American Illustrator Cori Dantini’s gorgeous images caught my eye and drew me in some time back. Cori’s whimsical illustrations have been featured on design*sponge and she sells her work across the USA and internationally via her thriving Etsy shop.
I talked to Cori about life as a professional illustrator and young mum, and asked her advice for people who think they can’t draw.
‘Home is with you’
1) What does a typical day look like for a professional illustrator?
FULL! my days are really full. I typically start with a cup (or two) of coffee, and a mad dash to get my sweet boy Henry off to school. Then, I take our dog lucy for a little bit of a walk. once home, I go straight into the studio where i go through emails, print and package my Etsy orders, and then I start in on whatever it is I happen to be working on. These days I am in the process of creating originals for the two art festivals I am participating in this summer: Cherry Creek (Denver, CO) and the Bellevue Museum Show (Bellevue, WA). At the moment I have around 90 or so pieces, but I would like to get up into the high 120’s in the next few weeks.
2) When someone commissions you to do an illustration, how do you extract from them what they are looking for when it is difficult to communicate this?
You know… I draw. I draw and draw and draw, until everyone is on the same page. This is a real weakness of mine. I always feel when doing an illustration job that I am being hired to make the client happy (although my job truly is to fill the clients need). So, with that in mind, I bend over backward to give people what they want. I am very upfront about the fact that I don’t mind being bossed around, and I find that by saying that people feel like i have given them a pass to do just that, and then things get done. basically it is a lot of drawings upfront… and then when choices have been made, I move into full color work which tends to go rather quickly (thank goodness).
3) Which illustration are you most proud of and why?
I think my most favorite piece is a personal piece called ‘We are at the curve that never ends’ (see below). It was created in honor of a great little story that once upon a time happened to me. I was at the park (up on the top of a little hill), in tall, tall grass. I was lying there, sun on my face, birds chirping, clouds floating by. The grass was tall (maybe a foot deep), and the hill… the hill had a little path that went all the way around it. So I am all blissed out and laying there minding my own business,when this little person starts in on a sing-songy tidbit. “Look mom” he says, “we are at the curve that never ends, we’re at the curve that never ends, we are at the curve that never ends” it went on and on, around he went on the curvy bend (ALL the way around) saying it over and over. Rhythmically he sounded. Repeat repeat, ‘we are at the curve that never ends’. And aren’t we all? We truly are always at the curve that never ends. It was such a perfect little piece of truth (out of the mouth of babes).
‘We are at the curve that never ends’
4) What advice would you give to someone who is afraid to draw?
My advice is to just do it. It is a rare thing when someone begins something and they are just instantly good at it. So just start (and don’t expect miracles from yourself)!
Remember learning math? Remember trying to understand the grammar involved in your first foreign language? IT IS HARD! it makes NO sense! You feel bad because your neighbor can do it better than you, and I say WHO CARES?! Just pick up that pencil and draw. Truly, you have nothing to lose. Maybe you draw some ugly stuff, but again WHO CARES? If you could see some of the stuff that I have drawn over the years… (OH-the horrors)! But honestly I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t made all those weird drawings, so honestly just start. Move your hands. Make some lines. See what they turn into. Just begin…
5) You are now pursuing art licensing for your art. What is the most useful thing you have discovered in researching this?
Two things… Number One: read your contracts carefully &… Number Two: my agent! Artwork takes time! I could not manage all of this without my girl Sheila! I could never negotiate a contract the way she does, look for new clients AND make my art. There is only so much time in a day, and between being a momma and doing my work, I simply do not have time to do it all. I am so happy (and thankful) that she and I found each other.
6) How do you decide who to approach – or do you wait until you get approached?
It has sort of worked out that I wait to get approached. When I was first starting out (about 11 years ago) I sought out work, sending out samples to various greeting card companies, but once I found a few people to work with I stopped doing that. Basically I simply follow the open doors.
7) How important is it to have an agent?
For me this is really important. I am not a reader of information (*sigh*). I know this about myself, and because of this i am happy to share what I do with an agent. She not only reads those contracts but understands them! As far as I am concerned that is priceless.
‘She heard music everywhere’
8) Life as a freelance illustrator sounds wonderfully fluid. What is the reality of working as a freelancer?
It all seems so glamorous right, but the reality is that it is a job. A REAL job. I go to work everyday whether I have a paying job or not. In reality, some days I paint all day and other days I build 1/4 inch bleed all day. Then there are days where I fill orders and respond to emails all day. It is not glamorous at all, but there are times, when I am just making new work, that are heavenly. But sadly, they do not happen as much as I would like because there are way too many other things that need to get done along the way.
9) What is the best thing about having your own business?
In theory it is freedom (which someday I hope to have more of). At the moment my job doesn’t allow me a lot of freedom, as most every minute of every day is filled with work I could (or should) be doing. But in time, I believe that I will find I have a little more freedom to move through the world in a more leisurely way. But at this time in my life… juggling my Etsy shop, doing art fairs, and pursuing licensing opportunities is filling up my days in a way that leaves room for little else. Luckily for me I love doing my work so much.
‘The grand reach’
10) What tough choices have you had to make along the way to allow you to do this?
I think the toughest choice for me has been how I juggle motherhood and my career. In my best dream I am a full time mom, baking cookies, picking Henry up after school, helping with homework, playing catch and doing craft projects! You know, it is a great sadness to me that I don’t get to be that person for him (at least not in a full time way). The plain and simple truth is that sometimes work has to win. But I do try my very best to always make room for him, and I just pray he knows it. Please insert a little sigh right here… and then let me follow it up by telling you all how thankful I am that I get to do what I do. I love it… (so much).
11) What advice would you give to someone thinking about starting out on their own?
Be brave and be ready to work your little hiney off!
12) What is the big dream for you and your creative business? Ooooh… I think this is the hardest question for me because honestly I am living my dream already. I can’t imagine things being much better, but I suppose if I could wish for something it would be an opportunity to make beautiful rugs someday. Yes… I believe that is the wish I would make for myself.
[All images courtesy of Cori Dantini]
[This interview first appeared on Do What You Love on June 9 2011]