Sometimes, for God knows what reason, I’ll get emails from students asking about my life as an artist/illustrator. Here’s a little Q&A I did up for a prospective ACAD student.
1.How has life treated you after you graduated? Are you currently making a living in art?
I graduated in 2008 with no job prospects and no business sense. It was tough at first. When I was in school I was naive enough to think that making a living as an illustrator would be as easy as sitting down in front of the computer and waiting for jobs to roll in. I graduated with about 15 dollars in my bank account, so I had to make ends meet working as a kids day camp counselor at a science center. After a while I had put enough of a portfolio together to get a job doing concept sketches for a company that made props and museum displays. From there I worked at a small studio doing storyboards and concept art for a kids show on APTN. Working full time at a studio was great security, but I wasn’t creatively fullfilled so I decided to start freelancing. Almost right out of the gate I was lucky enough to get a couple illustration jobs with Parks Canada and it’s been pretty steady ever since.
Over the past two years I’ve been alternating between contracting out to studios, putting together gallery shows, and freelancing. I find that there are payoffs and tradeoffs for all three: With studio work you’re often trading off your artistic freedom for security and a steady paycheck, With Gallery shows you’ve got full artistic freedom but aren’t necessarily guaranteed any kind of paycheck, and with freelance work you’re often uncertain of where and when your next job is going to come from.
There have definitely been some famine periods, but I live a pretty simple life so thankfully money has never been much an issue. Which is important when you’re trying to create! It’s really difficult to make a painting when you’re stressed the heck out over paying bills.
2.How have most of your former classmates faired in their careers?
Quite a few are doing well. I’d say that 70% of grads from my year are working in their field in some capacity. A lot of illustrators have gone on to have design careers, some are working in animation and video games, and a few are having a go at freelance. You’ll probably need a day job for the first few years after you graduate, just remember there’s no shame in that. One dude I know is still working at an art supply store nearly five years after graduation, but he’s still making kick-ass work in his free time. Better to work a job in a non-creative field and make rad work in your spare time than have all the creative juice sucked out of you in a studio working on someone else’s vision.
2.What did you like most about your ACAD experience? Likewise, what did you like the least about it?
I liked the no-holds barred approach to critiquing your work. In first and second year the instructors do their best to break your bad habits and take your pride out of the equation. There were a few instructors in who I really, really respected both for their technical abilities as illustrators and their wisdom as instructors.
That being said, I do wish that they had instructed us more in accounting, book keeping, and promoting!
4. Any piece of advice on how to succeed afterwards?
Just make the work that you want to make and put it on the internet. And get/make some kind of list of art directors you’d like to work for and promote to them. At minimum every four months. When you graduate, no matter what your portfolio looks like, just promote your work like hell. So many people fall into the trap of polishing student work for months on end and never wind up sending anything out. 99% of the work in your student porfolio will be garbage, so keep making work after you graduate and in six months you’ll have a new portfolio. Gallery shows are a great excuse to make new stuff, so take any chance you can get to participate in group or solo shows.