I Want To Be… An Illustrator!

Molly Crabapple

At only 24 years old, Molly Crabapple is the founder of international art movement Dr Sketchy’s Anti-Art School, as well as being an author, freelance illustrator & all-around inspiring girl. I was very fortunate to make her acquaintance in New York City. She’s always on the go, always doing something, & I can’t think of a better person to speak to about making a living as an illustrator!

Tell us about what you do.
I draw pictures for a living. This could mean hanging my work in gallery shows, illustrating kids books, designing installations for art parades, creating 30 foot theatrical curtains, or making webcomics. I’m also the founder of Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School, a chain of alt.drawing sessions that takes place in 60 cities around the world.

How long ago did you start on this path?
I’ve been drawing since I was a little girl. As an angsty teen, it seemed natural to go to art school, and while there, I decided to take my passion for drawing and attempt to claw a living out of it.

How long were you doing it before you made it into your career or primary form of income?
I was a year out of college before I was able to subsist wholly on drawing. Before that, I had a variety of jobs, mostly in the scantily/ridiculously clad girl industry. If you want to make a living off of art, you have to put every second of your time into it. It’s not an industry for slackers!

Did anything significant happen to get you to that point, or was it a series of small steps?
Becoming a professional artist was definitely a series of small steps. The biggest thing that happened for me was creating Dr. Sketchy’s and getting a book deal out of it. Doing the Dr. Sketchy’s Rainy Day Colouring Book got me written up in over 80 media outlets around the world, and was the single biggest profile-booster I’ve ever done.

Do you think official qualifications are important for someone entering your industry?
NO! You do not need to pay 30,000 a year to have someone artistically legitimize you. While you definitely need a high degree of skill to go into art (not to mention the tenacity of the damned), you can get this through books, workshops, drawing classes, apprenticing with another artist, and carrying sketchpads wherever you go. As for launching your career — it’s all about networking. So leave the house.

What do you think is the best thing about working for yourself?
To me, being self employed is the only way to live life. There just seems something awful about being constantly doled out an allowance based on your obedience and ability to follow arbitrary “professional” rules. Being self employed is wildly unstable, but you can also do whatever you want.

What’s the worst thing?
Wild financial instability. Months with no income. Working many, many more hours than you ever would on a job.

Rate how happy you are with what you do out of 100 (100 being the best, 0 being devastatingly awful) on an average day.
Mid 80’s. Sometimes I get angsty because I didn’t get this or that opportunity. But then I remember that most people don’t get paid to draw pictures or travel around the world, and I slap some sense into myself.

Would you call yourself a workaholic, & if so, are you alright with that? Do you think that’s normal for your industry?
Yes. I’m a total workaholic. I don’t think you can run your own business, at least in the early years, without being one. Maybe later, when you’re very established, you can ease up. But not during the early years!

What would your number one suggestion be for someone who wants to do what you do?
Keep your eyes open for opportunities. There are thousands of ways for artists to promote themselves out there. You can illustrate for zines, do a catchy sketchblog, have shows in local bars. You just have to be very persistent, but you can get out there.

…How about number two?
Network with other artists, writers, gallery owners, media folks… everyone really. Your network will give you more opportunities than any promotional postcard mailing.

What do you wish you had known when you first started out?
I wish someone had told me that when someone wants you to work for free, they’re usually trying to rip you off. Cool pro bono projects are great, but save them for the wandering circus troupe, rather than the sleazy guy with the “idea for a children’s book”.

Are there any major misconceptions about your job or industry?
People think being an artist isn’t a real job. It’s actually a ton of work, but you can also make a decent living at it.

What motivates you to keep doing what you’re doing?
I love to draw. I also love mozying out of bed at noon and spending all day drinking espresso in my pajamas.

Who do you look up to within your industry & why?
I really look up to Travis Louie, as a brilliant artist in his own right, as a businessman, and as someone who consistently spreads opportunities to other artists. His generosity is unparalleled in the oft brutal gallery scene. Also, my man Fred Harper, Paul Booth for creating a world unto himself and Kevin O’Neill cause he wields a pen like a god.