Cherry Popping: A Collection of Illustrators’ First Illustrations

We asked some of our favorite illustrators to turn back the clock and tell us about their first illustration experience. Love, hate, embarrassment, these are the prom pictures of the illustration world. See how they started, and be sure to see where these illustrators are today.

update: be sure to check out Cherry Popping 2.

  • What was your first illustration?
    Leave a comment about your entry into the world of illustration.

John Hendrix / www.johnhendrix.com / @Osawatomie

first_illo_johnhendrix

What was your first piece?
Village Voice “CHOICES” cover.

When did you do this piece?
Sept/Oct 2001

How much time did you have? How long did it take?
Spent a whole weekend on it.. got sketch approved on thursday, due monday.

How did it turn out?
Nearly the worst thing I’ve ever done in my life. 

How much did you get paid?
Gosh, I don’t remember, probably $600-700?

Anything else, stories, nerves, etc.?
I was still turning in original art at this point. Didn’t know how to scan and send images over email. I was in NYC at the time, and this was the day of the plane crash in Queens. Everyone thought it was another terrorist attack. I was on my way to drop it off in the city and all the subways were shut down for the whole day. Ferrys, Path, everything. I figured my career was over since I wasn’t going to make my deadline. Called the art director in a panic and he let me off till the trains opened up again. 

Michael Wertz / www.wertzateria.com / @wertzateria

What was your first illustration project?
My first illustration gag was handed to me in 1995 by a very kind neighbor and friend, Lisa Hilgers, who was working as an art director for Parenting Magazine. It was a couple of spot illustrations, and they’re kinda cute but mostly terrible. Horrible. I was attempting to combine a xeroxed scratchboard drawing with a pastel background. I’m pretty sure I could do a better job today.

How much time did you have? How long did it take?
I was paid $250 (not bad!) and had a week to complete the job.

*extra credit if you send a image of the piece!
I’m looking for the illustrations, but I can’t seem to find them.

Neil Swaab / www.neilswaab.com / @neilswaab

first_illo_neilswaab

What was your first illustration project?
It was a quarter-page illustration about the best video stores for horror movies in NYC for The NY Press.

When did you do this piece?
2000

How much time did you have? How long did it take?
A day or so.

How did it turn out?
It was in a style that I no longer work in anymore. Looking back on it now all I can say is, “ick.”

How much did you get paid?
Around $50.

Anything else, stories, nerves, etc.?
It was just cool that someone was actually paying me to make art. And it helped build my confidence to pursue more work.

Frank Stockton / www.frankstockton.com / @frankstockton

What was your first illustration project?
After graduation, I did a spot for Steven Heller in the NY Times Book Review.

When did you do this piece?
2005

How much time did you have? How long did it take?
I think I had four days, or it was over the weekend… not sure.

How did it turn out?
So bad that I wanted to cry. It was horrid.

How much did you get paid?
$500

Anything else, stories, nerves, etc.?
Josh Cochran was in the same issue, I think he had 2 spots, and he knocked them out of the park–considering we were friendly “rivals” in school, it was even more painful that I did such a crappy job.

*extra credit if you send a image of the piece!
Never, that image will die with the The New York Times.

Zachariah O’Hora / www.zohora.com

first_illo_zachohora

What was your first illustration project?
A Fillmore poster: Bill Graham Presents, a concert by Karl Denson.

When did you do this piece?
2002

How much time did you have? How long did it take?
At least two weeks.

How did it turn out?
It doesn’t hurt me to look at it occasionally.

How much did you get paid?
$400 maybe $300. Not sure.

Anything else, stories, nerves, etc.?
It was a good sized painting, maybe 30″x20″ or larger. And I was still in school at the time, I actually had a 4″x5″ shot of it for the client to use. Probably a third of the budget right there. Fortunately, I sold the original later on before I moved from California.

Jennifer Daniel / httpcolonforwardslashforwardslashwwwdotjenniferdanieldotcom.com / @jenniferdaniel

first_illo_jenniferdaniel

What was your first illustration project?
Linking Kevin Bacon to Osama Bin Laden for Nozone: Empire, by Nicholas Blechman.

When did you do this piece?
2004.

How much time did you have? How long did it take?
Months.

How did it turn out?
I remember pitching it to Nicholas and he loved it but wanted it to fit in a vertical page. I redesigned it for weeks and could not come up with anything better than this, which isn’t that great either but if it makes you laugh then I figure it’s not too bad.

How much did you get paid?
No $$

Anything else, stories, nerves, etc.?
I remember having no idea what I was doing, and five years later, I still have no idea what I am doing. I was super grateful Nicholas asked for me to be a part of his revival of Nozone, which he had put on hiatus for a number of years. After it was published a reporter from NPR called while I was in class asking if I could do an interview with him for a story on Nozone: Empire. Describing visuals over radio is probably why TV was invented and I think he faded my voice out into the background when it went onto air. Still, NPR! Woo!

Rob Donnelly / www.robdraw.com / @robdraws

first_illo_robdonnelly02

What was your first illustration project?
Notorious BIG illo article for Kitchensink Magazine.

When did you do this piece?
2003 or so

How much time did you have? How long did it take?
a week. I painted a portrait in oil on masonite. put it in my oven to make it dry faster. then messed with some digital photoshop stuff which I barely knew at the time.

How did it turn out?
I am happy with how it started with a rough painterly image and by the time I finished it looked like a mix between paint and cheesy airbrush. However the process of making the image wouldn’t really jive in the real world because the end result didn’t match my sketch at all.
Luckily I wasn’t getting paid so the art director couldn’t complain that much.

How much did you get paid?
the nameless art director found my work  at my Mocca table and took my reprinted sketchbook without paying the 3 dollar price so I guess I actually got paid -3 dollars. I don’t work for free anymore so don’t judge.

Anything else, stories, nerves, etc.?
The picture is now hanging in my bathroom.

Frank Chimero / www.frankchimero.com / @frank000

first_illo_frankchimero

What was your first illustration project?
A quick spot illustration for a subsidiary of Business Week called Business Week Small Biz.

When did you do this piece?
2007? Early 2008?

How much time did you have? How long did it take?
Sketches due within 2 days, final 2 days after sketches.

How did it turn out?
Forced, trite, but kind of effective as an illustration. I suppose not everything can be flashy or witty. The article was about supply chains, something which I know nothing about. I had to phone up some college friends that were working on MBAs so they could tell me what the article was about in, well, plain English.

How much did you get paid?
$500, I believe.

Anything else, stories, nerves, etc.?
I remember having to go to 2 or 3 different book stores to find the magazine. I eventually found it in a Barnes and Noble in Lincoln Park in Chicago. I was so relieved to see that it was still in the issue, and I got some perspective that it wasn’t worth killing myself with stress over an illustration that was 2×2 inches.

Jonathan Bartlett / www.seejbdraw.com / @seejbdraw

first_illo_jonathanbartlett

What was your first illustration project?
How lucky was I…first real job of my career was a full page and spot for Field and Stream Magazine, Neil Jamieson (shout out!). The illustration was accompanying the story of a Bull Elk hunt…I hate guns and don’t care for hunting…but I was pumped to do it. It came 2 months after I graduated undergrad in summer of ‘07. However, beginners luck, because I didn’t get another call for 8 months…ha!

When did you do this piece?
2007

How much time did you have? How long did it take?
In hind sight I had a pretty good chunk of time, about a week for sketches and another week for a finish. Good thing too, because I was working a full time job designing books and I needed all I could get.

How did it turn out?
I have my humility so I don’t mind showing this. I was still an oil painter at the time and yeah, well lets just say im not doing THAT anymore. I look at this image now and feel a sharp pain in my stomach. Like being punched by the school yard bully…and losing my lunch money. But at the same time, it still makes me smile

How much did you get paid?
I think it was about $1800 for spot and full.

Anything else, stories, nerves, etc.?
I said this first job came pretty quickly after school ended so I was really excited. I had just moved to New York and all I wanted was to make an illustration career work, after I hung up the phone I think I danced around the office…and then had a panic attack…what if I F*** up?!!

Joel Kimmel / www.joelkimmel.com

What was your first illustration project?
My first illustration assignment was a cover and 5 interior illustrations for LA Weekly

When did you do this piece?
2005

How much time did you have? How long did it take?
I got the job on a Thursday and had to have the finals in my Monday morning, while working full time at an art store.

How did it turn out?
I was really happy with the work I did, although I had a couple revisions and probably shouldn’t have experimented with a strange collage technique to cover up a watercolor mishap

How much did you get paid?
I was paid $1300 for my first ever assignment. Then I was back to work at the art store the following day!

Anything else, stories, nerves, etc.?
The art director left a message on my cell phone while I was at work and I called him back from a calling card while hiding in the stock room. I canceled all my plans for the weekend, skipped meals and hoped I remembered how to paint.

*extra credit if you send a image of the piece!
I’d include an image of the piece, but I think it’s saved to a zip disk somewhere!

Jacqueline Bos / www.jacquelinekari.com / @jacquiebos

first_illo_jbos

What was your first illustration project?
(first actually “printed”) 2AM is when Coyote’s Disco, for Mankind Magazine.

When did you do this piece?
2008

How much time did you have? How long did it take?
I had at least 3 weeks, i ended up doing about 4 versions, so it took me a while to get it together. Prob 2 weeks

How did it turn out?
I was very excited about it then, now, not as much. I think I got stuck somewhere between what I imagined and what came out.

How much did you get paid?
n/a

Anything else, stories, nerves, etc.?
I drew about 100 coyotes before picking the few that I used. My google image search was riveting.

Sam Weber / www.sampaints.com / @sampaints

What was your first illustration project?
It was for an article about European companies benefiting financially from their anti iraq war sentiments, the New York Times OpEd Page.

When did you do this piece?
2003, I think.

How much time did you have? How long did it take?
I think I had three days? I worked on sketches for almost the whole time, I was very nervous.

How did it turn out?
hahaha. I was proud of it at the time.

How much did you get paid?
A king’s ransom.

Anything else, stories, nerves, etc.?
I got the job because of my sketchbook.

Kate Bingaman-Burt / www.obsessiveconsumption.com / @kateconsumption

first_illo_katebingaman

What was your first illustration project?
It was in 1998 during my junior year in college. I illustrated labels for Apron Strings Gourmet (no longer around), while I was going to college in Branson, Freaking, Missouri. They specialized in Mason Jar Cookie Mixes (remember, this is Branson, Missouri). I later went on to make labels for soups, brownies and muffins – oh my!

When did you do this piece?
1998

How much time did you have? How long did it take?
I think I did it in a night. I had no idea what I was doing, but I know I tried to make my illustration look “country”. ha!

How did it turn out?
For not knowing what I was doing, I think it turned out fine. I still cringe at anything “country” and I have never actually cooked any of the mixes.

How much did you get paid?
Probably a case full of cookie mixes. No, I really don’t remember…I think I was just excited that someone wanted me to draw something for them. I later went on to draw a bunch more for them…we had the mason jar mix market cornered in the late 90s early 2000s! ha!

Kristin Varner / www.kboom.com / @varnertown

What was your first illustration project?
First gig was an editorial spot for Utah Buisness magazine.

When did you do this piece?
I believe it was in 1996 (yes I’m old).

How much time did you have? How long did it take?
Prolly had a week and a half for sketches and final.

How did it turn out?
Actually turned out great – as their print and paper quality was outstanding.

How much did you get paid?
It paid $150 for the full color spot.

Anything else, stories, nerves, etc.?
I have a soft spot still for this piece because I had my best childhood friend pose for me and I shot her with a crappy Polaroid camera since this was pre-digital.

Ryan Snook / www.ryansnook.com / @ryansnook

first_illo_ryansnook

What was your first illustration project?
A black & white spot for an article about environmentalist affecting change (or something along those lines, it’s hard to remember the exact details of the article). The magazine was called Canadian Dimensions. It’s a left-wing black & white political magazine.

When did you do this piece?
2003

How much time did you have? How long did it take?
I think I had a week from sketch to final. It didn’t take very long maybe a couple hours in the afternoon to do the final. I spent more time on sketches, maybe most of one day.

How did it turn out?
At the time I thought it was good, now not so much.

How much did you get paid?
$80! Yeah pretty much nothing but it was my first paying job and I wasn’t about to turn it down.

Anything else, stories, nerves, etc.?
I remember being very nervous that they wouldn’t like my sketches or the final. Now I don’t worry but back then I imagined they would come back and say the job was killed because my sketches were not good enough. Also I think this is the only political illustration I’ve ever done.

Alex Eben Meyer / www.eben.com / @ebencom

first_illo_alexebenmeyer

What was your first illustration project?
A Op/Ed illustration for the New York Sun about the Theodore Roosevelt Association giving away teddy bears to needy children.

When did you do this piece?
2002

How much time did you have? How long did it take?
I have no idea, likely a day, but i just don’t remember.

How did it turn out?
It’s a bear with Teddy Roosevelt glasses, how could it not turn out awesome! Uh, it’s okay. i can still look at it, barely. And i have no idea why they outlined the illustration.

How much did you get paid?
$100!!!! FTW!!!!

Anything else, stories, nerves, etc.?
I got the gig because one my roommates at the time was working at the New York Sun and recommended me to the AD (nepotism!). Prior to this, i had sort of done some illustration work while in webdesign and advertising, pro-bono stuff, etc, but this piece feels like my first, honest to goodness professional printed piece.

 

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