What is an Illustrator?

Illustrator(Photo: Kevin Fitsimons, WOSU)

Meet Dale Herron, Illustrator/Designer

What exactly do you do?
My official title is “Illustrator/Designer”, which means I supply illustrations and design-work to those individuals or businesses in need of it. An illustration is a piece of art that describes another piece of art (like a book illustration, CD cover, or magazine cover), while design is basically arrangement of text & images in a way that best suits the need (like corporate logos, posters, or web pages).

Describe a typical day.
There are rarely “typical days”, which can be a good thing. I may spend 10 hours at the drawing board one day, and only 3 hours the next, depending on what deadlines are approaching. The time spent at the board can be anything from conceptual sketches to final illustration, research, maybe some technique study, or working on self-promotional pieces. Time away from the board is usually consumed with paperwork, studying other artists, and inevitably speaking to a group of kids somewhere. I also spend quite a bit of time communicating with clients as well, trying to get a feel for what they want for their particular job.

What’s the coolest part of your job?
Hey, how great is a job where you get to draw pictures and get paid for it? Also, it’s extremely gratifying to be able to create something that will bring an emotion to someone that wasn’t there before (whether it be a smile, tears, “warm fuzzies”, or even anger). It’s good to know that somebody, somewhere will look at your art and have a better day because of it.

How do people react when they learn what you do?
Most people agree that an illustrator is indeed a way-cool job and want to know what kind of stuff I do. Other than that, I get a lot of “that sounds like fun, getting to sit around and draw pictures and get paid for it!”. I just nod and smile.

How did you become an illustrator?
Practice. Practice. Practice. Art college was essential. I graduated from the Columbus College of Art & Design. After they taught me how to make art, I had to pick up the brush and make it happen. Plus, it was helpful knowing people who needed my skills, which proves it not just what you know, but who you know.

What disappoints you about your job?
Working constantly under some sort of deadline can be a drag. Or when an Art Director who has zero art talent asks you to make mandatory changes that will seriously ruin the beauty of the piece that you’ve slaved over for hours – that gets under one’s skin a bit…

How has your job changed over time?
There is much more computer involved with composing illustrations these days. I can create a piece of art that looks like an oil painting or a watercolor without once having picked up a paint tube or a brush. That certainly saves on supplies, clean-up and storage. Digital illustration is huge right now. Also, I’ve done a great deal of work with clients that I’ve never once met face to face, something unheard of years ago. E-mail, faxes, and global delivery services have really streamlined the scope and scale of communicating with clients.

How will your job be different ten years from now?
As much as computers have invaded the field, I think traditional illustration (brush, paint, pen, etc) will still win out, visually, over digital. However, I do believe deadlines will continue to shorten, and the skill level of the Illustrator will have to raise to keep pace with digital manipulation from computers.

What are some of the most important skills and abilities needed for this job?
You’ve got to be able to draw, and draw very well. Computer skills are fairly important, as they can certainly make the work easier, but you really have to have skill as an artist. Also, you’ve got to be able to communicate with people, to find out what it is they actually want in an illustration.

How much of that is learned and how much is natural aptitude?
A degree at a good art college is extremely important. There, you will take whatever natural skills you have (hopefully, quite a bit), and refine them to a style that you can market to the waiting world. Communicating with the client (reading people’s minds, in other words) is a learned thing, especially if you want to keep food on the table.

What advice do you have for people who want to enter this field?
Draw all the time. Live, breathe, and eat art. Get as good as you can, because there will always be someone better who really wants that juicy contract as much as you do. If that means going to the best art school you can and maybe missing a few (many) hours of something you’d rather be doing, then prepare to make that sacrifice. It’s worth it.

What do you wish someone had told you before you left high school that would’ve helped you with your career?
Being an artist in a field filled with talent means you need to prepare for competition and also be ready to go the extra mile when you can. A successful career as an illustrator doesn’t just happen, you really have to make it work.