Today, May 8th, is kind of a big deal to me. Ten years ago I walked out of my job as a designer for a printing company never to walk back through any business' doors as an employee again. The story unfolded like this: about a year prior to this I had left a horrible, terrible job at a company that shall remain nameless (though, mercifully, it is defunct now) and had taken a part time job at this printing company. I was determined, at the age of 24, to start working for myself, to be able to support myself as a freelance illustrator. Frankly I never wanted to work at a horrible, terrible place ever again and I figured the best way to do that was to always be self-employed. So I started working part time and shopped my portfolio around on my off days. I stayed up late at night doing pieces that I thought would get me jobs and ever so slowly but surely the jobs started to trickle in. However at the same time I was doing such a swell job at the printing company that the owners, who were really nice people, began hinting that they needed me to be full time. I resisted. Then in the early spring of 1998 I was offered a contract to illustrate a book for a small local publisher. How exciting! I remember thinking I can't believe this is happening already! A couple of days after this Joe, the owner of the printing company sat me down and said "we really need you to be full time." I replied "well, uh, the thing is I just got this contract and its what I really want to do, and uh if I work full time I'll never be able to meet the deadline, and the thing is I really don't want to work for you full time." He gave a me look and said, "this is your dream isn't it." I nodded. I put in a month's notice.
One week later the publishing company canceled my contract citing the author's desire to go with a previous illustrator.
That day was not the best day in my life, and I suppose I could have gone back to my about-to-be-former employer and ask to stay on. But I felt like there was no turning back at that point, sure I was scared, but I had come this far right? I had a little money saved and I had a few other jobs coming in, so on Friday, May 8th 1998 I left the second of only two jobs I've ever had. The following Monday MER Images was open for business.
Looking back now I have no idea how I survived the first couple of years. . . the grace of God is what I think now. Obviously I owe a debt of gratitude to my clients, some of whom have become good friends and whose work has made me not just a better illustrator but a better artist (Keith and Jill you can pat yourselves on the back now;). The worry and stress of the early struggling years has given way to the thrill of getting a call from an art director in New York or Chicago, who I've never met, though they've been following MY work. There are still slow times, there are still times when I'm frustrated because I haven't attained every goal of my career but I try to keep that grateful attitude. Not everyone can say they do what they love for a living and that they've been doing it longer than anything else. I can. And no matter what happens there's no turning back, I mean I've come this far right?
See you in another ten years.
As promised here is my illustration celebrating 10 years! Click on it to get a close look:
OK now that you've seen it, keep an eye out, it will be appearing as a printed poster later this year. Some questions to ponder: Is the dark rate saving the white rat or letting go? What's up with the diamond ring, and why are they in a circus? Is this some sort of bizarre rat proposal? Stay tuned for the answers and commentary in a later post.