Monday, February 18, 2008

Spring 2008 Letters

I hope this finds you well and life is grand. My Professional Practice class begins this week, if you have a minute to spare, please feel free to post a comment or two. I've included last year's letters below this post. Any thoughts you might think helpful for this year's graduating class would be appreciated. Please indicate your year of graduation, weblink, and any other pertinent info you'd like. Feel free to forward this to other RISD Illustration Department graduates you may know.

I plan to include some general links for illustrators as well as websites of those whom have suffered through this couse, suggestions are very welcome.

Thank you, and best of luck in all things,
Paul Olson


Courtney A. Martin said...


I just re-read my letter from last year, and can't quite believe what a difference one year makes. Since the last correspondence I've pursued freelance work much more than before. I've gotten a job or two making drawings for Red Farm Studio-- a company that makes kid's activity kits similar to paint-by-numbers-- a surprisingly lucrative little business, and something your students might not think to pursue right after graduation.

But the one thing I'd really like to share are some of the great things available to those wishing to pursue children's illustration in particular. I definitely encourage them to join the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators ($75 per year) because it really does provide helpful connections in the field. The forums on the SCBWI site are extremely helpful for exchanging information with those already successful in children's illustration.

But the best decision I've made by far was spending $200 bucks to have my portfolio listed on I was told that a lot of art directors in the children's market use the site to hire new illustrators. After being a member for just three months I got a call this November from an editor at Abrams in NYC asking if I was interested in illustrating a picture book on a super tight deadline. By January I had illustrated the book, and by next September "Ballots For Belva" will be in stores.

I've subsequently just moved to Boston (I live in Somerville), and will hopefully find a design job in publishing while I continue to pursue freelance illustration on the side. Life is good.

I wish the best of luck to current students and fellow alumni, and can't wait to hear about the things they've all been up to!

-Courtney Autumn Martin, '06

Jack Turnbull Cartoonist and Illustrator said...

Hello Paul and the Proffesional Practice class of 2008,

If you are reading this it means you are about to embark into what is known to older and/or less fortunate folk as "reality". You may have heard a thing about this place, some things that are based on reality and some things that are not. It does not come with an art store down the street, a full buffet of fried goods and not everyone is thrilled about drawing and or painting ... or printmaking. Rather, you'll met people named "Throop" and "Tom" and "Dave" who are more interested in things like "beer" and "ring tones". Food will consist of ramon noodles and pre mixed mac and cheese. If you want more complex meals, you're on your own. So my first suggestion is to buy a cookbook and learn how to enjoy what you eat. You'll save money (cheaper than eating out) and you'll be satisfied.

My seconde piece of advice is to simply not panic, particuarly if your original plan of being young and successful doesn't pan out. While this statement sounds simple enough to follow, it is very hard. It means sticking to your guns. Just because you go to one interview or something to that extent and you are rejected, don't have a mid-twenties life crisis. Don't change your art on account f one crudy experience. Before all, be martetable to yourself before being martetable to anybody else. That way you'll be having fun and will be able to pump out a lot of work. And there are SO many art markets out there (espically if you are in NYC) ... I'm begining to realize my job is about finding my "scene" ... the art is sitting and ready to go, I just need to find the right patrons.

My third piece of advice is to not compare yourself to your classmates. Everyone is in their own place. Everyone knows different people. You'd be surprised how much being "successful" means just being well connected. Just keep on doing what you're doing, self promoting and if you keep at it, things will eventually work out.

Lastly, I'll remind you of a great quote on the issue of work that was stated by Ted Turner: "Early to bed, early to rise, work like hell and advertise." Follow this, give it 5-7 years and you'll be off and running doing the freelance illustration thing ... working at home and in your pajamas.

As for myself, post-RISD has treated me pretty well. I first worked at Geoff's for a summer so I could be with my girlfriend, then got a design job in my hometown helping to make piggy banks and pencil holders, and I am now the color specialist for a textile design firm in NYC. All these things are by far not dream jobs, but I am learning a ton from doing them and getting PAID to learn! Plus, I make enough to live in a cool neighborhood in NYC! That's a win win.

Oh yeah, don't fear NYC. It's great. It's like living in the internet ... everything is here. Polish people, Pueto Ricans, Whites, Blacks, Muslims, Asians, ... and the art scene reflects this. I always felt there was this stigma against NYC in the illustration department because the rumor was that's where all the snobby Pollockish abstract painters go. Well, they kinda do, but the thing is everyone goes here. And you can choose who you want to hang out with. I absolutely adore NYC, I find it to be very life affirming and you shouldn't be intimidated by it. It is a fabulous place to be when you're young. The only thing I don't like about NYC is the rent ... it can be stressful at times. But if you can swing it, do it!

As for my freelance career, after RISD I realized there were still some things I wanted to learn. I wanted to be a decent painter and my senior year I felt I had only cracked the surface of my painted illustrations potential. I've taken this "accademic year" to devote to illustration painting and I am very happy with the results.

I am currently working on some drawn/computer based illustrations and then I am going to visit the art directors at the new yorker, Nickeloden magazine and the new york times book review. Between the paintings and the drawings, I think I have a shot of getting some work in.

And always, always, always remember; your career is NOT a race. Do the work for yourself because it makes you happy. Don't do it to inflate your ego or to accomplish some small term goal, like impressing a girl or getting into a gallery, because once you reach that goal, there is nowhere to go. If you are Christian, it's like worshiping a false idol as opposed to the real deal. Do it for yourself, for humanitiy ... simply because the world around you is an amazing place which needs to have a response. The world is enough as it is, it's full of fantasy, wonder ... it's simotaneulously inspiring and terrible ... but mostly wonderful.

So hug your friends, stay out late, laugh until you pee your pants, ... don't forget you're about to be young and IN YOUR EARLY TWENTIES WHICH IS THE BEST TIME OF YOUR LIFE!!!!!

Paul Olson said...

Thank you to Courtney and Jack for posting, and a huge apology to Christina Rodrigues, for failing to post her letter last year, a terribly unfortunate snafu on my part. I do hope she can forgive me and post it again here sometime.

Paul Olson said...

Hi Paul!

Is it that time of year again? I wrote to you last year, but thought I'd send you a quick update. I'm still living and working in LA. I survived most of the year on my storyboarding and character design work alone, but when the Writer's Strike hit it absolutely killed my business. By the new year the situation was looking grim and I scrambled to find a day job. I ended up taking a job in Information Architecture-- a fancy term that means that I design the user functionality of websites like Disney, Miramax, and Better Homes and Gardens.
Although it's not really considered an "art job," it requires some creativity and gives me a steady income while I pursue other things.

Business picked up as soon as the writer's strike ended. I got a phone call to storyboard a series of commercials for Round Up weed and bug killer-- it involved tiny ninjas attacking giant weeds and insects! I ended up working on it at night after my day job-- often till 1am and all weekend until it was completed. By the time it was finished I was exhausted, but that project alone paid this month's rent. I am looking forward to doing more commercials in the near future, including a series of Network ID's for G4tv.

Who knows what the final commercials will look like... sometimes they stick to your storyboards very closely and other times the project evolves into something you can barely recognize by the time it airs. You just have to remember not to take it personally and keep in mind that you are a very early step in what can sometimes turn out to be a long process. Also, sometimes art directors change your boards after you've finished them. This used to upset me, as I will gladly make any changes people ask for. In time, I realized that it wasn't about someone else's dissatisfaction with my work, but the fact that some art directors just want to have a hand in the project and wish to experiment with resizing and rearranging elements for their own amusement without having to pay me make changes.

Oh yeah-- if you end up freelancing, don't forget to give yourself raises! I know that sounds silly, but it's easy to just get used to a certain rate and not give it a second thought. I am raising my rates in March by $5 an hour... something I should've done a good 6 months ago!

Best wishes for 08' and don't forget to keep in touch! Feel free to email me with any questions at

You can also check out my websites (with older storyboards) at
(As you might guess, I can't post any boards that haven't aired yet for legal reasons.)

Brittany Faix

Anonymous said...

Dear Paul,

Hello, How are you? I hope the semester is finding you well. I'm still in Providence working for a small Ebay company. I find that working as well as producing my artwork has not been as negative experience as I have been told. The job is flexible and it allows me to pick and choose my hours daily. I usually paint during the day and work at night.
I've been painting as much as I can and trying to build a portfolio. It has been difficult. Its hard to come up with ideas that are new and fresh. Work has been very slow and their have been a lot of projects that have fallen through. Clients are not the best people to work with and its scary to say but about 50% of my projects since graduating have ether not worked out or have not been cost effective. It's a constant battle to not get taken advantage of. People want a good product for the cheapest price. This is nothing new but a hard reality when trying to pay rent.
I have not decided what I truly want to do with my work. I don't feel like this is a problem but exciting. At RISD I received a lot of negative feedback about the political or serious undertone in my work. People thought that it was going to be hard to market or that people just didn't want to see it. I have found that people are very interested in this type of work. The Internet has been a great place to get people to view it and excited about it. I still don't have a web site but the coroflot sight has been really helpful in finding work. Through the site several people have contacted me about using work for their publications. A small design company White space designs has contacted me and asked to use me work in a new Zine "Cliche" they are starting. The first issue was published in January 2008. They have also featured my work in their February Issue and talks are underway for march. This is all pro bono but its an international publication with a large subscription bass. They also post everything on line at the link above. Since then hits on my site have doubled.
Currently I am in talks over a commissioned portrait work. I hope to start the painting by mid march. I'm also working on submitting some of my larger paintings to galleries around providence who have shown interest.
I have nothing really profound to say to your current students except that try to build a network while your at RISD. It disappears once you leave. People start their lives and you need to work hard to keep in touch. I say this because your fellow artist are great to talk to in order to find jobs and critique your work. They can also shin some light on an area which you might be planning on relocating to in the future. Also get your work on the web in as many places as possible and update once a week. I don't even have my own site and almost all of my work has come from the Internet. Also remember not to sell your self short. Create the work you want to create. Every opportunity that comes along don't take it just because its work do it because its going to move you forward in your carrier not further from your goals.

It was good to hear for you Paul, Hope this helps.

Jeremy Schilling

Anonymous said...


Forgetting to add links in my e-mails is the story of my life, or at least it's a big part of the story since the internet was created...

The Nightmare Snatchers are doing really well actually. I've been making the books full time since August. I got a trademark and everything so it's legit! (People started making knockoffs and all, so it was necessary though expensive.) The Christmas boom was nuts and more than I expected. I was doing alot of wholesale too, but I'm tweaking my business and trying to push the retail and only wholesale to smaller stores. The big stores suck you dry and destroy your market! I realized I was losing my retail customers to the big stores I wholesaled to. :\ Funny how things work sometimes. But I'm going to start expanding the line (making mini books called "Worry-Woolies" and other products), so I'm hoping to draw more customers that way, while I'm waiting out the slow selling months for gift items.

My goal is to get back to painting while I still have some Nightmare Snatcher cash from the holiday rush to tide me over. Wrote a children's book and all, now I need to finish illustrating it and send it to some publishers.

How have you been? How's professional practice going so far? Great title for the blog, hehe. I am looking forward to seeing how all the other former students are doing and what they are doing. Thanks for dropping me the e-mail. :)

Warm regards,
Sarah Jane

Anonymous said...

Hey, blog boy! Thanks for the note. Hope its going well. How are you?

Lindsey Traficante said...

I think the first thing I learned about the "real world" is that time seems to go by much much slower. Waiting for a response from a potential employer, may only take a couple days, however, it will feel like a couple of weeks. And while finding a job may only take a few months, it will feel like ten years. You will question your talents, be rejected, and go through a lot of cartons of ben and jerrys ice cream, but trust me, everything works out in the end. Literally everyone I was close with at school, from all different departments, went through an adjustment period where we all felt lost, under appreciated by the professional world, and missed our RISD bubble. But as I said before, trust me, it all works out in the end.
My first experience in the real world was a harsh one, a real wake-up call, but in the end I am glad I went through it because I learned a lot. I found a job post for a t-shirt company in NY. After an interview was scheduled, I met with them and they seemed to like my work, but they wanted me to do a few samples to see if i could fit in with their industry. They offered me $80 for ten designs and me, the naive girl that I was thought hey its a start. So I worked hard for the next few days, researched the stores that bought their shirts, frequented the company website, and even threw in a couple extra designs to show them how dedicated a worker I could be. They received the designs and got back to me saying they weren't exactly what they were looking for, none of the designs could be used, but gave me another chance to design something else. I did as they asked and never heard from them again. About a month later, I went to the company's website and was shocked to see all of my designs for sale. They basically used me for ideas and insanely cheap labor, changed the colors or fonts to protect themselves and are now making profit off of my art which I was told was no good. SO BE AWARE AND PROTECT YOURSELF!
After that life lesson, things began to get much better. I began freelancing at a company in NY called Novo Arts a couple times a week. I was doing what they call fine art graphic design which gave me so much artistic freedom and I loved it. Since I was only working a couple days a week, and the only money in my bank account was from my grandparents graduation gift, I stayed on Long Island with my boyfriends parents. If you can find a place to stay for it, even if it means you have to live like the TV show Everybody loves Raymond.
After three weeks of freelancing, they asked me to join them full-time, and after two months, I was promoted to Head of Graphic Design. So thats where I am now, 22 and head of the companies largest money making department and it is scary. I am still learning, but its becoming much easier. I am currently working with clients from all over doing wall-coverings for a hotel in Dubai, collages for a medical company called HIP, and even produced images for Donald Trump himself. My boyfriend and I both moved out of his parents house and got a place in Brooklyn. Manhattan...not really my scene, but I do love the area in which I live, and I guess i like NY for now.
So I guess my final piece of advice is to stick with it. I remember sitting in professional practice and hearing people say that to me week after week after week but its very true. Life isn't a movie. Great things don't just happen... you have to fight for them (although I must admit I do play the lottery now in hopes that I am wrong).
-Lindsey Traficante

Anonymous said...

Hi Paul,

Thanks for the email and the opportunity to post our “real world” thoughts and experiences on your blog. Hopefully we aren’t overwhelming your students, I’m sure this year’s crop of Professional Practice students have enough on their minds already!

After graduating from the Illustration Department in 2003, I immediately started working several part-time jobs back home in Virginia: teaching, temping, and freelance illustration and design. To break into the children’s book industry I did some gigs for free (put together a book dummy for one guy and rounded out my portfolio in the process), and some for nearly-free.

Finally, in early 2004, I got my first book contract for Boon the Raccoon and Easel the Weasel. It was a cute little book (I still love the illustrations I did for it), and it opened a lot of doors for me. I started promoting myself more, worked on some really unique projects, joined the SCBWI to increase my networking opportunities, and continued teaching.

As time went on I was getting more contracts, especially in bilingual Hispanic children’s books, and finished Mayte y el Cuco a week before my wedding day in the spring of 2005. Once I moved to Minnesota (where my husband, who is also a 2003 RISD alumnus, had been working since graduation) Un dia con mis tias, Storm Codes, and Somos Primos followed over the next couple of years. I’m currently working on The Wishing Tree and Baseball on Mars. I still do other freelance work (stationery design, commissioned paintings, T-Shirt and logo design, etc.) in addition to children’s books, and I’m hoping to expand more on that in the coming years.

Networking is so very important to stay relevant in this industry and to not lose your mind with the solitary-nature of the work. I’ve been volunteering with the Minnesota chapter of the SCBWI as the state’s Illustrator Coordinator since 2006. I organize our seasonal workshops and help with our Annual Fall Conference, wooing art directors, editors, authors, and illustrators to speak at our events. It is a lot of work, but it is so much fun and I do get quite a lot from it.

Finally, I’d like to emphasize that when it comes to freelance illustration, an artist pretty much learns by doing. There’s only so much one can learn about “the real world” while at RISD, the real experiences come by being throwing oneself headlong into the talent pool. I encourage your students to prepare all they can, but don’t stress too much about it.

Thanks again for this opportunity. Please feel free to pass along my contact information to any students who might have any questions.


Christina Rodriguez

Anonymous said...

Hi Paul,
Sorry it took me so long to respond to your original email, but allow me to serve as living proof that life does go on after graduation. I am alive and employed! I started working at the end of August for the Fox Business Network, a new television network launched by Fox News and Rupert Murdoch's tyrannical empire. That said, I am living at home which allows me to devote about 3/4 of my salary towards student loan payments. Ouch.
This email is somewhat long winded, so feel free to share, or not share, whichever segments you so desire with your class.
After graduating in June I had a job lined up to work at the summer camp I have been involved with for the last 6 years. It was the perfect way to transition from school to the working world. It was a comfortable and familiar environment and a very nurturing place for me to be. I was generating some kind of income, had room and board provided for me, and was able to spend my evenings sending my resume and portfolio samples to every possible company in the Greater NY area. I commuted into Manhattan about once a week to interview and finally, when there were two days left of camp and I was emotionally at the end of my rope, I was offered a job with my current employer in midtown Manhattan.
Job hunting was undoubtedly one of the most draining experiences of my life, and I hope it will be a long time before I have to ever experience such fury again, but luckily I was as prepared as I could be from taking classes with the likes of yourself, attending portfolio reviews, and making sure to take of advantage of all of the resources and connections RISD had to offer me. Most of the interviews I went on I found through RISD's artworks website.
One thing I will admit to, is the importance of attending portfolio reviews. As you might remember, I went to the reviews for both Graphic Design and Illustration and at the time admittedly thought they were a waste of time, money, and energy, and for the most part a big tease. In following months, there were two instances that this theory of mine was simply reflective of my general defeatist attitude second semester senior year, and not a true capturing of the value of RISD's sponsored portfolio reviews.
1. In July I received an unexpected call from a creative recruiter at American Eagles Outfitters. My resume had been sent to her magically and she wanted me to come in and show her my work. As I did not contact her or her company, I can only assume she received my information from a colleague of hers whom I met at the graphic design portfolio review. American Eagle was one of the companies present, and while I was only showing my work to companies based in Manhattan, I saw that there was no one at the American Eagle table and decided to take advantage of not standing in line and seeing what this rep from Pennsylvania had to say. We had a nice chat and I left him with a business card and copy of my resume (as I did everyone I met with during reviews and followed up with hand written thank yous). To this day it is my assumption that I landed that interview at American Eagle because he was pleased with my work and passed my information along to their design offices, which turned out to be located in NYC.
2. At the portfolio review I met with a designer from Perception, a design company in NY. We had a brief email dialogue after reviews. In the fall, I was at my current place of work and a colleague was showing a friend of hers around the office and introduced him as so-and-so from Perception. Low and behold it was the same designer I had met, and he even remembered me as "that girl from RISD."
Generally it is best not to burn bridges and to keep in touch with old contacts, ie: bosses from internships and freelance jobs, etc. or people who have just spoken positively about my work. Connections seem to be key in this world and every little bit helps whether it leads to a job offering, a good reference, or even the bit of confidence of knowing that someone out there appreciates my work.
All in all, life is good. I have health insurance and friends and family that love me. I wish I had more time for my own art, but right now I have stability which was my number one priority after graduating from RISD. In the next few years, after putting some serious cash towards my student loans, I hope to apply for fellowships to study art abroad and ultimately to have my own living and studio space in Manhattan. RISD has helped reinforce that if I work hard enough, I can achieve everything I want to, so here it goes.
Good luck to the class of '08!
Stacey Danielle Cohen
RISD Class of 2007

Anonymous said...

Hi Paul,

Things here have been good. After graduation I went abroad for a
couple months to Italy for the archaeological dig (through Joe
McKendry). It was my second time back to the program and looking back,
I'm glad I went again even though it took a chunk out of my savings.
At the time I was a bit concerned about what I was doing, where I
would go after the program, etc.

When I got back in August, I had no job nor any prospects so I ended
up moving home with my parents. I started scouring every job site I
could find for any opportunity in the northeast. I sent out tons of
resumes, applications, etc and actually got quite a few interviews.

The first offer I had was to do scientific drawings of costume jewelry
for an absolutely horrid company in Warwick... Even though I had no
other offers I had to believe there was something better out there. So
I got a job at Starbucks (great health insurance!) and continued the
job search. Finally in December I got an interview with a greeting
card company. I accepted the position, and now I work as an art
production assistant at Gartner Greetings, Inc. in Lincoln, RI.

It's a good first job I think - the industry is a bit soul-sucking,
but to counter that effect I am doing a lot of my own art in the
evenings and weekends. I plan on pursuing more freelance work, the
gallery scene around RI, as well as art/craft fairs. Ideally my 5-10
year goal has me opening my own gallery+studio+art/craft/gift store.
Whew.. we'll see how it goes.

Wish me luck! and hope you're well!
Maureen Seigart

Lauren said...


When I graduated in 2006 I had three goals.

1) Do freelance illustration
2) Become a teacher (hopefully at a college)
3) Show my work at galleries

In less than 2 years I have accomplished all three of my goals. I have worked with Scholastic Press and various magazines, I've lost count of how many shows I've had, and in 2008 I will be joining the Illustration faculty at Montserrat College of Art as a new Editorial Illustration teacher (I have also been teaching RISD pre-college and have had tons of fun as well enjoyed all my past students who are now becoming RISD freshman themselves!). I pay the bills, rent and such all through my art!

Words of advice from our teachers that have helped me greatly...

"Sometimes you have to want to impress someone. Whether it's that art director who didn't hire you last time, your parents, or even yourself."
~Chris B.

"Everyone needs artists. They're like plumbers. The world can't have too many Plumbers." ~Shanth

and more importantly...

"Don't Stop." ~Shanth

That one last line seems so simple but it can be easy to get distracted in the "real world". Find the time to paint, to update your website, to send out the resumes, to send out the mailers. As long as you keep focused you will make great opportunities for yourself.

Be yourself! It's great to keep updated with the art world, but don't feel pressured to tweak your work into something that's hip or popular at the moment. No one will be a better "you" than you. Stay true and let yourself develop your identity, even if you're scared no one may like it or that it won't get you work. It will.

Oh, and remember to explain to your parents what your process is for finding work. Mine have been very understanding and patient, but parents who are in the dark just get antsy and are a bit scared for their offspring (you). Explain to them what your career path means and how you go about finding work. Once they get introduced to that world it's easier for them to understand and be patient. :)

Good luck and congrats!

Spring 2007 Letters

Hello RISD Illustration Alumni,

Please excuse the mass mailing, I hope this finds you well. I'm writing to ask if you have a few moments to share a few brief thoughts about what life is like after art school. Such as; are you getting work? Illustration? Design? Painting? Roofing? Have you been in some exhibitions? Are you paying the rent? Are you making art? Were you prepared?

Any thoughts you might think helpful for this years graduating class would be much appreciated. Responses will be made available to seniors in my Professional Practice Course (the publish-able ones at least). I will post them on the links page I maintain for the course. Please indicate your year of graduation, weblink, and any other pert-info. (thats short for "pertinent information.")

Thank you, and best of luck in all things, and most importantly, Happy Valentines Day!
Paul Olson

ps. this is not a complete list, feel free to forward this to other recent RISD Illustration Department graduates not on the list.


From: Eric Johnson
Subject: Re: Letters From the Trenches: a note from Paul Olson
Date: February 14, 2007 3:52:01 PM EST
To: Paul Olson

Hello Paul,
Good to hear from you.  I would be happy to do your survey.

Am I getting work? Yes, after spending the summer in San Francisco I returned to NY and started working as a Long Term Substitute in a Graphic Arts High School Class.  I taught Illustrator and Photoshop.  In the beginning of February I left that job to make things full time.  I am currently working on 3 Websites for local businesses and have a little painting show at a coffee house in March (I also had a show in November at a different coffee house and sold 5 paintings).  I am currently exhibiting in at the Lower Adirondack Regional Arts Council teachers show with two landscapes.

Was I prepared?  Not really, I'm still not.  What does that mean anyway?  Prepared for life?  But I am flexible and willing to work so I am sure I will continue to be fine.  I am moving to San Francisco more permanently come June.  On a preparation note, I don't have health insurance, which is a bummer.

So why did you abbreviate pertinent information if you were just going to explain the abbreviation on the next line?  That doesn't really make sense Paul.

Check me out on the internet at

Eric Johnson


From: Chris Hicks
Subject: Re: Letters From the Trenches: a note from Paul Olson
Date: February 14, 2007 4:04:58 PM EST
To: Paul Olson

Hey Paul,
Good to hear from you! All is well here, rent paid, etc.

Let's see.. advice.
1. Get a computer, even if its a cheap one. Even if you don't do your art
on it.

2. Get internet access, even if it's dial-up. You CANNOT compete in this
or any business really if you are out of the loop. Even if all you know
how to do is send e-mail.

3. You're young. Take some risks. Publish your own web comics. Start
your own T Shirt company. Paint murals. Try all kinds of risky ventures
and don't worry about getting a secure job and a steady income just yet.
Benefits are overrated.

4. Step outside your expertise. Take jobs you might not be trained or
completely compitent in. Horse wrangling, professional clown, public
access TV anchor. You'd be amazed how much you can learn and apply from
different jobs. Plus it looks kick-ass on a resume. Seriously. It makes
you look 'worldly' and 'ready to handle anything.'

5. Put as many hooks in the water as you can. Stuff falls through ALL THE
TIME, so have a plan B, plan C, etc etc. Overbook yourself a little.
Even if you get slammed with business, hey, its money in the bank.

6. Surround yourself with artists. It keeps you inspired and
competitive, gives you compatriots to commiserate with and learn from, and
you can share the wealth when you (or they) get slammed with work.

7. There's only one single reason why people fail as artists. Just one.
They give up. Sounds corny, but that's what broke every single person who
failed at art. You're earning your chops, getting credibility and
building your reputation in this business even when you don't realize it.
Keep pushing, Sisyphus.

Hope that help!



From: jonathan
Subject: Re: Letters From the Trenches: a note from Paul Olson
Date: February 14, 2007 6:12:02 PM EST
To: Paul Olson
Reply-To: jonathan

Hey Paul,

You're message finds me well as I am in Los Angeles right now, soaking up some sun and trying to stay away from the
winter frost that has been engulfing much of New England. Everything is going good here. I've actually been living
out of my car for the past several months, travelling around the country, seeing all that it has to offer, stopping in to
see family and friends that I have not seen in some time.

I would be glad to shed my experiences after graduating RISD, which is not that long ago, but I admit that the past 3
years have gone by quite quickly.

Before the end of senior year, I had come across a paid design internship through my girlfriend of the time, and
pursued it through her recomendation, and yours. It was working for Soojin Buzelli, creative director or Asset
International, a financial publishing company that was based out of Greenwich, CT, but has since moved offices to
Stamford, CT. I met with Soojin, as she came to one of the shows I had up at the Red Door Gallery. We decided that I
would start shortly after graduation. School ended, and since I had no clue what I was going to do, or ultimately
where my true passions lied, I figured I would sublet an apartment in Providence, and go down to Connecticut 3 days
a week for the internship, staying with my grandparents that lived one town over. The reason for this, was to still have
access to all of the campus pleasures of RISD, and maintain a somewhat social weekend, as most of my friends were
still in Providence that first summer after graduation. And so, I commuted back and forth for the beginning part of the

As fate would have it, the other production assistant that was working there fulltime procured a new job a couple of
weeks after the internship started, and my presence there was an easy shoe in to fill it. So near the middle of the
summer, I packed my bags and moved to my grandparents house down in CT. The summer past, and I had saved
enough money to start thinking about moving to NYC and commuting up to CT from there. I lucked out, because 2
of my closest friends were ready to move to New York as well. So that October we moved to an apartment in Astoria,
which I still live in now.

Very quickly I realized that this fulltime work was not what I wanted to be doing the rest of my life, but was still stuck
with not really having a direct passion or outlet that I could support myself off of. However, I toughed it out, and
learnt many things from being in that position and staying there for as long as I did. See, one of the things that I
didn't learn at RISD, but learnt afterwards, is what a pain in the ass life can be. As a student, the individual is
institutionized, as they have been, in most instances, for thier entire lives. Entering what is refered to as the "real
world" can be difficult. There are many things that can only be learnt by the freedoms and stress, obligations and
commitments of adult life (which I broadly generalize here, but I'm assuming the point is understood). Life in this
"real world" is fun, but also challenging to get used to. As in everything, what you put into it is what you get out.
The only way for real progress is to take risks. Be mindful of your mistakes. Never be intimidated by the unknown.
Risks and exploration lead to experience, which only betters and furthers one's craft. I worked there in the production
department as a designer, and many other things until this past October, in which I finally left to pursue other
endeavors. I don't nessacarily associate this work with "fun", but after all, it is work, and there where many invaluable
lessons learnt whilst I worked there. This first job was a stepping stone to get me to, NYC, and really figure out the
next steps in my life.

Before handing in my leave, I had put a bunch of money aside, and set up a deal with one of my well to do Uncles,
to go up to New Hampshire, and paint murals in his children's rooms as commissioned work. I left New York in
October, and have been renting my room out to a subletter; I have to start paying again March 1st. Upon completion
of the murals, I finally had a bit of money, a couple months of time, and freedom from many obligations. I contacted
a bunch of friend and family, and have been on the road since, visiting, shooting photos, and enjoying this time to
think about the future.

I have been fortunate, I have been getting a steady flow of commisioned work the past couple of years doing a lot of
design, web design, and painting. This past fall I started my own business, and play in a band in NYC. To be honest,
those 2 things aren't enough to live off of when I get back, so I'll be searching for some sort of work. I also have
several commissions set up so that I won't eat up all of my savings. I don't have financial support from my family, so
while my first design job was in no way ideal, it paved the way for me accomplish specific goals down the road. That
basically sums up where I am now.

Here are some other tips:

• Networking has gained me a lot of jobs. It's probably my number one source of getting work.

• Computer programs like the Adobe suite are invaluable. If you are still developing on your illustration or painting
style (like I still am to this day) I would recommend learning the computer so that you have something to support
yourself with after school.

• As hard as it can be while your working, never compromise your own work. It's easy to get stuff in rutts that eat
away many months at a time.

• 4 billion people manage to survive in the world. You went to college. And a damn good one at that. You'll be fine.

Unfortunatley, I can't really tell you much about the illustration industry, except that it is a small market, but quite
healthy right now, and that you really need to have a specific style figured out if you hope to get steady work.

Hopefully this is helpful.


Jonathan William Belsky
2802 46th Street
Astoria, NY 11103
RISD '04 Illustration

No need to apologize for the mass email, I should be the one who’s apologizing. Two plus years out and I’ve never written back to any of my teachers.

Here’s the long and the short of it. I really haven’t been very tenacious.  I got a couple Illustration gigs but those all were basically handed to my by friends and family. Nothing wrong with that, I know, but I never really took it upon myself to do… well everything we went over in your class.  I’ve spent the past few years working for my Aunt and Uncle doing graphic design stuff for them.
But that’s changing now. I finally buckled down and started working again on a comic. Just a short twelve pager one but I think it’ll be publishable when it’s finished.  My problem was that after spending my whole life in school it was just hard to do things on my own again. I started acting like I did during summer vacations which is to say sketching a lot but never following through on anything.  What made me change? Fear. I know it’s not the most ideal motivator but it sure works.  I just reached that point where I realized becoming one of those people who never ever tried, who ends up in a meaningless career out of passivity, was a real possibility. And frankly that scares me shitless. I decided to stop waiting for a grand idea, I great project to do and just start working… basically everything you’d all told us our last few years.

RISD did a great job preparing me as much as one can be prepared.  And I even remember people saying, again and again that it’s not the most talented that make it; it’s the ones who stick to it… who actually try at all. In the end I had to make it like school to get anything done. I write out on a calendar what work I have to do and how many hours a night I’m going to do it. That’s far more neurotic than I ever was about work in school. But without the overriding structure I had to create one for myself.

Which reminds me, I should be drawing. Best of luck to this year’s crop of seniors. I can’t think of anything poignant to pass on to them. Everything I could say would be a cliché they’ve already heard and, much to their chagrin will turn out to be surprisingly true.

Well, no, how about this. Ask them what kind of person they are on summer break. Do they come back to school having accomplished any art? Doesn’t matter if they had a job or anything like that, those things tend to crop up in real life too. I don’t want to give the kids who do work on their art over the summer big heads but to make the ones who don’t think about it. Don’t wait until you graduate to deal with the culture shock. Start changing now.  In the precious little free time you have now, even if it’s just spring break, make yourself a portfolio piece. A piece that doesn’t work for any of your assignments, A piece that you would never have any reason to create other than by your own initiative.

That and find out whatever motivates you.  Fear worked for me maybe your muse is the need to leave some indelible mark on this world before you die. Or how about spite? Spite’s a good motivator.  If you’re just one of those people who naturally have a tremendous work ethic… just remember nobody likes you.

…Okay maybe you shouldn’t tell them that last part.

Well anyway, thanks for the mass email, and than you for all the advice and help you gave me… even if I’ve taken my sweet time implementing it.

Don’t want to impose on you but if it strikes you send my regards the way of the rest of the faculty. I will always be grateful to Nick, Shanth, Melissa and so many more. I feel terrible for not writing any of you earlier but I guess I just kept telling myself I’d finally write when I had some good news to report.

Hope all is well,

Jesse Smolover

PS. This is a better email address to reach me at


From: Lauren Minco
Subject: Re: Letters From the Trenches: a note from Paul Olson
Date: February 15, 2007 2:31:29 PM EST
To: Paul Olson

Hi Paul,

This is Lauren Minco from ILL '06. I am happy to say that I have been in a few gallery shows, am regularly teaching in RISD's CE Department, did a 2 week artist visit at a boarding school in MA, and just got my first major job from Scholastic Books! The funny thing is that the job came randomly because one of their art directors bought a t-shirt of mine from the student art sale this past December and she wanted to see more of my work. I believe that you should jump at several and many oppurtunities as they come along and one will lead you somewhere, even if it is a surprise!

I wish them luck,


Hello, Paul,
I have to say, I felt nearly entirely burned out on art in general for several months after graduation.  I haven't been getting work, but my self-promotion has been relatiely intermittent, so I don't expect any.  I've been slowly working on several personal projects but have trouble motivating myself to paint.  I've done a few role-playing portraits of friends.  I took the summer off and adapted to New York City, where it's incredibly competitive and cynicism is rampant; smaller markets recommended.  I traveled across the country for a month to attend the World Science Fiction Convention, although I ultimately had to choose between bringing the installation piece I meant to show there and bringing a third traveling companion, and we couldn't well abandon him in the city.  When I returned I worked full-time art supply retail while also interning at the Society of Illustrators for a travel and food stipend.  That was exhausting, so I switched to part-time retail, then was fired mechanically for repeated tardiness and began working at a much friendlier independent bookstore. 
I'm currently writing from the Society of Illustrators' monthly thursday sketch night, where I create digital sketches as I have since high school - one of which has been published.  See and  (p.s. keep your website updated, and stay in control of the hosting!) I have work showing at a convention art show as usual this weekend.
I've also applied to painting M.F.A. programs and some dauntingly selective universities and am giving myself a year off to make a last effort at getting illustration contacts.  Simply the experience of not being in school for the first time in my life is an experiment in understanding motivation.  It's sort of cliched to be this way right out of college, but part of what one learns is that cliche is truth - particularly a truth of not being able to create out of negativity, that art's perversity is the incompatibility of its supposed inspiration and its conditions of production.  See why I'm going for grad school?
It may be that my purpose in writing is to serve as a warning to others.  Whatever you're doing, keep in practice at painting and drawing and at thinking.  Make sure you check every list of opportunities available. Give yourself projects and deadlines for each week.  Don't think that you can attack several markets at once, because you won't be able to attack any of them.  At the same time, it helps to have even a minimum-wage part-time job that keeps you in touch with the art community and potential clients.  Be patient.  Being idle is better than constant panic and despair.  Almost every "break" is socially serendipitous.  If you can't stand doing what Professional Practice trained you to do, do something completely different and educational in its own way.

Don't listen to me; I'm always wrong.

Janet "Limnrix" Bruesselbach


Hey Paul!!!! How are you?!?! Long time no speak!!! Of course I'll give you some pert-info - It's the least I can do for all the help you gave me with my grad school recommendation :)
First, tell them the best of luck for me! It's hard work, but well worth it! And remind them how much weight graduating from RISD will have for them (it's very impressive to those familiar with the arts)
The hardest challenge for me was the business end of everything - so for those in the freelance industry, I'd recommend reading as much as possible about how to price themselves and if possible, to talk to any professionial freelancers for tips! The work may start out slow, but it will get better the more work they do...
For those interested in the publishing world, and I guess my experience would be with children's books, they need to be persistent and (as hard as it is) to try not to get discouraged. I haven't sent out promotional postcards since being in grad school, but between RISD and now, I averaged sending them out every 3-4 months....which can get a bit expensive, but the thing to remember is that the pub houses get hundreds of postcards a DAY and so the more often they send out postcards, the higher the chances are of having their artwork noticed...and actually, I'll stop rambling on this one because I'm pretty sure I'm just suggesting all the things I learned from you :)  So, thank you Paul, for YOUR awesome advice!
As far as where I am now, I ended up going back to school because I truly was/am interested in art therapy...not because I felt discouraged about getting a steady income from art (stressing that part because I don't want then to get discouraged about their own careers by thinking I gave up on mine). I'll admit, there definitely were times that I got discouraged (especially fresh out of school - guess I just didn't really realized how hard and harsh the "real world" can be at times) but being out of school for two years, I did start to see how the work does pick up. I would recommend getting some sort of part -time job (at least in the beginning until work does become more stable) as a safety net for the reassurance of some sort of income...and with that, I'm stressing that they try not to feel disappointment in doing so - I felt like I had failed in the art world when I finally did come to terms with getting a part-time job, but looking back, I realize that pretty much every freelance artist starting out their adventure gets another job - it's hard to have a steady income from freelance art in the beginning....
And again, I'm going to stress learning as much as possible about the business side (especially setting prices) of the freelance industry. I honestly can say that, of all the murals I've painted, maybe TWO actually were priced somewhat correctly, for the rest, I definitely underpriced myself. In the beginning, I can understand charging a little less  for their art (to build a portfolio as well as spread the word about their art) but I've realized that people (especially the non-artsy appreciative type) don't realize the value of art and will not hesitate to make artists question their pricing. I definitely lowered my prices before even giving myself a chance to price myself right for fear that my clients would change their minds...
One more thing, I'm kind of embarrassed to give you the link to my website - I definitely have not updated it in WAY TOO LONG - and have been meaning to get around to it, but for now, grad school has taken over my life (kinda feels like RISD all over again....but with papers!!) So, I've attached some files of my murals in case you wanted to see them...Let me know if there is any other questions you or your students may have. And best of luck to them!!!
It's also so good to hear from you! How is YOUR art career going?!?!
Take care Paul! Let me know how things are going when you get a chance!!!!
Love, Jackie Bennett


From: Courtney Autumn Martin
Subject: Re: Letters From the Trenches: From Courtney Martin
Date: February 16, 2007 12:32:38 AM EST
To: Paul Olson

Hello Paul!

It's nice to hear from you (even if it is in regards to a mass mailing!). Life post-RISD graduation in June hasn't really been all that eventful just yet. Partly due to my retrogression back to Connecticut to live with my parents, partly due to the fact that I've been foolishly avoiding the whole pursuit of legitimate illustration work.... But anyway, here's the scoop:

-I went to live back home with the folks. It's comfortable and money-saving not paying rent, but not the most inspiring or creative atmosphere. I very much miss art school and the amazing creative forces that surround you there. I've got a nice little studio space in my basement and can occasionally be found down there painting or sketching...with the space heater on full blast.

-Over the summer directly after graduation I interned at an historical house museum in CT. As random as the experience was, I had a lot of fun working as a docent for the museum and as a summer camp counselor for the museum's Colonial Kids Camp. I also got to use some of my artistic abilities to create an illustration for the museum's educational brochure, as well as to paint a mural for the museum.

-I sent one mailing of postcards to different children's publishers back in October, but I didn't exactly follow through with them. I'll admit I sort of half-assed the whole self-promotion thing, so I didn't get a response. Lack of self-confidence in my art makes it very difficult to promote myself enough to get anywhere. But that is something I'm working on...

-I donated a new painting to a women's auction, received a private commission for an illustration, and designed a promotional poster for a local band. Nothing much, but anything's better than nothing I suppose.

-Currently, I work two minimal part-time jobs. One teaching at a small art school in town, one working as a photographer at a portrait studio in the local mall. Low pay. Few hours. The general public. Oh, joy. In my spare time I work in my studio or maintain my social life...

-I posted my portfolio on, and was recently contacted by a company called [212]Media. I'm currently working out the possibility of illustrating some public domain fairytales and the like for a website that's in the works. If it pans out, it would be my first real illustration job, which would be great.

-I'm working on getting my children's book manuscript and book dummy out into the world. I've done most of the prep work, I just need to stop procrastinating and actually send it out.

-I have done a couple of things for my portfolio since last June, nothing spectacular, but I try to get new work done when I can.

Although I did feel prepared and inspired and excited about life in the post-RISD world, that momentum dwindled as soon as I actually entered into it. Fear and self-doubt took over, feelings of inadequacy took root, and I have found myself completely lost and unfocused at times. I really need to overcome these inhibitions and start believing in my work and my worth as an artist, but it's certainly not the easiest thing to do. Actually, I'm really glad I have my two low-paying jobs that I hate because they more than anything else make a life as an illustrator so much more appealing. Ultimately, I know that can, must, and will find my place in the illustration world-- because if I don't find some way to get paid for what I love to do, what I'm qualified for, and what all my education and opportunities have made possible, I will never forgive myself.

So, the plan is to stop being dumb and scared, get focused, get motivated, get my work out there, and save up for the move to Boston with the boyfriend after he graduates from RISD in June. Right now I'm just trying to find my balance between all things.
Little by little.

If I can impart any hypocritical advice on those soon graduating, I would say this:
Whatever you do, do what makes you happy. Don't let your own fears keep you from getting your work out into the world. If you're in it for the long haul, then go for it. You have nothing to lose, you can only improve.
But there's nothing wrong with taking a little time for it to all sink in.

Best wishes for an enjoyable second semester. I hope all is well with you, Paul, and that we run into each other someday soon.
Take care.
-Courtney A. Martin
Class of '06


I've been doing several commissions for people I've met. Portraits and landscapes. Sold a few other paintings, illustrations and still lives. I've also been working part time at a frame shop / gallery in town and I've been selling landscapes through the same gallery. I may have been able to pay my bills with only my painting this last year, but there have been several benefits to having a part time job. Beside the extra money, the part time has been a really good way to get out of the house on a regular basis which improves my mood and my productivity when I'm in studio. I've also been able to get my health insurance partially covered by the job, even though it's only part time.

The largest difference I've found between the way things are and the way I thought they would be is that there in no rush, no race. When I was a senior I felt like I had to be famous in a years time or I would be failing. Truth is, I happy where I am and I've got a lot of time ahead of me (assuming I don't get hit by a bus anytime soon)  I could have done several mailings by now and showed my portfolio to art directors, gotten jobs, etc. I feel quite prepared and ready to do all that, but I've really been enjoying the time since I graduated to continue learning and not working myself too hard to have a social life. I've read a few painting books and worked on improving my painting skills. I'm now working on developing a couple of different portfolios, one for fine art and one for illustration and maybe one for portraiture. In fine art, if I choose to pursue it, I'm working up to getting into galleries where there is a better buying market and I'll make more on my work. For Illustration, I want to improve my skills and my speed so that I don't have to botch a few jobs before I get it right and get all of my specifics worked out, such as sending paintings/files and pacing for a deadline. I'm pretty sure that if I just keep working, I'll get where I want to be, when I'm ready to be there.

Rob Rey, Illus '06


rom: Adam Sacks
Subject: Re:Letters From the Trenches: a note from Paul Olson
Date: February 16, 2007 5:36:22 PM EST
To: Paul Olson

Hi Paul,

You sent this e-mail to an old address of mine (, which I don't check that often.  If you're keeping a record of e-mails, this one is my main account now (

I graduated in 2003.  I remember my biggest concern is what I would do right after college.  When professionals came in and talked about their experiences they usually glossed over that first year or two, but when you're graduating that's the part that concerns you most.

And basically, if you were like me and didn't have anything set up right after college, and refused to live with your parents, that first year or so is going to be tough.  Get your portfolio/reel/resume ready in college, but you also need to think about how you are going to make money.  Because a lot of times opportunity doesn't come right when you graduate.  I didn't have an art related job for 9 months after graduating.  I worked at sandwich, doing office temp work, setting up business party decorations, and lived very very cheaply, but I'm glad I did because I think it's too easy to fall into the trap of complacency if you live with your parents.  Nothing will make you want to succeed in your chosen field more than giving people sandwiches for eight hours a day for crap pay.  (on a money saving side note, working at a sandwich shop is great because you can steal food and thus drastically reduce your grocery bills.)

If you're looking to get freelance illustration work, I can't really help out, I don't do that.  I work in animation now, and I can tell you connections are the number one way to get a job.  Most jobs aren't posted anywhere, you just have to know about them through friends.  I'm probably going to direct an animated They Might Be Giants music video because a friend of mine did one for them recently, and he doesn't have time to do another.  And this is where I think RISD does leave students at a distinct disadvantage.  If you go to school in NYC, you are much more likely to have connections right after graduation because that's where the work happens and there's more of a conversation between companies and schools.  If you go to RISD, you're much less likely to run into people in whatever industry you're interested in.

However, my first professional job as an animator came as a direct (albeit 9 months later) result of Portfolio Day.  In fact, they were the last people I talked to that day and I wasn't even sure I wanted to talk to them, but I showed them my stuff, gave them my resume and almost a year later I got a job out of it.  So yeah, Portfolio Day, do it.

So my career so far:
I worked on a graphic novel during college called Salmon Doubts, and finished it the summer after graduating, and got a publisher for it that October and it came out the following May.  There is not a lot of money in graphic novels, that thing took me a year and a half from starting it to sending it to the printers.  I think I made 500 dollars on it.  But I didn't do it for the money, I did it because I wanted to, though no one should be expecting to be supporting themselves on independent comics.

After college I moved to Boston.  I don't recommend this.  Move to a city that actually has a lot of job opportunities.  Boston has very few, but I got a job working there at Soup2Nuts, which is practically the only animation studio in Boston.  What that means is the pay was crap because if you wanted to work as an animator you didn't have a lot of options.  I worked there for 2 years, starting as an animator, then a storyboard artist then a background artist.  I worked a TON (for eight months straight it was 60-80 hour weeks), but I learned a lot too, and the good thing about a smaller studio is you're less a cog in the machine and more likely to move around and do lots of stuff.

After that project was done, I moved to NYC.  Someone I worked with in Boston had already moved in NYC and was working as a director at a studio.  I e-mailed him, he e-mailed the top guy, I show my work and get hired as assistant director for a pre-school show.  Connections, they're important.  So I worked as Assistant director for a year being in charge of Storyboards.  Learned a lot on how to lead a group of artists.

That job recently finished, and I found out about another animation job through friends, so I'll be starting that in April.  In the mean time I'm doing random work here and there, again mostly I find out about them through friends.  Connections are huge, did I mention that?  My last random job was doing some concept storyboards for a possible live action commercial staring Gene Simmons of Kiss fame.  Right now I'm also helping a friend animate a music video and gearing up to direct one myself.

Other pert-info

I typed a bunch and I don't have time right now to proof it, so I hope that makes sense.  Let me know if I'm being unclear.



Subject: Re: Letters From the Trenches: a note from Paul Olson
Date: February 16, 2007 11:46:23 PM EST
To: Paul Olson

Hi Paul!

It's nice to hear from you! I hope you're doing well. I'd be glad to talk about my life post-RISD for a moment, in hopes that it will help your seniors.

I graduated from the Illustration program in '04. The first year out of RISD was very hard. I graduated almost with a sense of dread; despite the mass of applications I'd sent out and interviews I'd gone to during that time, no one even bothered to call me back to tell me no. Get used to that! The editorial illustration industry seemed dead. I instantly regretted not having mastered more computer programs that would let me branch out in the field (After Effects, Dreamweaver, Maya, Cinema 4-D, Combustion, or even a better grip on Flash or Illustrator.) After graduation I moved back to my home state of NJ, unsure of what else to do. I felt that I had few practical skills other than the ability to draw and my talents as a Photoshop jockey... I found myself herded into the unpleasant role of amateur graphic designer. I cooked up company logos for a few local businesses, then got stuck selling shoes out of a department store for 6 or 8 months. Luckily, I got fired from that job and decided to reconnect with some old RISD pals. That's when I realized what I had REALLY gotten with my $120,000 education: the most valuable thing of all in this business-- connections!

Through friends, I met up with a RISD alumni who had graduated a year before me and was finding work in Los Angeles. I worked with him on a project via the internet where I drew animation backgrounds to be used on a short film he was working on. That film later won a student Emmy for best comedy. I didn't get any more work as a direct result of the project, but it gave me enough hope that there was work out there to be had that I made the move to LA a year after graduating.

I sent out tons of applications and after 2 months finally got a hit on as a "graphics coordinator" for a production company that made instructional craft DVDs. I knew NOTHING about postproduction but I was creative, had a handle on photoshop, knew what it took to make a graphic image, and oddly enough, I knew how to knit. I had no idea what I was doing most of the time I spent there, but it became a crash course in graphics in the entertainment industry. For about 8 months I worked ridiculous hours (at times overnight) at a very disfunctional studio and helped to produce four knitting DVDs before my job title was phased out and I declined an offer to become the producer's personal assistant. I was unemployed all summer after that, but have never regretted the decision. I felt that being someone's personal assistant would've been a step down, and would only lead me further away from any career path I really wanted to explore. If you want to be an artist you can't be afraid of a little poverty!

Just about the time when I got laid off I met a new friend that worked at a postproduction company a block away from where I had been employed. He helped me to revamp my website, originally created by my good friend from RISD, Cat Smith. He also recommended that I should try my hand at storyboarding. I'd heard this suggestion from other people before, but it had always seemed that I'd have a better chance at teaching bullfrogs choreography than entering the professional storyboarding field. After all, they do something almost unheard-of in the modern world-- they pick up and a pencil and literally draw for money. You can't do this for very long without some sincere interest in production, knowledge of camera moves/lenses/effects/aspect ratios, and a wicked talent for drawing anything at any angle both roughly and quickly.

To be concise, my new friend knew the right people and introduced me to a company that had regular need of a storyboard artist. They had worked with him in the past and trusted his judgment enough to give me a shot without even looking at my portfolio. CONNECTIONS ARE EVERYTHING. They liked me enough the first day and have continued to hire me as a freelance artist on a regular basis for the last five months. I started storyboarding scenes for the tv show Numb3rs, which airs on CBS on Friday nights. Lately, the company has been calling me in for other projects they get as well, including a spot for Major League Baseball on Fox Sports and an upcoming project for NASA they are bidding on. (I REALLY hope they get that one! I'd love to draw rockets and little space men!)

Despite the bigger name projects and hourly pay I still worry about being able to pay rent every month. (And believe me, rent is BAD, even in the cheaper areas of LA County!) The work is great when you get it, but as a freelance artist you never know WHEN you'll get it. I have to constantly seek out other side projects to ensure that I will have some regular cash flow. Constant job seeking is irritating and depressing. Also, I have to hoard up enough money to get me through the summer because tv shows go into hiatus and there's absolutely no work to be had. It's still winter and I'm already concerned that I could be living out of my car at the end of the summer if I am not completely diligent with finding work now. As a freelance worker collecting unemployment is no longer an option. I'm also responsible for the cost of my own healthcare benefits, which can be unexpectedly exorbitant. I was in a car crash yesterday and it makes me sick to think of what I've shelled out for medical care in the last 24 hours. Unlike the situation in the rest of the country, the ARE art and design jobs in LA, but it's very costly to live here and difficult to meet new people. It is easy to feel isolated if you work from home and have no money to go out and mingle. (Eight and nine dollar mixed drinks are the cheap ones here! Classes and clubs are never free, either...) In short, having any any type of social life takes a concerted effort, and since connections are almost the only way to get anywhere being social takes on a whole new importance.

My other advice to graduating students is to play it cool. We graduate and are so eager to get hired that we show up in suits and try far too hard to impress. That's about as good as walking in with a sign that reads "Desperate! Walk all over me!" Trust me, ditch the button down shirts and feel free to wear converse, jeans, and a hoodie to your interview. You'll find that's what everyone in the studio is wearing, even your 50 year old boss! The fact that you have no experience with be less critical than the quality of your work, your willingness to learn, and the jovial, humble, mellow attitude you put forth. Be willing to put in extra hours and be someone you'd want to work with.

I haven't even had a chance to update my website since I started storyboarding, but you can still check it out at Having a website instead of a physical portfolio is definitely the way to go. If anyone has any other questions they think I could help with, or if anyone is considering a move to California and wants more tidbits about the area feel free to contact me at

Best of luck to the '07 ILLERS!

~Brittany Faix


From: cameron davis
Subject: Re: Letters From the Trenches: a note from Paul Olson
Date: February 17, 2007 6:52:33 PM EST
To: Paul Olson
Cc: me f

This is Cameron Davis, illustration '05.
I'm currently in LA, working as the lead character concept designer for the video game franchise Guitar Hero. The Guitar Hero game I'm currently working on is still in production. I also did many characters and environment designs for Tony Hawk's project 8 and the most recent Tony Hawk game that is still in production.
I plan to bounce between games and film within the next several years.

I would say the best advice I can give above all is to be passionate about what you do.
Also, if you want to make it in entertainment, move to LA or NY. Unfortunately that has to be done. For freelance illustration it's a bit different.
After graduation if you don't have anything lined up, swallow your pride and take an internship. I did this for 5 months, lived on mac and cheese and burritos while learning as much as I could and improving and making connections at an internship. That really payed off.
The last big thing I can say is to be a nice person to everyone. The best connections you make are friends. Friends will hook each other up with work first before going to the person who is necessarily the best for the job. So don't be a dick.
Last but not least, don't stress and don't worry. If you're talented, nice, and passionate about art, you're in.
Some things I've learned, hope that helps.
.PS. take a class from Shanth Enjeti, and of course...the Paul Olson


From: amanda penecale
Subject: Re: Letters From the Trenches: a note from Paul Olson
Date: February 18, 2007 11:58:22 AM EST
To: Paul Olson

Hi Paul,

I am writing to let you know that I am doing great. I am living in
Nantucket working as an assistant for a photographer. We do weddings,
portraits, stock work, and magazine shoots. I also work in her office.
The photographers name is Cary Hazlegrove...she has many book and a
great business. It is a well paying position and it is often fun as
well as interesting. I am interviewing in two weeks to see if I have
recieved a position as a kindergarten teacher, as well as an art
teacher in nantuckets artist association. I am also helping them to
start a darkroom and b/w photography program. I have a lot going on.
I am happy and doing photography so this is good. I am also writing
music and playing out often now that I have more free time. Feel free
to share my info with your class. I wish them all the best of luck in
getting to where they want to be!

my music is at
I have recently updated my site!

Take care Paul.....good to hear from you!

-Amanda Penecale


From: Jessica Alcorn
Subject: RE: Letters From the Trenches: a note from Paul Olson
Date: February 20, 2007 7:13:42 PM EST
To: Paul Olson

Hi Paul,

Good to hear from you!

I think my case might be a bit different, since what I really wanted to do wasn't illustration, but visual effects for feature film. It is a bit roundabout that I ended up in the Illustration dept, but it's all pretty much worked out.

When I graduated in 2004, I initially tried to get work as an illustrator, since that's what I'd been training for. I sent out the postcards and applied to openings and job boards. I got no responses and no work. I think it was apparent that my heart wasn't in my paintings. I didn't fight for being an illustrator the way someone who was passionate about what they were doing would. I lived in limbo for a year, half-heartedly trying to make more work, but not really doing much. I also applied for work in the video game industry, since I figured that was closer to the kind of job I wanted to have. Still nothing.

Eventually, I decided to further my education. I went to Vancouver Film School for a year-and-a-half-long program in Visual Effects and computer animation. I graduated from this program in October. As a result of the connections I made at VFS, I landed a job at a great Visual Effects studio in San Francisco, The Orphanage ( I've been working here as a technical director and a compositor for a month an a half now. I couldn't be happier! This is exactly where I'd hoped to be.

I'm glad to have had my illustration education from risd. I learned so much here that I am able to apply at my current job. For me it was a matter of figuring out where I really wanted to be and how I was going to get there. My education at risd served as a base for the technical training I needed for the specific job I wanted.

So, I'll be turning 25 this year and I'm only just beginning to find myself where I want to be. It's a long road out of risd.

Take care Paul,

Jessica A


Hi Paul! After graduating I lived in Philly for three months and worked at the zoo there. Then I moved to Texas for a month and was almost a florist. After that I left for the Kingdom of Tonga to work for the Peace Corps. Now I live on the remote outer island of Hunga and am teaching in the local primary school (there are 35 kids total). I have been making lots of art and absolutely no money. But I am happy.
My words of wisdom to this year's graduating class is be flexible, but don't compromise your dreams. And try not to get too stressed out.
Thanks for being a great teacher and an inspiration. I loved it when you brought your bonsai tree to class.
Sarah Kate Weaver
class of '06