Wednesday, March 3, 2010


Receiving this, you must have been a member of Paul Olson's class in the past, been a guest, or have the dubious pleasure of knowing him. Another Professional Practice Course has begun for Paul and his students. The blog for this course still exists, If you have a few moments and a desire to share, please post a comment or two about your experience in the Art world outside of the RISD bubble. Did you feel prepared after graduation? Was it as difficult as they (or he) said it would be? Getting Illustration work? Got a job? Enjoying life? Got health care?

No need to answer all those questions of course, whatever you'd like to share would be a big help, thanks in advance. I'm editing links in the next week, any suggestions would be appreciated. A new link will be titled something like "Illustrator's Student Advice Pages".

Warm regards,


Rob Rey said...

Hi Paul!
A gallery owner I started working with a couple of years ago sent me to this page:

The website is run by an art consultant, but the articles he writes are free. Great reading for understanding the business of gallery showing and understanding the gallery owner's point of view.

As for me, I'm almost 4 years out now. I still have a part time job in a frame shop, but things are starting to show promise. I just got a painting into a national juried show, worked a couple of semi-large but low paying illustration jobs to build the portfolio, and I've got a 4 person gallery show next month in Bristol, RI. My advice: learn to live cheap, I have no car, low rent, low bills so that I can cover it all with the part time job and spend ALL the rest of my time painting.
And health insurance is cheaper than some might think if you're healthy. My employer was paying half of my work group insurance coverage (about $380/mo total) until I realized that individually I could qualify for the healthy person rate and low income assistance, now I pay $24/mo for bluecross.

Lauren said...

Hi Paul and gang!

When I Graduated in 2006 I wasn't 100% sure what I wanted to do although I did know freelance was in the cards, so I got down to working on portfolio pieces and making a basic website (with the help of Rob Rey Ironically!). I have had luck as a fine artist, editorial illustrator, and am starting to get some great projects in licensing/products (Mary Jane did not teach her licensing class back then , but I am so glad she is introducing that market to students). I teach at RISD for Pre-College and CE and have done to two years teaching illustration at Montserrat College of Art. I love it!

Advice? Pay the bills with a part time job, preferably one that helps you out in some way with discounts on needed materials (food, art supplies). My part time job is teaching, so not only do I love it but it gives me plenty of free time to work on my illustration. Health care is important. Not only can it be cheap, but you have to remember things can happen when you're young. I got approved for my healthcare a month before I had a cancer scare (I'm ok FYI). It meant doctor bills and blood tests, but in the end I had that coverage as a security net (and it's much harder to get low-costing health care if you have been diagnosed "at risk" for anything, so do it when you're healthy! No excuses!).

I recommend buying those great books your teachers are always talking about, like the Guild Handbook. Limit eating out with friends and make a budget. Learn the damn Adobe Creative Suite! There are so many 9-5 corporate jobs out there that are great for illustrators, so if freelance isn't for you, make your resume strong and research what industries/companies need your skills. Most of all, think positive and just be yourself as an artist.

Adam said...

Continued from above...

The interview itself was 7 hours long. It started with a group presentation, in which I had an hour to show my design portfolio to a bunch of designers and managers. I wasn't too nervous, because like I said, I had nothing to lose. I dressed in khakis and a loose button-down shirt, which I think helped them feel like I already fit in with them, as opposed to other applicants who go extremely formal but end up seeming distant and impersonal. I projected a bunch of pieces which I thought best represented my design sense, but also showed my range of different skills, from tiny icon design to Flash ads to full website redesigns. Then I held up a few different design books I'd brought along and talked a little bit about how I've depended on the learning from each one; I think this too helped me come across as personally driven to learn & succeed, even outside of school. For the rest of the day, I met with each of the interviewers for an hour each, in which they put me through design exercises and asked a lot more interview questions, for which I felt well-prepared (thanks internet!). Within a week, I found out that I got the job - Yippee!

So I've been at Microsoft since August 2008, with awesome income & benefits. I proposed to Courtney that Autumn, and we were recently married this past October. Since getting into the web design world, I've tried keeping up some freelance illustration jobs on the side: 2 book covers, interiors and cover for an elementary school history course book, and a bunch of large interiors for a kids science magazine; I also got into the last Communication Arts illustration annual with an old piece from RISD, and had that same piece used as a magazine cover. While I still love illustration, my recent passion has been game design: combining game mechanics, illustration, animation, programming, graphic design and sound design into one large-scale project; I intend to create a portfolio of games which will one day allow me to break into the game industry.

So that's life for me! RISD played a huge role in my success, but I didn't imagine how my path would change to get me where I am today.


Learn Photoshop & HTML/CSS; they're a huge asset to almost any job, plus your portfolio website.

Contact as many companies as possible! Put pride aside, rejection is natural! You have nothing to lose!

Check out Craig's List too.

Sell yourself! I know it can be uncomfortable, but it must be done! Or find an agent.

There's nothing wrong with staying at home for a little while and saving money, especially if you're considering moving to a city where you'll need a big hunk of cash as a deposit for an apartment.

Contacts are everything! If you form positive relationships with people, they'll remember you and recommend you down the line when they see a job that fits your style/skills. It seems like luck, but it's more of a social art.

Be professional first, but show a glimmer of fun personality... just keep it G-rated!

TRY! Never dismiss a potential job as unachievable.

Courtney Autumn Martin said...

Hi Paul & fellow RISD kids,

Like Rob & Lauren, I've also been out in the wild approaching 4 years now.

For the last two years I've held a full-time job as a web designer for the apparel company Life is good in Boston. On the side I've worked a few freelance projects in children's publishing, including one picture book for a large publisher and a few other smaller jobs (a cover, children's magazine, etc).

The freelance illustration jobs that I have gotten are all exclusively results of my portfolio membership on and I literally do nothing else to market my work--because right now there simply isn't enough time in my day to be more proactive. The exposure on these sites is very important as many art directors from all over use these as a resource for new artists.

I've been super anxious to get back to illustrating and am in talks with my current (and very accommodating) employer to go part-time so that I can pursue it more seriously. And while it does mean losing a comfortably consistent salaried income, ultimately I know it's for the best. You have to do what you love--or at least try to! As a side note, having recently gotten married to a fellow RISD Illustration alum (Adam Peck), we now share health insurance which is provided by his employer (his plan was better than mine). That is hands down the benefit I am most thankful that full-time work provides!! :)

I think that life after RISD is full of possibilities. Any work experience can do wonders for your growth as an artist/designer and you never know where it may lead. I can't say I ever imagined that I'd be working as a web designer but if you leave your options open, RISD has prepared us for a number of jobs we didn't even know we were qualified to do.

The most important thing I have discovered is that 4 years in school is far too short to know who you are as an artist when you finish. It's not until you go out in the world and CAN'T make art all the time that you truly begin to know what you really want to do with your skill and appreciate that you have it in the first place. So don't panic. This is the most exciting part of it all: You have the rest of your life to grow as an artist.

In the words of 87 year-old Michelangelo: "Ancora Imparo"- I AM STILL LEARNING.
Just stay positive. "Optimism can take you anywhere," (says the t-shirts my company makes). And I really believe that.

Paul Olson said...

You guys are great, Thanks so much for all the thoughtful words of encouragement, its good to hear things are going well.

Matthew said...

Hey how's it going Paul?

so out of school, I found a job with a start-up animation company in Boston (thanks to RISD's portfolio review). The project was somewhat goofy - a flash animation about a hard-edged cop...who happened to literally be an ass with a gun... but it was a small team, with lots of opportunities to expand into new skill-sets. I started out doing storyboards, but ended up doing everything from animating to character design. It was a good experience and a project with international exposure (to drunks and/or college students).

After about a year, I'd been looking into a game-design company in Cambridge called Harmonix and saw an opening on their web-site. I applied and, very fortunately, was hired to work on their camera/lighting team. My job is pretty much to design music videos of animated characters for their games. I probably only had a chance there because of the storyboarding/animation experience from the previous job, having a presentable portfolio that related to their field, being from RISD (counts for more than you might guess), and also being a musician in my own time.
So I'm still currently working there and am enjoying it over all. Still mostly working on the "music videos" (which is grinding at times), but I'm also getting some free training in 3D modeling, and exposure to the whole work-flow of a gaming company. They treat us well here - I have solid health insurance and can pay my bills.

So suggestions? Have a portfolio that represents you well and relates to who you're showing it to. Definitely go to Portfolio day, and talk to people even if you're not scheduled to. Also, have confidence that you can do things outside of your realm of study - you'll pick things up fast, and your knowledge of art/design issues is worth a lot in any circumstance. Also, your interests beyond your art background are equally relevant in your post-college search.

Warnings? Health insurance and steady pay feel warm and fuzzy, but there's lots of ways to find contentment that don't involve them. In having this type of job, I make very little personal artwork anymore; In fact, my online portfolio is probably unchanged from when I left school (my free time now is going to music mostly). So if you love to make tangible, physical things with your hands, you might not want to get a techy job, steady as the pay may be.

There's probably more to be said, but generally, there's no way to know what post-college life will offer. I guess being receptive and honest are the best things I can suggest. Just do what you love, and hopefully someone will pay you for it eventually.

Paul - hope this finds you well. Take care of yourself (and your bonsais).

Matt Durso

Justin said...

Hey Paul, here's my story:

From the get go, I was admittedly a little bit confused as to the direction I would be heading in fresh out of RISD. This is a pretty standard feeling as far as I'm concerned. The career path of the illustrator can take many branches, so I think it is important to rely on the skills that you have in software combined with your abilities to communicate visually.

Coming out of school, I knew a majority of major software programs and had a website ready to go. It was a very easy-to-navigate, bare bones website that presented my work and animations. I was living with my parents in Michigan from September 2007 to February 2008. During that time, I was searching for jobs on a regular basis and was putting together a really good looking portfolio, and trying to create new work.

When I worked on making a revised portfolio, I kept portability as well as ease of use in mind for when I was showing someone during an interview. I kept my portfolio at a landscape orientation that fit 8.5'' x 11'' sheets of paper. I printed vertically-oriented images to match the same direction as my horizontally-oriented images. I bought a photo printer to make my own printouts on, so that I could control the colors and the quality of the print. The brand of portfolio case I use is called Pina Zangaro. They have very clean and refined look to them. You can also purchase Pina Zangaro sheet protectors.

With my new portfolio and website ready, I kept looking for jobs. I had a few informational interviews at a couple of places around Michigan, purely as a way to talk to people and get to know how they gained the skills and know-how to be in the position they are today. These were more along the lines of a very informal, non-hiring interview, and also a good way to show my work in front of people to gauge their reactions.

Out of the blue, I had received an email back from a small studio in New York that was looking for an intern. It was a paid position and seemed like the kind of work I wanted to do. They essentially gave me the job after one email. No phone interview, no formalities. That was it. The job hunting process is kind of a mystery, in that respect. The creative director liked my work and I had a bit of knowledge in Adobe After Effects, and so I feel like he judged me mostly on the uniqueness of the work I was producing as well as a demonstration of knowledge about using certain programs.

And that was about it. I made the choice then and there to take advantage of this opportunity. I had a friend living in NY at the time and so I crashed on his air mattress for a month while I interned there and looked for more jobs in my spare time.

I managed to land a long-term gig at a small CG studio in Brooklyn who was working on a feature-length CG motion picture but with a much smaller team and on a much smaller budget. I interned there two days a week for a month before I was approached to be paid for my services. It was the kind of work that I was very passionate about: creating conceptual artwork for animation. It involved a lot of storyboards, prop design, character design, and environment design.

(continued below)

Justin said...

That job finished in October of 2008, and so for the next few months I was job hunting again and doing my own small projects on the side whenever I could.

I found an internship at a company called Click 3X in February. I started out doing storyboards and general design work, as well as laying out PDF presentations of storyboards and whatever other design elements were needed to be sent off to clients. I had the chance to design layouts for a few websites and assist the designers and animators in creating assets for their latest projects. The company hired me as a freelancer in May, and I have been working here ever since.

I had the great fortune of doing artistic development on an animated sequence for a movie, which may see a DVD or theater release later this year. I was responsible for the visual look the entire animated segment for the film, creating all the illustrations of characters, backgrounds, props, basically everything! It was a great project and certainly something I'm proud to have on my resume/CV. My next step is to invest in a good computer and learn 3D software and advanced design programs to increase my value as a designer and illustrator. It has been a relatively straightforward journey in the big bad world, but I have learned a lot from being outside of school and being inside a real life, working environment.

In summary of my experiences:

• Design a clean, easy to read resume.

• Create a clean, easy to navigate website.

• When you send an email to a company, know that they're probably flooded with tons of emails and the likelihood that yours will be read may or may not be likely.

• If you do call a company to follow up on an email, be sure to call every other day. If you are told by a receptionist that the person you are trying to reach is "in a meeting" or "unavailable" or are sent to their voice mail, it most likely means that person doesn't want to take your phone call. I've seen this in action at my workplace. Don't be discouraged, though. If you're persistent enough (and are also courteous in your approach) then you may get a response.

• When writing emails to companies, keep them short and sweet. I've seen several emails from potential job applicants and on occasion some letters are very lengthy and include a lot of extraneous info that can be cut.

• If you happen to intern at a company with people who are talented and knowledgeable about, say, a certain piece of software, don't be afraid to ask them for help! A lot of people at my current job learned what they did through interacting and seeking the assistance of others. Getting help is easier and faster than finding a tutorial. You also avoid the hassle of getting frustrated trying to figure out how to do something in Photoshop.

That is all the wisdom I have to impart, I hope this helps everyone get a better perspective about the real world.

Best regards,

Justin Wolfson

ROB DOBI said...

hey paul,

graduating risd was strange, it all seemed to happen really. i was handed a diploma, forgot to shake the department heads hand onstage, then went home with my parents. for the next 6 months i had some freelance work, not much, but enough for the time being. i ended up taking a job as a short order cook and it made things a living hell. after about 6 months freelance work started to pick up and i eventually got tired of preparing salads and decided to work for myself full time.

i ended up getting knee deep in the world of band merchandising by accident, doing everything from cd layouts to gig posters to t-shirt design. eventually i started my own -shirt brand based off of the style i was doing for so many bands. my brand fullbleed has seen pretty big success and remains the primary source of my income, i plan on releasing my 11th series this summer. i'm still designing tons of shirts for bands, some recent clients include michael jackson, the rolling stones and eminem to name a few. i still get illustration work outside of the music industry as well, recently did some stuff for EA games and star wars, but i think music is my niche.

oh, and life rules, but i haven't had health insurance for almost a year now. i run 5 miles a day, that keeps me healthy enough.

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