Below are a collection of interviews that I have done for various people and publications over the past few years. Feel free to email me at jawcooper(at)gmail(dot)com if you have a specific question not already answered below:

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Student Interview


    How did you establish yourself as an illustrator?

    I freelanced and showed in galleries while I was still in college which helped me to promote myself early on. I think my first steady gig out of college was a monthly "visual column" for LA Weekly but I found my real stride professionally working freelance for Print/Motion/Entertainment companies. I split my time pretty evenly between "commercial work" and "personal work" such as gallery shows so that I stay excited about making art and to make sure I never stop growing and learning which of course makes me more valuable commercially- both sides of my life career each other.

    How did you put together your portfolio and did you select your work based on the markets, subject matter or style?

    - The selections I make for my portfolio are tailored to the type of work/gallery shows I would like to receive. When I do go in to "meet and greet" at a company I have not freelanced for before I will update my portfolio to show work that relates to the type of work that the company does. I do not usually include my commercial work as I have found that most companies are interested in me because of my gallery work even if my work for them will be more commercial.

    Who are your influences?

    Hokusai, Hiroshige, Sargent, Leyendecker, Haeckel, Audubon, Mucha, Toulouse-Lautrec, Steinlen and Chéret.

    What were the most difficult aspects of illustration in school, after graduation at the start of your career and now?

    - In school I hardly slept or ate, definitely didn't "party" much, I was very dedicated to getting the most out of my four years and would always try to do more than was asked of me. I'm glad that I committed to my education as it has paid off handsomely but I would never want to go through that again- it's very hard on your body and your mind! The first two years after graduation were the hardest for me. The work I was getting was mostly editorial gigs, commissions, etc- which was just enough to pay my bills so it felt like I was running as fast as I could just to keep up. Once I found work that compensated me much better for my time and skills I was able to cut down to working less and I could a balance between commercial and personal work that keeps me immensely happy and financially stable. These days I work 5-10 days a month which is pliantly to live on comfortably, travel, and save for the future, and it gives me lots of flexibility so that I can also be building my own "brand" through personal projects.

    What do you think of the current trends in illustration and where do you think this field is heading to?

    - Well I increasingly see illustrators heading away from traditional fields such as editorial work and into higher-paying fields such as storyboarding, concept art, etc… at least just freelance to pay the bills.

    Describe your process from getting contacted by a client to finishing the project.

    - First I suss out if it's a job that is worth my time and if it's a client I can imagine making great work with. It takes years to hone the fine art of saying "no" and turning down jobs but it's very freeing to put yourself in a position where you can be critical about what you choose to invest your time and energy in. If I choose to accept the project and it's a new client I'll either fill out an "agreement of terms" which covers the scope of the project, expectations of both the illustrator and client, deadlines, and a payment schedule. The more clear you are in handling expectations the more trouble you can avoid down the road; never assume. The work I get varies wildly and these days my favorite type of work is initial concept for TV/Movie campaigns which involves some sketching to mock up poster and motion ideas, but is primarily an exercise in creative thinking and taste (proposed execution.) This kind of work is delivered in a "concept template" which includes a sketch, scrap (images pulled to sell execution or concept), and a description or pitch.

    What do you think the best tools are to promoting yourself as an illustrator? Are book portfolios still in demand?

    - Social media has been incredibly useful to me as has showing in galleries. I think the big-picture goal should be to build a community around your work. Some things that I have found particularly helpful in building a community are: tutorials, support of other artists you respect and answering questions on tools, process, and technique whenever possible.

    What advice would you give to an illustration student?

    - Conduct yourself professionally especially online. Treat this as a career not a hobby; this is the skill set you have chosen to use to fulfill your financial obligations so that should be your first priority. Once that is taken care of THEN strive for a balance that makes you excited, involved, invested, passionate, learning, traveling, and living! Build the life you want, and build it on a sturdy foundation!

    How do you come up with ideas?

    - I keep copious lists… emotive words, colors, motifs, phrases, etc. which I can go back and draw from at any time.

    What is the most difficult part of being an illustrator and what is the most rewarding?

    The worst part is that your work is your life, so how you perceive your work directly effects your self-worth - every career pitfall takes a personal toll. The best part is that your work is your life, so every day that you spend working you are improving your craft and pursuing your passion - every career success has strong personal significance. I have such incredible freedom with my time, I travel and camp a lot and am able to take months off at a time to focus on personal projects. The drawbacks are minor compared with the opportunity to make a living doing the thing that I love!


    • How did you first get into the Illustration Industry?
    I freelanced while I was still in college and showed in galleries which helped me to promote myself and I think my first steady gig out of college was a monthly "visual column" for LA Weekly.
    • Does age matter you think in becoming successful in the business of Illustration?
    Not at all but inexperience or more importantly the perception of inexperience can- so I usually keep my age private unless specifically asked. I actually keep most personal information private so that the work can speak for itself without being colored by prejudice based on age or gender... people are often surprised to find out that I am female.
    • Was creating art something you naturally picked up and wanted to do? Please explain why or why not (and if not how did art become an interest to you?)
    I drew a lot from an early age (~6yrs old) but resisted the idea of a career in art because it seemed impractical and self serving. I had my first art class Junior year of high school and by Senior year I decided to pursue it as a career.
    • When you are creating, do you have a type of audience that you image admiring your work?
    Not particularly- I'm always surprised by who is drawn to it. I assume my audience is pretty liberal and open minded since there is a fair amount of nudity and violence but even there I am often surprised.
    • Who was your biggest inspiration (as far as creating art) when you were younger? Who is it now? Why?
    My mother was always very good at drawing and painting and did some scientific illustration on the side of her main job as an entomologist and I am certain that I would not have been drawn to art were it not for her. Now there are too many to count: Hokusai, Hiroshige, Sargent, Leyendecker, Haeckel, Audubon, Mucha, Toulouse-Lautrec, Steinlen, Chéret, etc.
    • What companies/organizations have you done illustrations for ? Who has been your favorite to work with? Why? 
    Many print motion companies, magazines, book covers, etc. My favorite of my "day jobs" has been freelancing for a Print/Motion/AD company in Sherman Oaks doing concepting and sketch art for movie and TV poster campaigns.
    • Who would you like to do work for?
    Myself- and I do!
    • What mediums are your favorites to use and which ones would you like to be better with?
    My favorites are gouache, graphite, and brush-pen and I would like to improve in oils.
    • What excites you the most when you are working?
    The overall concept of the series.
    • What frustrates you the most when you are working?
    Deadlines! I have a bad habit of procrastinating on gallery work and then sacrificing my health to get 20 paintings done in a month.
    • What is the biggest challenge you run into with your career as an artist?
    Focus and direction. It's so tempting to do everything but sometimes better to do a few things very well- saying "no" is a cultivated skill.
    • Do you have any goals when you’re about to start a new piece? If so what are they?
    To support the overall concept and to push myself technically.
    • What would you really like to do that you haven’t done yet( art wise)?
    Large sculptures/instillations.
    • If you could create a collaborative piece with any artist, who would it be and what would you create?
    I would collaborate with JC Leyendecker to create an epic peanut butter banana sandwich because.... yum. Peanut butter. To be honest I don't particularly love colabs with my fine art. My commercial art its 100% a team effort which is fun but I am also less invested in the product.
    • Where do you get your ideas for creating?
    I make lots of word lists and the ideas just spring forth.
    • Describe your “worst” drawing/painting
    Oh gee, I don't know. Worst EVER? Probably some shitty drawing of a dog I did in kindergarten.
    • Describe your best drawing/painting
    Oh gee, I don't know. I don't have a favorite at all. I like my drawings far more than my paintings as far as sentimental value but everything is just a stepping stone to the next.
    • How important is an “ artist style” and how would you say an artist finds it, or develops it?
    Super important for gallery work. You are selling yourself wether you like it or not so there better be a definable look or you have nothing to sell. For commercial work it is sometimes very important (for editorial work for example) and sometimes not as important as the narrative or creative thinking behind the piece (for AD agency pitches for example).
    • Overall how would you describe your style as an artist?  What do you want to communicate to people?
    Images from the mythology/folktales of an alternate reality.
    • Lastly, what advice would you give a young college student who wants to be a successful illustrator?
    Work hard and consistently and find a way to get it seen to build a following and promote yourself. It's very competitive out there so hold your work to the level of your heroes. If it falls short identify why and then work on those skills.


      1)What has contributed to your style as a artist, through your upbringing, your education, and your experiences?

      I traveled extensively growing up, living in Africa, Sweden, Ireland, England, and California. Practically speaking, drawing was perfect talent to cultivate for someone who moved frequently and had to travel light. My father and mother are entomologists/ecologists and my mother also does scientific illustration so I always had a strong interest in science and an exposure to art.

      2)Who are your influences?

      Hokusai, Hiroshige, Sargent, Leyendecker, Haeckel, Audubon, Mucha, Toulouse-Lautrec, Steinlen and Chéret.

      3)How do you come up with concepts for your work and what is your main inspiration? 

      I make lists of words, ideas, motifs, objects, colors, whatever to get all the things rattling around my head out onto paper where I can view it critically and make connections/form images/distill concepts into a simple word or sentence. My main inspirations are interesting and surprising nature facts/stories and Words have a powerful effect on my process and I'll spend hours looking for the exact word to describe my concept and use that as a decision-making devise when sketching/painting.

      4)How did you establish yourself as an illustrator?

      I worked hard and made connections. There is no one right or wrong way to go about building your career- do what feels natural to you and do it well. My "thing" right out of college was my blog which I updated a couple times a week with new material/WIPs/tutorials/raffles/etc. Eventually I posted that I was interested in a job doing concept art/storyboarding/etc, basically freelance work for the entertainment industry and a follower of my blog recommended me to his boss and I started working at print/motion companies around LA. Simultaneously I built up a gallery/fine-art career which is the work that most people are familiar with. I got into gallery shows while still in school and worked my way up to solo shows by pushing my technical and conceptual skills and most importantly by selling well.

      5)What do you think are the best tools are for promoting yourself as an illustrator? Do you still believe that book portfolios are as effective?

      There is no wrong or right way- whatever you do, do it so well that people have no choice but to take notice! There is nothing wrong with book portfolios but to completely ignore the capabilities of online networking sites (Facebook, twitter, instagram, blogger, tumblr, blue canvas, society 6, etc) is to miss a golden opportunity to get your work seen and to make potentially useful connections.

      6)How do you make the selections for your portfolio? are they based on the markets, subjects, or style?

      Yes, the selections are tailored to the type of work/gallery shows I would like to receive. When I do go in to "meet and greet" at a company I have not freelanced for before I will update my portfolio to show work that relates to the type of work that the company does. I do not usually include my commercial work, however, as I have found that most companies that want me want me because my gallery work even if my work for them will be more commercial. I have a lot of adult subject matter in my work and part of the reason that I do not edit those from my portfolio even when applying for a commercial gig is that I have found that I most enjoy working for people who are excited by my personal work even if the work I do for them is more "accessible".

      7)What do you think of the current trends in illustration and where to you think the field is heading, in relation to commercial illustration, editorial illustration, and fine art?

      Oh man that's a tough one. I think that fine art is a great way to stay fresh and excited, and it is great promotion. I have found editorial illustration to be fun but it doens't necessarily pay well. I have found the most satisfaction working for print/motion/advertising/animation companies. There is so much money in entertainment and they want to make beautiful and exciting work so it's usually really exciting, challenging, and validating... and it definitely pays the bills which allows you to "work-work" less so you have time to pursue personal goals.

      8)What is your process when contacted by clients - prelims to the final piece? 

      For freelance illustration and commissions: I give them my rates and make the process clear so that we are all on the same page about the scope of the project, compensation, and due dates and such. I usually give them several sketches to pick from, then a drawing, then I execute.

      For storyboarding/concepting/sketch art.: I give them my day rate and find out what they need done/how they need it done/ and how fast they need it done. Then I either show up at the studio (working in-house) or work from home (working remotely) and work my butt off to deliver something that we are both happy with in the time allotted!

      9)What do you find the most difficult and the most rewarding parts of being an illustrator?

      The worst part is that your work is your life, so how you perceive your work directly effects your self-worth - every career pitfall takes a personal toll. The best part is that your work is your life, so every day that you spend working you are improving your craft and pursuing your passion - every career success has strong personal significance.

      10)What advice would you give to an aspiring illustrator? 

      For me the hardest years were the first two out of college. I could not accept that paying the bills was as important as persuing my personal goals. I allowed myself to be distracted by small gigs and gallery work and could not understand why I continued to feel so anxious and unfulfilled. Satisfaction and confidence comes from being skilled and being given a chance to showcase those skills, but also to flex and push those skills towards a greater goal. Only working on "personal work" such as gallery shows allows you to showcase your skills but doesn't necessarily push those skills or force you out of your comfort zone. Commercial jobs allows you to work towards something greater than yourself and gives you validation in praise and income, but has the potential to burn you out or leave you jaded. The ideal is to constantly seek a balance between the two. These are always in flux so the balance is not a destination but a journey.


        1)      Why did you choose this field?
        I intended to pursue a career in zoology and applied to many colleges, some for zoology and some for art. I got into all of them and than had to decide and chose to pursue art as a career and indulge my passion for science and zoology on the side. I suspected that if I was placed in an environment that really pushed me technically and conceptually that I could be very competitive professionally and make a career out of it- and so I chose to go to a 4-year art college.

        2)      Why should I?
        I don't know you so I can't say wether you should or should not. I will say this- careers in art are extremely competitive and art colleges are very expensive. If you choose to pursue a career in art and/or attend an art college to make that happen go into it critical of your abilities and potential and work your ass off through college and once graduating to pay off loans quickly and build a client base so that you can fulfill your financial obligations. I think if you want to do art as a career you have to treat it like a career and not a hobby- you should hold yourself to professional standards and expect to make a good living doing what you love.

        3)      What much traveling have you done for you career?
        I did just take a trip abroad to draw at Natural History Museums across Europe and spent about one third of last year out on long camping expeditions which I used as inspiration for gallery work, but that's mostly on my free time/personal art time. I make my "living" working for Print/Motion/Advertising companies in Los Angeles as a freelance illustrator and idea machine which doesn't involve much traveling itself but affords me the freedom and financial flexibility to work 5-10 days a month to pay bills and save, which means I can do what I want and travel where I want with my ample free time.

        4)      What kind of benefits are there?
        Freedom, the ability to be your own boss, the ability to balance commercial and personal work so that both are strengthened, and the ability to have the time to work on personal projects.

        5)      What type of people do you deal with?
        All kinds. Generally pretty liberal and creative since all my work is art-related, but that covers all manner of personalities.

        6)      What kind of/how much education do you need for this field?
        I went to Otis College of Art and Design and received a BFA in Communication Arts/Illustration. I think it is certainly much harder to get into this profession without going to an art college and getting all that instruction, guidance, and most importantly... contacts... but going to an art college is not absolutely necessary if you are extremely talented, motivated, and hard working. Once you graduate no one will ever ask where you went to school- all that matters is the quality of your portfolio and contacts that can testify to your professionalism and temperament.

        7)      Where did you go to school? Certificate or degree?
        I went to Otis College of Art and Design and received a BFA in Communication Arts/Illustration

        8)      Did someone influence you? When?
        My father is a biologist/ecologist, my mother is a biologist/scientific illustrator and both of them were big influences both in my art career and overall curiosity toward the world.

        9)      When did you start in the field?
        I started drawing earnestly around age 6, went to art college at 18, started freelancing at 19, started showing in galleries at 20, graduated at 21, and have been freelancing and showing in galleries ever since.

        10)   What would you say the starting salary is?
        It's all over the place depending on what specifically you are doing. For freelancing at advertising companies and depending on your skill, design sense, taste level, creative ideation, etc when starting I'd guess 200-500$/day starting. That usually caps out to around 800$/day as you become very experienced and prove your usefulness, but I suspect that there are a few veteran freelancers making up to a grand per day. (speculation)

        11)   How did you hear about this job?
        I put a note up on my blog years ago saying I was looking to get into art for advertising or animation and a follower forwarded my website to their boss, who is now my boss. So... it was a happy accident enabled by hard work and a willingness to self-promote and ask for help.

        12)   How does it affect you?
        How does the job concepting on Movie/TV posters freelance for AD companies affect me? Well, it pays all my bills while giving me tons of free time to pursue my own work and it exposes me to new concepts and visual aesthetics and challenges me conceptually all of which benefit my personal work.

        13)   What would say the pros and cons are?
        Of that particular job? Not many cons. Of the life of a freelancer/gallery artist in general? Well freelance work is not always predictable but it's not a problem if you keep your cost of living low. Making art for a living is so personal and to be competitive you have to be very passionate and dedicated which means that it can be hard to separate yourself from your work for better or for worse.


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