I have enjoyed sharing about my illustration career. On this blog there are over 2,200 images. I find the blog format fascinating, as my stories about my illustration career “unfolded” in their own way. I had no idea when I started writing my blog where it would go.
All of my stories, tips and information move forward from the first post. For this post, it is important for me to explain a few things that I have shared earlier on my blog. There are people reading this who might not have not seen anything else I’ve written.
I’ve already shared many of my portfolio pieces, but they have been scattered all over. It seemed like a good idea to group them all together for this medley of portfolio illustrations. For those who are not familiar with my painting techniques, most of my illustrations are completed with Dr. PH Martin dyes. I also use Prismacolor pencils and Badger acrylics for details. Some of my illustrations are done using only Admarkers (with additions of colored pencil and acrylic, such as the Banana Split below.)
From the time I graduated college until the present time, I considered myself an illustrator. My career suited me perfectly, because I was able to balance many things in addition to being an artist.
At times, being an illustrator was very stressful. There was a lot of “performance anxiety,” that went along with ridiculous deadlines and the pressure to please many people involved in projects. I often worked with people who all disagreed with one another and gave me conflicting art direction! However, I was always reliable and tried hard to do my best. I improved over the many decades as an illustrator.
I reached a pinnacle and felt very competent illustrating food, florals, and any still life object I could find reference for.
But then there was a time when most of my commissioned work stopped. It turned out it wasn’t a bad thing. During that lull of not receiving assignments, I discovered how much I loved sharing what I’ve learned with other people.
It gave me a lot of purpose and meaning to write about those lessons in my life. On this blog, I write about those lessons from being an illustrator, and on my other blog www.myjourneysinsight.com, I write about other life lessons I have faced.
I was very blessed to have had such a wonderful career as an illustrator!
When people see any of the illustrations in my portfolio I am often asked this question: “These paintings look like photographs? Why not just take a picture instead?”
Here is my answer:
1. Using an illustrator was often cheaper than photography. (No stylist, retouching, photo-shoots required). Sometimes the products did not even exist to photograph.
2. It was much easier to fit an illustration into the design of a packaging label.
3. And this was my favorite answer: I liked to think that my paintings were more than just a photograph. They were idealistic, because I attempted to make my images look exciting – shinier, more brilliant and more perfect. I tried to achieve this through the use of color, contrast and simple composition.
When I graduated college, I had no idea that I would specialize and become a “food illustrator.” However, I did have two pieces in my portfolio that steered me in that direction. One I called, “Vegetable Medley.” For some reason, I liked using the word “medley” to name many of my portfolio pieces. The other was a black and white painting of liquid pouring into a glass.
Therefore, my definition of a “Portfolio Piece” was a painting that would showcase and sell my abilities as an illustrator. It needed to be something that depicted my “strengths” and displayed what I could do best.
I kept my portfolio simple and didn’t show anything that might be detrimental – even though art directors were notorious in wanting to see examples of something close to a job they were looking for. Most illustrators know that clients often lack imagination about making a leap in subject matter.
Statements like these made me laugh and I heard them so often!
“I see you have a chocolate bar, but do you have any examples of melted chocolate?”
“I see you have tortilla chips, but can you do potato chips?”
“You’ve done cold cereal, but can you do hot cereal?”
Artist representatives told me only to share portfolio pieces of the work I wanted to do. That was perplexing at times because I had some nice paintings of beverages, but didn’t really want to illustrate them under a lot of time pressure (they are VERY complex). I demonstrated that I could do lettering on products, but always hated that part of illustrating.
When I began my career, I used to take my portfolio to appointments with local art directors. I painted two of what would probably be the most important paintings to guide my style of illustrating. It was my Nestle Crunch bar and Coca Cola glass. Those paintings opened up a lot of doors for me.
I had done the lettering by hand on both of them, and in the advertising domain it was not considered “perfect” enough. I had to find a way to create perfect lettering.
Eventually, I did.
After that, I indulged myself to create paintings that truly allowed me to explore what I loved through textures, colors, and contrast. I used my own photography as my reference and painted a “Portfolio Piece” every year or two. My purpose for these paintings would be to use them for self-promotion.
Because I was usually busy with assignments coming in, I wasn’t always that motivated to paint something for which I wouldn’t be paid. However, it was important for me to advertise almost every year in a “Source Book” for art directors to see my work.
Below are some examples of my ads that were very useful for gaining credibility with art directors and for getting jobs:
Painting portfolio pieces helped create colorful advertisements that showcased my style. Printed job examples were also important, but they were never as impressive as something that I created to please myself.
I still have boxes of the expensive ads that I had printed. There is no need for me to do time consuming “envelope stuffing” anymore. The Internet is a far easier way for an art director to find me, and most of the places I used to mail my samples to have gone out of business.
I did design my own ads for many years, but with success I decided that even the ad design needed to be more professional. Because I was never very comfortable with graphic design, I hired a designer for the last six ads that I did. It made a huge difference. I always had admiration for designers, and even more so after that because I saw what an improvement it was over my own “boring” placement of images.
My postcard promotion with my Snicker’s and Nestlé’s candy bars was also very helpful for my career. It was often easier to share a postcard than a larger tearsheet.
So much of what I have shared is not relevant in today’s career marketplace. I don’t know if there will be more projects for me “down the road.” Working digitally is certainly much faster and easier on my eyes.
For me, my journey into becoming an artist started when I was very young. I do not believe that talent alone guarantees success.
My passion to do my best is what truly guided me.
I continue to do that now as I pursue writing and music.