Hello! I’m Grace Danico, a 30 year-old illustrator currently based in Los Angeles, California. I’m approaching my 3rd year of being an illustrator, and actually became one by accident.
I received my undergraduate degree in American Literature and Culture from UCLA. After school, I had the travel bug and decided to work for an airline (Virgin America) so I could see the world at a fraction of the cost.
I moved to San Francisco and worked at the airport for a few months, then transitioned into being a Policies & Procedures Specialist. Meanwhile, a friend sent me a link to Grain Edit, an awesome mid-century modern focused design and illustration blog. I contacted the Editor-in-chief and asked about contributing. From there, I made many connections to artists through writing, conducting studio visits and interviews. The travel benefits helped because it allowed me to visit and meet people I would not normally get a chance to. It helped make a lot of lasting friendships too!
Three years into my career at the airline and as a blogger, I applied to grad school in New York, and moved cross-country to study Library and Information Science at Pratt Institute. I stayed on with Virgin and worked remotely from home until I got a studio with a few friends. I’ve always been interested in becoming an illustrator, and with their encouragement, I gave it a shot.
When did you decide you wanted to be illustrator?
I was going crazy working remotely from home for Virgin America in New York. I asked my friends Gavin and Liz if they wanted to go in on a studio space, and it just happened from there. They were encouraging and gave me great advice on starting out. Then, it was up to me to hunker down and make a body of work that I could start showing to art directors. This is a constant work in progress, but it’s getting better over time.
Would you recommend studying at art school?
No. Many awesome illustrator friends, more often than not, did not go to art school. I did not go to art school. Art school can be expensive, and offers no guarantees in terms of having a successful career.
I did take a lot of foundation classes and art history courses for personal enrichment. It’s important to be well rounded, learn how to think critically and gain useful skills that aren’t just heavy on theory, but useful in practice. Learning how to run a small business, marketing, writing, public speaking and performing research are just some of the many skills that a creative person should have. I’ve also learned a lot about the business by talking to friends and experience.
How long was it before illustration became your primary form of income?
I started freelancing full-time in August of 2013. I think many fellow creatives share this sentiment: freelancing is not for the faint of heart. There are obvious highs, such as landing new clients, checks coming in the mail, getting featured on blogs, making new illustrator friends at events, and doing what you love. There are also lows: chasing money from late paying clients (one took almost 7 months to pay me), the uncertainty of money rolling in, working with difficult clients, and work drying up.
The key is being flexible, using your time wisely, and making things happen. When work dries up, I do self-initiated projects. In my experience, these usually end up leading to more work!
Also: there is no shame in having a day job. Do whatever you need to do to fund your creativity. While living in NYC, I had a 9 to 5, commuted to my studio, and worked from 6P to midnight. It was a crazy schedule, but having the stable paycheck meant I could focus on making non-commercial work that I enjoyed.
Could you describe your typical day?
Typically, I try and start my days early at 7A. I pulled an all-nighter recently, and it changed my schedule, so now I’m starting my days at 11A and going on till 3A.
Here’s what I normally do:
What do you wish you’d know when you first started out?
Not to feel discouraged or too scared when work slows down.
What’s the best thing about being an illustrator?
Having freedom and flexibility to work from anywhere at any hour. Some freelancer friends and I went to the Korean spa today, and are planning on working from there!
What’s the worst thing about being an illustrator?
The loneliness that I feel from working at home. I solve this by meeting up with other freelancers or working out of friends studios.
If you weren’t an illustrator, what would you be?
A librarian or anthropologist.
Any other tips you could share?
Be genuine and consistent with yourself and what you do.