by Eric Fortune

I get emails from students every now and then with art related questions. I’ve recently been getting more than normal and a request for a phone interview as well. I try to answer as many as I have time for. Unfortunately, my time has been quite limited. So besides sharing a few sketches I’m struggling with I thought I’d also share another Q & A.

Thanks, for such a quick response. I actually saw some of your work in an illustration annual. I’m doing a presentation on an illustrator that I feel is influential, for my introduction to illustration class. I compiled a couple questions below. Thank you so much!

1. It looks like your work involves a great deal of layering. What are some of your choice materials to use?

Yes, I paint in very thin, watered down washes of acrylics on watercolor paper. Nothing special but it does require a lot of time. Sometimes more than I wish to give.

2. How do you deal with limitations in projects, when you feel like you can’t insert your own artistic voice into the work?

You always do the best you can. Not every job has the potential to be something great. Sometimes clients know what they want ahead of time or have certain criteria that must be adhered to. That being said, they called you for a reason. They like your artistic vision. So you should try your best to make it your own. A good illustrator can make a great piece of art out of a mundane idea. That’s our job. I think that’s part of what separates great illustrators from the crowd, the ability to consistently do great work regardless of the assignment.

3. Illustration students often hear about the importance of developing a style that defines their work. How do you think you arrived at having the style you have today?

No one lives in a vacuum. We all have our influences. I think we should all be looking at other great artists and be open to all sorts of other creative venues. Try to be aware if you’re being too influenced by one artist in particular. If so put them on the shelf for a while and surround yourself with different artists in different fields. Constantly expanding our range of influences can be helpful, especially since it can be easy to get into a cycle of predictable solutions for problems. I try to do what appeals to me the most and make art that I like as opposed to what might seem like a trendy style. I’ve never really considered myself as having a very notable “style”. Although, over time it kept developing further and eventually became more distinct. However, this was something that happened naturally over time and for me was less about forcing myself to find and stick with a style.

4. What sort of illustrations would you say viewers tend to be the most responsive to?

The paintings that I really enjoy working on also seem to resonate with the viewers. These are often the paintings where I have just enough art direction and freedom to make good art. For example, the pieces that have been accepted into Society of Illustrators or Spectrum also tend to be some of my own favorites.

5. What do you think are important things to consider, when a student is putting together a portfolio?

1. This sounds obvious. But good art work! Be honest with yourselves and your peers. You help each other more when you’re honest and constructive. Compare your work to the people you admire and other professionals or even the best at school. Are you up to par? It’s a very competitive world out there.
2. Presentation. Whether it’s your website or your physical portfolio it should be clean and user friendly. The images should be consistently sized with similar borders. Everything should feel cohesive. In a physical portfolio it’s best to have the strongest image first, 2nd strongest last, and the 3rd strongest should be your second page etc with your weaker pieces in the middle.
If you’re at a convention or meeting an art director in person be sure to have a business card or postcards to leave behind after a portfolio review.

You may have heard this before “an Art Dir. may judge you on your weakest piece”. Because if they hire you that’s what you may deliver. You’re weakest piece should still be up to a certain standard. If you have a boring assignment it’s up to you to develop an engaging visual. See each assignment as an opportunity to push out the current weakest piece in your portfolio.

6. Students that work traditionally sometimes feel pressured by the growing presence of digital work in the market. Would you say that there is still just as great a demand for traditional work as there is for digital work?

Ultimately, I think if it’s a good image it’s a good image regardless of the medium. That said, I’ve heard art directors say that they sometimes miss getting a great painting in the mail that would then be shared around the office. Personally, I’ve been to some illustration openings where I was hoping to see some originals only to be let down by small prints. I guess it depends on the context. But overall I think it’s become less of an issue.

7. What do you feel is the most challenging thing about working as an illustrator?

Besides trying to have a consistently outstanding body of work promoting yourself is a challenge. Getting that first opportunity to prove your self can be frustrating. Constantly trying to expand your network and clientele is very time consuming in the beginning. Hopefully, at a certain point people will begin to recognize your name and work. But one can’t be complacent. Have a website, start a blog, do whatever you can and keep people updated on what you’re doing.