Questioning Creatives


This article was written on 29 Oct 2013, and is filled under illustrators.

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Rachel Caldwell

I am an illustrator and painter from Philadelphia, PA, USA. I am also a partner in a skateboard company called Grit Skateboards where we focus on producing the most provocative and detailed art we can. I went to school for graphic design and have been in that field for a very long time. In 2006 I decided to pursue illustration more seriously when I discovered sites and showcases such as Threadless and Design By Humans. After a few years I began to acquire some great clients and things just got more and more interesting from there. I love that each week I get interesting emails from various places around the world. It could be someone who has tattooed one of my owls on their arm, or a request for a commissioned work.


When did you decide you wanted to be illustrator?
My Dad is a great painter (Edward Gordon) and I have always admired what he does. The problem is it takes a lot of courage and guts to pursue fine art. I was too scared to pursue it so I pursued graphic design instead. So I am probably making up for lost time.

Would you recommend studying at art school?
Yes, there is nothing better than getting a formal art education. It gives you a chance to learn a specific craft from a very professional artist. There is a lot to learn and it’s good to be exposed to multiple types of art so you can explore and begin to find yourself as an artist.

How long was it before illustration became your primary form of income?
It is not my primary form of income. I am a creative director at a large financial firm in the U.S.


Could you describe your typical day?
I get home from work around 5pm and then my real creative day begins in my studio. I answer emails and work on a long list of things for the skateboard company that I am a partner in. The company is an independent skateboard and apparel company called Grit Skateboards. The art featured on the decks and apparel is not just mine. I’ve worked with other artists as well, which was a great experience to be on the other side of the table.

What do you wish you’d known when you first started out?
I wish I knew that vector is not a desirable way to work, that hand-drawn is the way to go. Unless you are an extreme master of the Wacom tablet, you need to be doing pen-and-ink so there is a hand-made quality that draws people in. I spent at least a year doing silly vector drawings on the computer thinking I might win a t-shirt contest and of course I won nothing.

What’s the best thing about being an illustrator?
Being able to see your work in exciting places, like on a video, on a wall, on a person, in a store, or on television, even. I was once watching the Food Network and there was this ice-sculptor guy and he was wearing my green owl hoodie from Threadless.


What’s the worst thing about being an illustrator?
Seeing your work completely copied, duplicated, and/or traced all over the place and having to spend time filing Intellectual Property infringement paperwork to stop people from stealing and profiting from your original work. Another problem is other artists drawing things that are just really close to something you just drew. It’s obvious they are not being original and it sucks.

If you weren’t an illustrator, what would you be?
Maybe a teacher.

Any other tips you could share?
Draw what makes you happy, not what you think will sell. I would also say to work as hard as you can, as long as you can each day. With each illustration, painting, or drawing, you get better and better. Also, support other artists along the way. The online communities are more powerful than you think.


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