Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Illustration Career - Answers for Students

Some old, published work of mine above.

I had a student recently contact me with some Illustration Career related questions. I gave ungodly ridiculously long-winded answers. Maybe this will help someone else out there wanting to go into a drawing-related career.

I work full-time for a video game company but I also freelance on the side for published works. I DID do freelance full-time for some gaps in my career though.

How did you get involved in illustration and what school did you go to become a professional illustrator? How did you prepare to get there? And what degrees do you hold?
I first became interested in illustration when I was in High School. I never stopped drawing from childhood, and when I realized I could make a career out of drawing (like being an animator for Disney!) I decided to work hard and take the art classes available in my public High School. I built a portfolio in those classes, drawing from life, learning basics for color and painting, as well as Art History. I went to Portfolio Review Days that are held at various colleges, such as University of the Arts in Philadelphia. It’s a gathering of art college representatives and a good opportunity for students to show their work and see what areas they need to improve. I remember standing in incredibly long lines with a giant portfolio case, with absolute fear at what the reviewers would tell me. I found MICA (the Maryland Institute College of Art) one of the most challenging reviews and loved their curriculum of 6 hour long studio classes. I applied and attended MICA in Baltimore, Maryland and majored in Illustration there. 4 years later, I graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts for Illustration. After college was a bit of a struggle. I still had not found my own individual voice in my own illustrations but continued to work hard to make a career for myself. I took on a few art-related jobs but they were never really the right place. It took a bit longer than I wanted but was very much worth it! My goal was always to have a job where I had the opportunity to draw all day everyday. I do just that!

What media do you enjoy most? What are the sources you get expressions or ideas from?

When I was in college, I loved watercolors and ink but I was awful with them! A professor suggested I scan my ink line art and color it in digitally. I was very bad at learning Photoshop (younger artists learn this in elementary school now!!) but I was much happier with my results so I started creating everything digital. I now draw and color everything in Photoshop but always make sure it looks a bit like paint. I think things look too stark and fake when you can tell it was completely done digitally, but that’s my opinion. I am incredibly inspired by traditional Asian artwork and inks from Western-style comic books. My sources come a lot from everything around me, and I always sit and think about expressions for a very long time. I always think of human beings, their interactions with one another, their emotions, and how they react to certain things. It’s always interesting!

What do you enjoy about working as an illustrator and what are the challenges that follow?
I love the freedom of being able to draw, and to solve problems from limitations. Figuring out something insightful or witty for a complicated subject, or trying to draw a lot of information into a tiny icon. When people feel something from my work, if they are moved or sense an emotion from it, it’s incredibly exciting for me. It’s like having others visit my world and I don’t feel alone. I get to use my hard-earned work to make a living doing something that I absolutely love. The greatest challenge, that many illustrators will probably agree with, is finding balance, by loving and hating yourself at the same time. What I mean is, an illustrator’s self esteem is complicated - you must think highly enough of yourself to want to continue drawing, but also dislike your work enough to constantly want to improve and better yourself.

How did you get your job and how much are you paid? Is it per piece or per time that you get paid based on?

My current job is the Lead Artist of a mobile games studio, JuiceBox Games Inc, in San Francisco, CA. I was asked by the Creative Director, whom I’d worked with before at another game company, to help start up the company as a contract artist. Before JuiceBox Games, I worked for a few other game companies over the course of 4-5 years, gaining a lot experience. My current job is salary-based and I am paid within an industry standard for Lead video game artists based on the city I live in. I do freelance illustration on the side of this job as well. I usually receive an email from a potential client like a magazine or children’s publisher who asks if I am available, a budget for the piece, a deadline, and the description of the illustration needed. I then sign a contract for the artwork needed, and go back and forth drawing for the client. I hand off the illustration, usually via email, and then I am paid afterward.

What is life as an illustrator like in a daily basis?

When I did freelance full-time, a lot of my day was sending out emails and postcards to art directors in hopes that they saw my work. I would research names of people at publishers for magazines, or textbooks, or companies for a lot of the day. If they liked my work, then they would contact me to draw for them. If I get an email, I will begin thinking out lots of ideas and doing a lot of research on the internet for the illustration. A lot of my illustrations have been for history, so I love reading about the topic the illustration should be about. If it’s for current events, I look up recent news articles. I would stay up late drawing because there were less distractions - no friends were online to talk to, and no noise from outside because everyone was asleep. It became a bad habit! In the past few years, I couldn’t handle the stress of whether I would get another client or not, so I went into video games because the pay was more stable. I think this is a per-person basis, some of my friends can handle full-time illustration very well, and I think that’s great! I personally like to do it on the side these days!

What pieces of art works are the ones you feel best about and what were the processes to make those pieces? How did you get your motivation for those pieces?

Some of my favorite pieces involve lots of origami or anything meticulous. It’s nostalgia for me because my mother would fold lots of paper cranes and other animals out of paper. My process is to sort of channel my own current feelings into a piece. What sort of emotion do I want to convey? I start with a bunch of thumbnail sketches, and find a proper composition that seems to work best for me and what I want others to see and feel in the piece. I then sketch out as close to what is in my mind but it never turns out to be close to what is in my head! I’ve just learned to accept that as part of my process. I lay out flat colors to get a sense of atmosphere and then put in the rest of the details after I feel strongly about the color tones. I get a ton of motivation from friends and those around me. I follow a lot of people on Tumblr, and my Facebook feed is constantly streaming posts of the work from my colleagues and friends. This sometimes can work against me, where I start to feel overwhelmingly pressured. You have to realize you should not get distracted by the cumulative work of everyone around you, it’s another form of balance illustrators have to find.

And is there any advice you would give for studying illustration or working as an illustrator?
Draw. Draw everyday and don’t stop. Don’t get caught up in the details of a sketch too early on. Don’t think you’ll never be able to draw a face or a hand better than you drew by just accepting it. It’s what erasers are for! The more you draw and observe things around you, the more you can improve. Don’t try to ‘find a style’ early on. It’ll come naturally on its own, whether you want it to or not. Also, you don’t have to listen to *every* critique that is pushed onto you, however, if maybe five or more people are all saying the same thing about your work, maybe it’s time to listen to what they say and change what you are doing.

Hope this helps some people out there!

No comments: