What's *good* about being an Illustrator?

  • Moderator

    As an end-of-year topic, I thought I'd posit this question: "What's good about being an Illustrator?" because I'm really truly honestly curious about what drives us to become illustrators and what things we love about what we're trying to do. I rarely see videos or blogs or discussions about the good aspects of being an illustrator.

    Over the last couple years I've developed quite a laundry list of things to be careful about, to look out for, to avoid, to work on... I see videos all the time about things one has to do that I haven't, things that need attention, new mediums and platforms to invest in, and the latest technology to spend money on, the amount of time that needs to be spent... The correct demeanor and mindset to have, how to be a professional, how to be a student, how to be or do something I haven't done and need to do...

    I hear horror stories about bad working relationships, misunderstandings, stolen art, unpaid invoices, exorbitant fees, terrible interviews, horrible work environments... All these cautionary tales and literal fields of red flags...

    It all adds up. For example, on a personal note, I've heard so much bad stuff about the state of the gaming industry and the horrific abuses that happen within it that no amount of good could ever swing me over to even considering it as a potential career field as an illustrator. But there are wonderful things about it, too, right?

    And I sometimes wonder--where is all the good stuff? Where are the success stories, the great working relationships stories, the teams that were magic, the pieces one's especially proud of, the examples of things that just went right and everything seemed to click? The people we like to work with? The people who have given us great advice in the moment when we needed it most? The seemingly insurmountable challenges we feel we conquered?

    I know as an educator it's important to look back and evaluate what went wrong and contemplate how to improve. But it's also incredibly important to articulate what's going right, what's good, what's successful. Because you want to keep all those good qualities as well as work on the ones that need improvement.

    And I wonder if, right now, maybe we need a little celebrating? Because life is hard right now, and I wonder if we need to remember the things that are going well for us? The things we love about what we're doing? The things that get us excited? The things that rev us up and make our work a joy?

    Is anyone interested in sharing what drives them to pursue the life of a visual storyteller?

  • @Coreyartus I want to give you two answers to your question: the bad and good answer. Basically I am going to tell you a series of horror stories, followed by a sliver of hope at the end of the tunnel.

    The Bad Answer: Money.

    When I lost my job on the February of this year, I was really crushed. What happened was right before the pandemic and shutdowns started happening statewide, my boss got offended when I greeted him good afternoon instead of good morning. He got incredibly offended because he honestly thought I was commenting on his tardiness, which was absolutely not what I intended to mean. But at the end of the day, I was let go and I drove back to my house in shame.

    I am architecture major and I just graduated with a degree this year. Architecture is a grueling program. Absolutely nobody gets any sleep, a lot of pressure is put on you to juggle several classes while having your work done everytime within a span of 24 hours, and it's overall taxing on your money, gas as well as your physical and mental health. I gained a few pounds throughout my 5-year program and I was constantly spending somewhere between $100-$200 a week paying for my own gas or for my projects. I also have sleeping problems from constantly drinking energy drinks to complete projects on time or just staying up late to get a project done within a short deadline.

    What's worse is that I also come from a very, very toxic home. My parents have kicked me out of the house several times because of drama that was out of my control. When they fight, they direct their anger at me when I refuse to side or engage in their meaningless issues, or when I am too busy on a project and need to focus on that instead. Either way, I always ended up sleeping in my car or under my desk.

    My point being my very egregious lifestyle really ruined my education and I graduated barely surviving all my classes. I developed an anxiety after I graduated because I felt really cheated from my education from being homeless so many times and barely passing my classes without obstacles put in place by my family. I've been diagnosed with PTSD and I regularly have sessions with a professional psychologist about it.

    When the pandemic started early in the Summer once I graduated my anxiety was at an all-time high. I started freelancing so I could pay for my expensive classes and commuting. This was when I met my second client on a website called UpWork and I had the biggest ride of my life this year.

    A woman approached me offering $60 (yes you heard that right $60) requesting that I illustrate her 30-page children's book. Now you might be wondering why would I be stupid enough to accept such a miniscule request. Well I was still very naive and had not been freelancing for a year. The only thing on my mind at that time was how I was going to be prepared to payback all my student loans once the forebearance ends (which is approaching soon and I still don't have a job or an agency to represent me).

    So what I did was I anxiously accepted the offer and pinched any pennies that I got. At the beginning, it was nice because I hadn't drawn cartoons in like forever so it was refereshing to actually do something I've always been passionate about. But as time went on and I went through several revisions, I began to realize how little it was worth to be doing this much work for pennies. When I got my second payment half-way when through the project, all of a sudden my client starts talking about considering to publish their book with my art, and asked if she was required to credit me on the book.

    I was furious. I questioned myself thinking if there was any details in our previous conversation that I had missed or overlooked, but no this was actually something she just suddenly thought up. Now, she's not entirely at fault her, there's some accountibility I have to take here. As a rookie freelancer, I did not once think about the importance of asking her what the intentions of the book were at the beginning. Because the price was so low, I reasonably assumed it wasn't a serious project and something she wanted to give to her kids or something. I also didn't realize the importance of a real contract. A lot of this could have been avoided if I did not accept the lowball deal.

    Luckily all my work that she approved after it was revised was slapped with a watermark, as I had mentioned in our verbal contract that she would receive all the images without them by time I received my final payment. I approached her diplomatically and explained to her the issues of this and she got offended. This was when I ditched diplomacy and asserted that her behavior was unethical while insulting my professionality, even though we never treated this book like it was a professional project. I eventually left the project (which was my preferred choice) with a portion of the payments I received. I had told her that I would not be refunding any of the money, because I had already submitted work for her book in pieces and that by refunding her I would be sending more bad messages about how freelancing works.

    I am really glad how much I've grown as a professional this year. I learned what a realistic budget and price was for a children's book by joining Facebook illustrator groups. I would never accept such an unreasonable price for a project like that again and will always ask the important questions first before jumping into a project.

  • The Good Answer: The Power to Change what Children get to see in their books.

    When I was a kid, I always wanted to be a children's animator and get to run a show like Spongebob and the likes, but my parents turned down me attending a college as an animation major because they doubted I would make real money as one.

    Even though I loved animation growing up as a kid, it pained me not being able to see myself reflected in media. As a kid I always felt very alienated being Filipino, so I felt like becoming an artist gave me the power to change what kind of media children are exposed to. As a children's book illustrator I have the choice to put Filipino people or people of color of all different shapes and sizes in my books. I have the power to choose what stories I tell and who are telling them.

    By pursuing to become an illustrator, I have the potential to reach out to other kids of the next generation, repeating a cycle of inspired people because I told them stories of what I believe children should be digesting.

    I might not be a big name illustrator yet but I'm hoping to be. I might not have a job yet or my life under control, but that's okay, I'm all about patience. But I truly believe that the work I am doing is in the benefit of the next generation of American children alike to inspire them and acknowledge their existence through children's books.


    Artwork for character designs I made back in 2018, while I was still in college as an architect major.

  • Pro

    @Coreyartus Great topic!

    Money: I matched my previous studio salary in a year while working less

    Less hustle: At first I was working more than I ever had before. But now that's I've settled into systems, I usually work 4 or 5 hours a day tops and am still able to match my studio income.

    Flexibility: This year we've learned lots of people hate working from home! But me, I love it. I sleep badly and am useless in the morning. What other job would allow me to sleep in every morning, start work at noon and stop at 4-5? Drop everything to go do something in the middle of the day if I need to / want to? Take my days off whenever I want? Move to whichever city/country I want to without the job situation being a factor?

    The projects: I am more fulfilled creatively than I was at the studio. I'm given more creative freedom and the projects are more fun. I got to do an adorable book about food puns this year, with cute food characters!! That made me jump out of bed every day looking forward to work! Almost all my projects have been candy.

    The people: This industry and its people are usually very nice and fun. I've also personally had a GREAT experience in games. I've also heard the game industry is bad but I think that's more the AAA model. I've worked in mobile games and web games, and both have been great experiences. Never did overtime, was well paid, nice work atmospheres and nice people. In fact, the local studio I was working with part-time last year and quit to focus on picture books contacted me this week telling me they have lots of new projects in 2021 and could really use my help, and I've decided to take it! I've missed the guys and their projects are fun. I'll be working 30 hours for the whole month and in that time alone will make enough money for my whole monthly budget, which is quite crazy and will leave me time to work on my new style in 2021.

    Creative pride: Whenever I receive my author copies of a new book in the mail, this magical feeling of happiness and pride is overwhelming and I'm just happy to be doing this job.

    All in all... I wouldn't trade it for the world! In fact I'm worried this job has ruined all other jobs for me and if I ever need to ge a 9-5 again, I might have terrible trouble or even not be able to ^^'''' I want to do this forever.

  • @Coreyartus Interesting topic.
    Sometime I believe my personality made me an illustrator. Sitting in front of my desk and make up things to draw and stories to tell seems to make me a happier person than interacting with other human beings throughout the whole working day. I use to get so exhausted from working full time as an interaction designer, even from projects I loved. It took me a long time to realise that it is personality - many of my friends gain energy by hang-outing with other friends. I need to hide and be alone to recharge.

    I do not think I will ever go back to a 9-5 job again. If I will to do other jobs outside of illustration. I will try to find something flexible, part-time, or do something I own, like a gallery, or an independent bookstore or something.

    I remember Will´s question about if you have all your basic needs met, and you can sit and draw all day along, but you have no audience, would you still create? My answer would be "yes, of course." My mom told me when I was around 5 years old, I would pretend reading story books for myself. I would made up stories and tell them to myself aloud. Sometime, she thought I was playing with another kid in another room. But it was just me, making up stories for my own entertaining.

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