Friday, March 21, 2008

It is the 21st Century (Pt. 2)

Jillian Tamaki is a Brooklyn-based illustrator who has had her work featured in SPIN, the New York Times, the New Yorker, and the Christian Science Monitor, among many other fine publications. What I enjoy most about her illustrations are the simple color pallettes and expressive brushwork--I think I might benefit from incorporating some of that looseness into my own work. She keeps an excellent sketchblog on her website, Her upcoming graphic novel, Skim (co-created with her cousin Mariko Tamaki) should hit bookstores soon.

What led you to your decision to work in illustration?

My programme at the Alberta College of Art and Design (I graduated 2003) was a very old-fashioned course with a half-illustration and half-design curriculum. I went into the programme with the intention of being a designer, but was drawn to the illustration side of it quite by accident. When I first entered ACAD, I don't think I even knew that one could make a career out of illustration. Or that such a thing even existed.

What historical artists have been influential to you? What contemporary artists?

An abridged list, in no particular order: Impressionism, Classicism, David Hockney, Beatrix Potter, Norman Rockwell, Hokusai (and other Japanese ukiyo-e), Disney, Otto Dix, George Grosz, Andrew Wyeth, The Brandywine artists, Edward Hopper, Reginald Marsh, religious paintings, photography, Inuit printmaking, Hergé, Ralph Steadman, manga, fashion... I sort of pick and choose from a lot of influences. I try to not look at too much contemporary illustration, actually. Because I think it's really easy to be (over)influenced and that one should really look beyond peers and the internet for inspiration. That said, there are some people I really admire, including Maira Kalman, Vivienne Flesher, Frank Stockton, Yuko Shimizu, Nathan Fox, Seth, Julie Doucet, Tomer Hanuka, Edel Rodriguez, Rutu Modan, and on and on...

Describe your style of illustration and your artwork in general, in your own words.

I don't think about my "style" too often, but it is figurative at its core. People not only have an aesthetic style, but also a "conceptual" style. I would describe mine as narrative. It's quite a traditional style.

Throughout your career as an illustrator, has your method, style, or way of working gone through any major changes?

I would say that it has evolved in a methodical manner. My abilities have increased considerably in the 5 years I have been illustrating simply because I do so much of it (thankfully). I do not try to "establish" a style or maintain a style. I think about the pictures I would like to make, and I play around with techniques... eventually the two come together in projects and if they're successful, I refine the process.

How have changes in your life affected your work over the course of your career?

I moved to NY in 2005. I'm not sure of any concrete changes (I had already been freelancing fulltime from my home in Canada), but I have to think that being in NY, the epicenter of our industry, has had a positive effect. I have met many fellow illustrators and am free to be inspired by the amazing culture here.

What goals do you have for your work, and for yourself as an artist?

My sole goal is to be working as an illustrator when I'm 70. To sustain a career.

In your opinion, what is the biggest drawback to a career in illustration--and how do you deal with it?

There are some annoying parts about being a freelancer. It's great to not have a boss, but it means you are solely responsible for own success. There is a business-end to the industry that perhaps students aren't aware of. Some things about running a business are boring, annoying, unglamourous, unfun. You have to learn how do those things and suck it up. That's it.

What do you think of the current illustration market / industry?

It's treated me well thus far (knock on wood).

What does it take for a young illustrator to be successful today?

This is strange, but honest: you have to be good. Don't waste your time if you don't have the talent and/or motivation. No amount of promos, websites, mailers, new items in your portfolio will do you any good if the work is not up to snuff. I know talented people that will not succeed because they don't have the motivation, and I know motivated illustrators that don't have the talent (or are at least not producing the work).

Step #1: Make something that people want to buy.

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