Tell us a little about yourself and your work.I am an illustrator and designer based in Los Angeles, CA. I work full-time as a senior designer for Society6 (an artist commerce site) and I do freelance illustration for a wide range of clients! My illustration work is used for album covers, band posters, apparel graphics, magazine articles, and home goods just to name a few.
I like anything peach colored, collecting books, putting my dog in sweaters, and LA rain storms.
Why did you decide to become an illustrator?I don't really feel like I ever "decided" to be an illustrator. I studied painting and printmaking in college and always loved my life drawing and painting classes! After my first year at school I interned at Hurley as an apparel graphic designer and decided that was a great way for me to make a living. I continued on the path of graphic design for a few years and found that in my down time I really enjoyed drawing, sketching, and illustrating. At the time, I didn't have anyone in my life who was living off full-time illustration work so I didn't realize that was an option as a profession.
I began posting my "just for fun" illustration work on my website, art blog, and my Society6 shop and started to get some freelance work because of it. Because I enjoyed it more than my actual graphic design job I was posting more and more on my site and taking more and more freelance jobs. Eventually the majority of the work coming in was illustration-based and I was happy to make the switch to being an Illustrator!
How does someone become an illustrator?A fine art or graphic design degree definitely helps, although I've known a good amount of illustrators who skipped the school step. I just know for me personally, I learned a lot of technical things in school that I would have eventually had to learn the hard way if I hadn't gone to school. In school you have a studio with so many different mediums to try. I was able to work with copper plate etchings, lithography, oil paints, computers, clay, letterpress machines and more. Because of that I was able to find what mediums I liked and what I was good at.
Also, like I said before, I had a few internships during college which taught me so much! It was awesome to be able to learn from people who had been in the industry for years. I felt that my internships really helped me hone in on what I wanted to do after school so I never wasted any time kickstarting my career. My internships also helped me get a job right out of college.
Nowadays, most illustrators are hired as freelancers and found through the internet, so making my work easy to find was important to me. Having a clean and easy to navigate portfolio online packed full of my best work, I believe, is what gets me a good amount of my jobs. Showing a healthy mix of work that is in your personal style as well as client work is huge. My favorite jobs come from clients who literally say "We want this, this and this...in your style". Showing people what you like to do and what you can do will open a lot of doors for you meaning you won't get stuck doing a ton of work you hate.
Lastly, reach out the brands or companies you want to work with! Send them a page of your best work and a short statement of why you think you'd be a good fit. The worst that could happen is they say they aren't interested. The best that could happen is you get a rad job!
What are some ways to make a sustainable living from illustration?Freelance! Freelance is awesome because you decide how much work you want to take on. When I'm feeling creative I pack a ton of projects in, when I need a break I limit myself to a couple smaller projects.
Although I prefer freelance, full-time jobs are the best way to learn the industry and get paid on a regular basis. Full time jobs in the illustration positions are available as book cover designers, newspaper and magazine article illustrators, apparel graphic designers, and creative agency employees just to name a few.
What is the pay like?Pay can range greatly based on where you live, to how big your company/client is, to your experience level. Generally you start out around $40K/year and top out around $80K if you are in a full time position with an employer. With freelance there is a much broader range. I know a few illustrators who rake in around $300K/year...they hustle.
What are the best parts of being a illustrator?Being able to create on a daily basis. Being able to see a sketch or idea turn into a finished piece and then into a physical product is so rewarding! I also love being able to work with a wide range of clients on so many different kinds of projects. I am NEVER bored.
What are the biggest challenges in being a illustrator?The pressure to always be creative is rough sometimes. I value the time I take for myself to rest, visit art exhibits, vacation, road trip, relax with my friends. The more I make time for those things, the less stressed I am about finding inspiration because it presents itself to me in those moments.
Any other helpful resources or links on this topic?- Read illustration books
- Attend design conferences for inspiration, helpful tips and networking
- Read artist interviews on Juxtapose, Hi-Fructose and Arkitip
- Follow The Great Discontent blog
- Visit local art museums
- Network with like-minded illustrators
- Surround yourself with creative people
- Read Jessica Hische's amazing advice on her thoughts page
- Attend drop-in life drawing studio classes at local art schools
- Keep a sketch book with you at all times
- Create a clean portfolio website
All those things have worked for me. They might work for you too :)