How would you describe yourself in 5 words?
Determined, intuitive, quirky, random, enthusiastic
What is the long version of how you got to where you are today?
I graduated with my Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Fashion Design from Kent State University in 2012. After college I moved from Ohio to NYC where I went on to work for Elie Tahari, J.Crew and Ralph Lauren. After a few years in the corporate world I realized I would never be fulfilled if I did not pursue my love for art.
I’m thankful for my time in the design world because it introduced me to fashion and beauty illustration. I had no idea there was even a career that could combine my two passions. I moved back to Ohio for a few months to start up a portfolio and website. Once finished I packed my bags and headed back to NYC where I found a part-time job doing graphic design. I worked there for 2 years while saving money and building a client list. About 6 months ago I quit and have been working for myself ever since! It is never too late to start over and take risks to achieve happiness.
I think it is really important people can explain their main message in a concise paragraph – if the above is the full version - What is your elevator pitch on what you do?
I am a full-time illustrator based in NYC that specialises in Fashion + Beauty artwork. I do everything from live sketch events for store launches to custom book illustrations, to artwork used on beauty packaging.
Are you doing what you thought you would be doing 10 years ago?
Sort of. I’ve wanted to be an artist since pre-school. Every year in my journal when teachers would ask “What do you want to be when you grow up” I would write or draw “I want to be an artist” I did not think I would be living in NYC when I was 18, or that I would have majored in fashion design. I could not even sew before deciding on design but I had the mentality that I would figure it out as I went. I’m very big on following your instincts. It seems to be working for me.
What does ‘success’ mean to you, and do you consider yourself ‘successful’?
I really would like to answer this question and say yes. I consider myself successful to an extent. I am proud of how far I’ve come. I’m successful in the way that I treat others. I don’t have it all figured out yet but I know I am definitely on the path to becoming successful career-wise, and in regards to the standards I set for myself.
What do you still want to achieve (personally and/or professionally)
I’m BIG on self-improvement. Personally, I’m always trying to grow and improve my way of thinking. If you can change your mindset you can change your life. I want to achieve the mindset of living in the present. I get caught up in thinking of the future so much that I need to take a step back and appreciate the journey. Professionally, I would love to do large-scale pieces and get into a few art galleries around the world. I work small scale and often use computers to add colour elements and shading but there is something so special about a piece of work that is completely done by hand. I would also love to do editorial work for magazines like WWD, Glamour or Vogue. I often do live sketch events for brands like Saks Fifth Avenue and Lord & Taylor but I’m interested in expanding my live sketching to weddings and travelling across the world illustrating for hotels or design houses.
Did you study anything specific for the career you are in?
I am mostly a self-taught artist. I took basic drawing classes in college but not many in illustration. I learned the classic way to draw a fashion figure when studying design but always seemed to get points deducted because I did not follow the cookie-cutter way of creating one.
What have been the most rewarding things in your career to date?
Working full-time for myself has been the most rewarding thing thus far. The freedom to make my own schedule and feel as if what I will be doing with my entire life is something that I truly enjoy is priceless.
Tell us about your workspace, and what about it inspires you?
My workspace is pretty chaotic to tell you the truth. I have a huge bulletin board above my desk where I am constantly pinning future quotes and magazine tears that speak to me. My yard is connected to my studio so the fresh air and the sun is exactly what I need to fuel my creativity once summer hits. I often venture out to a cute coffee shop in West Village or Upper West Side when I am working on the digital aspects of my artwork. I prefer working from home when drawing since I incorporate several different mediums into my artwork it is easier to have everything on hand.
What are some frustrations you have experienced on your career journey?
It upsets me when my work is not valued and I see the “work for exposure” line pop up in one of my emails. It has taken me my entire life to develop my skills to the point they are at now, and I feel undervalued when people expect me to work for free. Someone would never think of not paying a doctor or attorney. Even though artists are passionate about their work we have bills to pay like the rest of the world.
When was the last time you were overwhelmed & cried from something provoked by work/workload?
I’m a fairly sensitive person as it. I don’t usually cry from an overwhelming workload. I am so focused on hitting the deadlines there is no room left for tears. I just make it happen without thinking of how I am going to do it. I get emotional when I do not book an event or land a job. In times like these, it is hard not to get upset but I have to stay focused on my next project. Dwelling on the past does not get you anywhere.
Would you say you put pressure on yourself? Has this increased or decreased as you progress in your career?
Yes, I believe putting pressure (to an extent) on myself is healthy and essential to moving forward and achieving goals. The pressure has increased as my career has progressed. I’m not nearly close to being where I would like to be at my age. I have all of these goals I would like to hit before I’m 30 and now that I am 28 I’m feeling the pressure more than ever. I do think it is a bit silly that I put so much emphasis on achieving goals at certain ages. Success happens to everyone at a different time and there is no “right” time in life to have everything in order.
If you are a business owner, and you often can’t just check out/ have a week off when you are dealing with personal things, how do you keep on keeping on with your business when things get tough?
Taking breaks are essential. No, I cannot take a week off or even a few days but I can allow myself to go running, take a walk in the park, play with my cat or catch up with a friend. It is difficult at times not wanting to shut down when things get tough, but my business and dreams keep me focused and I have to continuously train my mind to stay on track.
Has your career affected your personal life/relationships? If so how?
My career has definitely affected my personal life and relationships throughout the years. I often wonder how my life would be different if I chose a steady job with less pressure. I wonder but never would wish for that. I feel as if part of me is missing out on my youth by working so much but I also realise the amount of dedication and time it takes to become a full-time artist living in one of the most expensive cities.
Has your journey at times felt lonely?
I would be lying if I told you this journey was not lonely. I moved to New York not having any close friends or family to rely on. I am an introvert and an extrovert so still thrive off socialising.
I try and work at a coffee shop or workout at my gym during the day. I don’t take people for granted as I used to, and appreciate the beauty of diversity when it comes to others personalities more than ever now. When I had a corporate job, I would need to recharge and be alone when I got home from work and now I recharge by spending time with friends.
What causes you anxiety/sleepless nights?
Not living up to my full potential causes me anxiety/sleepless nights. I want to become the best version of myself when it comes to my artwork and me as a person.
If you had your time over again, from when you started your career to right now, would you do anything differently?
I would speak to more mentors or people that were much older than me who had achieved the goals that I am working towards. It would save a lot of time if I did not have to learn the lessons the hard way.
What advice would you give your 21 year old self?
I would advise my 21year old self to get used to failure. For instance; while studying fashion design we could not get less than a B- or would fail out of the program. I understand that you must know the fundaments of design to be an asset to a future employer, but I never understood why society is sometimes brainwashed into thinking failure is awful. The faster you fail the closer you are to success.
Who are some women in business you admire & why?
Samantha Wills for following her passion from a very young age and turning her love for mermaid inspired arts and crafts into a full blown successful business. She has never lost sight of her aesthetic and continued to stay true to her style. I also admire Christie Brinkley for her success on her Prosecco and beauty line. She could have stopped at modelling but continued to use her platform to make a difference in various industries.
What traits do you admire in people you surround yourself with?
I try to surround myself with people that are kind, giving and driven who know how to balance having fun with working hard in all they do.
Work life balance; does it exist (I don’t think it does!) and how to maintain it, or a sense of it?
I try my best to work as hard as possible during the traditional work week and make time to see friends on the weekends. Since my schedule is a bit more flexible, I meet old co-workers during their lunch breaks to catch up.
Have you ever thought about giving up / quitting? If so, does that feeling hit from the same triggers? Why haven’t you quit?
I have often questioned my decision to pursue art full-time, but never once considered quitting. Living in NYC is awfully expensive and not having a stable paycheck, health benefits (with work) or paid vacations that come with a corporate job can be tough. If it is a slow month I question all of my life choices but once things pick up again (which they always do) my confidence comes back and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
What is the biggest misconception about what you do?
I’ve run into people that assume all I do is colour all day. Being proficient at communication, branding, marketing and business is all part of being an artist if that is your main way of making a living. I’ve created my own contracts, met with clients one on one, reached out to potential brands and pitched ideas. Some days much of my time is spent emailing and not drawing. Sure, it is a ‘dream job’ in a sense that I am doing what I love but sometimes people fail to see the practice and long hours that go into building a brand.
What advice would you give someone who is starting out in your industry?
Not to compare. It is normal to admire other artists and be inspired by them but you also have to factor in how many years they have devoted to their craft.
If you knew what you know now, about how much work was involved in getting you to where you are now, would you do it again or do something different, if so, what?
I would definitely do it again. I knew it would be hard work but I underestimated how much time it would take to get to the position that I am in. I always think projects and goals take less time to accomplish than they really do.
I like the quote ‘Don’t just have a job, have a purpose’ - What do you want your legacy to be?
I want to be known for more than just my artwork. I want to be known for being a caring person that has used her art to bring joy and change across the world. I am blessed to have a skill that has the potential to reach people globally and can use my artwork to raise money and take a stance on issues that need attention brought to them.
The SAMANTHA WILLS FOUNDATION is about bringing women in business together – why do you think this is important?
In a world where women are constantly comparing themselves and competing with one another, it is important to come together as one and look how we can build each other up, collaborate and grow stronger.
What are some of your favourite quotes?
- We create the outcome we (consciously or unconsciously) expect. Once you start assuming the best in people and assuming there will be positive outcomes in all situations. You’ll you surprised how right you can be.
- The secret to change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.
- People are the prettiest when they talk about something they love with passion in their eyes.