Happy Feature Friday!
This week we are featuring fashion illustrator, Joanna Baker! Joanna is a testament to taking the leap from the corporate world and becoming your own boss. Joanna took that initial risk and started her very own illustration business. Since then she has garnered recognition from some of the fashion industry’s top names and we can definitely see why. We love her illustration style in all its pretty details and chic accents! Read on to learn more about Joanna’s story.
: Tell us about yourself.
: Hi, I’m Joanna! I currently live in Manhattan with my husband and our cat, Junebug. Originally from Maryland, we’ve lived in NYC for a little over eight years now. (Junebug is born and bred a New York City girl, though)
: How did you get your start in fashion illustration?
: I’ve always loved to draw. Growing up my sketches consisted mostly of pretty dresses and horses. When it came time to choose a degree path, I decided to pursue my artistic passion and study studio art at Washington College, a liberal arts school in Maryland. My interest in fashion grew and I started making skirts and tote bags for myself as a hobby. Because I had a sewing machine, I soon became the go-to girl when my dorm-mates needed something hemmed or the straps on their handbags fixed. Senior year I decided to start my own business designing handbags from my dorm room. It got to the point where I ran out of space, was cutting fabric and sewing on the floor and thought, there has got to be an easier way to do this! Project Runway was a relatively new show at the time and gave me the idea to apply to Parsons School of Design on a whim. I was accepted into the AAS Fashion Design program and moved to New York the fall after I graduated.
While at Parsons, I learned a lot in a very short amount of time. I was part of the fast track program which condensed two years worth of instruction into one year. Looking back, it was completely nuts. Despite the craziness and learning so many new things, I realized my favorite classes were my fashion illustration classes. I still really loved drawing fashion but didn’t realize it could be a career. When I graduated from Parsons, I followed my original path to a fashion design job thinking it was what I wanted, but unfortunately it wasn’t the creative outlet I had hoped it would be. To keep up with my drawing and have a place to be creative, I started a fashion illustration blog in my spare time (before Instagram existed!) It slowly gained a following and people began asking me where they could buy my work. I finally saw there was a possibility to make a living doing what I loved most.
: What is your favorite part of the design/illustration process?
: I think my favorite part as I’m drawing is watching the illustration come to life. When you first start out, it doesn’t look like much but once you start adding layers of color, details with fine ink pens, and highlights with gouache, the drawing takes on a life of it’s own!
: You live in NYC! What about your environment inspires your creative process?
: When I first moved to the city for school, I was by myself and didn’t know anyone. New York has a way of teaching you a thing or two, sometimes without your consent. I love it here for that reason, it keeps you constantly pushing and striving to make it work. That being said, there are so many pretty things here to help off-set the struggle. I feel like living in New York embodies the creative process. There are always going to be times when you doubt yourself or think what you’re creating is just awful. But if you push through and make it to the other side, you’re rewarded with beauty.
: You left your corporate design job to pursue illustration and design full-time. What made you take the leap?
: Ultimately, it was the realization and acceptance that I didn’t see myself being happy in a corporate environment on any level. I have the entrepreneurial drive inside me and knew that if I didn’t try working for myself, I would always wonder what could have been. It wasn’t a decision I made lightly though, and struggled for about a year over it before making the leap. In the meantime, I prepared financially and built up a buffer to tide me over until I could get some traction. I also had the amazing support of my family and friends who knew that I needed to make a change for the better.
: You’ve gotten recognition/commissioned for your work from some major brands! What did that feel like?
: I always get excited when a brand I admire asks to feature my work or wants to work with me to create a custom piece. It gives me that boost to keep drawing and putting my work out there, you just never know who’s looking! Not too long after I quit my job, Carolina Herrera’s team sent me an e-mail asking if they could share my sketch on their Instagram feed, I think I literally squealed! It’s very validating when bigger members of the industry acknowledge your work. I truly appreciate each and every shout out and am grateful to all of my clients who trust in me to create a special piece of art for them.
: What are your go-to mediums to work in for your illustrations?
: I really like working with illustration markers and my favorite brand is Copic. The ink they use is very blendable and each marker has a handmade brush tip which helps give it a watercolor effect. I also like using Prismacolor colored pencils, Micron and Copic pens for fine details and either a white gel pen, Windsor & Newton gouache, or Copic Opaque White for highlights.
: How has social media helped your business grow?
: Instagram has been the driving force behind my ability to share work and get instant feedback. It’s how most people are introduced to my illustrations and a lot of my custom work comes from people finding me there. Because of this, I dedicate a lot of time to creating fresh content for my social media outlets. I also just started using Snapchat not too long ago which is fun because I can quickly and easily share video clips of my drawings in progress and people have really responded well to being able to see the sketches from start to finish.
: What have been some of the highs and lows of running a business?
: The best and hardest part of running a business, especially in a time like this, is that there are absolutely no rules. A lot of business advice that used to apply five or ten years ago is no longer relevant because of how connected the world is today with social media. The concept of being an “influencer” as a full time job didn’t exist while I was in school. When there aren’t rules, you have the freedom to figure out what works best for you and pursue that. But it also makes figuring out what’s best for you a bit more difficult. There’s a lot more to narrow down from. I’ve learned mostly through trial and error. What works for someone else, may not work for me. Before I quit my job, I met with as many freelancers, small business owners, and bloggers making a living from their work as I could, hoping to find a universal strategy. And every single person I met with had a completely different path to their own success.
: Any advice?
: The best advice I’ve read so far is this: if you want to make your dream a reality, you have to really want all the things that go along with your dream, not just the idea of it. You have to want the lows just as much as the highs, the self doubt and the struggle along with the perks of making your own hours and working from home. Because all of these things make up your dream, the lows make the highs possible. Everyday is about finding joy in the process. Happiness isn’t something that comes after success, it’s all the little moments of joy you experience while working at something you truly love.