My Never, Ever List by Lisa Graves

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My Never, Ever List by Lisa Graves

My own personal top five list of things you should NEVER EVER do as an illustrator.

5. Never, ever, ever agree to work for stuff like cigarettes. Newsflash- they’re really bad for you (who knew!?). Work for something more useful, like a set of All-clad LTD pots, an open tab at a local watering hole, cheese, or my favorite – wine. Working in trade is exceptionally beneficial to illustrators – many of us have very little overhead- wink wink- who’s really making out here? Time is money, but it can also be a Cabernet! But really, if you have to work for trade, be sure to come up with a fair value for your work and get the equivalent in trade in return. Maybe more. I mean, stores and restaurants have mark-ups so in the end it costs them less money in cheese than your bill.

4. Never burn a bridge. I know sometimes you really, really want to, and you’d do it in style- douse it in gasoline, duct tape fireworks to it and light up the sky like it’s the 4th of July. But make sure you realize you can never go back there again. Ever. Even if, say, ten years from now, you’re desperate for work and decide to go back into that extremely small industry and the potential employer just had lunch with that, uh, “bridge”… Old Walt is right: It’s a small, small world.

3. Never let yourself have a vague idea of what you’re worth. Know what your hourly rate is going to be before you get on the phone with a new client- write it down so that when you’re mid-conversation you don’t totally wimp out and feel bad for them because they have no budget, but they love your work (they’ll feed your ego until you have to butter your head to fit it through a doorway). Because the next thing you know, you’ve agreed to work for $20/hour with 5 rounds of revisions, a color study and two-dozen flippin’ chocolate chip cookies thrown in for good measure. You’ll get off the phone feeling empty, alone, dizzy, and still broke with an expression on your face that says, “What-the-BLEEP just happened?”

2. Never work for family. Even extended family. You’re too busy to illustrate a damn choo-choo on a wall for Aunt Linda’s cousin’s boyfriend’s kid. For crying out loud, it’s not even his kid.

And lastly…

1. Never ignore the red flags:

  • “Are you sure this design is the right size? When I hold my ruler to my computer screen, it’s way off.”
  • “The owner’s wife doesn’t think this has enough pizzazz. She wants to work with you directly.”
  • “The owner wants you to show his teenage daughter how to use Adobe Illustrator so that we can make revisions in-house.”
  • “We don’t need you to spend that much time on it- just get some clip art.”
  • “An extra $100 to typeset the page? Nah- we’ll just do it here.”


About Lisa

From wall murals to gift products, Lisa’s accomplishments are as diverse as her clients. Her designs can be found in Target, Walmart, Home Depot, Bed, Bath & Beyond and Macy’s as well as being featured on blogs such as, and

Lisa will be a guest panelist at Creative Relay’s upcoming event: Reinventing the Illustrator on July 25, 2012.


  1. HA – I know those red flags! Great advice Lisa, especially the one about “knowing your self worth”. Nice!

  2. You could probably write an entire (hysterical) book of only the red flags that you’ve faced! I agree with Nate- know your self worth…

  3. Lisa Graves says:

    Clearly this is a “partial” list of my mistakes… and by “partial” I mean about 2%. lol.