Welcome to the Women in Fantasy Illustration interview series. I am interviewing a selection of women who work in the Fantasy Illustration Industry. You will find the links to more interviews at the bottom of the page.
This week’s interview is with the amazing illustrator Julie Dillon. I hope you will enjoy it!
1. Please give a brief introduction of yourself, your career and your work.
I’m a freelance Sci-Fi and Fantasy artist. I’ve worked full-time for 8 years doing art for trading cards, book covers, magazine illustrations, and perfume labels. My work has won two Chesley Awards, and has been nominated for two Hugo Awards and two World Fantasy Awards.
2. When did realize you wanted to make a career out of illustrating?
It took me a while to really figure it out and commit to a career in illustration. I’d always love drawing, but I didn’t think of it as a career option for a long time. In college, I studied computer science for a few years, then switched to technical theater for a few more years, and eventually figured out that the one constant interest I had was art.
No matter what else I was studying, I was always working on art in my free time. I found out there was a decent art school within a 2 hr drive, so I started taking classes and trying my hardest to get better. Within a few years, I felt I was ready to start trying to freelance full time.
It took me a while to really figure it out and commit to a career in illustration. I’d always love drawing, but I didn’t think of it as a career option for a long time.
Tree tops by Julie Dillon
3. What difficulties have you faced in transitioning into becoming a professional artist?
The biggest challenge, aside from finding clients, was learning how to work quickly. Before I was working in a more professional capacity, it didn’t matter if it took me months to finish something, because it was just for my own benefit and I didn’t have a client waiting. That obviously was no longer an option once I started getting regular freelance work, and there was a little bit of a learning curve as I scrambled to find ways to work faster. It’s been good for me, though, because even now I’m continuing to learn how to work faster and cleaner.
The biggest challenge, aside from finding clients, was learning how to work quickly.
4. What do you like the most about illustrating?
I love being able to work with visual storytelling and visual problem-solving, playing with color and narrative to create something that is exciting to me. But most importantly, illustration provides me a creative outlet that lets me both express myself and support myself. I feel very lucky that I am able to pay the bills by doing what I love.
(…) illustration provides me a creative outlet that lets me both express myself and support myself.
Beneath the Surface by Julie Dillon
5. What do you like the least about it?
I hate when I’m working on a piece, and I keep getting this feeling that somewhere out there is a better composition or angle or color combination than the one I’m currently working on, but I don’t know what it is or how to fix it. Even if a picture is finished, I’ll still wonder if there wasn’t some better way I could have gone about it.
Even if a picture is finished, I’ll still wonder if there wasn’t some better way I could have gone about it.
n my mid teens, I was doing mostly pencil, charcoal, and watercolor art (mostly fan art and sloppy copies of Magic: The Gathering cards). But in the late 90s, the anime art community started really taking off, and all the big names were working digitally.
I wanted to join in and be part of that, so I saved up and got a tablet and a copy of Photoshop and got to work. I don’t know that working digitially was necessarily a choice of one medium over another, so much as it was just the teenage me trying to be like all the other cool kids and then just getting used to working that way.
I don’t know that working digitially was necessarily a choice of one medium over another, so much as it was just the teenage me trying to be like all the other cool kids (…)
Then in the early 2000s, I found the digital concept art community (namely on the old sijun.com forums), and started getting into that. Photoshop just ended up being the tool I used in the most, and it became the one I was most skilled with because I put more hours into it than other media.
I know painting digitally has it’s drawbacks; you don’t get the hands-on feel of real paint, you don’t have a tangible original copy, etc. But it’s clean, it’s fast, and it’s portable. I don’t have worry about storing my finished art or restocking painting supplies or waiting for a painting to dry. And with my laptop, I can work on my freelance work anywhere there is a power outlet, which comes in handy when I’m on a trip but still need to finish work.
A whole bunch of Dwarves by Julie Dillon
7. You are currently working on Kickstarting your own art book. Can you tell us a little about the project and what brought it about?
Earlier this year I got the idea of trying to do a project where I made brand new art specifically for small book, and do maybe 1-2 books a year. It would give me an excuse to do more of my own art on my own terms, which was really exciting to me.
I got the idea of trying to do a project where I made brand new art specifically for small book, and do maybe 1-2 books a year.
I’ve long been wanting to attempt doing my own books. However, I wasn’t sure how much interest there would be, so a Kickstarter seemed like a reasonable solution. I would know exactly how many books I needed to print, and I would have the money beforehand instead of having to pay the printer out of my savings.
The theme of the book evolved a bit over time; I wasn’t sure how much art to make for each one, what I wanted them to focus on, if they were going to be just light sketches or if I was going to go all out and make fully-fleshed out illustrations.
8. What does a typical day look like for you?
I usually get up and get to work pretty early. I work at my main dual monitor PC setup for most of the day, taking breaks for exercise or walks or meals or tending the garden, and then I go watch tv in the evening while doing my work on my laptop (shuttling my files back and forth from PC to laptop with an external haddrive).
While I frequently have multiple assignments at any given time, I usually try to pick one or two tasks each day and give them my full attention. One day might be focused on finishing thumbnails, another might be for making progress on rendering a few trading cards, another might be developing sketches.
Sometimes when I have a full schedule I start to feel overwhelmed, but if I take things one at a time and really focus on getting each thing done, it’s less stressful. Sometimes I break things up depending on what I need to do on my main PC, and what I can get away with doing on my laptop. Anything that involves multiple large files or careful color work and fine tuning, I save for my PC. Thumbnailing, sketching, and routine rendering I can do on my laptop. It helps break up the workday a bit while still letting me get things done.
McGee’s Alice by Julie Dillon
9. What is the best advice you have ever received regarding your artwork and career?
A lot of the advice I’ve picked up over the years was indirect – from reading other people’s blogs or articles about art, or lessons learned through my own experience. I’ve kept to myself a lot, and much of the advice that was given specifically to me either turned out to be incorrect or not helpful for what I personally wanted to do with my art (and I didn’t figure it out until years later, after I’d tried so hard to do what they wanted me to do only to find it wasn’t really working for me).
I’d have to say that the best advice wasn’t necessarily advice, but encouragement. People telling me to not give up, to believe enough in myself to try new things and take chances I wouldn’t have had the courage to take without help. The rest is just logistics. It wouldn’t matter how much advice I got about how to improve my art if I didn’t believe my art was worth improving.
It wouldn’t matter how much advice I got about how to improve my art if I didn’t believe my art was worth improving.
Menagerie by Julie Dillon
10. What are your hopes for the future of your career?
This is something I try to figure out a lot. I spend so much time just thinking about my immediate projects and what project I’ll be doing directly afterwards, that it’s sometimes hard to figure out long term goals beyond “do more art.”
I’d like to try creating larger books, something more like an illustrated novel, which would give me a chance to really flesh out a world or idea instead of just doing one-off illustrations like I’m doing now. It’d also give me a chance to get back into writing, which is something I used to love doing.