Q/A Wendy asks: How did you finally decide to give up the safe job and become an illustrator?
I was first introduced to illustration when I worked in advertising. As an Art Director, I would get giant glossy books in the mail with all the latest illustration. I would get postcards and ingenious little mailers designed to capture my attention. Anything I liked would earn a space on my bulletin board...maybe someday I could use it for something. And occasionally I would. I'd hire illustrators for specific projects, and it always thrilled me. I loved using the illustrator's brain to solve problems.
But I also drew. I went to college for fine art. Have been drawing for ages. So I started hiring myself to illustrate things instead of hiring someone outside the agency (my reasoning was that it saved the client money). I did some Steak n Shake schoolbook covers with fun illustrations. I illustrated storyboards for TV spots. I loved to concept for ads, using sketches and drawing to show my ideas. I started to be the person my coworkers would come to if they needed any drawing. And I loved it. I would love sitting at the table in the middle of the agency with my pens and colored pencils, just drawing and sketching out ideas.
All that drawing paired with all those glossy postcards got me to thinking..."Hey, why don't I do illustration, instead of advertising?". But I thought it was a pipe dream. How do you break into a new field? I knew illustration from only one perspective. I didn't know if I had what it took to compete. I didn't know what to do to change my career.
So I took baby steps.
I put the word out that I could draw for hire. And some of my friends and some acquaintances took me up on it. I did some illustrated books for mothers-to-be gifts. I drew invitations. I made greeting cards for other people. It was enough to make me decide that illustration is what I wanted to do full time.
And by that time I had a little portfolio built up from all the stuff I was doing on the side. So I threw together a website one weekend. And I did two careers for a while. I was doing advertising during the day. And I'd come home at night and work on all my illustration projects (some for friends, and some for brave souls who hired me at first). I was exhausted. It's hard to concentrate on two things and give both all of yourself. So eventually it came down to chance.
Was I brave enough to risk my wonderful, fun and growing career in advertising for my crack-pot idea of illustration? Was I okay with giving up regular pay checks? No 401k? No benefits? Hanging out all day with all my witty friends in the business?
I didn't know. And it was really scary. I thought and thought. I am positive I drove my husband crazy talking about the possibilities constantly. (Sorry 'bout that Colin. You were a trooper.)
And it eventually came down to "now or never". If I didn't do it, I would always think back on it and hate myself for not taking a chance. For not being brave. And I just couldn't live with that. Plus, if I really thought about it, what was the worst that could happen? I could go broke, be hungry and be forced to get a job in advertising again. So what was I really losing by not risking it. Right?
So one day I decided to do it. I'd just had my review. I was moving up. And I knew it was time before I chickened out and did the safe thing.
I quit to pursue this dream. And I have not looked back once. It just keeps getting better and better.