If you were to shoot back to the early 90’s, the freelance illustration world would seem very different. Artists were dropping off portfolios around the clock only to turn around and pick them up at the end of the day or the follwoing week. New York City was the place to live and get in touch with Art Directors. Thankfully, the Internet decided to come along and things became a lot easier. Artists could set up a website for AD's to visit at their leisure, and the blessing of email made sending information and finished illos a breeze. Furthermore, artists no longer had to be in The Big Apple if they wanted to work for top companies. Whether you lived in Juno, Alaska, or right by Times Square, one could take a stab at doing freelance from any corner of the world. It’s 2009 now, and illustrators' bios put them all over the globe. Plenty are still in New York City, and I asked many of my illustration colleagues and friends what it’s like to be an illustrator in NYC today, and more importantly, do they think it’s necessary in this industry?
Please note that this article is about freelance illustration only (editorial, book, etc) and excludes artists who are interested in the gallery scene (that’s a whole ’nother ball game!).
I thought when I asked my New York friends about working in the city most would be more than happy to say that nothing could replace being so close to such an illustration hub. Imagine my surprise when quite a few said that they had never met any of the AD’s they’ve worked with in person, that direct mailers and a personal website were still their way to get their name (and artwork) out there. One cannot argue that the networking abilities in places like NYC are grand. The possibility of running into a friend, or a friend of a friend who knows a guy at so and so company who needs an illustrator will be greater when you’re sipping a $14 martini downtown rather than where my parents are at in Aledo, Texas. Of course, this means that you have to be a little outgoing and willing to seize those chances. New York can’t help you unless you leave the apartment, you know, or at least keep your ears open.
Things on my mind about taking the NYC plunge!
1) The illustrators I asked all said the same thing: they like The City. They love the energy. However, no one said that their location was about providing an increase in work- it was just about preference. One top illustrator said that you should really work wherever you are happy and inspired. For him it just happened to be Brooklyn, but for someone else it may be a small town in Montana. NYC and it's surrounding areas are perfect for some, Hell to others.
2) Remember that the pay is the same for freelance jobs no matter where you are based. A $1500 check for me in Providence lasts a lot longer than it would for my Park Slope friend. Of course, this goes back to the idea that living in NYC would result in more opportunities, but even if you were so lucky, are you breaking even with the increase of living cost?
Food for thought my illustrator friends- I would love to hear your opinions and feedback. Rest assure that many of my illustration buddies and acquaintances are happy to have NYC as their playground and wouldn’t trade it for anything. For those of us not lining up to move anytime soon, a computer, scanner, and Internet connection are all you need to poke an AD. Good luck!