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My Journey to Becoming an Illustrator

My Journey to Becoming an Illustrator

Penelope Dullaghan

First off, I want to start by putting this quote in front of you. Read it twice. Giggle if you want to. An then let it seep in.

Let it comfort you.

"Nobody knows what the hell they are doing. (at least no one I know) You just prepare as best you can and make up the rest as you go.

What does this mean? Well, to me it means that no one is perfect or has all the answers. Me included. So therefore, this is not a story about how you can do your career…It’s just my account of my own experience. I hope that you get something from it, but it will be different for you. Just take what you can and make the rest up as you go down your own path. I think it seems easier (or at least less intimidating) when you realize that everyone does this-makes it up as they go-until they learn it.

I wish I’d known that everyone starts with very little knowledge when I was first out of college. I’d just graduated and gotten my first job at an advertising agency. And I was scared. Everyone moved fast and looked cool and said things I didn’t understand. Pre-pro who? What …my art needs to bleed? What was that about pms?

I have this memory of going to a production meeting and knowing only about 15% of the words that were said. That was definitely a case of “smile and nod”, which I did, while my heart beat so hard I thought I was going to faint. I don’t know what I was doing. I wanted to run. Fight or flight, right?

I fought.

I fought to learn what was going on. I watched and took in as much as I could. I mimicked. I tested. I asked dumb questions. I asked more questions. And slowly I learned about all these words I has no inkling of before. In fact, I made up a few new ones. Eventually, I even became the key go-to-person for the agency’s biggest account. And it started to be fun! I finally knew what I was doing. (Of course, in every endeavor there is always more to learn.)

Being an Art Director (AD) I used to get all kinds of fancy promos from photographers and illustrators. Letters and print samples and postcards would pile up on my desk. Most of them went in the trash, but some of them were pored over. Ooh…yummy art.

So I would pin them up on my bulletin board and go to their websites, looking for more. And it was all very inspiring. I hired a few illustrators for jobs. I saw how much fun it could be…working on these conceptual images for the AD to use. And I wanted to be part of it.

I wanted to do more of the art and less of the design or art direction. So I started to consider making “The Leap”. Definition: the scary transition of leaping from one career to another.

In preparing for the leap I first started using my own illustrations for my clients at the agency. I did children’s book wraps and bookmarks. I illustrated all the storyboards for the other art directors. I basically used my own illustrations anywhere I could.

Next: Seeking Out New Clients →


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