One Minute With…
Hi Graham, thanks for taking time to chat with One Minute With. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your work.
Hello! My name is Graham Erwin and I am an illustrator, designer, and screen printer living in Columbus, Ohio. During the day I work at a custom t-shirt shop, and at night I do freelance poster illustration.
How did you get into illustration? Was there a defining point in your career, and if so, how did it shape you as a illustrator?
To be completely honest I never really chose to get into illustration, it’s just something I have done since day one. I’ve been drawing my own characters since I could hold a pencil so I really never gave myself any other option. I took art classes at a local college starting in 1st grade, and at the time the illustration program was very strong. I saw at an early age that illustration was a legitimate career path and I pretty much knew immediately that it was something I would be doing for the rest of my life, in one way or another. I never really considered any other career path!
What do you think of as the biggest achievement in your career so far? And for balance, what do you consider your biggest failure?
The biggest achievement for me so far was getting to work with Mondo on a Nightmare Before Christmas screen print. I have been a huge fan of Mondo for years so when they asked me if I wanted to do a poster for them I was blown away. The only problem is that early on in this project I experienced my biggest failure as well. I completed a set of posters Nightmare Before Christmas posters and after months of waiting for studio approval they were denied by Disney. This was a huge blow at first because I really had no choice but to just start over from scratch, and was totally worried that my second poster wouldn’t go through either. Fortunately the second set of posters was approved and everything worked out so I can’t complain!
On Etsy, you sell a whole load of awesome prints of your work. How beneficial have you found this? Do you think it’s important to maintain a source of passive income, in an industry where work can fluctuate so greatly.
Oh totally, having an Etsy shop has definitely helped me a ton. The small trickle of Etsy sales is building to a steady flow, and is giving me more wiggle room to be choosier about the freelance projects I take on. The more time and love I put into a poster almost always translates into better sales, so seeing that direct correlation really pushes to to make a better poster every time. I also actually love the packaging, shipping, and talking to customers part of the job. I would say that poster sales account for about half of my freelance income, so it is very beneficial.
You have an incredible, very unique style, which really has to be seen to be understood. Did you intentionally develop this style, or was it something that just evolved? How important do you think having a style is, as opposed to being a jack-of-all-styles?
In a way my style has mostly evolved on its own. Very rarely do I start a project with the intention of changing my style up completely. With every illustration something new and interesting pops up almost by accident, and is then there is yet another rabbit trail to follow. After several months I may think I haven’t progressed much, but when you compare new and old work there is always an interesting evolution and you can see things slowly growing. For instance in the past I never used much linework, but for one project it crept in and now you can see a ton of linework in my illustrations. I never sat down and thought “oh wow, this looks great, I need to do more of this”, it just happened subconsciously. The main thing I consider while working is “would I buy one of these prints if it wasn’t mine?”. That is the driving force when adding and subtracting elements while working.
As for the importance of being a jack-of-all-trades, I am very torn. I find that variety is definitely the spice of life, but the old saying “a jack-of-all-trades, and master of none” still holds true. The thing is that there are so many amazing young designers and illustrators out there that you really have to find a way to stand out in the crowd, and for me a specific style has done it. I think if you want to be a jack-of-all-trades you better be the master of every skill you advertise, and if not, don’t bother.
If, in some Freaky Friday-like situation, you could live the life of another designer, illustrator or creative, for a day, who would it be, and why?
Oh wow that’s a good question! Honestly it’s hard to pick a specific person because my decision would be based upon lifestyle, not artistic style and I don’t have enough info on other artists personal lives to make that call! However there is a guy in town who owns a small gallery called Chop Chop, with a print shop and a mini ramp for skateboarding in the back. This guy has been screen printing and building skate ramps for years, so both set-ups are amazing. I’m sure his daily grind is just as monotonous as everyone else’s, but having access to the perfect skate ramp when you need a break from work would be a dream come true. There is also a killer bar across the street from his shop, so I’m sure I could have a pretty awesome day in his shoes if I was given the chance!
If you could change one thing about your career to date, what would it be?
I wish I would have spent more time drawing in my sketchbook this past year. I used to draw every day for fun, but when freelance began to pick up I would spend less time drawing and more time clicking away with my mouse. Turn around times were quicker, but I can’t help but wish I would have kept my drawing skills tighter. I have set aside more time recently to correct this problem and everything is moving a lot smoother.
Where do you see yourself, in, say, 5 or 10 years?
In 5-10 years I hope to be freelancing full time without a day job. Hopefully selling more original artwork in addition to screen prints. I would love to be able to travel more by then, and attend more of the gallery shows I participate in. Having a solo show with very, very limited runs of large screen prints is a dream of mine, and is something I would like to do in the next 5-10 years. A show overseas would be great!
And finally, what tips would you give to anybody who is looking to get started in design or illustration?
Stay busy. Really freaking busy. You can’t help how much talent you start with, but you can control how quickly you progress. I once heard that every artist has 1,000 bad drawings in them, it’s just up to you how quickly you want to get them out of the way and I totally agree. Failure teaches you more than success, so the less you let that slow you down the better. Besides that I would say find ways to stay passionate about every project. If you love what you are doing then it’s not hard to work 12-18 hour days, you look forward to it! If you’re not having fun you’re not doing it right, and it generally comes across in the work.