This week we had the pleasure of catching up with Scott Brundage. Scott is an editorial illustrator best known for his humorous paintings, often involving a monkey. He also does book covers, bar mitzvahs, and birthdays.

Hi! Thanks for joining us on Illustration Friday, where we sketch to new words/topics every week. We like to draw on Fridays. What do you do to keep up your chops when not working on client work?

At any given time, I have 2-5 sketchbooks in various states of completion. I tend to collect them habitually and if a certain book has a cool texture/paper type/tone I’ll probably buy it. I try to keep 2 or 3 with me in a bag so I can sketch in transit or whenever I have downtime. Mainly brainless observational or stream of consciousness drawings or a blend of both. Plenty of pages begin with the old lady sitting across from me, then end with that old lady being courted by a minotaur.   Similarly, I try to pick up new media when I have open time in my schedule. I picked up a bunch of inks and dyes then made a series of small paintings of scraps of whatever paper I had in my studio. Basically trying anything but my usual paint and usual brand of watercolor paper. Made a nice bunch of glorious failures (mostly monkey pictures), but NOW I can incorporate a lot of it into my work


More practically, I have, on more than one occasion, gotten so wrapped up in one particular project that I end up finishing and realize no one has heard from me in months. To counteract that, I keep a steady stream of back burner projects. A stack of possible paintings that I really want to do but probably won’t be hired for until I have a similar sample. This has served me well in the past. Most of my current work is from personal projects that fit a market I’ve been aiming for for years, but only just now had a chance to create real samples for.

Why did you become an illustrator? Why art, why not fine art, why not a designer?


All I knew before art school was that I really wanted to draw for a living. The how-to-get-paid aspect a mystery. I had a lot of interest in comics and animation and figured I’d find my direction at a school that had a major for illustration and animation. I found I really liked the storytelling and problem solving aspect of illustration a lot more than the grind of animation. I also really liked having a finished product to look at and move on from. Animation’s process seemed too long term for me personally. But I did supplement a lot of my illustration classes with drawing studios meant for animators.   I think, if left to my own devices, I’d still end up painting illustrations. Even if I wanted to make fine art, I imagine I’d keep injecting a narrative or a joke.   And regarding graphic design, I admire people who find a real love for it. I could never really scratch my own creative itch by moving type around. I’d never disparage it because when it’s done well, it’s so freaking beautiful. I just know I’d crash and burn if I ever attempted to make money with it.


How did you find your first client, or how did they find you?


On the advice of several mentors, I started sending out postcards well before I thought my work was professional level. I had a functioning, if simple, website portfolio, and I would send out cards every other month. The third or fourth of these mailers got me a call from Eric Seidman at The AARP Bulletin. When he called, I initially thought it was a prank from a friend trying to mess with me. Turns out it was legit and he really liked the small drawing I had printed on the back of the mailer (me slouched on my desk chair looking longingly at my phone, which is on a very fancy pillow).



What were the biggest mistakes you made early in your career? What did you learn?


I think John Hendrix said something along the lines of “getting work in illustration is like staying on a floating log. It’s really difficult to start, but once you start, you just need to keep moving” (definitely butchered the actually quote, my apologies).   When I started getting a handful of clients, I was too ignorant to realize how good the handful I had were. And then I started taking them for granted, and the work slowly deteriorated. With a new client, I’d want to blow them out of the water with an epic painting. Then after a couple jobs, I’d just get it done.  Well, I learned that the AD’s may stop calling, and even if one AD is still happy with my work, he or she may leave the next week. If the replacement doesn’t dig what I’ve been creating for their publication, I’m donezo. Now I treat each job like it may well be my last one.


What advice would you give to up-and-coming illustrators who want to break in?

My favorite quote about the lifestyle of an artist is from Steve Brodner, “The most important drawing is the next one.”  Getting into a mindset where you are always creating is the best thing you can do for yourself. The earlier you adopt it, the better. Look at any of your heroes and you’ll see they spent xxx amount of time simply toiling and struggling to figure out what their work is. Instead of fearing that or hiding from it, produce as much work as possible, then when you finally make a piece you like, start another one.The easiest and hardest thing in the world.

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Thomas James

Thomas James

Thomas James is an Illustrator who has worked with The New York Times, WIRED, Pentagram, Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, and many others. You can see his portfolio at
Thomas James

Posted by Thomas James on 04/28/14 under artists,Interviews
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