Your Fears Don’t Have To Be Mine
I’ve been artistic since childhood — I still remember cutting up my barbie’s hair, painting on rocks I found outside, and using my limited vocabulary to write poetry. It was only natural that by the time I reached my teens, I’d consider art college. Coming from a fatherless family, the idea of not going to state-funded college like my two sisters did terrified my mom. She said it would be best if I study something more “practical”, like physical therapy or psychology. But, through a bunch of crazy circumstances, I ultimately deviated from my family traditions and attended art college. I thought I was free; I could now live a life with other open-minded people and set out on my heart’s desires. I went to Pratt Institute in Brooklyn with a focus on Illustration. It only took a few weeks of classes to realize the fantasy I pictured in my head would be far from the reality.
It’s honestly funny because not many people think of art college as such a hard-pressed place, but I can tell you that I’ve never heard the word “practical” more from my peers and mentors than in my years spent at college. I heard my mother’s fears validated from my professors, insisting that there are absolutely no more jobs in illustration — that it used to be a desirable job in the mid 1900s before color photography became a commodity. This lead me into a mini-existential crisis. I wanted to draw, but apparently the chances I’d make money from doing so would be as rare as going viral on YouTube or something.
In a constant fear of not being hirable, I put my focus into pursuing internships for Graphic Design, a major that apparently lead to stable jobs. Slowly but surely, I began to refine my design work until it became unrecognizable from my illustration. Many people thought my designs were made by an entirely different person — a comment that frustrated me despite how much the commenter assured me this was a “good thing.” Perhaps because my sterile design was a product of the deep shame I had for my more gritty illustrative style. I equated messy strokes with poverty; clean lines with riches. Expression with failure.
Fast-forward to graduation day, I was convinced everyone was right. Finding a job in illustration was a no-go, and if I didn’t want to subject myself to slave labor I needed to find a job in design. I cleaned up my website, went to portfolio events and began to apply for design jobs, but weeks went by and no one replied. Come June, I decided I would go to my family in Germany and just live there for a couple months before returning for a job.
A week before my scheduled departure in June, two companies reached out to me from distant connections I made at those portfolio reviews. I wasn’t so happy at this surprise as I was sad that they were wasting their time interviewing someone unhireable. I decided to go with it anyway. The first company was a small design studio from London. Let’s just say that was a bust. The second company was BuzzFeed, which, if you don’t know, basically owns half the things you see trending on social media platforms. A day before my flight, I marched in their office with the ultimate “fuck-it” attitude. I don’t think I was very scared; I was honestly expecting to be in and out in ten minutes, tops.
The interview didn’t only go well, but they appreciated my illustration work and I was hired as a paid intern in a week. I was honestly shocked and felt as though they made some mistake. At this point I was already in Germany with my aunt. What I thought would be months across the sea ended up being only ten days. Back on the plane towards New York, I wondered if they were going to find me out once I started working there — that they’d realize my work, or my more aloof and strange personality just wasn’t fit for the workplace.
I was so wrong. Three months in, I was hired full-time, making illustrations and designs, often living together in the same piece. I’ve been working there for nearly a year now, and my perspective on illustration has changed completely. I understand that the fears others projected on me were delivered with good intent, but I am now living in direct opposition to those statements. Even if it’s only in this small pocket of creatives that found me at BuzzFeed, illustration still can be a stable, profitable job. And yes, I have health insurance.
My theory is that people no longer want to look at stock photography of people doing redundant tasks with a smile. It’s the stuff you’d find on the web when you actually misspell your favorite website url. Younger generations want to feel a personal touch, something they can look at and not be reminded of the corporate, blue-suit world. Things that remind them of themselves. The messy strokes I thought no one could appreciate are being consumed by hundreds of thousands of viewers on a regular basis. I no longer live in a world of ‘design versus illustration’ — I just spend my days commuting to work and making things I like to make.