Duration: Two years.
Location: Chicago, Illinois.
Education: MA in history, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois; BA in history, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland.
Career path: My path has been complicated. In a nutshell, during my time as a graduate student in a Ph.D. program to become an academic historian, I realized that I was in the wrong career path and later came to illustration in a circuitous manner. In retrospect, it’s easy to see that illustration was always my true passion, but I didn’t have this bird’s-eye view when I was making these big life decisions.
Cultural influences: I’ve been inspired by the beauty of the textures and materials that were so central to traditional airbrush art of the ’70s and ’80s. I love creating a clear mood through color, texture and lighting to help viewers travel to a different time or place. I also try to cultivate an irreverence for the expected and a playfulness in everything I do.
Favorite projects: My work with The New York Times Magazine for a piece about eating chips as a way to escape anxiety from the pandemic. The subject matter was so ripe with visual material, and I wanted to capture that feeling of getting lost in something so addictive.
Work environment: Physically, I work from my home, which I share with my wife Kate Dehler, who’s also an illustrator, and our cat Julius. I feel thankful to have fulfilled my dream of working close to my wife every day. We share a physical space as well as a creative space, where we can exchange ideas and feedback about different illustration projects we’re working on. It’s a beautiful extension of our relationship.
Approach: I’m incredibly detail oriented. I focus on the subtlety of different textures, materials and moods. I’m also always pushing myself to learn new ways of doing things, new “hacks” to help me work smarter and faster, and new techniques to add to my repertoire. Some of the pieces I’ve worked on have dragged on for days and days of intense work, so I think it helps that I have the ability to really get lost in my work. It’s not the type of thing you can just blaze through in a couple of hours. It takes hundreds—sometimes thousands—of layers combined to achieve some of the more difficult airbrushing effects.
Philosophy: Always keep learning new things. Nothing motivates me more than learning. Another thing is to remember to enjoy the process. It’s easy to stress out over deadlines and huge projects, but it helps to remind yourself that you love what you do.
Anything else? I’d like to tell others—especially people who are starting out as creatives—that there are many different paths to becoming a full-time creative. Don’t let yourself be intimidated by those who are more experienced. Work hard, learn what you need to learn, keep striving to improve on your weaknesses and you’ll eventually get there.
Never be afraid to reach out to art directors and share your work. Do it early and treat it like a simple task. Say hello, introduce yourself in a sentence or two, add a link to your portfolio and attach a couple of JPGs—then call it a day. Don’t overcomplicate simple things!