A Dozen Illustrators Talk About the Present: Brainstorms, Feedback, & the Nitty-Gritty
WORKING NOT WORKING
We interviewed a dozen illustrators to learn about their starts as illustrators, their daily process and current challenges, and what they want to see more of for themselves and their field in the future. Below, as we focus in on the present, we hear how the day-to-day of an illustrator unfolds, tricks of the trade for optimizing their output, when a piece feels finished, and whether they support their illustration practice with work in other disciplines.
Header work sample by Paul Garland for Success Magazine
What is your daily process like as an illustrator?
WARMING UP & BRAINSTORMING
Mallory Heyer: Most days I work at home. I’ll either draw one of my two cats or make some sort of abstract composition to warm myself up. During the first 90% of my drawings, beyond the sketches, I find that what I’m making always looks like a mess and I am trying to clean the mess up by making a bigger, more organized mess. At least these are my thoughts as I’m working. To give myself some sort of anchor that what I’m making will be realized, I generally try to finish a small part of it, usually it’s the eyes.
Ruby Roth: The truth is, a great portion of my process really has to do with stillness and thinking and writing—way more than any daily practice of actually making the art. I still get impatient with myself for not constantly producing, producing, producing on the daily, so I constantly have to remind myself that some of my personal bests came from processing thoughts and experiences and dreams, jotting down ideas and realizations in Google docs or journals and pieces of paper I have scattered everywhere. I write when something occurs to me, and it eventually gets processed into artwork.
David Borrull: With all the social media around, it is really inspiring to see artwork from people all over the world. I get a lot of inspiration from that; however, it is a double-edged sword since it is equally easy to replicate things. I try to be more patient with time, develop ideas that certainly I've seen from others but bring them to my ground and hopefully use them as a seed to something else more of my own.
STRICT & PROFESSIONAL
Grace Miceli: I've found implementing a more strict routine over the past year has helped immensely with my productivity and general mental health. I really convinced myself for awhile that working as an artist meant I could just hang out and do nothing until inspiration struck or I had 24 hours until a deadline, but for me that was a very unhealthy way to create and led to so much unnecessary stress.
Louise Rosenkrands: I normally go to my office around 8 or 9 in the morning, then I answer my email (if any) and then I start to work on the projects. I leave at 3 or 4 in the afternoon, because I often have to pick up my kid from daycare. I enjoy having a steady workday, being really efficient when I'm at my studio.
Paul Garland: After taking my daughter to school, I come back and check through emails and look at my diary to see what needs completing first. Then it's straight into my work in my home studio.
Emilio Santoyo: My daily practice switches from time to time but most often mornings are usually spent doing admin type things that need to be done. The illustrating and real work happens mid-morning.
Grace Miceli: I have a home office/studio and try to jump right in most days by 9am whether it is admin work like answering emails, brainstorming new projects, strategizing new marketing tactics or merchandise and of course then drawing. I guess some people might be surprised at how much of my day doesn't involve actual illustration but everything else I need to do to make sure people get to see my work and therefore more clients come my way.
Scott Balmer: Nothing exciting over here really: spend some time on admin things such as email and other tasks that need sorting out. Then it’s on to making illustrations and/or roughs to send off to clients or to make for an upcoming exhibition.
Eric Petersen: My hours are not regular. I try to fit in exercise and breakfast before beginning work if starting in the morning. All of my work is done at home on my computer.
Violeta Noy: I work from home, and it's just me and my dog. Some days I'm very responsible and I'm at my desk at 8am, having showered, gone to yoga and for a morning walk. Other days I'm not responsible at all and I work from the sofa.
Grace Miceli: I always try to take a few hours off in the middle of my day to walk my dog, workout, meditate, read and cook lunch before getting started again in the afternoon, stuff that helps ground me and remind myself that I'm a regular person too and not just "an artist".
Fran Caballero: I try to keep as mobile as possible before I sit at my desktop, so I try to do work outside the house and elsewhere, it feels less stagnant this way. I tend to be quite relaxed about my approach to a design workday, but it inevitably results in me working too many hours without a break.
Violeta Noy: On a practical level, I'm pretty quick at making and I compensate for my lack of studio mates by sending constant work updates to friends whose opinion I trust. I try to do collaborative work as often as I can, too. Working by yourself can be very lonely and I have to make an honest effort to battle that.
Mallory Heyer: Most of the time when I’m working there is an intuitive moment that halts me. Sometimes as this moment approaches I share my work with some friends and I’ll ask them “does this look weird?” A lot of the times I realize what is wrong with my drawing as soon as I ask this.
Eric Petersen: A typical illustration can take anywhere from a few days to a week or more depending on the client and the back and forth time reviewing sketches.
Paul Garland: A typical project will involve using my notebook and pencil, jotting down keywords, using a thesaurus and cross-referring before surfing the internet for inspiration from the jotted keywords. Then I make several drawings and whittle them down to around 4 to send off to the Art Director. Once approved, the artwork is then produced and sent by FTP.
Emilio Santoyo: My usual illustration routine goes from very rough sketch - color blocks - then the fun detail and end with some highlights. Everyone loves a good highlight.
David Borrull: Part of my daily work when I'm not with commercial deadlines is to push further out from where I'm more comfortable and see where it can lead me. One way to start for me is trying not to use the computer at all as long as I can. Usually, if I'm patient enough, all my best work come initially from paper. Drawing, painting with different tools, cutting, pasting…
Ruby Roth: Several times a week, usually at night when phone calls, admin business, and any commercial client work stops for the day, I make myself sit to draw, or compose an idea digitally. Sometimes I'll have something in mind, sometimes I force myself into quiet space to see what comes out. Many things get left unfinished and I add to them as ideas come—and eventually the project/painting/drawing is nearer to finish before I even know it.
How do you decide when a piece is finished?
Eric Petersen: I know when an illustration is finished when it feels right.
Paul Garland: I have a natural feel for when a project is finished, trying to keep it as clean and simple as possible.
Mallory Heyer: I feel like it’s a total adventure figuring out when it’s done. If I ever ignore that first voice that tells me to stop, I end up overworking the piece and I feel like I have to start over.
Do you work in another discipline to support your illustration practice? Why or why not?
Fran Caballero: Bar work. Bills. It sucks.
Ellis van der Does: Currently I don't have to (which is sooo nice!), but it's been only 6 month since I quit my part-time job at a cinema.
Eric Petersen: I work solely as an illustrator. Another job or source of income would be a distraction to me.
Louise Rosenkrands: I feel I am at my best in illustration. I actually did study graphic design, but that never really worked out for me professionally.
Violeta Noy: When I started out I would do illustration and some weird graphic design on the side for people who didn't know any better. After a while, I was able to transition to illustration only, which felt great.
Scott Balmer: I do design work and have had some experience there but I am more or less working as an illustrator and nothing more, although I would welcome some form of graphic design work to spice things up.
Emilio Santoyo: I think illustration as an industry is so broad that it’s impossible to just do one type of work. Since working in illustration, I have always been jumping from graphic design to apparel to good ol’ fashion illustration projects. They all help each other in the end.
Mallory Heyer: I also work as a freelance graphic designer. When I was in college I accidentally fell in love with design, and I really love working as both an illustrator and designer. I love the variety. I definitely feel like my explorations in design has challenged and pushed the way I think about illustration, and vice versa. I enjoy finding moments where I combine my skills, like when I make zines or posters.
Violeta Noy: I recently started teaching at Falmouth University's MA Illustration (online). I loved studying and when I left university I missed being part of a wider academic community. Working as a lecturer, part time, feels like the perfect balance. Next September I'll start teaching a module on Professional Practice, which I'm really excited about.
Grace Miceli: By having a significant amount of followers online, sometimes jobs will be more in line with me being an influencer, so sponsored posts, but they usually still relate back to my identity as an artist. For years I really believed that I needed to survive solely off of my art or I wasn't a legitimate artist. But as I get older (and maybe burnt out from being freelance since 2015) the idea of having a regular secure income becomes more appealing.
Header work sample by Paul Garland for Success Magazine