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

1. How did you decide what you wanted to major in?

I originally planned on becoming a concept artist and considered going into digital media but was ultimately more interested in learning the traditional skills of drawing and painting and had no desire to learn motion graphics or coding or any of the more technical computer stuff covered in the digital major so I chose to go into Communication Arts with an emphasis in Illustration and take my electives in the concept art program. A happy compromise.

2. What did school prepare you for, and what did it not prepare you for?

School helped me refine my technical skills and gave me access to a network of contacts that became very useful once I graduated (be nice to your teachers and fellow students!) but it did not really prepare me for ACTUALLY making money.

I think the most important lesson I learned after graduating is that the first priority has to be fulfilling your financial obligations and your second priority has to be seeking the balance of commercial/personal work that is right for you. It is so tempting to just skip straight to the "fun" stuff but your personal work will actually suffer greatly as will every other aspect of your life including your self-worth and therefore your ability to negotiate for the compensation you deserve if you don't have your finances in order. On the other hand working all day every day on someone else's vision might make you rich but may also burn you out and take the joy out of the job- which will make your commercial work suffer. Balance.

Straight out of school I tried to live on gallery work and editorial illustration alone and I was pretty miserable living month-to-month. Once I found illustration for advertising/print/motion studios - doing everything from concept art to storyboarding to sketch art for client pitches and initial concept for ad campaigns - my life changed completely. I could support myself on 5-10 days a month of "work-work" which was itself varied, challenging, and creative, and then I was free to spend the rest of my time pursuing my own projects such as my gallery work. My personal work improved greatly without the burden of finacial expectation, and the more my personal work improved the more it infused my commercial work with something that was distinctly my own- making me more valuable in both areas.

3. Where do you find inspiration for your work, and where do you do most of your research?

I have an extensive library of images I have found online which spark me, I travel and camp very frequently (I'm footloose and fancy free), and I think that my work in advertising exposes me to influences and images that I would not have otherwise been motivated to explore- which keeps my work from stagnating or becoming "inbred." I also read a lot and am very inspired by science/nature writing and documentaries. I think if you just follow your curiosity and stay prolific (so there is a high turn-around rate on your ideas) you stay "inspired."

4. How do you promote yourself?

I use social media quite a bit- my blog was my main platform right out of school, then Facebook, now Instagram is how I reach the majority of my audience. Showing in galleries is pretty great promotion, and then of course as a freelancer I have access to a local freelance network and that's how I get the bulk of my commercial advertising-sketch-art work.

5. How do you make ends meet as an artist?

Easily these days as a freelance illustrator for advertising/print/motion companies. I also sell gallery work and license designs for use on products or for prints.

6. What are your present or long term goals as an artist?

I am always looking to expand my client base for the advertising work- and for the gallery work I want to continue to push toward bigger and bigger shows and ever increasing sales. Lately I have been very interested in getting into publishing work and selling books- something like how Ashley Wood and Kim Jung Ji and James Jean put out books frequently. I suspect that this would be more of a personal satisfaction/promotional tool than a money making tool but it interests me all the same.

7. What were breakthrough exhibitions, publications or jobs for you?

Hmm- well my first job freelancing at a print/motion studio two years after graduating led to all my other jobs in that field. In gallery work I had my first mini-solo show at La Luz de Jesus while in college, and my first solo show there a month after graduating and those really helped me jump-start that side of my career.

8. What part do other people play in your practice?

The commercial work is all about working toward other people's visions and working with a team to serve a client, the gallery work is all me working alone- so the two sides are very different and honestly I wouldn't have it any other way. Both are stimulating and challenging in different ways and I love the balance they create!

9. How/Where do you get critical feedback now that you are out of school?

Well I get feedback from clients and my boss/coworkers at the print/motion studios, and I am generally my own critic (impacted also by how well work sells) for the gallery stuff.

10. How do you professionally approach people you don't know, like a gallery or employer?

I think it is SO important to be as professional as possible at all times ESPECIALLY on first contact and through emails. I think it helps if you have a mutual friend or acquaintance that can be your "in" since so many positions are filled through suggestions of current employees and freelancers. Honestly I rarely if ever contact galleries or clients- I've been fortunate enough to have them generally find me. I will say that each gallery and employer has their own desired and often specific instructions for making contact or submitting a resume or body of work and you should pay very close attention to that.

On a side note I get a lot of emails from students and even fellow illustrators contacting me for advise/interviews and I can not believe how unprofessional and downright rude they can be. Frequently they go something like: "Hey- I have this assignment due tomorrow and I need you to answer these questions and send them back ASAP- thanks bro." I encourage students to be as courteous and professional as possible; first impressions are incredibly important. Please let the teacher know so he/she can urge students to be polite like you Sara!

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