An illustrator in Vancouver, British Columbia, uses vibrant graphics to connect people with companies. They are an instructor on Skillshare, offering workshops to empower artists and showcase their work. They also work as a part-time YouTuber, inspiring illustrators. The author pursued an engineering degree but later developed an interest in graphic and industrial design. After a job, they went to art school, focusing on design but ultimately loving illustration. They love typography, grids, systems, product design, and studying the history of art and design.
I’m an illustrator based in Vancouver, British Columbia. Through vibrant and upbeat graphics, I link people to companies. I also serve as a prominent instructor on Skillshare, where I provide a wide range of illustration-related workshops aimed at empowering aspiring artists as well as those who want to further their careers and show more of their work. I also work as a part-time YouTuber with the intention of inspiring and enlightening illustrators. Furthermore, I am the father of two stunning, vivacious kids. Oh, and I lately developed into a top runner.
You pursued a degree in IT engineering. Why did you leave engineering to pursue a career in design and illustration?
The short version is that I ended up enrolling in a community college’s engineering program. Even though I never fully believed that it was intended for me, I felt obligated to finish it. During this time, I developed an interest in graphic and industrial design, which I continued to work on while finishing my degree.
I got a job when I graduated, and after a few years, I gradually developed the courage. I had the impression that the five years of fantasizing about it were finally coming to fruition. So I went to art school.
So you spent more time in art school concentrating on design but ended up loving illustration?
That is accurate. I had never thought of illustration as a possible career. I loved design, but I never gave it any thought. I was a big fan of typography, grids, and systems. Along with learning about product design and industrial design, I really liked studying the history of art and design.
It was great fun for me. specifically from a user-centered and problem-solving standpoint. So this is why I went to school. The Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD), my alma mater, is a tiny, multidisciplinary university.
As a result, many institutions will constrain you, hiring you in one of these highly specialized sectors like advertising. I was studying book arts, painting, and printing in addition to typography and related subjects. As a result of this exposure, I ended up enrolling in a type class led by designers and artists. They operated out of a small studio in Halifax, but they also produced publications and completed projects for well-known businesses like Urban Outfitters. For The New York Times and other newspapers, they provide pictures.
I saw design and illustration as aspects of the work while I was an intern there. You’ve already completed everything. There, I came to understand that illustration was a component of the job done by designers, and I carried that understanding into my post-college career.
I eventually came to the conclusion that I wanted to focus only on illustration since it came more naturally to me. The tempo was excellent. The tasks were often shorter, and I liked how the expressiveness and more intimate elements seemed more like me. So when I gradually came to understand this about myself, I started looking for tips on how to do it, finding them, and then simply doing it.
I admire how you discovered your love for art. Please accept my apologies for what may sound like stalking, but as I was conducting research and digging up information on you, I saw that you had a tendency to waver in earlier interviews about your job. alternating between full-time job and freelancing.
At least in my perspective, this is an exciting journey. Can you describe how you went from working a day job to freelancing and back again?
Yes, of course. Let me start with my first design school graduation. I had the good fortune to land a job as the art director for a small Vancouver design business. It’s a great experience to work there. I gained a lot of knowledge, but I made the decision early on that I would not work there more than two years, regardless of the situation or the value of the job. I believed that when individuals get too comfortable, they lose their creativity and become complacent, and I didn’t want that to happen.
This was not what I wanted for myself. I realize that in order for me to be inspired, active, and fired up within, I need to stay somewhere long enough to grow, learn, and contribute, but then leave once that cycle is through.
After two years, I left my first job, and it was such a challenging experience. Since I left my job during the summer, I decided to try freelancing and see how it went. The fact that it was so subpar was disappointing. Throughout the summer, I worked a few odd jobs, but I was only able to make $1,000, which I knew was not enough.
Yeah. Did you work for the agency and freelance at the same time?
No. Although I had several jobs, the one I was in had a non-compete provision. My ability to accept more job was practically barred since doing so would have created a “conflict of interest,” I guess. Some companies just can’t stand that.
Nevertheless, I had done a few editing projects and had a number of relationships, so I was optimistic that I would be able to make it work. It was, however, a blind chance. Because my wife had a great summer job and was bringing home the shekels, I was lucky to be able to try it.
I did my own thing, which wasn’t a good omen, especially given my wife was expecting at the time, and then I thought, “I’ve got to get back to work.”
After finishing my first summer of freelancing, I was hired as a designer at a local studio.
To cut a long tale short, I didn’t fit in well there. I didn’t feel comfortable there, and it brought out the worst in me, so I left and began working contract jobs for both large and little Vancouver agencies. It was adequate, excellent, and I thoroughly loved it. I eventually managed to secure a position as a full-time design director at an advertising firm, but after only a few months there, I continued running into difficulty.
Then I understood that I would have to succeed on my own if I wanted to thrive in the creative sector. I need to handle everything on my own because I have such a strong viewpoint and vision.
Things like how to engage with clients, my position, their role, and what is allowed of us inside a project should work.
After that employment, I became entirely independent for the second time. I started out as a designer but gradually adjusted my portfolio towards illustration until I started getting more illustration work. At that point, I had enough work to be able to make the jump again.
Do you think that the momentum you had before making the second effort helped you succeed?
100%. It wasn’t a massive jump because I needed that momentum, so it didn’t seem that way. I genuinely talk about the large step into freelancing as a myth. You will experience my first scenario if you do that—jump into freelancing unprepared—especially if you don’t have a plan. You will also be less likely to get momentum and succeed.
As a result, the train had already left the station and momentum had already started. I simply boarded the fast-moving train when I resigned my role as design director.
Jumping in without a strategy may work for some individuals, but I believe that if that’s what you expect, you’ll be much more frustrated and harmed than if you had a plan or a strategic approach. Regardless of whether you have a plan, it’s acceptable to fail the first time. It will teach you something.
But the key is iteration. You will gain from whatever you do if you give yourself the opportunity to learn from it and avoid being disheartened by it.
I see myself as a branding designer and artist, and those are the two disciplines in which I work. You’ve described yourself as a “commercial artist” in earlier interviews, which is a term that’s now popular in our sector.
Could you explain what a commercial artist is and why you think it describes you so well?
I may have described myself as a “commercial artist” in the past, but these days I prefer the label “illustrator.” The phrase “commercial artist” is the most direct and truthful way to describe what I do.
I don’t do art for any other reason than to get paid, and if I had limitless freedom and resources, I wouldn’t make anything either.
So, and I’m being a bit sarcastic here, but my artwork has no significance outside of the business environment in which it was created, my artwork has no purpose. I can’t conceive why someone would want to display a drawing I created for this specific situation in this client, at this exact time, in their home, which is one reason I don’t sell many prints.
Although I have produced a few prints, the phrase “commercial artist” more appropriately describes what I do: I produce art for paying customers for commercial, business, etc. purposes.
How do you come up with fresh ideas for graphics for both your own work and those for clients?
When you work as a freelance designer or artist, you will frequently encounter new topics, challenges, and settings. Because of this, the majority of my ideas come from the issues I’m trying to resolve.
Therefore, the client’s external stimuli always comes first, and then I try to shift out of my paradigms and unoriginal thoughts to discover ways to communicate something significant in my client work.
I use a procedure that consists of a number of steps that deceive me into coming up with more important ideas than I would have otherwise.
The two things that help me immerse myself in the issue are research and discovery, as well as quick iterative drawing, which are two of the many components of my method.
I’m not required to be an authority. Just a tiny bit more information than I had previously is all I need. The next step is for me to decide which elements of the topic are interesting to me.
This is really important because there is a point of view right away, and I have this step in the process—quick sketching or fast prototyping—when I start drawing novel concepts.
For me, there is only the process; there is no such thing as a concept. If that makes sense, you make choices along the way depending on what you observe and the concepts that come to mind, as if they were secondhand goods.
Do you just use your own style when working, or do you occasionally take projects with different styles?
When I receive a client request from a new customer, one of the first things I do is to ask them a series of inquiries to learn more about who they think I am and what I do. For instance, I can encourage them to go through my Instagram or portfolio for examples of my work that inspired them and what led them to me, it is web design miracle search.
If they hadn’t thought about it before, this instantly makes them think about it. But chances are they’ve already thought about it and have samples of my work that they appreciate.
The worst case scenario for me would be if they presented me with someone person’s illustrations and stated, “We want something like this,” to which I would reply, “No, thank you.”
I don’t want to work with someone who wants to replicate my style, makes assumptions, thinks they already know what they want, or has predetermined notions about what they want.
Though I feel like I’ve worked really hard to get to the point where I can say this is the work I do and this is my variety of style, I used to do it a little bit more. It’s obvious that I work in this particular manner, which only helps. Every time I’ve attempted to deviate from that, the projects have been quite awkward since the process is so much more seamless.
How do you handle burnout or creative blockage?
Running every day provides me something to focus on and strive for that is not related to my job. I’ll thus build up a race and a target, and I have a strategy for achieving them.
You may think more clearly after exercising, raising your heart rate, and engaging your body. Having a diverse life is advantageous if you’re in the middle of a project and feeling burnout since spending too much time on one sort of activity can often lead to burnout.
You need to be stubborn and do your hardest to push past the anger, in my opinion. You would get tired if you had to keep doing this, and you would need to alter something.
My rigorous and consistent creative method is my go-to remedy for both creative block and tiredness.
The second is that I intentionally create the conditions in my approach that encourage creative problem-solving because I am aware of them.
When you delivered 50 logo variants to a customer in your episode on burnout and they answered with “Nope, Nope, Nope, Nope,” you got angry, which is the exact recipe for burnout.
Not that you don’t come up with a ton of ideas; you simply don’t reveal them to a customer because you’re making them feel uncomfortable by making them make a decision.
On the other hand, you have to be able to steer the ship and advise on what would be most effective.
This reminds me of what Steve Jobs said to Paul Rand while they were working on the NEXT branding: “When can I see some options?” Rand said, “Alternatives? “No, I’ll fix the issue and you’ll pay me.”
Paul Rand wasn’t a rock star, but it is generally how I keep creative undertakings, their caliber, their results, and their method on track. I don’t go around bragging about him.
So a huge way I’ve avoided burnout is by controlling the process in a way that establishes me as an empowered guide to the creative process and not giving so much, opening that door for my clients. As a creative person, you don’t have to go crazy and show a lot of options, you don’t have to open that door. Instead, you show a few, just enough to give people a sense of inclusion in the process and decision-making.
What are three pieces of advise you would provide to budding artists trying to get a foot in the door of the illustration and design worlds?
You don’t need to meet any requirements or criteria in order to start learning illustration or even to call yourself an illustrator or artist. Do anything you want. If you appreciate what you’re doing, you have permission to pursue it.
There are no obstacles in the way of pursuing your passions.
You must be sufficiently interested in the subject to study it and put up the effort to comprehend it if you want to succeed.
I think a lot of people don’t geek out enough. They should first find out who’s doing the kind of work they enjoy, where it is, and who is producing it. Are they writing books, giving interviews, have a YouTube channel, or are they active on other social media sites like Instagram?
I have a handful of Paul Rand’s books, and his views on design have significantly affected my beliefs on the creative process, to cite just one example of how he has changed my entire outlook.
I visited bookstores, libraries, and art galleries when I initially developed an interest in illustration and design in order to learn as much as I could.
Then, you must apply this devotion to your work ethic, which includes trying new things, failing, being open to vulnerability, and enrolling in courses.
Thirdly, quit making excuses and start taking advantage of possibilities right away.
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