Monday, February 11, 2008

Fresh Paint: Wesley Allsbrook

Sometimes you see a student and you breath a sigh of relief knowing that here is one young artist that will have no trouble building a career -- it'll still be hard work, but it's inevitable. With that in mind, Wesley Allsbrook, out of school less than a year and doing amazing work...

Where did you go to school and how do you feel they prepared you for your career, both artistically and in business?

I graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2007. I don't think that I'd be doing the kind of work that I'm doing now were it not for RISD. The people that I met there have been invaluable developmentally, and in terms of the progress of my career. What helped me most of all was being able to work with faculty who were actively illustrating as well as teaching. People like this can give students an intimate view of what their lives may be like as illustrators.

What has been your biggest challenge post graduation?

It's been interesting guessing what working schedule generates the greatest productivity for me. When do I wake up, eat, buy groceries? How often should I send my mailers and visit clients? Should I wear pants if no one can see me? So really, it's just orchestrating the quotidian basics that would otherwise be all but covered if I had a more conventional job. Also, health insurance. And I could get out a little more.

Do you feel as though you've had your first break yet?

Sure, my first break was the first piece I ever got published for the Bells and Whistles section of PLANSPONSOR Magazine, art directed by SooJin Buzelli. This opportunity for publication came to me through a RISD Editorial class taught by Chris Buzelli. After that first piece, working with SooJin almost exclusively, I've been able to build a small, functional published portfolio. When you find an AD who values your work and wants to use you consistently, take care to cultivate that relationship.

Do you think you have a breakthrough painting in which you made a leap in your abilities?

Maybe not a specific breakthrough painting, but definitely a breakthrough process. As a student I was able to take silkscreen, litho, and woodblock classes. Thinking about the way that a printed image is made, as a collection of single color layers functioning codependently, changed the way I thought about building an image.

Can you share with us a favorite painting by another artist?

My favorite illustrator at the moment is Oscar Cahen. His work for MacLean's Magazine in the fifties really gets me fired up. Even now most of his illustrations don't look dated.

What are some of your successful promotional methods?
I try to do a mailing of promotional cards at least every six months. I also take every opportunity to peruse the newsstands for art directors to contact. The names of art directors, the street address, and telephone number of a magazine's editorial office can be found in the masthead, usually located near the front of the publication. It's good to re-check publications every now and then, as art directors come and go. With a healthy list of potential clients, I pick a day or two about a week ahead in my calendar and start cold calling. With any luck, five or six of my original list are available to see my portfolio on my predetermined day.

As far as meetings go, it's good to arrive on time and prepared. Don't say anything disparaging about yourself when discussing your work. If the meeting's going well and the client seems enthusiastic about the quality of the work, it's a good idea to ask about other publications or art directors that might be interested in using you.

Do you have a clear idea where you'd like to be in five years?

Right now I'm only just sustainable. In five years I'd like to be comfortable. Presently I've never gone a month without at least one editorial job. I'd like to never go a week without doing an editorial job. I'd also love to be able to do some book and advertising work. I want to be on friendly terms with some of the illustrators I admire. I want to own a small studio set up for screen-printing. My friend Jesse and I are really into American modernist architecture, so we'll probably get a thirty-year mortgage on Falling Water where we'll sit on the porch with shotguns and shoot playfully at other cantilever-enthusiasts.

How do you stay motivated while building a portfolio after school?

Needing money, I find, is pretty motivational. Maintaining an enthusiasm for your work is really the important thing. I think you do this by drawing what you love, rather than what you believe your clients want to see. The work can only improve as a result. Also, if your portfolio is full of images in which you have a personal investment, it's more likely that you'll be hired to do work that will give you a similar kind of satisfaction.

Also, keep an eye on what your friends are doing. I find that I work more steadily when there's an element of competition and jealousy to the whole experience. A little auto-deprecation can be useful too, though it's certainly not for everyone

I worked a little as a student, then only as a freelancer following graduation. If you have loans, or graduate without a solid financial base, you may need another job to supplement your initial income.

Any advice to younger artists still in school?

First I suppose you have to decide what exactly you want from your professional life. When I applied to college I knew I wanted to be an illustrator, and by the time I was a junior I knew that editorial wasn't a bad place for me to begin. Build a clear and directed portfolio before you graduate. Make your website, print your mailers, and start contacting clients in the semester preceding your graduation. Enter every contest you can find (Society, CMYK, American Illustration, Spectrum, 3x3…). Seek out professional experience. Keep working despite whatever setbacks you encounter. Eat lots of green vegetables. Don't be scared.


Pablo Defendini said...

Very well-spoken responses. That's almost as impressive as her work. Almost ;)
Most certainly one to watch!

Josh Jasper said...

Good interview! For some reason, the color and perspective reminds me of Jon Foster's work, especially the 9Tail fox cover. Am I the only one seeing that?

Irene Gallo said...

Pablo - You're right. I try not to bug my friends by telling them they must read my blog, but I've passed this one on to a number of people.

Josh - As always you have a really sharp eye. I didn't make the connection but now that you mention it, I see it. And I know that she studied with Jon Foster at RISD. That's where I first saw her work.

Anonymous said...

Awesome interview. However, I am a little biased. Wesley was my student at RISD. I have only met a few people, especially a student, with that kind of natural drawing talent. I watched, many times, as she effortlessly put pen to paper and magic would appear. I wish I was as comfortable with my pen. I think she is going to be a huge force in this industry.

James Oiler said...

I enjoyed the depth of this interview.
So much of what I read in on blogs is purely 'short-form'.
Thank you for the opportunity to hear this young ladies perspectives and view a sampling of her work product.
James Oiler

Wesley Allsbrook said...

Aww, thanks y'all.

Really, my sincere thanks to Irene and all of her readers. It's a real pleasure to get a chance to talk about what I do in a forum like this.

Anonymous said...

It's good to see she's no longer starving herself and hiding in her dorm room! Great work.

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