Hi There! Here are a few Questions and Answers that I get asked pretty often. If your a student or recent grad and you have a question that isn't below or just want to reach out to me, feel free to do so.
Where/Why did you go to art school?
After my punk rock band broke up in high school, my mom was putting the pressure on me to do something with my life. Specifically, going to college. I originally wanted to go to school to be a psychology major but since being a psychologist wasn't "punx", I decieded that going to a private art school was much better. Very Punk Rock right?
I attended the University of the Arts (UARTS) in Philadelphia for the BFA in illustration with a design concentration. I've learned learned a lot about drawing, painting, design, and the history of illustration while I was in school there, but I felt like I needed another two years to focus on making the content in my work more clear. So I looked at a bunch of graduate schools and applied to SVA's MFA program, and got in.
How did you like SVA's MFA illustration as a visual essay program? Tell me about it...
The Masters program is much different than being in undergrad. One reason is that the tension amongst other 21 year olds who are going for the same thing is gone. Mostly because everyone attending is at different stages of their life. Some are illustrators who've been in the business 5-15+ years who want to take the time to reinvent themselves. Some are jumping from another creative career to illustration because it was really their real passion. Even folk like myself who weren't super confident in what they were doing at 21. So there was little to no ego going into graduate school. Everyone is super friendly, supportive and critical when you needed it. It was stress free, creative envirorment I needed to figure things out that I was struggling with.
Alright, so basically the MFA program is broken up into two years. The first year is chalked full of information, and things you learn. Without going into a ton of detail, your first year basically teaches you how to tell stories, take risks/experiment, write your own stories, learn a lot about the computer (more than you need to), make traditional/digital books, and just communicate better in both your work, your writting and verbally. Your second year is basically all about your thesis. You can choose any illustrator, designer, art director, ect to be your advisor. They help you in whatever way you need to make you a better illustrator. Some of my peers choose an illustrator because they wanted them to call them out on some of the crutches they choose in their work. Some people choose an illustrator because they needed someone to give more abstract philiosophical feed back. Some people wanted someone to learn about the business end or about how to have a life while and a career in illustration. I choose Rachel Solomon as my advisor because I admired her work and I wanted someone who would push me to make better poetic conceptual work. I also choose her because I needed a female illustrator giving me her viewpoint because the majority of illustration instructors I've had previously were men. I owe a lot of my grad school education to her and of course to David Sandlin, Marshall Arisman, Matthew Richmond and so many others.
Seriously? Is SVA worth it?
If I had to do it all over again I would! If you seriously want an alternative to grad school, take the money you would of spend on it, and get a studio with a couple of illustrators. Take continuing education classes in stuff you want to learn, or intern with an illustrator/art director. Skillshare is an alternative to grad school if you want to learn some techinical things. Grad school isn't for everyone, and not everyone should go to grad school. But if your considering it, give it a go.
What was your first illustration job?
My first job was for Nylon Guys magazine for their December 2009 issue. It was a conceptual portrait of Michael Cera for the movie Youth in Revolt. I did an OK job on the piece, but I don't really do many portraits. I really love that magazine for it's content and design.
How did you find your 'style'?
Well, a few things. When I was in school, I really wanted to paint like Tim O'Brien, who teaches at UARTS. At the time I could only get my work to a certain level of realism and just got really frustrated. I thought realism was everything! I was really discouraged because I could not paint realistically on the level I wanted too. When I started focusing on the kind of art work I enjoy and try to focus on how I could improve the kind of work I wanted to make and not what I thought was "illustration" or "marketable", I started to see my work excel and expand. I no longer wanted to be Tim O'Brien. I wanted to be myself. I am still very jealous of Tim's skill.
Also, I found that cross-training in both painting/drawing and using the computer to make work has improved my craft. Thinking about layering in photoshop got me to think about how to layer my paints when painting on paper. Color theory in paint by hand made me choose better colors on the computer, ect, ect. Outside of your hand being the signature of the characters you create, the medium you choose to make your mark has a lot to do with the content you choose to make. To put it simply, content and medium dictates style.
How did you make your website?
Where do you work?
I work in a separate room in my apartment. This keeps the cost of living and working in New York City down for myself. I also live with two illustrators, so I can still have similar conversations that I would of had if I were in a studio in school or like other working illustrators do.
What is your process?
I draw all of my line work in acrylic on printmaking paper. I put that dry line work on a light box and block out area's in grey acrylic and acrylic ink on a separate sheet of paper. I have other pre-made textures as well I've made over the years in a folder on my computer. I then collage my line work and textures together on the computer to complete my illustration. So I spend roughly about 1-5 hours drawing it and 1-3 hours collaging it together on the computer. The more detailed the art, the more time I spend making sure everything is right.
How do you get work?
I have a set schedule of where and when I mail postcards, and emails. Starting out as an illustrator, I checked all the mast heads of magazines at Barnes and Noble to see who was working where and sent them a post card every other month. Now that I am more familiar with the publications I am seeking work from, I subscribe to a list using Agency Access. Sending a postcard four times a year along with sending emails inbetween is what I recommend.
So I heard in an interview that you gave a list of contacts to other illustrators...
It's a trade secret that illustrators trade and give each other contacts to potential clients in the field. Before any of that, illustrators gather a list of names themselves and do their homework for where their work fits best and could potentially live in. There is sense of pride that comes from building a list of your own before you add contacts both familiar and vaguely familiar from other people. In the beginning I had a list of 150 people and amongst a few peers in school, we shared and traded and created a list of 500+ names. After graduating I became friends with a few other illustrators my own age. After a couple of months we all traded names and shared lists. Today, if I find a contact I can't find on my Agency Access account (under contract I legally can't share anything on the database to anyone) and I can't seem to find it on my own, I ask someone who would that I know. I never ask anyone who I don't know for specific people's contact info. It's like walking up to a stranger and asking them where they get their shirt's pressed and tailored. It's always awkward and not everyone is reluctant to say.
Is it important to live in New York City to be an illustrator?
No. Being in New York City puts you in touch with other illustrators and puts you closer to those who work in publishing. Also, being in New York City will put you in the running for certain regional jobs that not living in here would allow. With all that said, you can still work for a New York Publication and live in California or live in Germany and work with a publication in Seattle. As long as your work is good, you love to tell stories and you have an internet connection, you can work from anywhere on almost anything.
What inspires you as an artist? What artist influence you?
I try to infuse a lot of my personal self, icons, and things I've experienced into my work. The more personal and closer the connection I have with the content the better the image. So everything from the cool thing I saw on the subway to hanging out at my moms place in the summer to remembering something that happened to me when I was a teenager all pools into what inspires me. As far as artist, I am constantly looking up new artist and am continuely changing who influences me. I go to the MET, MoMA, American Folk Art museum, Whitney and various Chelsea art galleries often. A very short list of artist that influence me include: Cy Twombly, Larry Rivers, Dan Clowes, Raymond Pettibon, Henry Darger, Lorraine Fox and Jack Potter.
Illustrators always seem so busy! Do you have a life outside of illustration?
Being an illustrator means you are always on call. Sometimes you are piled up with deadlines and sometimes you aren't. The best thing to do is schedule time out of your busy and quiet weeks to do things outside of your studio/apartment. So whether it's something art related like going to a gallery, go to a model drawing session or something non-art related like bowling, karaoke or riding your bike with friends, It is important to take time outside of doing the same thing day in and day out.
As an illustrator just starting out, are there any books I should read about illustration or related to illustration?
- How to be an illustrator by Darrel Rees
- Inside the business of illustration by Arisman and Heller
- How to be a graphic designer without losing your soul by Adrian Shaughnessy
- Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud
- Tipping Point & Blink by Malcom Gladwell
- The Tao of Wu by the Rza
Any tips for illustrators starting out?
- Be good at what you do, what you want to draw, and do your best.
- Focus on two markets you want to work in. Being a jack of all trades is bad at the start of an illustrators career but it can grow naturally to be one and not look all over the place.
- Treat what you do as a business and be presistant about getting work. Sending one postcard to all of your favorite art directors won't be the decieder if you will make it as an illustrator. It takes many. Set a schedule to how often you promote.
- Continue to make new work that is good, finished and says something to you. Sketchbook drawings are nice and important to further your artistic development, but finished work show's what you can do on the job. One finished piece a week equals fifty-two pieces a year.
- Have faith. My first editorial illustration job didn't come until my third post card six months after I graduated undergrad, and I didn't get consistant work until almost two years after my first postcard. Keep doing it, keep making new work and keep pushing to tell better stories. If you believe in what you do, so will others.
- Be Nice, Be Positive. :)