I find it hard to believe that 2016 was only my third full year in business as an illustrator. It feels like I've been doing it for so much longer! There has been so much change in the past year, let alone the last three and a bit. There are so many different ways to categorize the year's achievements and lessons that I can't choose just one. Instead, here is a report-style breakdown of my most significant moments of this amazing year.
As always, I would like to thank all those who were a part of making my year so great. First, I must thank my wife and kids, who patiently endure all the overtime and verbal obsessing about my work. Without Amanda's encouragement and insight, I would have given up a long time ago. Now, I must of course thank my clients, who trusted me to visualize ideas on their behalves and to add value to their companies. Next, a special thanks also to my agents for all the hustle and taking care of the business side — so I can focus more on the creative work. And speaking of trust, while technically they represent me, they also entrust me to represent them with my work. My work is their product, and I do not take my part of that responsibility lightly. Finally, a big thanks to all my friends, new and old, inspiring me and cheering me on. A particular thanks is due to Vincent Perez, my longtime collaborator and friend, the man behind almost all my letterpress projects. And thank you — whoever you area — for reading along and caring.
Now, without further ado, I give you the report! (I will add and update links as I am able).
Total Unique Jobs
79 projects and over 100 illustrations.
Most Personally Significant Project
Cover for The Walrus Magazine. This was my first mainstream magazine cover, and it came to me within weeks of wondering if and when such an opportunity would come. I was getting used to doing interior illustrations and started to wonder why I hadn't done a major cover yet. Not that I felt I was too good for interiors, but self-doubter that I am, I wondered if I just wasn't a cover kind of guy. Needless to say, I was elated to learn I was being too hard on myself. In fact, by the end of the year, I had 3 major covers, including The Walrus, Reader's Digest, and Quill & Quire.
Most Fun Project
Traveller's Playing Cards for Herb Lester. Because hey — I got to design a deck of cards. And this for one of my favourite little companies.
2016 was a year of firsts. First mainstream magazine cover. First illustration conference. First art fair. First beer label. First private commission. First major newspaper illustration. First line of custom stationery. First deck of cards!
20 Illustrations for Kit & Ace's online journal, The Ante. By sheer quantity of illustrations, Kit & Ace was my biggest client. What made it so easy to push out an illustration every other week? A client who gave me tons of creative freedom and trust, and one who has a great sense of humour.
Most Important Career Moment
Speaking at ICON 9. Going to this conference on its own would have qualified for this category, but it was an amazing opportunity to be able to speak on the mainstage, for Kaleidoscope, in front of hundreds of my peers and heroes in illustration. I did a 6 minute spiel about why I am an Inky Illustrator (why I choose to use physical media in my art). The audience response was amazing, and I was blown away by the kind feedback from attendees thereafter. What nobody knew was that it was my birthday that day — best gift ever!
Being interviewed and featured on Heythere.ca, a well designed and edited blog dedicated to the Canadian creative industry.
My main goal for 2016 was to pour myself more into each job, to up the ante when it comes to craftsmanship, intensity, and overall wow factor. At the end of the previous year, I felt like I was settling into a groove and leaning on a few go-to tricks a little too much. In 2016, I really pushed myself to try new processes, unfamiliar techniques, and to lean more on my intuition. This definitely shows in all the work I did this year, but particularly in such jobs as my mural for Ryerson University, Monocle Magazine, and Manhattan College.
Another major goal was to produce a line of greeting cards. With the help of Vincent Perez, we pushed out 8 flagship letterpress cards under our very own brand, Summer Studio Stationers.
Increased revenue by 25%. While my overhead increased this year, my overall earnings increased as well, owing largely to an increase in advertising work and a strong US client base.
Another huge win was discovering A&Co, an entire community of talented creatives and entrepreneurs in my own neck of the woods. It was so much easier for my career to have a social life when I lived in Vancouver. In May, in the midst of burnout and feeling very isolated, finding out about A&Co (Abbotsford and Company) put some much needed wind in my sails. Since then, A&Co has even created new friendships and business opportunities.
Un-met goals for personal projects leaves a small hole in my 2016 heart. Having too many goals is probably a pretty good problem to have, but I definitely had a lot and failed to meet a fair share of them. One major letdown was not getting very far on a picture book pitch I have been dwelling on since 2014. Similarly, I had hoped to do multiple new Skillshare classes but ran into writer's block late in the year that I have yet to get over.
Where to Improve in 2017
As more than enough jobs came through my doors, financial and time management fell by the wayside. I was sloppier than usual in keeping track of finances (I am still trying to catch up as a result), and I definitely picked up some bad habits in terms of using my day hours. In 2017, I will need to be more diligent in bookkeeping, and I must work to prioritize activities and stay on task.
Goals for 2017
My main goal this year is to finally get my book pitch together and in the hands of publishers. It will be a matter of setting aside time each week to work on it. My two biggest challenges in this regard will be to nail the story concept and to establish the book's illustration approach and style.
Another goal is to produce a second issue of The Canadianist. Our first issue was an amazing success, and it's worth noting that it got picked up by Chapters/Indigo (The Barnes and Noble of Canada). We hope to release the finished product in time for Canada's 150th birthday celebration on July 1st.
I'd also really like to complete and publish my colour class for Skillshare. I know some of my students are waiting for me to move on this — It's going to happen!
Finally, I would like to do more speaking engagements. I had three in 2016, the most notable of course being the one at ICON, and I really enjoyed them all. I had a few casual discussions of more speaking engagements which I hope materialize! Stay tuned.
If I simply match the success of last year in 2017, I will consider it a feat. While it is tempting to put a lot of effort into matching and surpassing my numbers and earnings, I must remind myself that this is not why I got in the business of creating art for a living. I make art for a living because it's what I love, and I always want it to be that way. My passion is a tool that serves me and should not be the other way around. My challenge in 2017 will be to continue to find that original sense of joy in creating — loving the process and discovering new ways of doing and seeing things. I wish you all the best in your own reflecting and goal setting. I'd love to hear about what you learned from the past year and what you hope to accomplish. Thanks again for coming along for the ride!