Illustrating Under an Alter Ego – An Anonymous Interview

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An increasing number of illustrators are starting to create work under alter egos. This means inventing a separate name, a separate style, a separate portfolio website, and a separate list of clients. It’s a form of creative expression all on its own, plus a unique business practice that comes with its own set of challenges and rewards.

We wanted to know more about the motivations and practicalities of working under an alter ego, and so we reached out to one such artist who has actually been quite successful with their secondary identity for an anonymous interview. Enjoy our unique look behind the curtain!

Illustration Age: Thanks for taking the time to share your story with us. First, could you tell us why you decided to create an illustration alter ego?

Anonymous: The creation of my alter ego happened in one drawing in my sketchbook. I was frustrated that my style wasn’t landing me some of the jobs that I wanted. I felt like I had more to offer than what I was known for. Years of ideas and sketches that didn’t fit with my original style came to life one day when I started a new sketchbook. My first drawing was an attempt to try a new style and solve visual problems in a different way. I took the drawing to final and showed my wife to get a second opinion. I remember the response being “go for it, just do it.” And so I did. From that day on I worked on portfolio pieces in this new style and once I had about 12, I put together an online portfolio and started to promote my work. One month in I landed my dream client. I was unsure if the style was going to be successful, but once I landed that client my confidence grew and there was no turning back.

IA: What was the process of figuring out just “who” this new identity would be, and what the new work would look like?

A: I wanted to do something with this work that was different than what I normally do. I wanted to strip away parts of my style, break it down and build something new, keeping just the parts I felt were necessary and adding in new elements that I had discovered in my time as an illustrator. Most importantly I created rules and limitations for myself. These rules applied to the tools I would use and the detail of the illustrations. By creating a framework, I found it easy to build a consistent portfolio of illustrations.

I saw this new style as a representation of who I am today, an expression of what I’ve learned in my years of illustrating, and how I want to draw now. My original style is much more a reflection of my interests when I was starting out. While I still like the same kind of images as I did then, my taste has grown to include so much more. I wanted people to see this new work on its own. I didn’t want it judged based on what people already thought of me and my original style.

And when it came to the name of my alter ego, I wanted something personal. I choose a family name and a family story as the inspiration for the name.

IA: What are some of the main similarities and differences between the two personas?

A: My sense of humor is present in both styles. I like to add humor to an image when possible. Without being too specific, one style has much more dimension and pulls a lot of influence from older illustration. The other style is much more simple and modern.

IA: You seem to have become relatively busy and successful with both identities, which means switching back and forth between styles and ways of thinking. How do you manage this as you work on various projects?

A: It can be difficult at times. Sometimes I create a sketch for one style that really better suits the other. But mostly, I find it easy enough to do. I think of it like I’m aping two different artists, when it’s a job for illustrator “A” I think about what that style is like, what tools, and techniques are used and I attempt to create an image that represents that style. Same with the other. I have started to feel more like I’m not these styles, they’re just characters I play. For a long time my identity was wrapped up in my style, now I feel like I get to wear a mask and have fun, and it’s fulfilling and liberating. It’s allowed me to feel excited about each style for what it is. I can express who I am better in two distinct styles of work.

IA: And how about the business side of things? What’s it like to manage the paperwork and logistics of two “separate” illustrators?

A: I have an agent for only one of my styles so I’m only handling paperwork for one illustrator. I’ve been illustrating long enough that I can get it done quickly. My newer style makes up about 25% of my total business. I’m still much busier with my older style, but the new one has done very well and is gaining momentum all the time. I’ve enjoyed the added work of planning promotions and reaching out to art directors that I wasn’t able to do with my original style.

IA: Do any Art Directors know that you operate as two illustrators? If so, have they ever hired each one for different types of stories? And if not, have you ever had an illustration by both identities in the same publication at the same time?

A: All the art directors I work for know I’m working under an alter ego. I’ve had nothing but positive responses, and when it’s an AD I’ve worked with before under my other style they seem surprised in a good way. I once was hired by two different AD’s from the same mag for the same issue. Not at the same time, a week or two after, but I ended up having both styles in the same issue. In general, though, there really isn’t a lot of cross over. It seems like each style is popular with a different group of art directors. Most of the time the people that hire one style don’t hire the other. I think that’s a good thing and exactly what I wanted. I wasn’t trying to take jobs from one style and give them to another, I wanted to get the jobs that I wasn’t getting.

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Categories: Interviews

Author:Thomas James

Illustrator. Wanderer. Adventurous Creative. WebsiteTwitterFacebook

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One Comment on “Illustrating Under an Alter Ego – An Anonymous Interview”

  1. January 18, 2015 at 1:37 am #

    Reblogged this on ArtEdutech.

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