducati Monster

Ducati Monster Orthos

The first thing you need when modeling something in 3D (or drawing in perspective from plans) is a good set of orthographics — top, front and side views. Start your search at

There’s a wide variety of cars, trucks, planes, trains, helicopters, motorcycles, ships and even sci-fi vehicles. Quality and size differ from one to the next, but you’re bound to find something interesting to model.

X Wing Orthos

X Wing Orthos

[via Kottke]

Adobe Illustrator Brush Freebie

After spending countless, grueling hours drawing/tracing under hood illustrations used in owners and service manuals I created this handy brush to make all of my wire looms and cables effortlessly.

Adobe Illustrator Cable/Hose/wire loom brush

After dropping the brush file in your presets directory here are a couple tips to help you out. Read More