Interview with Andrew Kolb (Graphic Designer/Artist)
With the next Brew Over Design event just around the corner, I thought it would be fun to get to know more about our Guest Speaker, Andrew Kolb. At only 29, Andrew is truly out there living the dream -- both as a professional illustrator and Illustration teacher at Conestoga College. His wit, charm and ease make him the perfect speaker for this year’s event. The many technological difficulties we had connecting for this interview didn’t stop us from chatting about the world of the creative (even if we did have to reconnect our servers a few times.) This shows how generous Andrew is to help others live the creative dream. With helpful insights and a little prodding back-and-forth, I really got to know and like Andrew. His work is fresh and lively, and although he describes himself as an introvert, he’s quite the conversationalist.
Here’s a little about what we talked about.
How you got into your career as an Illustrator?
I started my career taking the Graphic Design program at Conestoga, and then took a bridge degree program in Australia. As I got more into my graphic design career, I found the work I enjoyed the most were the illustration-based ones. Over the course of my first two or three years as a graphic designer, I started teaching as well. Around that same time, I also began working as an illustrator (officially).
My plan (initially) was to teach much later in my life, say when I was 50, and my career as a graphic designer was ending, but that’s not how it worked out for me. I teach all three levels of Illustration now at Conestoga College and have for a few years now. It actually adds a lot of routines, and stability to my life and career. Sometimes your best-laid plans go to pot but they work out after all.
What are your days like now?
Most days I spend either lesson planning or working on client projects.
What is your biggest success as an Illustrator?
I guess my biggest success would be my kids’ picture book, Edmund Unravels. It is a classic, 32-page picture book that I wrote and illustrated, and was released last March by Penguin. The idea for this book came from when I moved to Australia, after college to get my degree. The story is about a ball of yarn who likes to travel but gets smaller as he goes along. Through a series of events, he learns valuable life lessons on keeping the important people in his life. The response for this book has been pretty cool, and now I can add writer to my list of accomplishments.
How did you get published in the first place?
I found the process of getting this published was pretty kind of old-school, so there’s still a lot of gatekeeping involved. It was about finding an agent that wanted to work with me, and pitch the best book possible, not one that was just looking to make a quick buck. Once I found the right agent, that could help me communicate my vision, and work with me on the pitch, the rest was history. I’m working on my second book now. This is the process I know a lot of my friends have been through, and it worked for me.
What would your business card say about you?
I am now (finally) confident to say that I’m an illustrator. For years, I was hesitant to put this on my resume, or business cards because my education was in graphic design, and I had experience in design. But I am pretty confident in my abilities as an illustrator now. So if I had to describe myself on a business card now, it would be:
- Avid Reader
- Board-Game Player (I guess I would have this on my list somewhere.)
How do you approach a client project?
After all the boring negotiation stuff is done, I start off doing a lot of research. I guess it depends on what the project is, but there’s always research to do. Whether I need to find out exactly who the client is, or more about the actual job, or article I’m illustrating for, I always start here. I usually just info-dump all my research onto one page so I can easily see everything I’ve gleaned at a glance. I start from there, doing sketches, trying to put those words and ideas into a visual. After a few times sketching, I send my ideas to the client and work on color schemes, and details. After doing this process a few times, I send it to the client – for approval or harsh criticism.
How do you handle criticism?
I like to think I handle it well. I think my training in graphic design has helped me because I’m not too precious with my work. I’m really trying to give the clients what they are looking for and am usually not too attached to my ideas.
How do you attract new clients?
I really don’t know.
Thanks for the help Andrew. No, seriously. We need to know. How do you get paid work?
Presentation always helps. Sometimes it evens shadows the content itself. So what do I do to get work? I think I just do more work.
I tell my students that they need to have a hub online where they can showcase their work, and show off the kind of work they are good at, and like to do.
I got into doing picture books by doing a personal project that explored an existing picture book, and because there was already a fan base for that, I got a lot of eyes on my work too. People are always going to make calculated risks when hiring a freelance designer, or illustrator, so showcase work that you want to do. I still do a lot of personal projects that lead to actual client work.
For someone just graduating school, how hard is it to break into freelance?
It’s not impossible, but you have to get yourself out there. If you want to do comics, then you are going to have to do some personal comic projects. Yes, you are going to have to do some work for free, but that will eventually lead to paid work.
The current climate, with all the social media that is out there, means that you have a lot of opportunities to share your work. It also means that you have to keep sharing your work to stay relevant. For me, even if I just put out a series of three personal illustrations, shared across three days, I find it can bring in new eyes to my work. By sharing new work, they can look at your entire body of work as well.
Especially coming right out of school, it’s important to not just sit on your existing body of work. You really have to keep creating and keep sharing. All of these things really do increase your odds of getting new work.
Where do you find inspiration for your passion projects?
I don’t really know. I guess I tend to find inspiration in pop culture and current films, or games I enjoy. With client projects, I have to create most things from scratch, so it’s really inspiring to be able to put a new twist on things that I enjoy.
If you do things that you like and put out good work, you will find clients. It’s not like a straight meritocracy – but slowly, something will catch. It’s a steady, moderate incline at first, but it will continue to grow. I can put out five new things this month, and not get any traction for months, but it does work. I have no formal illustration training, but I’ve built a career on it, just by getting my personal projects out there.
How important is it to network or meet other creatives?
I’m an introvert, so getting out there isn’t always my style, but I do believe in making genuine connections with people, not just creatives. Don’t be afraid to tell people what you do. I find my parents are still my best hype-people out there. They are never shy about telling people what I do, and that has helped me get a few new gigs.
I guess if you are open to meeting others, and finding out their stories, it can help you make connections. It is a dream working from home, alone. But I get out there when I teach, so I think I’ve found the good balance for my life. I do have a small circle of trusted artist friends that I can get honest, genuine feedback of my work from. Having that small group of confidants helps give me the confidence to put fresh work out there.
What are you planning on talking about at the Brew Over Design event? Can you give us a little sneak peek?
Yes. Because I know that there’s going to be a mix of different kinds of creatives there, I promise I’m not just going to talk about illustration or design. My plan is to give you “Dating Advice with Andrew Kolb.” I used to do a lot of dating, when I was single, (sorry, he’s taken) and had a lot of first dates. I think I can discuss the many parallels between first dates and new projects, and can talk pretty confidently on both subjects.
And we look forward to hearing all the juicy details on both fronts Andrew…
You can check out Andrew’s work here:
And of course, don’t forget to say hi to him at the event, and maybe even show him a few of your illustrations!
See you all there.
Amy Aitman is a freelance writer and content strategist atwww.8menwriting.com . She has written hundreds of interviews, and articles and enjoys the nitty-gritty of people’s stories. She lives in Kitchener, Ontario, with her family and loves a good chicken taco.