INTERVIEW: Rebecca Guay

Hello Illustration Friday community!

We caught up with Rebecca Guay this week and she has tons of gems to share in her interview below. Rebecca is a hugely successful illustrator, fine artist and educator. She has done more Magic cards than anyone on the planet (pretty sure), multiple books and graphic novels, held her own gallery shows, and founded both the Illustration Master Class and Smart School. She is also one of the nicest most kind-hearted people I have ever met. I am very excited to share this interview because Rebecca has helped me immensely with my own career, and I think her words below will be useful to many of you.

Rebecca GuayRebecca also just launched a Kickstarter for her Very Fancy art book, Evolution: the Art of Rebecca Guay. The book contains everything from her Magic card work to illustration to fine art. The books will be beautifully bound with red or gold dyed page edges. It is already funded, so buy with confidence.

And now, Rebecca Guay!




rgHi! Thanks for joining us on Illustration Friday, where we sketch to new words/topics every week. We like to draw on Fridays.

1. What do you do to keep up your chops when not working on client work?

This is a challenge for everyone! Most people don’t even consider that it is actually really really emotionally hard to sit down and work sometimes – and that more often than not you just have to put your butt in the chair and DO. I’ve often mentioned that quote by Picasso (I think!) “there’s such a thing as inspiration but it must find you working”  that could not be more true!!

Sometimes i just sit down with a book on tape and start – sometimes I set artificial deadlines – whatever it takes to get me working. Sometimes I take a week off too!!

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

I thought I would major in painting at Pratt but found out really quickly that in the late 80s the only teachers TEACHING  anyone how to paint something figurative or narrative in any way were the illustration professors! So I went into the COMD dept and majored in illustration. I know that the lines are ( gratifyingly) much more blurry across the genres now- illustrations and gallery- but they weren’t then. If you wanted to paint ANY kind of narrative or figures in any way at all with some real serious skill- it was only the illustration programs that seemed to produce the solid foundations. I have loved doing illustration over the last 21 years- adored so much- and I am equally adoring where artists can go within the gallery world – its an intoxicating time to create work.

I never ever wanted to be a designer- so that was never in question- My mom was one for the Boston Globe and she adored it- but I knew early it wouldn’t be for me. My helpless dramatic heart needed an outlet in paint.

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

My first real client fount me in an industry paper that used to get sent to publishers- I was a senior at Pratt and was chosen to have a small feature as an “up and comer”. Ron McCutchan from Cricket Magazine called and I did my first peace for cricket in 1992.

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

Even though I started to work pretty quickly and went fully freelance within 8 months of graduating I still regret that I did not have the social confidence to talk more and get to know my illustration community. Even when I was going to big parties when I was a penciller for DC comics -I wish I had spoken more – asked more questions of the great artists I was meeting. I was so nervous when I was introduced to Frank Miller at a DC party they I spilled a drink on his shoe and blurted an apology and ran away. So many missed opportunities! I was at small parties with everyone you could think of: Chris Claremont, Dave McKean, Neil Gaiman, so many others- I could have easily had more than one valuable chat with any of them MORE than once! But I was truly painfully shy – I did not discover myself socially within my artistic community until I was about 35!

Be inquisitive, ask questions, let people get to know you, and be  truly INTERESTED in THEM.

Oh yeah- and don’t book yourself up so heavily when you start to get busy that the work suffers. We ALL seem to do ihat early on– but try not to.

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

First- be really serious about where you need to beef up your portfolio and skills – do GREAT work. Go to all the industry shows all the events where you can meet people face to face, set up table give out cards sell prints at these shows, and go hang out after with the other artists. Always remain strong with your traditional paint skills – don’t  go all digital – it is cutting yourself off from a major source of income if you can’t sell paintings.

Get back to people promptly and very briefly. Beware of an email to an AD or editor that is longer than a well done paragraph.

The time to fix the problems with your portfolio is before you hand it to someone for their opinion – don’t apologize for failings that you know are in it while the AD is looking at it – if there are problems that you know are there then then fix them – apologizing for your portfolio in the moment is a baaad thing.

Be open to constructive critique.

Be fierce, friendly, sincere, KIND, do not trash people (dish a little maybe- but don’t trash anyone!!) and be diligent diligent diligent.



Rebecca’s Kickstarter book cover. There is still time to get your copy.

Rebecca Guay

Rebecca Guay

Rebecca Guay

“Tiger Tiger”

Learn on Skillshare

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 02/11/14 under Interviews
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