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An interview with...

We asked these great illustrators some questions about their work and creative process.
The work of Lucy Engelman
About Lucy Engelman

I am an illustrator dwelling in Northfield, IL where I draw all day long and plan my next adventure while my 2 terriers, 4 chickens and a crazy nocturnal dwarf bunny hang around. I completed my BFA at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, MI last April and have been aggressively and enthusiastically pursuing freelance ever since. When I am not illustrating, I absolutely love spending as much time outside as I possibly can, especially when the sun decides to visit the midwest. I work with both design professionals and masters of many other trades to create visuals for magazines, books, apparel, and everything in-between.

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Lucy Engelman

How did you first get into illustration?

Like basically everyone who has a passion for something that keeps them from having real human relationships, I always been drawing. I started profiting from my illustrations in 4th grade when i had a recess business drawing dogs for other kids in exchange for jelly-roll pens. Illustrating was something that came naturally to me so I never really took it too seriously. After exploring every other medium of art and a long spell of denial, I confronted the fact that illustration was my thing during my BFA thesis. I'd never stopped drawing, i just thought if i wasn't struggling with it then it wasn't worthy of my thesis. Now I make a living in my comfort zone.

How would you best describe your style of illustration?


This is the hardest thing in the whole world to do you have no idea. I know it should be so easy but I just draw things and don't really think about it. Alright--I think i'd say my work is rustic, whimsical, nature inspired adventures on paper. I am really inspired by the sensory experience of being outside. Also, illustration is my happy place in a really straightforward way, so its sort of inevitable that they'll come out looking that way.

Please take us through your design process, where do you start?

My process has changed a bit since I've become freelance full-time. I do a lot more research now before I start--looking up references or just learning more about my clients before we start working together. Then we talk, usually on the phone. I email a lot but the phone reminds me that I'm working with another human. Also hearing a person can give you more of a feel for what they're like and what they might want. Then the sketching starts. I keep cheap computer paper near by at all times. Pencil and paper, scan, we discuss, make changes, pen and paper, sometimes a light box if II'm feeling lazy, scan, discuss, changes sometimes, then watercolor, scan, done. Sometimes i sleep on it or go to the library somewhere I can observe references from life. I never have to work too hard to think of ideas--thats the easy part.

What tools do you use for your work?


 I am old fashioned when it comes to my materials. I've tried to work on a tablet, but I enjoy working with pen and pencil so much more. I feel I have much more control when I work by hand so I use Staedtler pencils (4H and 2H mostly) to start. I've tried a bunch of different kinds of pens because I blow through them so quickly I have their caps all sitting in a line on my windowsill in my studio with a sign above them that says Fallen Soldiers (RIP). I've used Microns, Copics, Staedlters, Pizzinis, and I had a friend ship me Eddings from the UK. I'm partial to the 0.1 and 0.2. I use Holbein Watercolor's and Winsor and Newton paintbrushes, and bristol or hot press watercolor paper. I also use an all-in-one printer and scanner that isn't the best, but it's better than nothing. In a perfect world i'd love a large format scanner that would scan watercolors nicely. I splurge on materials because it really does make a big difference in terms of how your work turns out.

When illustrating, do you sometimes get blocked for ideas? If so, how do you overcome that?

Anyone who says they don't get blocked every now and then is lying to you-- it happens to everyone even the best of the best. I've sort of got a system down. The first thing I do is sketch out any ideas I might have in rough thumbnails without stopping or thinking about it too much. I often find myself coming up with things that hadn't even crossed my mind when I was just brainstorming. I also do this when I feel confident in my first idea. I don't usually like to go with my first idea unless I've tried out a bunch of other ones and it still is the best option. I like exhausting my possibilities first. If i'm still incredibly stuck, I stop working and go for a walk. Simplifying things really helps for me. Sometimes when I'm working I get stuck in this extreme tunnel vision and it takes stepping back to help. I also find the thesaurus very helpful with finding imagery ideas. If none of these work--I stop, move on to something else and sleep on it. I often subconsciously think about project ideas when I'm falling asleep. Sometimes I even brainstorm other aspects of my clients identity that could lead me to an idea. Its gross how much I think about my work, but I'm obsessed. I absolutely love it. When I've been working on something for too long and I can tell if I like it or not anymore, I'll stop for the day, maybe take a couple days working on other things before I come back to it.

What would be your ultimate goal as an illustrator?

I think about this a lot actually. For a long time I just wanted to illustrate, work in a print shop, join a collective and ride the wave to see where it would take me, but i've always had this drive that wants so much more. I want to achieve all that I am capable of. I would love to do more work where I get to interact with my clients, who are often farmers, chefs, writers, musicians and people of all different trades. It inspires my work to see what they do and then create work based on those experiences. I would love to publish a book or 2 or 3. I want to start a collective. I want to teach at a university. I feel I have a very strong creative perspective, so most of all I'd love to work on a team and even be an artistic director. I am dying to work with others who are as driven and excited about the work they do as I am. Being freelance can get lonely sometimes so working on a team and being able to throw ideas around and get fresh perspectives and work on something so much bigger than myself would be a dream.

What style music do you mostly listen to when you work?

I never listen to music, I'm so bad at finding music I like. I'm a huge nerd and listen to podcasts all day every day.I switch off between Here's The Thing, The Moth, Story Collider, This American Life, How to do Everything, RadioLab, Stuff You Missed in History Class and a few others. I miss being in school (the school part was my favorite) and learning something new everyday, so instead I listen to podcasts and annoy everyone I spent time with by reciting every fact I learn. I'm sure it gets quite irritating-- I should be a drinking game.

Do you have any advice for aspiring illustrators?

I go into a lot of detail in terms of advice for young artists on my blog. But something illustration specific would be stay true to yourself and don't try to fit into a box for anyone. I truly believe that if you want it enough and make the effort, you can be successful doing what you love. The great thing about illustration is how unique every individual's artistic expression is and that should be celebrated. Also contact artists you look up to. Don't be afraid to ask them for advice, more often than not they're happy to give it.

What web sites would you recommend viewing?

I spend a lot of time on Pikaland the illustration blog. It's a great place to get advice and find out what other illustrators are up to. I spend far too much time on tumblr because it's a great place to test out ideas to see how they go over with the general public as well as networking with companies, entrepreneurs and other artists. also vbs.tv is great for procrastinating . I also love backyardbill.com. its filled with people i'd love to know. There are too many to count-- the internet is an amazing place.

The work of Lucy Engelman:

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All work is copyrighted by Lucy Engelman. You may NOT copy or redistribute any of images within this page without the written permission from Lucy Engelman.
The work of Lucy Engelman
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The work of Lucy Engelman
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