In this series, we’re shedding light on what it’s like to work in some of the most creative professions. Meet Lauren May, a professional illustrator and JAM mentor. We asked her a few questions about what it’s like to be an illustrator, her typical day, and the tools of the trade.
Hello! Who are you and what do you do?
I’m Lauren and when I’m not working with JAM, I spend my time as a freelance illustrator! Basically this means that I get to draw as my job.
What’s a typical day like for you?
Freelancing means that no day is quite like any other. Every day changes based on how much work I have to do, but I always start with breakfast! I spend a lot of time in my studio creating art and answering emails, but I also make sure I have a break in the day where I either clean up a little bit or exercise.
What’s the coolest part of your job?
Being able to make something that makes other people happy. I love that my favorite thing to do is also my job, and that I can spend every day having fun.
How did you become an Illustrator?
I’ve loved art from the second I could hold a pencil, and always knew I wanted to be an artist of some sort. When I went to college, I learned that illustration is the professional term for most of the drawing and painting you see out in the real world. I immediately knew that this was what I was looking for.
What is something people don’t know about your job?
Despite being really fun most of the time, illustration can be a hard and stressful job. It’s more difficult than it seems, especially when finding clients and figuring out what to make. Sometimes the biggest struggles turn out to be a great learning experience and a super cool project in the end- which makes it worth it for me.
What are some of the most important skills and abilities you think are needed for a professional Illustrator?
You need to be able to draw or paint, but I think something even more important is the ability to think creatively. Once you’ve built up your basic technical skills, you’ll stand out if you can come up with good ideas.
How much of that is learned and how much is natural aptitude?
I think it’s about half of each. Anyone can learn how to draw, but you need the drive to do it. Some people are naturally more creative than others, and those tend to be the ones who work hard to be professional artists.
A lot of kids aspire to become illustrators when they grow up, what sort of advice do you have for them?
Don’t be afraid to fail many times. For every 100 people who say no, there will be someone who says yes. Also- don’t forget what your voice is. Sometimes you’ll have to do projects for things you really just don’t like. Find the time to create art for yourself too, just really silly fun stuff.
Any common misconceptions about this field?
Some people think that illustration is just drawing or painting on paper, but it can be almost anything!! It can be turned into actual products and designs including wallpaper, enamel pins, clothing prints, phone cases, zines, bags, cards, shoe designs, stuffed animals, book covers, pillows, posters, etc.
What would you have told your 13 year-old self about this profession?
Just keep going. Be patient and keep creating. Every time you make something its a step in the right direction… and start keeping a sketchbook earlier on in life.