I was born in 1986 (currently 26 years old) in the city of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. For the exception of a brief year or two when I lived in Amarillo, Texas, I grew up most of my life on the out skirts of Carlisle, Pennsylvania. I would later move to Philadelphia when I was 18 years old to attend the University of the Arts in Philadelphia and following that I attended School of Visual Arts illustration as a visual essay program in New York City. I currently live in Queens, NY. I have been working as an illustrator since 2008 with most of my clients being a number of nationally and regionally touring indy bands that I did show posters, t-shirts and record covers for. In 2009 my career in editorial illustration started to slowly come together.
When did you decide you wanted to be illustrator?
In freshman year of undergrad actually. I originally wanted to be a figurative painter! I visited the painting floor and was turned off by how everyone was paying a lot of money to make abstract work. In hind sight, I think abstract work is really cool and I understand it a bit more that I did eight years ago. At the time I really wanted to learn how to draw and paint the figure. I also took a graphic design freshman elective which I really sincerely enjoyed but the program was very swiss and helvetica. What drew me to illustration was when I visited the illustration floor. I saw posters, record covers, mocked up editorial illustration lay outs, digital mock up’s of brand name shoes with illustrations “printed” on them. Illustration in that moment clicked as the very thing that we see everywhere around us but never associate with right away. So when the end of freshman year came and we submitted our majors, I chose illustration. I never knew what it was before undergraduate studies.
Would you recommend studying at art school?
This is a case to case question in all honesty. I benefited from going to two top 20 art schools (whatever that means). In all actuality, I am young and hungry. I really wanted to learn and didn’t want to stop working to make this career happen. So a long with what I’ve been taught, I would ask questions and have meetings with my professors on how I can improve, got tutoring, experimented and read a lot of books on the industry. Art school is what you make of it, and there are a lot of incredible mentors and teachers you could potentially work with if you choose to go to these schools.
How long was it before illustration became your primary form of income?
As I mentioned a little bit, I’ve been working since 2008 while I was in undergrad. I continued working while in graduate school and about a month or two before graduating from graduate school I started piling up a lot of work and building a little bit of a savings to where I was living 100% off of what I was drawing. At the time I was nervous and applied for a ton of day jobs that if I got that I would feel ok quitting on the spot but no one would hire me. I guess you could say fate forced my hand to pursue this 100%. Prior to 2011 I had a day job at an art supply store for a few months here, worked as a life guard for seven summers and so on.
Could you describe your typical day?
I work 6 days a week and usually I take one day off. It’s never the same day each week as my work schedule is never really the same. Everyday starts at 6:30 am and ends at 11 pm. Usually I work from 8 am to 10 pm most days with a few days that I run errands that need to be dealt with in the middle of the day. A working day could be me drawing and painting for a client all day. It could also be research and networking using social media. I write a business column for Agency Access. I also am the primary creative who does all of the illustration, hand lettering and design for the Mister Wolfe Bar and Lounge in Miami, FL. So no day is typical, but I am more or less doing something. Even if I am doing nothing, time wasted is never wasted for a creative. Sitting down and thinking a lot about solving visual problems is literally 30% of my day most days.
What do you wish you’d know when you first started out?
Nothing is ever handed to you and you should be humble when your around people and be an ego maniac in the privacy of your studio. Let me explain. When I graduated from undergrad I felt like hot shit. I got my work accepted into three competitions and got into graduate school so I felt like I just needed to send out one promo and BAM! I’d be making it rain. In reality, three post cards and 6 months later, I got my first two illustration jobs in editorial illustration. It took some time and a lot of working my stuff out but I started to really figure out how to make better illustration work that would lead to more work.
Also, when you have slow weeks it’s hard to feel good about what your doing. I literally tell myself that I am the best greatest illustrator in the world. Avocado, my cat, believes this but in reality I am good, maybe exceptional, but not the greatest. Telling myself this is a good motivator but it’s not something to show and shine when you leave the apartment. Not everyone is comfortable with their work and everyone is in different places with their careers. In undergrad I was super enthusiastic and made work that just crashed and burned all the time. Still I was just stoked to be making it. My glowing wonder and excitement was taken as cocky and as a huge ego which is part of the reason why I wasn’t that well liked in school. So since then only Avocado see’s me getting pumped like Rocky in the mornings and when anyone asks when I am out and about I just say “Thing’s are going ok.” 🙂
What’s the best thing about being an illustrator?
You have control over your time most of the time and can go to the movies at 11 am on a Wednesday if you want or go to a museum or gallery in the middle of the day. I don’t have to commute to work since I work from home.
What’s the worst thing about being an illustrator?
Getting paid late or not at all. The former has to do with billing departments misfiling invoices most of the time or accepting a job with a contract that says I get paid 30 days after publication and not 30 days after I do the job. The later has to do with working for bands that are not supported by labels who at the last minute don’t want to use the art and refuse to pay you for your time completing final artwork. This has happened 3 or 4 times in my career and probably won’t be the last. Bands are part of the reason I got into this career and I’ll never stop working for them.
If you weren’t an illustrator, what would you be?
I’d probably be working a minimum wage job while playing in punk rock bands with my friends. If my mom didn’t plug away daily that I had to go to college for something, I probably would be doing that. If I didn’t play punk rock music, I probably would of been a psychologist.
Any other tips you could share?
If you want to be an illustrator, don’t stop believing. Continue to look at ways you can improve, evolve and build a portfolio of images that tell the stories you want to tell. After that begin looking for places that your images could and should exist in. Stay thirsty my friends. 😉