Friday, July 23, 2010


I've been illustrating for about 9 years now; I graduated from the Ontario College of Art and Design in 1999, but I started illustrating full time in 2001. Fortunately, I've been entirely self-sufficient on my illustration work since then. Before that, I was only getting enough work to subsidize my income by a few hundred dollars a month.
Since then, I've done so much illustration work, averaging about 100 jobs per year when I was first starting out. Granted, the illustrations that I did back then make my eyes bleed when I look at them now, but from time to time, I pull them out of storage, and like old journals, I review them. The pictures remind me of where I came from, of moments in time; I remember the feelings that some of them stir inside of me, the conversations that I had with friends about my processes, the celebration and feelings of frustration and rejection when I look at others. But I look at them because I like to be reminded of where I've been in order to move forward. Some people are able to clip the thread that links their past and present, but I choose to gather mine occasionally and then walk the length of them backwards to see where I began.
It keeps me humble, and hopeful that I have gotten this far, and still have so much distance to travel, although my path has gone in directions that I never anticipated.

To date, I work on a lesser number of projects per year; probably about 60 in total, which means that I've completed close to 1000 projects over the past 9 years.
I don't believe that many of us are ever ready to begin freelancing, I think that it starts when one has a portfolio that is good enough to get work, but not as great as it could be.
Am I being elusive?
When I began, I made sure that I went looking for clients and freelance work with a portfolio that had a relatively cohesive style.
Gasp! I said that word.
Nail me for it.
I wasn't ready at all to illustrate professionally, but I did it because it was the logical next step after I graduated. Some of us feel at this stage, that our portfolios are not fully resolved enough to the degree that we would like to show it to clients and art directors. I agree with this in part. I do believe that not everything needs to be revealed to others immediately after it's completed. There is much to be said about strategy, and of the perfect time to strike; and to hold onto to one's work, and to develop it for just a bit longer until one feels confident enough to unveil his/her oeuvre to the world. Some pieces exist better when it is contained within a larger body of work. And some messages are better communicated when there are other pieces to support the visual vocabulary that it contains. There is so much expectation placed on the young illustrator that s/he needs to explode out of art college with a client list spooged onto the front on his/her pants. But for most, it's much more common that one struggles at getting work at the beginning.

Although I chose to look for freelance work soon after graduation, it was an extremely daunting task because I wasn't entirely ready. What I mean is that my work was defined too much by my professors who defined the program; their styles, their processes, their way of thinking and seeing; what illustration meant to them. And so, after about one year, I discarded these images and began from scratch, creating (digital) drawings that I liked; reintroducing a kind of playfulness and honesty into my work. The four years that I spent in art college ( I like to call it four years of foundation studies) served me well, and taught me many things, but all of this knowledge and opinion, was swirling around in my head. I created pieces based on what I thought a successful illustration should be, the crtiques, the critic, the judge became such an integral part of me that I could no longer see my work. The artist Ben Shahn writes in his book, "The Shape of Content" in reference to the role that crtiques play within (visual) arts academia that "as criticism itself flourishes particularly within the universities... the critical circle has formed itself into a small cultural nucleus which exerts a powerful influence, one not free of snobbery, upon the arts--a Gorgon-like power that turns the creative artist into stone." (1) I wasn't sure of what to draw or paint anymore for fear of it not being correct. As a result I decided to unlearn (or at least put aside some of what I learned) and investigate which of this information was useful and could move my artistic endeavours foreward. So after some months these new pieces grew into a new portfolio, that described my point of view, and the kind of work that I wanted to do.

If you understand the type of work that you want to do
If you understand what you want to say through your work
If you understand why you want to do this type of work
Then your clients will know as well.

Some would have said that I was not yet ready to look for work. The illustrations within my portfolio were not entirely developed, and lacked so much in way of aesthetics and content. But regardless, I responded to the eagerness inside of me, and that with a combination of luck, and stubbornness (thank you for that adjective Katia) tenacity, and the help of my first agent, my freelance work began.

The illustrations above were done for Plansponsor and Planadviser magazines, art directed by Soojin Buzelli, who is one of my favourite art directors of all time. She understands collaboration in the purest sense by retaining the artist's vision within each piece and suggesting ways of enhancing it without over art directing.

(1) Shahn, Ben. "The Shape of Content." (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1985) 21.

Saturday, July 17, 2010


I got up pretty early today.
Actually, I'm in the studio as I'm writing this and have been here for almost 2 hours now.
Last night I stayed in and watched "Suspiria," the 1977 cult witch horror film by Dario Argento, famed horror film director (side note, if there are any students who are taking my Studio Mix class at MICA in September, this is definitely one film worth watching; the entire environment appears like a stage set; the obvious simplicity of it make it truly gorgeous. Argento transforms these sets from clean and sterile, to abstractly lush, to bloodily horrific).
I'm digressing.
A follow up to my last post; work suddenly picked up at the beginning of July which was great because I was starting to worry a bit. I've learned over the years the importance of keeping track of my income on a monthly basis because as a freelancer it can change so much. As there is no salary cap for freelancers, it's easy to be mislead as to how much I'm making over the course of the year, and then to lose track of things. Seeing my figures every month, and then measuring it against how much I expect to earn in a year helps to keep my business moving forward like a business. I know that the recession is over, but this news still has to make it's way from The Streets, to the corporations, and then finally to the masses. I'm still feeling the sting of the financial slap from last year.
Anyone have some tea tree oil?
I'm long past playing drawing as a hobby.
I've said it many times over: illustration is the art and business of communication.

The recent show that I was in at the Christopher Henry Gallery has helped me resolve some issues that I have been steeping inside of me for years now, the distinction between fine art and illustration.
I know that it's not even necessary for some, but for me, it has bugged me ever since I was in art college.
But, now I don't care so much anymore.
I understand that every artistic discipline has their own intention.
No need for contentious thoughts.
Just move past and ignore those demons who feel that one form of art or design is better than another.
Of course the world needs critics.
Do we need critics?
I mean, I get paid to be a critic 30 weeks out of the year.
Yes, I believe we do need critics.
Critiques help provide us with another way of seeing the world; or our (art)work as a microcosm of that, and gives us distance from this (work of ours) so that we're not so caught our own narcissism.
Hopefully our work becomes better because of this criticism.
Just like the words good and interesting.
However, I also think that sometimes if a person is not ready to hear, or act on, or respond to that criticism, then it's okay to accept it, like a gift, and then put it aside for use in the future.
Or not.
This critique; these opinions of others are good to have because it keeps me humble and striving to grow my work into directions that I otherwise may never have investigated.
And so for that friend who told me that. "illustrators become illustrators because they love money and can't make it as fine artists," I have to take those words, as bitter as they may sound, and place them somewhere within my box of critiques that I carry with me.

I'm finally.
finding my voice, and possibly discovering how I would like to present it through my work.
Stay tuned.

Did I just spend two thirds of my blog entry writing about critiques?

More news.
The "T minus 20" show at the Christopher Henry Gallery was a success. A smack load of people turned out.
Photos above.
Whether or not any pieces were sold is beyond me; however, I believe that it was a perfect summer show, not too heady and wonderful to experience. My work was posted on a few art blogs: Daily Art, Catch Fire, and Justin Timberlake's website (gasp!)
And that's me wearing one the shirts that I made for the show. Due to technical difficulties, I decided not to sell any, but did give some away as promo items.
The hustle.
Thanks again to David G. for doing almost all of the silk screening, and to Stella for our stitch-and-bitch sessions.
I'm planning to expand this piece into a larger body of work. I've already begun some loose idea sketches. The tricky thing as many of us know is trying to balance these personal projects alongside commercial ones, because it's the latter that pays for the former.
For real.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Two nights ago I walked from Houston, and Lafayette to the Meatpacking district. It was strange because I had never really done that before. Sounds odd, I know; not the walk, but rather that I'm writing about it. It was the first time in a long while that I saw the city as new again. Like many people, I define myself by my neighbourhood. Part of the reason why I have chosen to live in Brooklyn (aside from the lower rent) is because there is a familiarity about it, in that parts of it remind me of Toronto, but also, it's a place where I feel encouraged and inspired. Walking down East 9th street, and then crossing 6th Avenue, heading west on 13th Street, was a complete trip. I don't think that I ever walked this route before, and if I did, I don't remember, nor have I taken notice of it. I stopped upon seeing some large white pillars in the distance of a Presbyterian church.

Why do large white pillars make me swoon?

Above is an idea that I'm working on for my animation class. We're expected to create a (very) short animated piece for our final project. So far, it's not going so well. I've very loosely story-boarded my idea, but what's getting in the way now, is my lack of experience with animation itself. It's completely baffling how I can render scenes and objects from various angles, but then when it comes to making them move within a three-dimensional space, I feel like I'm learning how to draw and think again for the first time. People have suggested that I work with an animator in order to make my pictures move, and to not waste my time learning how to do something that I will probably never be an expert in.
I understand that.
However, my reasons for wanting to learn it on my own comes from a different place.
Process for me is extremely important, and I talk about it a lot. There are many times where I get frustrated because all I ever seem to be is in the midst of the process; in the midst of not knowing. And it makes no sense to position myself in such an uncomfortable spot. It's the opposite of where I would want to be: I like comfort.
Don't most people?
But choosing to sit in these spaces of in-between allows me a greater chance of discovery, of coming across, or inventing something new.


P.S. I know I have tons of tweening to do. But I was happy that I added a bit of a twist to the character instead of it just letting him flip flop back and forth like a pendulum.

Monday, July 5, 2010


The past year has been a bit of a struggle for me.
Things tapered off near the end of 2009, and then started up again with steady work in the new year. But now, other than one project that I'm revising, I really have nothing much lined up for the month of June. Typically, I'm booked about 4-6 weeks in advance, and turn down work (out of the fear of doing a shitty job if I take on too much).
But nowadays, things are different.

Editorial projects have decreased, and depending on the magazines, some of the budgets have been negatively affected, or frozen. Yuko says that the summer months are typically slower than other months (since some magazines double up on their summer issues). For me, summer over the past 3 years has meant Summer School (1-2 month residencies that happen every day) and so with that going on, I never really noticed the slow down of the pace of work too much. But now that I'm no longer participating in such programs, I'm becoming more aware of the break of summer.

If I were more business minded I could probably distance myself from what is going on right now, and realize that what we're in is part of a business cycle that trends up and down. So during those down periods, it becomes important to reevaluate one's work, and possibly find a new place for it within the market, as well as new means by which to distribute one's work.
However, to be quite honest, on a visceral level, I feel somewhat like a lost 23 year old who recently graduated from art college with a diploma in illustration, and a full time job in retail, fumbling over my supplies, creating stuff - any stuff - hoping that it will carry with it my creative voice, and also appeal to a market that is willing to receive it openly.

I remember years ago, I went to Habourfront, in Toronto, to listen to Ethan Hawke read from his book "The Hottest State. " He said that many people gave him flack because they thought he was using his Hollywood clout, and wealth to realize a book deal. Although I believe it surely helped him, he also convincingly described how even with that type of support, he still had to go through the motions of creating something close to his heart, and then throw it out there for the heavens to receive it, or for the hyenas to maul. Whether or not he would receive a positive response was unpredictable, but in the meantime he described the experience of doing so (and possibly failing) like being on a boat and vomiting over the edge in front of onlookers. Don't get me wrong, I understand that having a shit load of money places him, or anyone else in his situation at a starting block further ahead of those who have-not, or who have-less, however, my connection to his story was more on a visceral level. How does one get past the procrastination, and the demons that whisper in one's ear that s/he cannot accomplish what they're setting out to do?
It's so easy to surrender.


We all know that the surface of our industry beneath us is shifting.

It will be interesting to see who comes out of this recession intact, and thriving, and to also see the new faces of the younger illustrators who begin to appear, seduce, and then grow the industry in a new direction.
I have 2 interns right now, both of whom I am inspired by each time they enter my studio; part of the reason is that I receive from them a bright-eyed and openness to explore new things. My path since I was in school was to become an illustrator whose focus was on print.
But now, I see the limits of it.
Not many of us can control how much we get paid. Yes, history is on our side in the sense that we have established a basis for how much to charge, as well, we rely on each other, our friends and colleagues to help retain a price structure, but based on the interviews that I've read, and the comments that I've heard, the amount of money that we've gotten paid in editorial has not really changed in decades.
We're long past the days where advertisers paid loads of money to buy space in a magazine; there are so many other outlets nowadays for companies to advertise, which means that unless editorial takes a turn and all these publications morph into a multimedia format where companies begin buying ad space in the form of motion graphics/commercials within the magazine itself, I'm not sure how else our print editorial industry can expand, because advertisers are the reasons why many of these magazines function. And so, if the readership of these books, and magazines, and newspapers are diminishing, chances are that we illustrators will ultimately be on the receiving end of all of this. And even if this happens - if magazines translate themselves into an digital format, will the benefits be carried over to the illustrator? Will our prices and budgets have to be adjusted for a new editorial format? And if so, will we be getting paid more, or less, or the same?
I don't know.
These are some of the things that I've been thinking about, and as a result, I'm trying to make my work more experiential. I'm exploring projects that make me uncomfortable even if it has or doesn't have an illustrative application; I'm making tons of mistakes along the way, but each step that I take, these mistakes seem to be minimized. I've hit so many blocks and wasted money that could otherwise be spent in more productive ways. However, I keep telling myself that if I build it then it will come. Right now, I think it's anyone's game.

* The images above entitled, Machoman are for a group show that I'm in called, "T Minus 20," at the Christopher Henry Gallery, this Thursday, July 8, from 6-9pm. Location is at 127 Elizabeth Street, between Broome and Grand in Nolita.