Catapult Artist “Look at everything!”: Celia Jacobs, Catapult Artist of September 2019
Learning to apply my curiosity wherever it’s needed has made my illustration career more fun and maybe more successful, too.
Celia Jacobs is one of my personal favorite illustrators, so I was ecstatic when she agreed to be our Catapult Artist of September, capping off one full year of artists for our program. I admire Celia’s bold use of color, the thoughtful decisions she makes in regards to relatability of the characters she illustrates, the dynamic compositions that seem to unfold in front of your eyes and that invite you into the deeper layers and details of her pieces are all reasons why myself and the Catapult team were so happy to have her on board for this month’s selections.
Photo courtesy of Celia Jacobs
Nicole Caputo: When did you know you wanted to become an illustrator and what did that early journey look like?
Celia Jacobs: I knew I wanted to be an illustrator when I was a kid. I kind of forgot about it, but when I got older and started needing to make decisions about my life, I realized that drawing had always been all I ever wanted to do and that illustration would be a good way to keep doing it. One time I saw my fourth grade teacher in the grocery store, told her I was an illustrator, and she just said, “I knew it!” So there may never have really been a question for me.
Do you think your upbringing inspired your path towards being an artist?
Definitely! My mom paints and my dad plays jazz piano so they’ve always been supportive of me making art. Plus, I grew up in Portland, so everyone was pretty artistic or at least hippie-ish and down for creative pursuits.
Illustration courtesy of Celia Jacobs for Catapult short fiction piece “The Ghost on Platte River Access Road”
Do you do other work outside of illustration?
Once in a while I do some design work for Tuesday Bassen, another illustrator who runs a clothing company here in LA.
What helped you get your work seen in the earliest days and what helps now?
I had some great teachers in college who helped put me in contact with my first art directors and that’s how I started getting work. At the beginning, I was also spending a lot of time reaching out to blogs and emailing art directors. I could stand to be doing a little bit more of that now, but mostly I just try to keep up with posting on Instagram. For better or worse (the issue of social media is its own giant thing), it’s invaluable in getting my work out there and in front of people who can hire me, and I’m thankful for the opportunities I’ve found through it.
Image courtesy of Celia Jacobs
What are the challenges you face? How do you navigate those challenges?
I think the main challenges I have are pretty typical freelance ones. It’s hard to not have a stable income, and the inevitable lulls in work can lead to little anxiety spirals. It’s also funny making money from a creative process, one that’s so tied to my identity and self-worth, and having to work even when I’m not feeling good about my art. What’s always helped for me is creating a routine and showing up for it (thank you, my dog), and then allowing myself time to turn off, take breaks, socialize, draw for fun, or just do something besides work without feeling stressed or guilty.
What does your process look like and what is your favorite part of the process?
When a client gives me an assignment, they usually send a design brief and/or a draft of the story. I read over it a few times, spend some time thinking of ideas, and come up with three to five sketches to show them. They pick their favorite and then I get to work finishing it! That part looks like making a digital color comp, then transferring the drawing to paper, painting it, scanning, and finally fixing up the colors and any errors on the computer. My favorite part is definitely the act of painting. I put on music or a podcast and then space out and get to work. It’s very physical, and it feels very familiar and right to me. Most of the decisions are already made, so it’s just a really satisfying act of bringing the image to life, following my instinct and the will of the physical media, and working until it’s done.
What is your desired medium and what are your favorite tools?
I work with acrylic paint on colored paper and my favorite tools are just cheapie synthetic brushes.
Illustration by Celia Jacobs for Catapult short fiction “Shadow Box”
Some people find that working back-to-back projects is what keeps them inspired. Others find they need rest between them, with other personal projects interspersed, to do the best work for clients. How do you stay inspired/work best?
I tend to go the back-to-back way, which might not be completely out of choice but definitely staves off the black hole feeling of having no work! That said, I do need to allow myself to rest and spend time on personal work or I’ll get burnt out and lose inspiration pretty fast.
Illustration by Celia Jacobs for Catapult essay “Why We Shouldn’t Call Adoptees ‘Lucky'”
Who have your mentors been and what did they do or say that inspired, moved, or motivated you most?
I had some wonderful teachers at Art Center, where I studied illustration. I really don’t want to leave anyone out, but Brian Rea (who’s also worked for Catapult!), Paul Rogers, and the late, great Clive Piercy come to mind. Another amazing teacher is Jason Holley, also a really inspiring artist. I learned from him how to fixate your curiosity onto something, no matter what it is or if it’s even something you chose, then believe in it and obsess over it (there’s some sort of natural tendency, maybe even a responsibility, for creative people to obsess like no one else), and follow that trail as far as needed until you end up making something really, really good. Learning to apply my curiosity wherever it’s needed has made my illustration career more fun and maybe more successful, too.
Lastly, what tips would you give to emerging illustrators?
I’m never sure if I’m in a good position to give advice, but here’s what I’ve been thinking lately: I think it’s important to not just focus on the aesthetic of your illustration work, but consider what kind of content really interests you and how you can bring in your other interests and hobbies. It leads to more honest and personal work and I think that’s how you get people on your side. But look at everything! Look at illustration and art, paintings or photos or graphic design or vernacular architecture, whatever you like, figure out what turns you on and what kind of pool you want to jump into. The raw material of good production is good consumption, and I think that goes for both aesthetic and concept.