My name is Emma Fick. I’m 22 years old and currently living and teaching in Serbia, working as an English Teaching Assistant on the Fulbright program. I studied Literature (focus on the Renaissance) and Art History at university, and I thought this year in Serbia was a year off before graduate school. Well, turns out I fell in love with the place and started drawing again for the first time since high school. The minute I was with pen and paper again, I knew there was no going back. Now I do travel illustrations and am looking for a way to make this a full-time job!
Would you recommend studying at art school?
This is a tough one—chose an academic degree over an art degree. My logic was that I could always make art, but a degree wouldn’t make or break my ability to make a living, whereas an English degree would definitely make or break my ability to make a living (as a professor, editor, whatever).
So I chose academia over art because I thought I could never lose something inherently in me. It turns out I was wrong—for the next few years I rarely produced new work, stressed and frazzled as I was with my academic work. I’m finding my artistic stride again, but those years without creative outlet were painful. I thought it was painful because it was academically challenging, but I realize now I was creatively starved.
Today, I am very aware that I lack basic skills that an illustrator who attended art school undoubtedly has. Then again, who knows? Maybe studying art would have changed my style or my outlook. This is a very long way to say: I don’t know!
How long was it before illustration became your primary form of income?
I am only a few months in to my decision to pursue this as a career, so I will let you know when that happens!
Could you describe your typical day?
I wake up, put some water on to boil for coffee or tea, and sit down to start drawing. I listen to music and podcasts, draw, do some stretching when I get stiff, and before I know it it’s noon. Post-lunch, I prepare classes (I teach literature, history, and writing classes at the local university here in Novi Pazar, Serbia) and, depending on the day, go teach. When I come home, I usually need to go brain-dead for a little while, so I watch episodes of whatever show I’m in the middle of until I’ve regained mental strength. Then, I’m illustrating again until I go to sleep. I also use evening hours to catch up on emails and plan travels around the region (so much to see!).
That all applies to when I’m home, which is only about half the time. I live two rather different lives: the isolated illustration life and the absorbent observer life. When I travel, I travel. I go a few days, a week, two weeks, without drawing anything. I take the task of being an observer very seriously, and I make sure I am mentally engaged with my surroundings—and the surrounding people—100%. After traveling for a little while, my head is exploding with images and stories to record, and when I get home I go into relative reclusion for a week or so while everything pours from brain to paper. Then, when I’m feeling like an empty vessel again, I go travel again to get filled up. It’s in constant flux. Balance of experience and expression is key!
What’s the best thing about being an illustrator?
Leaving a paper trail. It makes me feel very present, very tangible, very here-on-this-earth. I also love the actual process of drawing, especially minute details. I completely lose myself in time and space when I’m immersed in a drawing. So I guess illustrating is simultaneously being more of-this-world and also getting the chance to escape it.
What’s the worst thing about being an illustrator?
Unstable future. Neck aches.
If you weren’t an illustrator, what would you be?
A travel writer! Or a community arts event planner.