frequently asked questions
Hi friends! Here is an extensive list of questions that people ask me a lot, and my best attempt to give a thoughtful and helpful answer to each. I hope you find something you are looking for here!
working with me
what are your rates?
My rates vary widely depending on the complexity of the illustration, the intended use, and what rights you need. If you’re interested in working together, please contact me for a quote and include some information about your preferred style and subject matter, and what the illustration will be used for. If you have an ideal budget, feel free to share that with me and I’ll let you know what I’m able to make within that price range.
do you take personal commissions?
At this time I'm not available for personal commissions. My main focus right now is exploring concepts that inspire me via gallery work, and unfortunately since my process is so time consuming, I don’t have time for much else. I do occasionally take on freelance projects, especially posters, book covers, packaging, work for bands, and anything that has a focus in wildlife conservation or natural science education.
can you design a
tattoo for me?
Sorry, but I’m not currently able to fit any custom tattoo designs into my schedule.
can i use an existing
design as a tattoo?
Thank you for wanting to get something I drew tattooed on you, that will never not be a big deal to me! I’m totally fine with people getting tattoos done of my work, as long as you remember to respect your tattooer as an artist themselves and make sure they’re comfortable with basing your tattoo off of someone else’s work. I tend to think that the best tattoos come from finding a tattoo artist whose work resonates with you and trusting them to design something custom for you in their own style. But I also understand that sometimes you fall in love with something specific and you need to find someone to replicate it; in that case it’s probably best to work with your tattooer to make changes to the artwork, both to fit their art style and adapt the illustration to be better suited for a tattoo.
Rather than asking any sort of fee for the use of my art, I request that you make a small donation to one of the following:
Can you design a
logo for my business?
I’m really bad at designing logos and I hate doing it! I recommend finding someone who specializes in logos and branding to help you out.
Buying prints, originals, & products
How can i buy an original?
Almost all of my originals are created for gallery shows and sold through the gallery. The best way to find out in advance about my gallery shows is to subscribe to my mailing list for email updates; there is also a regularly-updated list of upcoming shows on my bio page. Each gallery will have its own policies on how to purchase work, but most can be contacted about advance sales or collector previews, and if you can’t make it to the gallery in person, unsold work will be listed for sale online after the opening reception.
To make it easy to find originals that are still available, I have a page in my shop that lists all prints and originals currently available through other shops and galleries. I sometimes will list originals for sale through my online shop as well, and bring original drawings with me to sell at conventions.
can i reserve a
copy of an item?
I'm sorry, but everything in my shop is sold first-come first-served so that it's fair for everyone. Custom requests are also very hard to accommodate, mainly because I am forgetful, and it’s highly likely that I’ll forget about your custom request and you will be mad at me :) Thanks for understanding!
when will this item be released?
The best way to find out about upcoming releases is to subscribe to my mailing list for email updates, or to keep a close eye on my social media (Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, or Facebook) — I will always announce new releases at least a day or two in advance with the exact time of the drop. If the information isn't available yet, that just means I haven't quite figured out all the details!
will you be reprinting
this sold out item?
Screenprints, giclées, foil prints, and letterpress prints that are marked "limited edition" will never be reprinted, except in rare cases when I may print a new edition with a significant change. Open edition prints, enamel pins, stickers, postcards, and other items will be restocked as soon as possible if you still see them listed in my shop after they sell out.
can i buy a copy of
a sold out item?
In most cases, once a limited edition item is sold out I don’t have any copies left to send you. Please understand that I can’t take orders for sold out copies via email, I am much too forgetful, and it’s better for everyone if all orders run through my shop.
I do hold back a portion of most editions to sell at conventions and other events, so if you attend those you may be able to buy a copy of something that is sold out online.
your stuff sells out
too quickly, why don't
you print more?
I’m sorry if you missed out on stuff, I know that sucks! It’s incredibly expensive to print large editions of high quality prints. I do my best to print what I feel is the right amount to match the demand, and sometimes something sells out immediately and sometimes I have copies forever; it’s always a guess.
For me, the logic behind releasing mainly limited edition prints is that once it sells out I can move on to creating new work and arranging new print releases. If you’re really bummed that you missed out on something, I hope that you’ll trust me to make a future piece that you’re just as excited about, so you have a second chance :)
I do always have at least a couple of open-edition prints available, so that it’s never impossible to get your hands on something.
can i place a
interviews & feedback
i have an assignment to interview a professional, can i send you my questions?
I really wish I was able to respond individually to each one of these requests — I had this assignment myself when I was in school — but I get dozens of emails about this every semester and it’s just not possible for me to answer all of them. However, these FAQs exist so that you can hopefully find all of the answers you’re looking for! If you still have a question or two after reading everything on this page, feel free to shoot me an email.
can you give me career advice or feedback on my portfolio?
I try to accommodate these requests as often as I can, especially for anyone in the Minneapolis / St Paul area who can meet up in person and chat over coffee.
If you live somewhere else in the world, you can email me about setting up a Skype or phone conversation; talking in real time makes it easier for me to understand your goals and share detailed feedback.
can i feature your
work on my blog?
Yes, thank you for sharing my work! Please send me a link once the feature is live, I’d love to check it out.
materials & techniques
what medium do
you work in?
My gallery work is painted by hand with gouache & watercolor on paper. For most of my freelance projects, the linework is created by hand in black and white, with color added digitally.
do you use?
My most frequently used supplies are Holbein Acryla gouache and watercolor on Fabriano Artistico 300lb hot press watercolor paper. Greyscale work is done in black gouache or pencil or ink on smooth bristol. I do digital work in Adobe Photoshop CC with a Wacom Intuos Pro tablet. More information can be found on my Process page.
what is your process
for making a piece?
do you use
Yes! Whenever I can, I try to rely on my own reference, whether from photos I take out in the wild, specimens at natural history museums, or books. But since I don’t exactly have a catalog of every living thing in every posture and variation, I depend heavily on finding reference images online.
I do not recommend ever directly copying a reference image you don’t own the rights to. Personally, I use dozens of images to sketch a single animal, pulling several references for pose and anatomy, others for details like feet and tails and teeth and ears, others for markings and feather patterning and fur texture. I like to collage together a frankenstein animal so that I’m not basing everything upon any one source, and can make the animal look and move exactly how I want it to.
how long does it take
you to make a piece?
It ranges from maybe 20 - 60 hours, depending on the size, style, and number of animals in the piece. Once I start painting I tend to work in long sleepless binges, usually finishing a piece within a couple days of nonstop work. I also frequently work on multiple pieces simultaneously if I’m doing a group or series of paintings with similar colors, so it’s hard for me to tell how long each individual piece takes.
careers in illustration
do i need to go
to art school?
Absolutely not! I have lots of illustrator friends who are self-taught and have been just as successful or more so than others who have a degree. Being motivated and hard-working about what you want to achieve is more important than any external measure of achievement. That said, I did go to art school, and I have a BFA in Illustration from the Minneapolis College of Art & Design. I got a fantastic education there and access to resources and methods of art making I wouldn’t have known about or been able to explore on my own.
I think the most valuable parts of an arts education are being encouraged to explore lots of techniques and challenged to try new things before settling on one path; having resources for fine art printmaking, production, and other specialty crafts; receiving guidance from a lot of different instructors; and being part of a community that can inspire you, collaborate with you, or give you future opportunities. In theory it’s possible to find all of these things in a really strong creative community outside of a traditional education institution, but an art school it’s all concentrated into one place and given structure, which might be more appealing for some people.
As a self-employed freelance artist, no one has ever cared about whether I have a degree, or even asked. However, if you want to have a more traditional job and work as an in-house designer or illustrator, a degree is usually an important requirement.
how did you get
I don’t think any illustrator starts off getting hired to do their dream job. I’ve been freelancing since I was 18 or so, and I’ve made a lot of terrible art and had a lot of disappointing projects along the way. I started off doing random small jobs for people who found me online — things like logos for small businesses and flyers for shops, nothing terribly exciting or creatively fulfilling, but it gave me experience with things like talking to clients, meeting deadlines, and sending invoices. It took years before I started to be hired by more established or well-known companies, and even then, I was mainly asked to do technical illustration or illustrated typography, and not given very much creative license.
Remember that many illustrators work on unglamorous projects behind the scenes to pay the bills, and they might only be posting their favorite projects online for the world to see. It's okay to do work just for the money and not show it to anyone! But it's also okay to say no to projects that don't align with your vision and values, and be assertive in seeking out projects that are right for you and making time for personal work. Ten years into freelancing I mostly only work on things I'm very excited about, but it took me a long time to learn to say no and develop a portfolio that draws in the opportunities I prefer to take.
how can i find clients?
I've always taken an extremely passive route to self promotion, and I focus on sharing my work online and hoping it reaches people who will like it. What has worked for me might not work for everyone, but my experience has been that if you make the best work you can make, and your portfolio is diverse enough that people can picture it being used in many different applications, and you keep promoting it online or otherwise, opportunities will come. It doesn’t happen instantly and the most important thing is to keep improving and keep putting it out there until it starts to reach the people who will appreciate it.
In the meantime, self-directed projects can help you expand your skills or show good examples of what your work can be used for. If your dream is to design textiles, start designing a collection of patterns on your own and post them online; if you want to be a picture book illustrator, create a character and show the world what adventures she might get up to; if you’re good at typography, illustrate each letter of the alphabet and compile them into a book; if you make comics, publish a collaborative zine with your friends. Projects like this will help people recognize you for a specific thing, prove what you’re capable of, and show off how creative and resourceful you are, besides just being fun to make.
It’s also totally okay to reach out to any client, tell them you appreciate the work that they do, and express your interest in collaborating with them in the future. This is an especially good idea if there’s a part of the industry you want to break into, or a certain company that you’ve dreamed of working with. You may not hear back right away, but it never hurts to reach out.
If you’ve never done any type of job before, it can be really hard to find someone to take a chance on hiring you for the first time. One thing you could try is offering to do a project for cheap or free for someone who is doing awesome things in your community, but wouldn’t normally be able to afford custom artwork — think nonprofits, activist groups, community centers, or a friend's band. Although no client who can afford to pay for design work should EVER ask you to work for free, there are situations where you can give back to the community by offering your services pro bono, and also be gaining real world experience and creating something great to add to your resume and portfolio.
I think it’s also important to ask yourself whether you actually want to make work for other people. Sometimes this is presented as the only way to make money as an illustrator, but you can have a successful career by making and selling art or products yourself, and never take on a single freelance job. It just depends on whether you like collaborating with clients on lots of different types of work and helping someone else’s vision come to life, or whether you have your own vision or something you want to create without any input from other people.
how do i know how
much to charge?
Some important factors to consider when pricing your work are how long it takes you to make, your client’s budget, standard rates in that part of the industry, how established you are in your career, and even how excited (or not) you are about the project. A good way to find out average rates and terms for different industries is to check a book like The Graphic Artists Guild Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines.
You’ll find that rates very widely depending on the industry. If you want to focus on finding work in a specific industry, you might find it helpful to try to match your workflow to the typical budgets offered in that industry; for example, if you have a very detailed and time-consuming style that you use for book covers, you may need to find a faster way to work when it comes to a quick-turnaround editorial job.
Also remember that any budget offered to you is the start of a negotiation. If someone comes to you with a very complex project and you don’t feel their budget is sufficient for the amount of work, you can offer to work within their budget on a much simpler illustration, or tell them what a more realistic rate would be for you. A good client should respect your needs and be happy to make sure the rate is fair for everyone.
how should i
The simple answer in my experience is "make stuff, put it online, repeat". Having a strong web presence can absolutely lead to lots of opportunities, and I always recommend using social media as a way for people to find and keep in touch with you, especially Instagram and Twitter.
But beyond the internet, I think human and real world connections are essential, and your fellow illustrators are some of your best allies and promoters. Talk to other creative people and create a community, whether in the place you live or online. Start projects with these people, whether a collaborative project, a meet up group, a collective, or a group chat where you can give each other tips and advice. Also get excited about and participate in the things that other people are doing. Go to gallery openings and art events and talk to people there (yeah, even if you’re anxious or shy — I am too). Participate in craft fairs and conventions, sign up for classes, workshops, or residencies. Get involved with non-art-related communities, causes, or charitable groups and let them know you are available to help out.
Not everything you try will lead to new friends or projects or a tangible result, but the point is to open yourself up to possibilities for great connections to happen. Pretty much every life-changing opportunity or creative friendship that I’ve had has come organically through meeting other illustrators, and I owe so much to the individuals and communities who have embraced me, shared their knowledge, taken chances on me, shown me paths I didn't know existed, and made me excited to be a part of something outside of myself.
do i need an agent?
How much you benefit from the help of an agent will probably depend on the type of work you’re interested in doing. Most children’s book illustrators have an agent, myself included, and my agent is an enormous help when it comes to navigating complicated picture book contracts. It’s also hard to get the attention of publishers if you have a book you’re trying to publish, unless you have an agent to help. Licensing agents are also helpful, for people looking to license patterns and other art for textiles and surface design.
However, in most other areas of illustration, having an agent isn’t as common. Whether or not an agent is able to find work for you depends on many factors and is not a guarantee. Personally, my agent helps me with everything in the children's and publishing industries, and I handle all other projects without representation.
how do i break into a specific part of the industry?
A good start is making sure that your portfolio shows many examples that demonstrate what you work in that field would look like, so that potential clients can picture what you’re able to make for them.
It’s also helpful to immerse yourself in whatever community surrounds that industry by following other artists who do that type of work and learning about the sorts of clients, brands, companies, or customers they do work for. Many of your peers in that field will be happy to share advice for getting started and tell you what their experience has been like.
is it hard to balance two very different illustration styles?
I’ve maintained my children’s illustration as a separate practice from the rest of my work for many years, and it’s only ever helped me. Basically it allows me to get the work opportunities of two different illustrators, so that it hasn’t been as hard for me to make ends meet. Plus, both styles are important to me and allow me to explore separate worlds, and I'd be heartbroken if I had to give either of them up.
I would absolutely recommend that if you are interested in a few things, you should pursue all of them, rather than feeling pressured to narrow your focus. I don’t think you necessarily need two drastically different art styles like I do, but it helps to have a couple of potential outlets for your work, such as being able to do typography in addition to editorial illustration, or making patterns in addition to greeting cards, etc. But I think the key is to be intentional and distinct in doing this, so that either your two styles look nothing alike and don’t overlap at all (like mine), or they are cohesive enough that all of your work is recognizable as yours.
do i need to move to a big city to succeed as an illustrator?
Not at all, I think that the majority of work happens over email, and it’s not really necessary to meet your clients face to face, or live in city to sell your art. As someone who lives in Minneapolis, a mid-sized city, I’ve never felt that I’m missing out on opportunities that illustrators in New York or LA might have, and while the community in my city is helpful and great, I know my career would survive without it even if I lived in a totally remote place. I think it’s most important to have some sort of community, but that might exist for you online, or it might be one you meet up with only a couple of times a year if you travel for conventions, conferences, or gallery shows.
how did you
develop a style?
For me it has been a process of lots of tiny choices and influences over a long, long period of time and through making many, many pieces of art. My style is still slowly evolving and I believe it always will and always should.
I can remember developing a style in intentional ways — being a teenager and pouring over details of how another artist would draw a line a certain way or render a certain texture, teaching myself with my eyes how to imitate that. And later, cultivating intense aesthetic opinions and directing myself according to those (I chose to prefer flat color to shading, muted tones to bright colors, etc). I also know that a lot of things were accidents I stumbled across, and that working in certain mediums can drastically change how you think about putting an image together. When I slowly transitioned from all ink & digital work to painting in watercolor & gouache, it allowed me to focus on shape and color and texture over linework, and find different ways of mark making. I’ve tried a lot of things that I ended up not liking, but I think the key to developing a style is to look at every piece you make, and decide what parts you like and want to hold on to, and what parts don’t work for you.
I’ve found it’s best to focus on what you can offer that is unique and feels true to you as an artist rather than fixating on what other people are doing or how they’re better than or different from you. Personally I really adore loose, scribbly line art from other artists, but when I try to work that way I can’t seem to make it look good, so I try to focus on what I am good at and let other people be good at their things too :)
where do your
ideas come from?
answer coming soon
who are your
Andrew Wyeth was one of my earliest inspirations.
João Ruas is my favorite artist in terms of both technique and concept.
Pet Perry is an artist I deeply admire for his creative lifestyle and synthesis of art and activism.
Carson Ellis hugely influenced my children’s illustration style.
John Darnielle is the artist I look up to most and my metric for being a good and compassionate human.
Some other favorites:
Kate Mackay Gill, Riikka Sormunen, Landland, Inio Asano, Michelle Morin, Rebecca Green, Meg Hunt, Oana Befort, Aiko Fukawa, Eleanor Davis, Matthew Woodson, Fumi Mini Nakamura, Omocat, Michael Howard, Leslie Herman, Sarah McNeil, Maryanna Hoggatt, Sam Alden, Micah Lidberg, Nico Delort, Nomi Chi, Richey Beckett, Nicomi Nix Turner, Nicole Gustafsson, Llew Mejia, Kelsey Oseid, Zoe Keller, Sam Wolfe Connelly
why are you vegan?
I believe that all sentient beings have a right to self-determination and that it’s unacceptable to take away their life, agency, or the resources they produce without their consent, which animals are unable to give. For me, as someone with the time and means to incorporate small changes into my lifestyle, being vegan is the logical choice. I understand that even very compassionate people don't feel motivated to self-police their everyday actions and consumption in the same way I do, but I think anyone can agree that industrial farms should be held accountable for excessive cruelty, that access to healthy food that doesn't make you sick should be a basic human right rather than a privilege bought by the wealthy, and that under late capitalism every aspect of agriculture and food supply prioritizes private profit over public health, environmental impact, and animal welfare. Veganism is one way to partially divest from corrupt industries, but for me it's only one piece of a broader socialist and environmental mission.
do you have ethical guidelines for what jobs you'll take?
I try to make sure the jobs I take on outside of that align with my values and politics; whether by educating people about natural science or conservation, showing children a compassionate and nature-focused lifestyle, or supporting creative work by musicians, writers, and others in my community. I know I'm not there yet, but my goal is for all the work I do to be a form of activism.
I specifically reject working with any company or on any project that exploits workers, uses animal products or otherwise harms animals, has wasteful or unsustainable business practices, reinforces gender binarism and gender roles, promotes bigotry against marginalized communities, or puts more money in the pockets of the world’s wealthiest people.
why are you always taking photos of dead animals?
My love for nature extends to all part of it, not just what is conventionally viewed as pretty; part of what makes the world interesting is how moments of tenderness and harmony can be paired with chaos and tragedy and brutality, and I can absolutely find as much aesthetic appreciation in something that is ugly or makes me sad as I can in something that is beautiful or fills me with joy. Anyone who actually engages with nature and wilderness on a regular basis learns that death and suffering are everywhere, and stumbling across it in your explorations is inevitable.
So I come across animal remains all the time, and every time I have to decide on the appropriate action in that case. Most often I experience a few moments of reverence and curiosity and regret for the ended life and move on, and don’t document the experience or engage with the remains in any way. Sometimes I am moved by the experience enough to take a photo, and I might share it, because I know there are a lot of other people out there who identify with what I’m feeling. Some of these times I’m acting out of anger, because the animal’s death was the result of cars or trains or a collision with a building, and I’m overwhelmed by the helpless injustice of so many of the deaths that humans bring upon animals, and I want to force others to confront the consequences of how we all live, with full knowledge that I’m still complicit in these deaths. There are times, when an animal dies an unnatural death out in the open and its body is on display for passersby to see and feel callously grossed out by, that I literally scrape some poor creature off the cement, dig a hole, bury it, put flowers on its grave, and cry for its death.
Finding a dead thing is the most impactful experience that I’ve ever had in life. No matter how often it happens, it feels the same – dizzying and surreal and haunting and fascinating and deeply heartbreaking. I harness these feelings in lots of different ways. Curiosity is the reaction that moves me to usually try to figure out why it died and to examine it closely, because there are not many times in life that you have the opportunity to look at a wild animal from an inch away or literally feel its weight in your hand or the softness of its feathers or fur, and that information is valuable to me as an artist. A funeral is a different type of reaction, a personal and emotional one, which for me transforms the guilt and heaviness of having to walk away from this little tragedy into a pointless but meaningful expression of respect and acknowledgement and reverence and apology. And the third type of reaction I have is to make art that tries to make sense of all of this, by fixating on a fallen animal as a representation of every other animal I’ve found, and by making its death appear beautiful, because it is. I’ve never been able to accurately express all these complexities in one piece of art, but attempting to is a big part of what drives me to draw and paint at all.
what are you into
(No one actually asks this but)
I like seagulls, trash animals, riding bikes, sitting at the edge of bodies of water, spotting rabbits in the dark, drinking cheap beer, going to emo and punk shows, reading tarot cards, astrology, collecting weird zines, cooking, deep ecology, the Great Lakes, very specific landform terminology, volunteering at a wildlife rehabilitation center, walking on frozen swamps, sad books and sad poems, canoeing, camping, talking to my cat, and caring for my army of houseplants.