EP 01: The Best Ways to Practice Your Craft

Holy Guacamole, it's here! The very first episode of Women of Illustration is ready for your eyeballs, and I’m so excited to share it with the world. Buckle up for this 40 min interview with NY Illustrator and Animator, Irene Feleo as we discuss the best ways to practice your craft as an artist.

Irene is originally from Australia but moved to the states recently to work as an Animator at a production studio in New York called Spontaneous. She loves to use strong and bold hyper color palettes along with fine lines, dotted patterns, and geometric shapes. Working across various mediums from digital, painting and embroidery - Irene loves to let her freak flag fly by taking a more abstract and unexpected approach to her work.

In this episode, we help answer all your burning questions on how to know your ready to sell your services as an artist, how to take the pressure off when drawing, and whether or not copying others is the best place to start.



How Irene started to practice illustration

Irene has been obsessed with art since high school and was often found doing small sketches in class. But the first project that inspired Irene to be an artist was when she did a graphic novel about her fighting fish Mr. Miyagi’s journey to heaven.

When she was younger, she wanted to be a comic book artist and just enjoyed the art of being creative. After years of trial and error, she finally realized she could make a living from this, even though she wasn't quite sure how yet.

Irene recommends before you should even think to sell your work you have to find your groove with tons of practice. You need to find out what you like before you can start to sell it.

I recommend starting to post your work frequently on sites like Instagram and Dribbble and wait for your audience to tell you that you're ready. This could be comments like “rad”, “do you have commissions open?”, and “where can I get a print of this?”



Can you waste your time practicing?

We realized together that there is no such thing as a waste of time when it comes to practice unless you compromise your values to do so. You have to listen to your gut when it comes to what you want to specialize in whether its graphic design, illustration, animation, or any other field in the creative industry.

I once compromised myself to get a graphic design degree because it was easier to make money than illustration. Looking back now, I understand that I may have wasted my time going down a path I didn't even want. This was all because of outside pressure telling me what I should do instead of doing what I really wanted. Irene made the same mistake and went into Digital Media in school instead of fine art because it was what her parents pushed her to study.

I love the advice Irene gave here:

“Every time you make a step towards figuring out what's not working for you that's not a waste of time. But if you keep going down a certain path thinking that you have to do it but don’t enjoy it. That's the biggest waste of time there is.“

By drawing a lot of different things, it helps you figure out what you like to work on the most. Like how Irene figured out that she loves drawing strange characters and combining Photoshop and paint to create unique multi-medium pieces just by playing around. If she had just stuck to working in pencil on looseleaf paper, she may have never even discovered what is now an essential part of her style today.



How long were you practicing before you got paid for it?

It took Irene three years of University and four years of personal practice after she graduated to land a paying gig from her illustration work. Her first-day job was as a motion graphic designer at a studio doing mostly production work and animating logos.

Her first significant opportunity to find herself was when she got the chance to create an animated spot of a green world that was 100% illustrated. This was her first chance to combine her illustration work with motion where she got to create all kinds of fun characters and magical backgrounds that inspired Irene to combine these skills for a living.

Personally, I’ve always found a way to sell my art even when I was a kid. I started in high school by drawing on converse and selling them for $50 bucks a pair. But it wasn't until after I graduated from Full Sail University and landed a competitive paid internship with Disney did I start to get consistent income from my designs.

Although I had a great experience at Disney, I didn't get the chance to use my creative muscles and focused more on production work that made it that much harder to find my place in the industry. Irene could relate when she worked in advertising where she would just repurpose existing assets to animate for a client but rarely got to be apart of the creative process.

Sometimes when you start out with a day job, you have to pay your dues before you can get to the fun stuff. That’s why you have to take extra time to do personal work in your spare time so you can better find your voice. Or else you might just get so caught up in the day to day that you forget why you got into art and design in the first place.



How long would someone need to practice before they could sell their services?

If someone practiced 4 hours a day, every day how long would it take them to be confident enough in their skills to get a day job or get freelance work? Irene thinks if you take the time to figure out your style by making both bad and good work it would only take about six months.

You need all that practice time, because it’s not always the drawing that needs to be the developed, it’s yourself. You need to find out what you have to say and combine it with the skills of illustration.

So if you put in the work, you will only reach your goals faster every day you try. Especially in the age of social media and being able to post new work every day. We can quickly grow a following and get noticed by clients by practicing and posting new illustration work consistently.

I love to use the example of Scott Biersack also known as youbringfire on Instagram that started a 365 project a few years back. He went from a novice lettering artist to doing work with big brands in less than a year just because he made work every day even while going to school full time.

People like Scott give me motivation that we all have to start somewhere. You might do a shitty drawing at first, but the next one will get slightly better. Then after a few months, you might just surprise yourself.



What do you do when you suck at drawing something?

Irene is unusual because when she thinks she sucks at something instead of practicing it, she finds a way around it.

When Irene first got into illustration she was terrible at drawing realistic bodies, so she would find a way to convey a body using abstract shapes, or exciting color patterns. She developed her style based on her weaknesses and avoided them so she wouldn't get disharderend. But in doing so, it allowed her to find a different approach to design that resulted in finding her unique voice.

This might not be the best advice for everyone, but hey it worked for Irene.

Personally, I FUCKING HATE sucking at something. So I do what’s called deliberate practice on that one thing till I knock it out of the park. For example, as a lettering artist drawing the letter S can be a real bitch. So before I move on to work on my next piece, I would fill up a few pages of S’s until I started to get the hang of it.



How do you draw without the pressure?

Irene tries to turn her judgemental brain off by watching something in the background so she can draw without her inner critic messing with her. Since sketchbooks are too intimidating for her, she only draws on loose leaf paper knowing that she doesn't have to post everything she makes.

Since I’m the kind of person that usually overshares and tries to find multiple uses for my drawings, I started drawing on napkins to then throw them away. This might sound like I’m a monster to some, but for me, it’s the only way I can just make for the fun of it without the obligation to post all my work online to make a buck. Sometimes I just want to draw for me knowing that no one will ever see it.



How do you feel about copying others work to practice?

Irene copied the master's when she was in art school and remembered fondly using an old book on berries as inspiration for drawing plants. But she only ever uses art as reference and always finds a way to turn it into her own thing. She would never copy something line by line, and would instead use images as inspiration to then build off of them using her own ideas.

My rule of thumb is you can trace my work or use my work as inspiration, but don't share it claiming it as your own. Although many people start out by copying, remember to just keep it to yourself if it’s too similar to someone else’s hard work. If you begin to share it online, you will most likely get called out on it which could hurt your reputation before your career has even started.

Instead, if you have a hard time creating from your head, try to diversify your inspiration sources and pick out a bunch of small things you like from each to then Frankenstein them together to make your own unique piece.


What’s coming next episode

Draw every day. Don’t do it on the weekends. Do at least 1 hour every day because you can’t get better without practice. Even if you have a day job, or kids, or anything else that takes up your time, find a way to be consistent.

In our next episode with Irene will be talking about how to actually find time to practice without life getting in the way.




Animator & Illustrator