Wendy Martin Illustration
Professional Children’s Illustration and Art Licensing
“Wendy Martin is our selected guest in January for Art and Design Inspiration. We are inspired by her Illustrations and longevity in the competitive illustration market. She has great advice for those in the field and for the up and coming illustrators!”
I had my first illustration job for my mother when she wrote a book for her dog training classes. I think I was about 12 or 13 at the time. I have to admit the artwork wasn’t very skilled but to my mother’s credit she did pay me for my efforts. My first professional, paid illustration gig was as a hand-painted clothing artist. This job involved recreating duplicates of my artist boss’s art on baby onsies, socks, t-shirts and other cloth products. I got very good at replicating her style and ended up direction around 6 other artists as well. It was a tough, low paying job and I felt artistically stunted while there. After that I went to SVA for Graphic Design to finish my BFA degree. One of our class assignments was reviewed by a magazine and they selected my art for a cover. They also asked me to create another magazine cover. They paid well under market rate, but as a student, I was thrilled to have art on a national publication. That would have been around 1986.
Either way, I’ve been illustrating a long time. In fact, I don’t honestly remember a time when I wasn’t drawing.
I am still refining and developing my own style, but I think I finally located my own voice about 6 years ago. About that time I immersed myself in drawing and defining what kind of art made me feel truly happy. I think that is the trick to finding a personal style. If you are working in a style that always leaves you feeling dissatisfied, you haven’t found your niche yet. In recent years, I can still look at previous pieces and not want to rip them up like some illustrations I did back in previous decades. I had a lot of false starts as I tried to discover who I was. The most important thing is never giving up. If you put the work into it, the results will follow.
Illustration as a career is a brutal field. It’s like going into acting or becoming a musician. Only a very few can make a living at it these days. While even fewer become super stars. I know of artists who were well established and making a comfortable living in the 80s and 90s that are struggling to make ends meet now. A lot of place that used to buy illustration, like newspapers and magazines, no longer exist. Plus, with the world economy created by the internet, artists are competing with each other worldwide. An artist overseas can accept payment that would be way too low for someone based in the United States. If you want to be an illustrator, you have to love what you are doing, develop a really thick skin and spend all the time available to you drawing and honing your skills. This is not a profession for the feint of heart. Personally, I can’t think of anything I’d rather be doing. I like to tell people I have the best job in the world – I color for a living! This is a career you have to really want to pursue with your entire being.
Creating art for me is like breathing. If I don’t do it, I die. If one is a professional artist, one can’t wait for inspiration to strike. You have to show up for work everyday and there are deadlines for projects, even for work I create purely for myself.
When working with a client, remember you are a professional, act like a professional. My motto is to treat people as I’d like to be treated, even if they don’t treat me as well as I like. Sometimes it’s hard to accept client comments when they have you completely trash something you spent your heart and soul creating, but if you are hired to solve their illustration needs, your job is to find the solution to their requirements that makes them happy, even if it isn’t your favorite vision. Not every job you work on will end up making it into your portfolio. Honestly, that’s okay. I come away with something from ever job I’ve worked on that I can use in future work. You just have to be open to learning new things all the time.