Welcome loungers! We’re kicking off November with the launch of an exciting new feature – ‘In Their Own Words’. For this regular slot, we’re inviting illustrators from across the globe to share their creative journey and inspirations. Our first ITOW post was written by US-based illustrator, Jameela Wahlgren.
I was born in Philadelphia and when I started kindergarten my family moved just across the county line to the suburbs so I could attend their better funded public schools. For college I moved back to the city and I’ve been here ever since. I attended several colleges to pursue a number of different majors but none of them involved art. That was a career I stumbled into.
In my last year of school I joined an extracurricular programme where students formed teams to create their own indie video games. Each person in the team had a title such as Developer and Team Lead. All the roles in my team were taken except for Lead Artist, which I mostly definitely was not cut out to be. However, I accepted the role and threw myself into it, teaching myself to use photoshop from Youtube videos and practising drawing from books and tutorials.
My transition into professional illustration came faster than I could have guessed. A professor saw the concept art I was creating for our group’s game and hired me to make some loading screens for his small game studio. One of his colleagues saw that work and things snowballed from there!
Although my start was in concept art, I moved quickly into editorial and commercial illustration. I had a friend who worked at Urban Outfitters and she contacted me to ask if I could do some illustrations for the brand’s blog. That job was a real turning point because having Urban Outfitters on my resume lent me credibility, which led to bigger name clients bringing me on board. National Geographic Kids, Pinterest and Cole Haan jobs followed from there.
I put a lot of pressure on myself to keep advancing my career, so drawing things that I can’t add to my portfolio can feel like a waste of time (which it isn’t!). It’s often difficult for me to work on personal projects, or just to enjoy doodling. Even so, the most important part of my work is whether or not it’s fun: whether it was enjoyable to work on or fun for my audience to look at. That’s where meaning comes from for me. Money, success and renown are all pretty unimportant.