I have been meaning to do a short bio post for a while in response to a fair share of e-mails I receive asking how one becomes a freelance textile designer/illustrator. I thought I would include a bit of my back story as I think it might be inspirational.
I have been interested in creating things ever since I can remember. My mom has a sizable collection of greeting cards I made, I had an autographed photo of Dr.Suess hanging over my bed as a child in response to a letter I wrote him, and I still have remnants of sewing projects from my teen years - so it is no wonder I find myself illustrating children's books, working for greeting card companies, and designing fabrics. In lieu of going to art school for college, I became an occupational therapist. I continued to draw and paint ultimately winding up in a co-op pottery studio in Boston. After painting intricate designs on pottery, I realized I liked the design aspect more than the clay aspect and went back to college at Massachusetts College of Art to study Fiber Arts. I was really lucky to move to Rhode Island and continued with courses in textile design under the talented Terry Gentile at RISD. As soon as I took my first textile design course I knew that was IT! I actually wound up showing my designs to Marimekko and they came very close to a purchase, but in the end they passed. This fueled my confidence and my certainty of this direction. I found a rep in NY and started a portfolio, lots of interest, but no sales. I was pregnant at the time and hoped to be able to continue this work with a new baby.
I had only been working for six months when my life took a big twist. I was nine months pregnant and was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Disease (baby is now 21 and I am in great health!) but it was a wild ride. I concentrated on being a mom and getting well. When my son was eight I was desperate to be able to work from home - I bought a MAC and resumed my textile design pursuits. I got a rep, again there was lots of interest, this time some sales, but not enough to call it a job. I almost sold my computer dozens of times, but my husband was super supportive and encouraged me to keep at it. I came up with a more serious plan of what type of work I wanted to do and began to concentrate on designs for the juvenile market. Finally, after building up a portfolio, I landed a job at a local children's clothing company as a textile designer with a promise I could work from home. I was besides myself. Well, the working from home part didn't exactly work out, but I learned a lot and once again found a rep. This time, I sold my very first design. After jumping around alot in my kitchen with my son and husband I went back to work and kept selling. And that is how it all started for me (after many many stops and starts).
Here are some tips on becoming a freelance artist/illustrator:
1. Give yourself time to develop your style.
2. Coursework is helpful if you have a college nearby.
3. Once you feel ready to show your work you can find an in-house job at a manufacturer, find a rep to show your work, cold call companies and ask how to submit artwork.
4. Upload an online portfolio.
5. Contact other artists and ask questions, most people are great and willing to help.
6. Stay positive, persistent, and be prepared to work hard.
7. Go to trade shows like Surtex.
8. If you really want to do this and really believe in your talent, don't give up.