Every year, I summarize the last trip around the sun as an illustrator. I celebrate the wins and I reflect on the challenges and disappointments. This is my annual report for the 2018.
Last fall, I was approached by the creative director at Rize, a leading developer of residential and commercial properties, about creating a series of posters based on their top projects. Each image in the series would highlight something unique about the architecture of a respective project. Based on the brief alone, I felt very unsure that I was going to be the right guy for the job.
You can place your order here. If the minimum of 12 orders is not reached, the shirt will die and you will not be charged. Sad but fair!
Since we moved from Vancouver to Yarrow in 2015, I had been working out of a studio off site. The space was in a building of mostly pottery studios. It served its purpose quite well, and for most of the time, I required a space that was some distance from my home — mostly because of the age of our children.
This spring, we decided it was finally time to bring my studio home. It was a combination of reasons that all suddenly converged, but mainly we were ready to start our second wave of renovations (the first wave was when we moved in in 2015). The other reason was that we felt our girls were at an age where they could understand my "at home" and "at work" modes and therefore understand why I might not be available during the day. The flip side to this is that I can spend more time being present at home, and hopefully soon, I will be comfortable enough to invite them to participate in my workday a little more. That's still a work in progress, but that's a different post!
At first, I thought I would actually build a studio in the back yard, but because of building code restrictions, it would have to be pretty small (about 100 sq. ft). For the same cost as a proper outbuilding studio, we figured we could do a lot more in our laundry room, and probably do our bathroom, finish our entrance, and update the playroom while we were at it. Our laundry room had been in pretty much the same state since we moved in. It was our most neglected and shameful room. It seemed like a waste to have such a large room devoted to laundry and neglect. So this is why the laundry room has become my studio.
While I hope to show some before and after pics of the rest of our most recent reno, I wanted to show the transformation of our laundry room and adjacent bathroom first. I'm super pleased with the results. A big thanks goes out to Matthew Holdsworth and Tyler Dick over at Hickory Lane Construction. If you're looking for a good contractor who can make your renovation dreams a reality, try giving them a call!
Some of you guys may know I've been working on a new Skillshare class on how to create beautiful illustrated maps using the techniques taught in Inky Illustrations. It's called Inky Maps (obviously)!
I am currently producing it and am about 3/4 the way through! Here are a few production stills just to show you what I'm up to — and hopefully to whet your appetite!
I'm planning to launch this in mid-to-late October. It is a sheer coincidence that the class will be launching in this month, for some reason now known as #Inktober!
Please stay tuned for the official launch announcement!
NEWS: I just completed my second collaboration with Reunion Goods & Services on some wall art a the new Upper East Side location of Quality Eats. Their photographer, Liz Clayman, was kind enough to let me post some of her photos of the interiors. You can see more of the art I did for this location as well as the original East Village one here.
Remember January, when we all made those resolutions and goals for the coming year? It’s June, and that means we’re pretty much halfway through 2017. We're as far from the start as we are to the end. It can be a challenging time, with many projects and goals in progress and seemingly nothing to show for it. The excitement of the idea of the goals themselves has long evaporated, and their results — the juicy stuff you and others can appreciate — have not quite materialized. The middle is always a hard because it takes the most energy to push through without the encouraging sight of the finish line.
At this time, one of the best things we can do is check in with our goals to see how we're doing. We can assess whether we've steered off course, or whether our goals themselves need a bit of redirection. In this middle season, I decided it would be a good time to review my own goals. I'm definitely encouraged to say all of these goals have had some serious action, although they are certainly all works in progress. I am actively doing things toward each goal, but none have been truly achieved just yet. As one might imagine, six months into the year, my goals are definitely a work of progress.
Goal 1: Book Pitch
I declared to the universe that I wanted to illustrate a kid’s book. The universe heard and said, “let me help you with that”. For 3 or 4 years now, I have been hoping to turn a good friend’s brilliant poem into a children’s book. 2017 was going to be the year of action. I had a strong start but ran into a little problem. Almost as soon as I started getting serious with my book idea, a publisher came to me to work with them on a new book. This is really a dream come true for me. After all, a huge reason I wanted to develop my own book was to break into the publishing industry. So the choice to set my passion project on the back burner for now was not so hard. I get to illustrate a kid's book, get paid, and learn a ton about publishing. I’m learning a lot about the book illustration and planning process, and gaining more of a sense of my voice and style for the genre. By the end of July, I will have completed my first published book. I cannot wait to share more soon!
Goal 2: The Canadianist Issue 2
The Canadianist is a series of letterpress prints by top Canadian illustrators. Conceived by Everlovin’ Press and me, our first series was released in 2015 and was a huge success for us. The Canadianist Issue 2 is well under way: the work is on the press as I write — but not without a few snags! We had intended on launching in May but had some unexpected issues on the press (as a craft technique, letterpress is not always a smooth process). I’m pleased to say our exciting lineup, which includes Ray Biesinger, Banquet Workshop, Sandi Falconer and Doublenaut, is on the press right now and we expect to launch this month, just in time for Canada’s 150th birthday.
Goal 3: Colour Class for Skillshare
Oh, Skillshare. This class has been a thorn in my side, to be honest. I want so badly to get this class out there but it has not been shaping up as easiliy as I’d hoped. Not at all. After months of writing and rewriting, and even a false start with recording the footage, I’ve decided to step back from this for now and reevaluate my approach. I’m not saying I’m cancelling this effort, but I do need make sure the time I’m spending here will pay off. If I keep hitting a wall, I will definitely need to change directions here. I have so many other things I feel more confident about teaching, so it may make sense to simply start writing on a different subject. Does this mean I'm failing this goal? It's too soon to find out. If I do fail though, it won't be without its own hidden win. As long as we're trying our best, failure can be our best teacher.
Goal 4: Speaking Engagements
I love speaking to groups about what I do. I love sharing my experience and shedding light on processes and ideas that may otherwise be inaccessible to people. It also is a great way for me to connect with fellow creatives and tap into that beautiful creative energy we all need to do our job! I currently have one speaking engagement in the works and look forward to letting you know more as the event approaches. Meanwhile, I have also had the pleasure of mentoring an illustration student and judging a design competition, both of which tap into my drive to share and teach.
It's encouraging to see how my goals are coming along, and it's also a kick in the old arse to keep up the effort. None of these things will happen without sustained and focused effort. And it's not just about doing the things, but doing them well. That just might be the hardest thing of all — not simply ticking off my goals for their own sake but actually making what these goals are about count.
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!