Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Loris Interviews Jaqui Oakley

In a shift from the digital, here is an interview with the absolutely inspiring artist, Jaqui Oakley. She works physically in acrylic, oil and acrylic ink. Jacqui Oakley has received awards from Applied Arts, Communication Arts, American Illustration and The Society of Illustrators Las Angeles. She currently teaches at the Ontario College of Art and Design.

Go to her page, gawk, and weep.

This interview contains her tips for aspiring illustrators.

LA! How did you put together your portfolio and did you select your work based on the markets, subject matter, or style?

Oakley: Out of school I really had hardly anything in my portfolio so in my spare time I would try to work on 'real-world' projects which would hopefully pique the interest of art directors. I would look through magazines at the sort of pieces that were getting published and try and do something with a similar subject matter. I also tended to focus on what I was good at (which at the time was portraiture) and really tried to finesse it. As years went by I got more interested in doing hand-lettering but had no examples of this in my portfolio. So once again I just came up with my own projects to fill out my portfolio more.
You'll find that working on your portfolio and 'style' is a continuous process. Sometimes illustration work will give you something that you've never thought of before and this will lead you down a different path. As long as you stay interested in art and design, those inspirations will seep into your work and your work will evolve naturally into something you're excited by and something that plays on your strengths.

LA! Describe your process from getting contracted by a client to finishing a project.

Oakley: After accepting a job from a client, and having received the pertinent project information (article, brief, etc.) I start off brainstorming with words and small doodles of random ideas that come to mind, then maybe collecting a bunch of reference images before then moving onto roughs and linears. Once a linear is approved, sometimes after some revisions, I blow it up to the size I'm going to work with and transfer it onto paper. I used to work in oils, but these days I usually block out a few areas in acrylic paint, trying to keep it loose and get some texture in there with dry brush. Then I go onto inking lines, and then maybe a few spots of colour again in acrylic or coloured ink. Sometimes, especially for smaller spot illustrations, I'll ink the lines by hand, then scan and add the colour digitally. At the end I'll place the image up on my server and send the client a link to pick it up.

LA! What do you think are the best tools for promoting yourself as an illustrator? Are book portfolios still in demand?

Oakley: I've found that it's hard to tell what's best for promotions. It changes so quickly, and it's such a different experience for each artist. I've always had a good experience going to New York and meeting people in person, which I've not had a chance to do in the last few years. So, I've not used my book in quite a while now.

I've had a good experience with getting a mailing list (I use Agency Access) and mailing out an email promo once every other month. Mailing list services will be able to tell you which people opened your email and who actually clicked though to your site. This is obviously extremely helpful. Once or twice a year I'll follow up with a smaller run of postcards that I'll send to focused groups based on the response from the email promo. I really try and do my own research by looking at illustration and design award annuals and seeing who hires illustrators.

I've also had a good experience with Twitter and Dribbble, which is sort of a portfolio site for designers. I've also got good feedback when I've collaborated on projects with other designers or artists, which have then appeared on blogs, sending a bunch of traffic my way.

You have to remember that art directors come across so much work – the key is to be persistent. Even though ADs might like your work the first time they see it, it'll get filed away until a suitable job pops up. By then you could be at the bottom of the pile, so have a regular schedule that reminds them but doesn't harass them. Also, as your career develops you'll find that business, promotion and administration will take up most of your time so try and find time to do personal pieces which will keep your work fresh and exciting to yourself and to others.

LA! What advice would you give an illustration student?

Oakley: It's tough at first going out on your own. Remember that everyone has had really slow times. Just keep promoting yourself and doing good work and it'll pay off. It's silly, but don't forget that you enjoy art & design. Sometimes when art/design becomes a daily routine it can seem like a chore. So, try and remember to work on personal projects when you can, collaborate with friends, & continue looking at things to keep getting excited & add to the vocabulary of your work. It'll come through in the end.

LA! What is the most difficult part of being an illustrator and what is most rewarding?

Oakley: The fact that your job is so tied to your personal interests is both a blessing and a curse. It's hard to separate your personal life from your professional life especially when you work from home. You want to put in long hours since you enjoy what you do, and sometimes you need to because of tight deadlines. So trying to maintain some semblance of a schedule is key. On the other end of things you get to draw for a living and collaborate with interesting creative people, which is pretty amazing. You're part of a long line of illustrators that have commented on and even changed society. An added bonus is not needing to get up early and go to an office and you can wear track pants all day if the mood suits!

All images are from Jacqui Oakley's site at
Have a nice week!
-Bridget Beorse

Josh's Several Cents and Links:
Greetings all!  Next week will be the first instillation of a video tutorial series (by me) on digital arting as well as some awesome new articles from Bridget (Keeping art supplies affordable?  What wizardry is this?)!  Stay tuned!

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