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.


Ricardo said...

Great Post, very insightful.

Sandra Lucia said...

Thank you for this amazing post it was very refreshing to read. Not sure if you remember me but I'm the young illustrator that was interning for Richard Solomon in the summer of 2008.. Thanks for your all of your advice and portfolio review it meant alot coming one of my heros!

I agree that it is a very troubling time the first years out of College. Its been two years for me and I haven't felt ready to present my portfolio but I need to just go for it.. logically the next step.. Thank you again!