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celiaj.com

Duration: Two years.

Location: Los Angeles, California.

Education: BFA in illustration from ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, California.

Career path: I’ve been drawing all my life and knew that I wanted to work in some sort of artistic field. Illustration seemed like a great way to get paid to draw; plus, it involved my love of reading and kept me on my toes with assignments of topics and ideas I wouldn’t have thought of myself. I chose to go to ArtCenter because it doesn’t have a foundation year—it just tosses you straight into illustration, and the faculty is great. I had some incredible teachers who connected me with my first art directors. I got my first professional illustration assignment, a piece for the New York Times Book Review, on the first day of my last year of school, which was very exciting and affirming. My career has grown organically from there.

After graduating from college, I took a job with Tuesday Bassen, an illustrator who runs a clothing and accessory company in Los Angeles. I began packing and shipping things to pay rent before I was getting enough illustration work, but Tuesday ended up becoming a great friend and really supportive of my career. She showed me the design end of things, and I still occasionally work on art direction and design for her company between my regular illustration work.

Artistic influences: David Hockney. I love his colors and approach, the way he pulls directly from his life and what he finds energizing about his surroundings. I was influenced by the beauty he creates out of Southern California when I was hesitant about moving here, so he’s been in my head for a long time.

I love to look at figurative painting and I dig contemporary artists like Julie Curtiss, Nicole Eisenman, Louis Fratino and Robin F. Williams. I’m crazy for Japanese graphic design from the ’60s and ’70s—Kiyoshi Awazu and Tadanori Yokoo are beyond good—and illustrators and designers in New York from the same time, like John Alcorn, Seymour Chwast and Milton Glaser. And of course, I’m looking at a lot of illustration that people are making right now; there are so many incredible, inspiring works being created.

It’s rewarding to have people react to and share work I’ve made about larger cultural issues; that way, I’ve had some tiny part in facilitating a conversation.”

Favorite projects: I’m proud of a lot of editorial illustrations I’ve done for the New York Times and The New Yorker because I’ve contributed to a greater world of news, opinions and information that can affect and educate readers. For the same reason, I’m happy with a couple illustrations I’ve created for Refinery29 about sexual assault and a self-directed piece I made in response to the abortion bans. It’s rewarding to have people react to and share work I’ve made about larger cultural issues; that way, I’ve had some tiny part in facilitating a conversation.

I’m also proud of Forest Memories and Picnic, two miniseries of paintings I made for group shows. They’re both personal to me and connected to good, glowing memories. They represent direct translations of who I am and what I’ve put out into the world.

Approach: I paint all my final illustrations by hand in acrylic. I don’t think this is any better than doing things on the computer—and I only do it because I’ve never been able to get results that I‘m happy with digitally—but it is unusual and has helped me distinguish my work. There are other illustrators who work with analog materials, but we’re in the minority. I also make pretty color-drenched images, which I think is a symptom of living in Southern California and a response to how stimulated I get by the way colors vibrate off each other.

Aspirations: I want to be working and illustrating, though it’s hard to envision what that will look like in the future. I’d love to work for a range of clients and expand into different areas of commercial illustration, like publishing—I want to get a book out in the world soon. I’d also like to start dedicating more time to personal work and gallery pieces so that I can develop my personal voice and how I want to project it to others. I’ve always been curious about more author-type roles since I like to write, so I might incorporate writing into my work. Really, I’m just currently focusing on building a sustainable career with longevity, whatever that might mean.

Philosophy: I like to view myself as being in service to others, whether that’s the art director, the viewer who gets joy from a piece or the reader who gains something by reading an article my illustration has made more accessible. Or even just adding beauty and pleasure to the world. Or making a tiny contribution to the history of illustration, or to get even grander, art, design and visual culture. Acting in service to others fulfills me and also takes the pressure off of my personal attachment to my work—and my semisecret, semishameful desire for status and popularity.

Anything else: I have a sweet little dog named Archie and walking him at 6 p.m. every day to close out the workday is probably the saving grace of my freelance lifestyle. I’m really advocating for having a dog!

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