life after art school, now what? conversation on JUXTAPOZ
The latest issue of JUXTAPOZ Magazine(September 2013) has a big feature called Art School 101, where recent graduates from four different US art schools ask questions to their professors about life after art school.
I had an honor to represent School of Visual Arts where I have been teaching illustration classes since 2003. One of my former students and very talented young artist Jensine Eckwall and I had a conversation which is featured in this article.
The whole conversation took place in my studio earlier this summer. We probably talked and talked for more than an hour. JUXTAPOZ editors did a great job condensing the essence of conversation into just three pages. Since there are a lot of you out there, some outside of the US where you can get this magazine, who have the same questions Jensine has, I wanted to post the whole conversation here.
*correction: my friend is an 'art director' at Victoria's Secret, not a 'director' as in the article.
One wall is going to be a simple graphic typography on a black wall, and another side is the same type made out of illustrated and detailed octopus tentacles. The walls are painted by very talented Coby Kennedy based on the designs we had created.
If you are in DUMBO area, you can see the work in progress, for the next week to maybe up to two weeks (depends on the progress). The underdrawing stage is done, and the painting has just started. I am planning on checking in as much as I can.
The walls are on Jay street under-path, right outside of F train York Street exit in DUMBO. (see the map below)
how it will look like like at the end, when done.
current view, underdrawing is done, painting is about to start.
the opposite wall. This will be simple graphic white type on a black wall.
This is where the walls are. Right outside of F train York Street stop, on Jay Street under-path
Why I think day job is good for you. (for aspiring artists out there)
I was buying a box of cereal. I said "hi" to the girl at the checkout counter, but she didn't even look up. She scanned the cereal box and throw it back at me without even saying how much the total was. I try to be nice at the checkout counters. I look them straight in their eyes and say "hi, how are you?", even when they look like they are not having a good day. Which is, well, most of the time. Their attitude changes, they smile back, and we part by saying 'Thank you. Have a good day' to each other.
The girl who threw the cereal box, though, she was taking her unhappiness out on me. I didn't even feel like wasting my time patiently smiling at her. So I took the change, mumbled thank you inside my mouth and left. The good thing is that I can forget this bad experience right when I step out of the store. On the other hand she has to stay working unhappily all day long.
One of the most common questions young artists, especially those who just graduated, ask me is: "did you have to take a day job when you were starting out?". I don't know exactly what they expect me to answer, and what is the intention of the question. However what I know is that this is not a simple yes or no answer for me. If you are asking about the time after finishing my MFA in illustration, my answer is no. But I also spent 11 years in corporate PR office job after I finished college before going back to art school much later in my life. So, the answer is yes if I count those 11 years as my day job. And I do.
The fact is that it was during my day job I learned everything about how to work efficiently, how to organize, multi-task, how to make good phone calls or to negotiate terms either with clients or with bosses and coworkers.... you name it. (including, minor things like don't make phone calls before 10AM, don't e-mail important topics on weekends or Mondays, which I still follow till this day.) In short, it taught me everything about how to run my small business of illustration later on.
When I went back to school as an art student at age over 30, I initially felt old and inferior to those bright 17 year olds in my classes. But soon realized that though I may have been old(er), I also had a lot of life experiences under my belt. Now, after finishing up exact same amount of time, exactly 11 years, of working as an illustrator, I often stop and think: would it have been even possible to be working as an illustrator for this long if I didn't have that day job first? The answer to this is very clear to me.
I was a hopeless 21 year old, who had no life experiences or social skill but thought I was someone special, like any other (or should I say most of) 21 year old may think. I used to pick fights with bosses when I thought I was right. (though I still think I was right in those cases! LOL.) I now know exactly how to talk that boss into letting me do what I think is a good idea, among everything else. (After all, any business is about person to person relationships. ) Yes, I learned them all during my day job.
Though I never loved that job, which ultimately made me decide to leave and pursue my childhood dream of being an artist, I don't regret the priceless experiences that later allowed me to jump start my 'second career'. If I have a time machine to go back, I won't change a thing.
I believe day jobs are too underrated. Maybe you feel inferior to those who don't need to take that day job? Please don't ever be ashamed! Trust me, there is a lot you can learn from any day job as long as you try to make best of it, even when the situation is not ideal. The reality is, business of art is half art and half business. There are far fewer young artists who are completely ready to run their own one person business when they graduate than those who are not. Think of it as you are given a special opportunity to get yourself ready.
When that day comes when you can finally let go of that day job, I guarantee you will be thankful for the experiences you have had. Besides, you will be So thankful for not have to work on day job anymore that you will focus and work even harder than if you didn't have to go through it.
Trust my word. It's all going to be good! (and let's start from smiling while you are on the job.)
(PS: The last photo is a Google street view of the office building I worked for 11 years in Tokyo. Because I am just about to start the 12th year working on my second job, I thought it was a good time to talk about this now. Hope it would be helpful for some of you. Thank you. )
I use Google Maps all the time. You do too, right? I just used it yesterday to find out where exactly was the West Village restaurant I was going. And, oh, the closest subway stop. But it never occurred to me that I can use this to illustrate.
This illustration is for the current Mother Jones magazine (July and August 2013). Story is about how we are pretending the next super storm won't arrive and believe our cities are going to be fine.
They asked for an image of New York City in flood where people carrying on their everyday lives like they don't care.
The key was to pick a location that looks undeniably New York City, with enough open space to fill with crowd. Times Square was being suggested for obvious reasons. But then again, if you are a New Yorker, you know Times Square is for the tourists. You don't go there unless you need to.
I ended up choosing 23rd Street where Broadway and 5th Avenue meet, right next to Madison Square Park. This is where you have a great view of Empire State Building, with two avenues going diagonally up north with lots of interesting looking buildings, a park to your right, and a big open space to draw bunch of people and some cars in.
This is also where I have been getting off the subway to go to School of Visual Arts (SVA) for last 14 years, first as a student, then as an instructor after I finished my MFA. It was a natural choice. (And may I mention my favorite restaurant in town, La Mar, is situated right near by?)
I initially downloaded bunch of photos online. Then realized, you can't really get all the details from the online photo references.
I don't know how I ended up going to Google Map street view. But I did.
Why didn't I do this before? You can virtually walk up and down the avenues, to see the details of some buildings you cannot see in the reference photos. You can look up, then look right and left. This is PERFECT.
It saved me from going out in the miserable weather to sit on a street corner for hours and hours and possibly harassed by passers by, even laughed at for my wobbly drawing skill.
More New York city scape assignments? Bring them on.
Initially I downloaded these photos of the location from various websites. I had noticed that though they are good photos, I cannot see enough of cityscape details to draw from.
Then, here is Google Map Street View. I can walk up and down the avenues virtually.
I really liked this pink building on the right, so I walked around it virtually to get the details and understand the structure.
This is a rare cross streets where two avenues and a street meet all at once. So, I walk up and down the other avenue to understand the buildings surrounding it.
Having all the windows open on my screen, I get to work. I virtually walk around as I draw, according to which part I am drawing.
I didn’t mention about the characters in the image, but that was another fun part of this project. Williamsburg hipster dude listening music on his big headphone, hot girl (but a realistic one and not a movie star kind) talking on her phone, teenage couple, George from Seinfeld look alike… A girl with the dog is based on one of my students who had to give away her dog to the neighbor and feeling sad, so I decided to draw her with a dog happily taking a walk. And oh, the small girl in the center with backpack is me as a child.
Last but not least, thank you AD Carolyn Perot for a fun project. Mother Jones Magazines is in newsstand now with a fellow Drawger Tim O'Brien on the cover.