A Day In The Life of an Illustrator

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Illustrated by Tanner Garlick

Illustrated by Tanner Garlick

3PP Episode 12

A Day in The Life of an Illustrator

Sorry! We just wanted to apologize for the audio quality of this episode. Lee was moving across the country and didn’t have the best set up when we did this episode, but we loved the content so much that we decided to release it anyways. Finished not perfect, right? And correction: when we mentioned Milton Glaser, we actually meant Philip Glass. Enjoy!

We want to talk about a day in the life of an illustrator because when you are choosing a career as an illustrator you are essentially choosing a certain life, and a lifestyle that goes along with it.

Lee and Will will be discussing the life of an illustrator from the book illustration side, while Jake will be commenting and focusing more on the entertainment side of things.

Lee always gets up really early each day and gets to work on a project. As an illustrator you don’t have hard deadlines, so you need to make up your own arbitrary deadlines. There is a final deadline but you need to break it up into smaller steps. So he spends the beginning of his day scheduling what to do. Then he goes right into working on one of the books he is working on.

Schedule: when you are able to schedule your time wisely, that is really going to pay big dividends in your career.

At a studio, Jake would get told what he would do and the schedule was laid out for him. It was a big adjustment when he became an independent artist and had to start managing his own schedule. He started with to do lists, to keep track of what went on during the day, then he started scheduling those tasks throughout the week, and now he has a full weekly and monthly plan and that really helps him with accomplishing his goals.

You need to learn to manage the small micro steps, and learn about your work flow and how long it takes you to perform certain tasks.

Jake divides his work into two categories: creative time and administrative time. Creative time is during the morning when he is fresh and alert, then administrative time comes in the afternoon when he is more tired and burnt out.

Deep Work

Lee is the same.

When Lee gets a project he typically gets an email from his agent that someone is interested in working with him; he writes back and tells them that he is interested; the agent will start to work on the budget and negotiate back and forth with the client; they go back and forth and agree on a schedule; then he gets started on the project by doing some research and development.

“A good beginning is half done.” Great advice from a fortune cookie. It is really profound, though!  If you can start goodt it will influence and pay dividends throughout the project.

At the beginning stages of a book try to stay open to a lot of different influences. It doesn’t have to be so linear. After reading the manuscript stay open to different ideas, styles, or influences, from anywhere and everywhere.

For entertainment, typically if you are on the development team doing the early early pre production work and working on ideas, then you might be doing that for weeks to months at a time, fleshing out ideas. A lot of times before Jake  would go to the studio he would stop by the library for a half hour before going to work and maybe checking it out to use at work that day. Usually there is a weekly meeting where you meet with the director and show it to the group.

As an illustrator you don’t want to attach too much value to your work early on. Nothing is sacred or precious, you can’t get too attached to your drawings and paintings. Otherwise it will become a hindrance to you.

If you are uncomfortable with showing people your rough sketches, then entertainment might be hard for you. You have to show everything, and you don’t know what the director is going to respond to. It might be a 5 minute sketch that you did, or it might be something you spent a few hours on.

You go through stages as an artist: you draw something realistic, then you start drawing characters and diving more into the story and narrative side of things.

You don’t just move forward with your first sketch. You need to do push it more.

Step 2 is where Lee will start thinking about storytelling, and this is his favorite part about being an illustrator: thinking about what the story is really about.

Everything needs to serve the story, including the style. The story should dictate the approach, not the other way around.

Entertainment: Usually the early development team is made up of an art team that is made out of artists with different styles that will help direct the story.

The Art of The Incredibles

There is a lot of overlap between movies and book images, probably because there is a lot of storytelling.

To recap Lee’s process of getting started on a project: Email and express interest, email about the budget, analyze the story, then do very loose sketches that thumbnail the book (2 weeks), then he tightens up the loose sketches, and start painting.

What is the process for you, Will? Once he did a book in 3 months but that was awful, usually a book takes 6-12 months.

A life as a children’s book illustrator: you need to be comfortable with these really long deadlines. You need to be comfortable working on a 9 month long project, if you are at a studio then you might be working on a project for 2 years plus.

This is one of the reasons that Jake wanted to leave the studio work life: the early blue sky stages are super fun, but other times you have to work on a single scene for months and constantly got revisions and sometimes it became unfulfilling.

Jake has been away for a while, and has thought about going back, but realizes that he has the lifestyle that he wants already.

One of the big pros of being a children’s book illustrator is that you are in control. You have control of the product. Ultimately, when you have the final product in your hands it is largely all yours. It is very satisfying.

Lee loves to use Adobe Indesign to layout his books, and it can seem daunting to learn to use a new program but it is definitely worth it; it can be really powerful for laying out a book, it is the way to go for multi page documents.

Will likes to work on the ipad, it is his mobile studio. He uses it to look at all of the different pages too. He chunks out time and give his focus to the design work, sometimes even working in his car to keep focused.

Biggest Pros and Cons of Being an Illustrator:

The pros of being an illustrator is the freedom to make your choice of how your schedule looks. The freedom can be a blessing or a curse.

You can go see a movie on a Tuesday morning, or go on a bike ride during the day if you want to! At a studio, that doesn’t fly.

If you like collaborating, and working in that environment, with different people, and all of the bustling that goes along with that, then maybe

Enough freedom is actually a bad thing.

Here is an important point: most people don’t make their full living as an illustrator. You might do a few things.

Maybe doing art all the time isn’t the best way to make your art. Maybe having a real job where you are interacting with people in real situations will spark your creativity and it goes into something that doesn’t have so many strings attached.

As an illustrator, everyday isn’t bliss. Sometimes you don’t feel like creating, or it may feel monotonous, but likely that’s how every job is from time to time.

What would you do if you couldn’t do art?

Teaching doesn’t count.

Jake: fantasizes about managing and operating a bookstore, or working in concessions at a movie theater.

Lee: physical therapist, or the guy that works in those little booths at a campsite. Delivering pizza was fun as a kid.

Will, has fantasized about running a restaurant.

The grass is romanticized on the other side.

What’s the biggest frustration of being an illustrator?

Will: sometimes when you read the manuscript from an author, even if you like it there are things that you would change. Another thing would be when you feel you really understand the story and the editor has differing views. A lot of the aggravation is based on our perception and attitude.

Biggest pro is the flexibility. Don’t take it for granted.

Jake: the biggest aggravation, or stressor is the lack of steady income. You might make 3 months income in one and then for the next 2 months, drip drip. The freedom in your schedule, is amazing.

Jake had the flexibility to go and help his wife with a project, and he could stay later or come in early. Another thing: Jake has 5 kids, and insuring all of the family, is really expensive. It is a huge burden. To them though, having a family is more important than having a nice car. Jake barely remembers what his older kids were like during

During the day, Jake could eat lunch with his kids and take breaks to play with them. The family life was a lot better. Biggest pro of entertainment job: consistent money, consistent job, and being surrounded by some of the most talented people in the world.

TV has more layoffs. Usually at an animation studio you have a lot more stability. There is enough work that if you are talented and good with people, they will keep you on.

There are a lot of people vying for animation jobs, although there are lots of different studio jobs there.

There is no career path to being a book illustrator. There are so many gray areas.

Lee: Early aggravation, of not knowing how to navigate the terrain.

There are a lot of online resources, youtube, and huge sources of revelation. The art of books are so valuable.

It is really rewarding to come in and get to work, and your whole day is spent trying to tell a story.



Jake Parker: mrjakeparker.com. Instagram: @jakeparker, Youtube: JakeParker44

Will Terry: willterry.com. Instagram: @willterryart, Youtube: WillTerryArt

Lee White: leewhiteillustration.com. Instagram: @leewhiteillo

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