At this year’s Illustration Masters Class, I took the opportunity to sit down and have a conversation with Julie Bell, Irene Gallo, Rebecca Guay, Lauren Panepinto, and Zoë Robinson. It was an incredible chance to talk to three very influential art directors and two internationally renowned artists about their personal journeys, their careers in the speculative fiction industry, and the state of women today working as illustrators.
Later I had the chance to loop two more artists into the conversation: Award-winning illustrator Julie Dillon and Women Destroy Fantasy! cover artist Elizabeth Leggett generously shared their own experiences and advice. I deeply appreciate each of these fantastic women for being so open with their insight and knowledge. It was a humbling and inspiring opportunity for me personally.
Julie Bell’s credits include creating advertising illustrations for the elite of the corporate world, such as Nike, Coca-Cola, and The Ford Motor Company, painting book covers for the major publishing houses in NYC, or doing album covers for artists such as Meat Loaf. She was the first woman ever to paint Conan for Marvel Comics, which paved the way for many other commissions from Marvel, DC, and Image Comics to illustrate superheroes in fully rendered paintings. In 2000, she was given an assignment to do the covers of Jane Lindskold’s Firekeeper saga, a series of fantasy novels that starred a large wolf with magic powers. The success of that first wolf painting brought more animal assignments as well as private commissions, which included horses. Now she is finding a new sense of herself in painting the animals just as they are, without supernatural powers.
Julie Dillon is a Hugo and Chesley Award-winning, World Fantasy Award-nominated science fiction and fantasy artist, with clients such as Penguin Books, Simon & Schuster, Tor Books, and Wizards of the Coast.
Irene Gallo is the Chesley Award-winning and World Fantasy Award-nominated art director of Tor Books and the Associate Publisher of Tor.com.She’s been on the board of Directors of the Society of Illustrators and Spectrum Fantastic Art, and has helped curate the Spectrum exhibitions at the Museum of American Illustration. She also helps organize MicroVisions, a charity auction of mini paintings by top illustrators. By far, the most exciting part of her job is working with all the wonderful artists and becoming good friends with many of them.
Rebecca Guay has been painting professionally for twenty years, during which time she built a formidable reputation in contemporary and pop culture art and illustration. She has exhibited in both solo and group shows at renowned galleries and museums including the R. Michelson Galleries and The Allentown Museum of Art, as well as the Eric Carle Museum, and has been acquired into the permanent collection of the American Museum of Illustration at the Society of Illustrators in NYC. An ARC 2013 and 2014 finalist, Rebecca has also been the recipient of many significant awards and honors, including numerous gold medal awards from the Spectrum Annual and several Gold and Bronze Medals from the Society of Illustrators West Annual for Best in the Original Works/Gallery category, and she is currently nominated for a Chesley Award. In addition to her career as an artist, she is also the creator of The Illustration Master Class (illustrationmasterclass.com) and SmArt School (smarterartschool.com).
Elizabeth Leggett is a twenty-year veteran freelance illustrator. Her artistic influences include Michael Kaluta, Donato Giancola, John Jude Palencar, and Jeremy Geddes. She completed a seventy-eight-card tarot in a single year and launched it into a successful Kickstarter (Portico Tarot and Art Prints). In December, she won two places in Jon Schindehette’s ArtOrder Inspiration, and she provided internal art for the Women Destroy Science Fiction! issue ofLightspeed and is the Women Destroy Fantasy! cover artist and art director.
Lauren Panepinto has worked in every publishing genre and collaborated with artists as varied as Shepard Fairey and John Harris. As the Creative Director of Orbit Books and Yen Press for the past five years, she has been trying to merge the worlds of genre and commercial publishing and figure out what SFF publishing looks like in the present world of mainstream “geek” media.
Zoë Robinson is the Senior Art Coordinator and founding member of the Art Direction Team at Fantasy Flight Games.
First off, what led you to work in the speculative fiction field? Was this always your intended career plan?
Irene Gallo: I think “plan” is overstating it. I grew up on Close Encounters [of the Third Kind] and then Raiders of the Lost Ark. I was obsessed with those two movies, especially Raiders of the Lost Ark. And then I literally stumbled into a Harlan Ellison book and went to hear him speak a few times. It was like junior high school or whatever. But then I did phase out of it, not so much out of a “plan” either. I went to college and was busy with college things, and when I got out, I got a job with Tor. I really came full circle, and really recognized everything around me. I was very lucky.
Julie Bell: I definitely didn’t have it as a plan, either. I can look back and see a lot of the things I really liked when I was a kid, like Dulac and fairy tale art, things like that. I always thought that I was going to be an artist, and I wanted to do children’s books. I had this idea of making my own fairy tale a long time ago, which I never did. I can see where what I’m doing definitely goes to that, it’s just that I never actually put it into a plan of action. My life just, in this really magical kind of way, fell into it.
Lauren Panepinto: I’m the same. I’m an only child, and I was a tomboy, and I was kind of my dad’s buddy. He was into baseball cards, and we always went to these baseball card shows. I always went straight to the comics section. You know, when you’re a little girl, you can get advice: “What is a good comic book for a girl?” “Oh, X-Men!” And since I was hanging out there all the time, eventually I worked at the comic book store near my high school in Staten Island (Jim Hanley’s Universe). I worked there through high school and summer vacations in college—I went to the School of Visual Arts for Graphic Design.
After graduation I got into books and worked for a couple different publishers. I was the art director in charge of paperbacks for Broadway/Doubleday when Orbit came to the US from the UK. That year there was a big shakeup in publishing; it had decimated my division, ending up with me getting laid off literally the week that Orbit was looking for a creative director to take over and dedicate themselves to only geek books. A friend called me and was like, “I heard you got laid off. I have a job for you!” It was just the most amazing luck. I met the publisher, Tim Holman. We talked about books and we talked about geekdom, and he even grilled me on my geek cred, “Have you really read Chapterhouse: Dune? Have you really read The Simarillion?” I finally had to show my elvish tattoo. So, the answer is, I ended up doing this by total luck and chance.
Zoë Robinson: Mine is very much similar—right place, right time. Except sort of the opposite in the childhood. I was a pretty isolated kid who lived very much in my head, so I read everything I could get my hands on. My books were my friends, and they were very much more real to me than everything else around me. I would draw a lot, partially to put flesh on that, and partially because it gave me something to do with my hands that adults wouldn’t make me stop doing. It split my attention. I was constantly, constantly drawing. I ended up accidentally getting an art degree from a Liberal Arts school and wandering through weird jobs. Finally, a friend was like, “So, this place needs an art director . . . I hope they get somebody good . . . You should do it!” So I ended up getting hired at Fantasy Flight Games.
Rebecca Guay: I always wanted to be an artist, and I fell in love with The X-Men in seventh grade. I saw an issue of The X-Men in a newspaper stand, and was like, “What is this wonderful world?” and immediately was sold. I was also super into The Raiders of the Lost Ark. Oh my God. And Star Wars, but Raiders! I still have my twelve-inch Indiana Jones clock. It’s in the guest room right now, waiting for the new studio. I was copying comics constantly through junior high and high school. My mom made a bet that by the time I was in college, I wouldn’t want to go into comics. I was like, “I’ll take that bet!” She was sure I’d grow up and be “serious” about art.
I got to college and I somewhat got sidetracked. I thought I’d go into kids’ books, children’s book illustration. In fact, I had a nice children’s book portfolio when I graduated from Pratt, but I started dating George Pratt, who had just doneEnemy Ace, which is this beautiful graphic novel. He started introducing me at parties and different get-togethers to the comic book world. I met Mike Mignola and Mike Kaluta and all these amazing people. I sort of met Frank Miller: I spilled a drink on him and ran away.
I started putting together my sample pages when I was working my day job as an assistant at Marvel Comics. My friend was in the art department at Marvel, and I was his assistant for sixty dollars a day, just getting anything anyone needed. Every night, I’d go home to my sample pages. I got my first ten-page story for Marvel, and that got me into an issue of Swamp Thing, which got me a full-time penciling gig for Black Orchid. That lasted two years, and on the side I was getting into kids’ magazines, and also trading card work.
I didn’t really intend to go into comics and science fiction/fantasy; I thought I’d go into kids’ books, but ended up in comics, and then segued into Magic: [The Gathering] through comics, and graphic novels through Magic, and segued into fantasy, and then children’s books came around, and it all grew from there.
Julie Dillon: I’ve always leaned towards fantasy and science fiction, even as a child. I’ve been drawing and painting my whole life, but I didn’t start taking it more seriously until early high school, when I started wanting to draw pictures of scenes from books or characters I’d made up, and got frustrated with how bad I was at it. I particularly loved the artwork on the early Magic: The Gathering cards, so I’d copy the art from my favorite cards to help me practice. For a while, I got really into anime, and that dominated what I did for a few years. At that point I had improved enough that I would get occasional commissions from people online, but I still didn’t consider art as a viable career, so I spent the next several years plugging away at a computer science degree. It wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I started thinking maybe I should pursue art, since that’s what I was doing in every bit of free time I had available. I enjoyed drawing and creating too much to keep it as a side-gig or hobby.
I enjoy the freedom of expression and potential for storytelling inherent in SF and fantasy illustration. There’s so much room for experimentation and new ideas. Sometimes it’s hard to explain to other people what it is I do for a living, though, since drawing dragons and warrior ladies and robots isn’t necessarily the first thing that comes to mind when people think “artist.”
Elizabeth Leggett: I have been a tabletop gamer since I was in elementary school. The art in the books sparked my imagination and matched the art I found myself trying to draw. It was like discovering friends rather than a career path. It was many years later when I finally accepted the constant yearning to illustrate full time as a “Life Goal.” It became more than a dream. It became something worth planning a life around achieving.
There’s been a lot of talk about gender parity in the SF illustrating field, about how few women, percentage-wise, are working as illustrators—especially since at least half of art students are female. Did your gender ever come into play in your careers? What are your thoughts about what causes this attrition?
Panepinto: These are definitely conversations Irene and I have had before, trying to think of all the female names, who’s working and who’s not, and it seems like there are so many female students that are into it right now, but then where are the working artists?
Robinson: I think it’s just recently that it hasn’t been just the hardheaded girls toughing it out. It’s been very recently that generally, girls are aware that this is something that they’re invited and allowed to do.
Panepinto: I think that it also comes out of the YA fiction. Harry Potter’s got such strong characters—Hermione’s such a great female character—and The Hunger Games.
Dillon: I’ve done most of my work online, working by myself at home, so it’s difficult to gauge sometimes if gender has come into play in terms of my career path. Early on, it felt pretty isolating not seeing many other women in the big art forums at the time, but there have been more and more women becoming more visible in the field over the years.
Leggett: If my gender came into play in any negative way that kept me from illustration contracts, I am not aware of it. I think male and female illustrators face the same challenges. This is a frighteningly competitive business and that might be the crux of the matter. Males, generally speaking, accept competition as part of the process and some thrive on it. More and more women are stepping into this fray and discovering they thrive as well, but are having to catch up in the race.
Guay: It’s still a confidence issue with girls. Believing that their art has weight, has gravity, is worth something. And it’s not because the industry says it’s not. I have never, ever encountered sexism.
Bell: Me neither. I’ve never had anybody even care if I was male or female.
Guay: It’s always been about my work, and if anything, it’s been a benefit, honestly. They’re just happy to see a girl. It’s benefited me on the reverse side.
Pinepinto: When I’m showing art samples to editors, they don’t even know names.
Gallo: I think confidence is the issue. I remember seeing an awards ceremony where a woman had won, and she was delighted. Her acceptance speech was, “Oh my God, so many other people deserve to be here, thank you so much.” My heart just sank the minute she said that, because a Dan Dos Santos or Donato would never get up there—they would be humble and say “amongst these amazing people, thank you”—but they would never say “I don’t deserve this.” So I do think there’s a confidence issue.
But I also think there are stylistic issues, which are difficult to talk about. The default for a science fiction/fantasy book cover is a very male aesthetic, and when I get these beautiful portfolios of more feminine styles or more feminine themes, I can think of many fewer places that I could use that on.
Panepinto: I’ve been using a lot of female artists in the urban fantasy genre. I think Mélanie Delon’s art is very “feminine,” beautiful, and floral, and it’s perfect for these books and I was super excited to be able to use her. I feel like this conversation isn’t done. It lulls a bit and spikes a bit, but this “women in fantasy” conversation has been loudly advocated for at least a year.
Dillon: I feel like, while things are slowly evening out, there is still a degree of institutional bias that makes art seem like a more tangible career possibility for men than women. There are a lot of women working as illustrators, but they don’t often hold as many visible higher-up positions. Some people have a tendency to be more dismissive of women illustrators, because there’s this vague assumption that women only do decorative, quiet, or frivolous work: greeting cards, children’s books, et cetera (dismissing this type of work is an issue in itself); while men are considered to be the ones doing the “real” work of fine art, concept art, and animation for films and games. This is flat-out untrue; all genders have much to offer in all areas of art, and one style of art isn’t inherently more worthy or legitimate than other styles. But even when these assumptions are proven wrong, women working in concepting and animation and other typically male-dominated fields face an uphill battle to gain the same level of respect and recognition that men do, while men doing more decorative and introspective work tend to garner more legitimacy than their female counterparts.
Gallo: And certainly at Tor.com I could use a lot more of everything! The whole breadth of artistic styles more than anything else. That’s been great, because I have been able to push that into the book covers more and more. There’s more acceptance of all kinds of styles, regardless of who it’s coming from.
Leggett: We are outnumbered at the moment, but that will change. There are so many creative, professionally focused, driven women finding better and better opportunities in this field every day. We are in the call lists. We are in the convention guest lists. We are mentoring and studying and working so beautifully that the male illustrators are taking notice. They are challenging themselves more as well. This is good for the science fiction and fantasy genres as a whole.
Dillon: One thing I have noticed is that I sometimes get contacted for work specifically because I am a woman artist; it doesn’t happen too often, and while I’m happy for any work I get, the self-doubting part of my brain worries sometimes if tokenism is playing a part.
Robinson: Now, in gaming, sexism is a lot more salient, because it’s a different kind of projective escapism. In gaming, the art shows who’s invited to the table, and, until very recently, there was no diversity. It was all Caucasian males. In fact, if I don’t specify race and gender in the art brief, I will get a 6’1”, thirty-year-old Caucasian man with short dark hair, clean-shaven, and with dark eyes. I’ve noticed it in my office culture; at first, it took the interrupt of going in and saying, “This is old. Can we at least do X?” Now the culture is they do it by verbatim. They do the hundred twenty cards and then go through and make sure there’s representation. They’re excited about the diversity.
Guay: I’ve noticed less and less stylistic diversity since the ‘90’s. More and more computer-generated, glossy, slick, high-tech look in a lot of stuff.
Dillon: When I get art assignments, I have been making more of a conscious effort to have more variety in the characters’ appearances, to include more women and make sure that the women I do include are not all helpless waifish blondes. Most of the time it goes over well (or at least, I don’t get complaints), but every now and then I’ll receive feedback from an art director complaining that a female character was “too fat” or “too ethnic” or “not pretty enough,” which just makes me all the more determined to try to be even more inclusive and diverse when I have the freedom to do so.
Robinson: I think, too, when it comes to sexism, that this new generation of artists is feeling it a lot more keenly, because of, I heard an artist describe it as “bro wolf-packing.” With internet culture, it becomes much more apparent who’s doing what and anyone can comment. In face-to-face physical meetings where you’re going around, everyone’s very polite and accepting, but you get on the internet and you have trolls. Everyone is much more loud.
Gallo: On the other hand, though, it does open up the conversation. I think these are conversations that I’ve been hearing about for years on the writer side and in conventions. They would happen in a room this big with twenty people in it, and it would just go away, and now that these conversations are online, sure, you get the trolling, and it’s annoying when you get so many negative responses. But what’s funny is, so many people are very surprised at how well formed the argument is, because it’s new to them. They’re like, “Whoa! Why am I being blindsided by this?” And we’re like, “No, we’ve been talking about it for ten years. You just didn’t hear it.”
Panepinto: We’ve been practicing this conversation for years!
Robinson: I know a lot of women artists who have experienced very painful interactions because they are women, but it’s an internet thing. I was having a conversation on Facebook the other day with artist Hannah Christenson about where did all the women illustrators go? And a bunch of guys got on the thread and were talking about how it was all biological that men are just better illustrators. On her Facebook page! It was her Facebook page, this female art director and female artist, talking about this thing, kind of in a quiet conversation, and these random strangers popped on and took over the conversation.
Then she and I started IMing. The conversation was like, “I wish that some of these young female artists would have this conversation that we’re having!” So I made the Women in Fantastical Illustration Facebook group just for that reason. Overwhelmingly, the majority of illustrators have had the same experience. It’s something very common, but I think that’s sort of the new online post-feminist backlash, kind of a men’s rights chamber on the internet.
Guay: I think we have to take that with a grain of salt, because there’s always the occasional total bonehead who loves to just make something about you public. They do it just to be annoying. But I don’t think it’s a pervasive attitude. I stay away from those dialogues as often as possible because they deflect the attention from the places where I most want to send it. Because of course my ire goes up when someone’s an asshole, and it’s so frequent that people are assholes on the internet that you have to pick your moment. So I step away from those because the power is in the example I set. It’s there that you inspire the up-and-coming artists. That’s where I want my energy and voice to go.
Gallo: That is where the most power lies, definitely. Although there is a reason why when anybody says, “Who are the women in fantasy illustration?” you can name the same five people for the last fifteen years. And two of them are here! [Rebecca Guay and Julie Bell]. The other one is Kinuko Craft and the other one is Terese Nielsen. It becomes difficult. In the past ten years, it’s difficult to name anybody beyond that, right? Who is it beyond that? Rowena Morrill, Diane Dillon of Leo and Diane Dillon . . .
Julie Dillon, that was an issue you addressed after your nomination for the Hugo Award last year, correct? The fact that’s it’s so hard to name off women in fantasy illustration?
Dillon: Honestly, while I was hugely honored and humbled by the nomination, it also felt a little strange, because there are so many other amazing women who have been working the field much longer than I have, who have not been nominated for that award yet. I really felt like they should have been recognized before me. The male artists who have been nominated over the years are well deserving and wonderful people, but there are so many amazing women out there who just don’t seem to make it into the circles of award nominees with the same frequency that men do. I made that tumblr post (juliedillon.tumblr.com/post/66217741265/big-huge-list-of-some-amazing-women-artists) listing all the women artists I could find, because oftentimes people seem to have a hard time naming more than a handful of women artists. I wanted to have a big compilation that I could point to whenever someone claimed that there just weren’t that many women artists out there.
Gallo: There are many up-and-coming women and hopefully it sticks, but I think there’s always been the up-and-coming and there’s always been attrition amongst women illustrators. And if you want to talk about women, talk about people of color . . . That is a much bigger, harder question.
Guay: At this year’s Illustration Masters Class, there were no African-American students. And usually there is only one, maybe two. It’s a catch-22. I find it easier to paint Caucasian skin, so I tend to paint that. Because there aren’t as many African-American artists in the field, there’s fewer paintings of African-Americans in the art. And so it’s a terrible circle.
Robinson: I think that comes down to [the way] that art shows who is invited to the table. In college, I had just gotten a job as an art director at Fantasy Flight, and I was visiting my college roommate, who was black, and her family. Her little cousin, who was like eight, looked at me with tears in her eyes, and asked me if I could do some black heroes, because she loved fantasy, but she just didn’t have any black heroines, and she wanted stuff that was like her. It’s been surprisingly difficult to get that to happen. There’s this board game I played that was cyberpunk, and one of the characters is an Indian woman. The marketing guy played with his wife and his wife’s best friend, who happens to be Indian. She saw the character and just, her eyes lit up. She grabbed it and it’s become her favorite game. She connected with that visual of her ideal self.
Bell: It has to do with who’s buying it. Honestly, in my experience, most of the people buying my work are men. I’ve definitely had a few people who were collectors of mine who were different races than white, but most of them have been white men.
Gallo: People with money. People with access.
Panepinto: I think it’s an interesting marketing question. Decisions are being made to market to the people who are buying these things, but you are also always talking about expanding markets. We run into that in publishing all the time. We had to deal with the Joe Abercrombie cover with Best Served Cold.The main character is a girl so I put a girl on the cover and everyone freaked out “Why is there a girl on the cover?” And I wanted to say “Talk to the author! He wrote the book!” A lot of the fan base was like, “There should be a guy on the cover because it’s a ‘guy’ book even if it is a girl character.” I wonder, again, how much of it is that that reaction is on the internet, right? I wonder how much of marketing is bound by precedent and how much of it is bound by the vocal minority.
Dillon: My hope for publishers (and people deciding on award nominations) is for them to be more open-minded when it comes to style and approach. When something is published, it helps gives artists and art styles more legitimacy, opening the door for more viewpoints and perspectives. All people have a lot to offer, and when we pigeonhole one group as the only way to be good at one thing, it cuts off the possibility of a broader range of viewpoints and fresh ideas and approaches, which further locks us into the same patterns.
Something that is often brought up when discussing attrition rates of women artists is the effect of motherhood upon a woman’s career. Rebecca Guay and Julie Bell both raised children in addition to having successful illustration and art careers. Can you talk about that?
Guay: I remember when I was pregnant, another woman said, “I wonder what you are going to do when you have your baby because you won’t have as much time to work on your art,” and my head almost exploded under the concept that somebody thinks in a practical way that I can give up the art. First of all, I couldn’t. Second of all, give up my paying job? Because I’m going to have a baby? So, there’s a weird thing about having a baby and being an artist. Being a mom is wonderful, but being an artist is what I am. I remember nursing Vivian and working on Magic cards while holding her in my lap. I was back to painting when she was just a few days old.
Bell: I wasn’t working professionally as an artist when my children were born; if I had been getting money for my art, it might have been a different thing, I don’t know. It was a struggle. It was a matter of knowing I needed to do art and making time to work on it in spite of the fact that it wasn’t a career yet.
Panepinto: And a whole other conversation is that none of the three art directors present have children. And my joke answer, which is not always a joke answer, is, “I have fifty cover babies every month!” which is not really an answer, I know. But you see on Facebook these two women artists who just had babies in the last month and are working on their freelance jobs. Women are figuring it out.
Leggett: Sometimes paying the rent wins. Sometimes having better insurance wins. This is especially true for parents. We are not losing our female illustrators fresh out of art school because they are female and being discriminated against. We are losing them because what we do is viewed by most of society as a luxury and not a necessity. Luxuries are the first things to go when the cash gets sluggish. Illustration is a dream job. It is a calling. It is a chance to get paid for getting all of the images swimming around in your skull out into the world. It is not, however, necessarily financially wise. The competition, as I mentioned before, is fierce. An illustrator has to find gigs, keep up with the sales and the business end, attend conferences to make the connections, make deadlines no matter what, and, in their copious spare time, create art.
Guay: And it’s just logistics that you’re exhausted as a mom, and if you happen to have a husband who is working a full-time job and you were working as a full-time illustrator and you have a baby, and there’s any other way that money might come in the door, it’s easy to slowly slip away and slowly do less and less. But my income was the primary income in our family. It was hard, but in some ways it was lucky, because I had to keep working. And you know you are never going to stop . . . but maybe if I hadn’t had as solid a career prior to having a baby, if I had had a baby when I was twenty-five or twenty-six and I was still on unsure footing in terms of myself as an artist, and I hadn’t solidified my career, maybe I could have drifted. I think that could happen to a lot of women and maybe that is why some potential up-and-comers just at the point that they are starting to get traction have a baby. Women still do carry most of the weight of caregiving for small children.
Bell: I remember when my kids were still babies, and I had a moment when I felt my head was going to split because I wanted to be doing my art now but I knew that five minutes from now I’m going to have to do something with the baby. I remember thinking to myself, “wait, does this mean I can’t do this art or what?” and I told myself, “no, you have a brain and you can teach yourself to shift back and forth.” I just had to teach my brain to be a lot more flexible than it had been, had to really consciously train myself. And then it wasn’t until my kids were eight and ten when I started making a name for myself with my art. And by that time it was easier. When they are babies, you are so exhausted, and you just need to realize that will pass and you’ll get your feet under you again.
Guay: I have heard this so often from women coming to the Illustration Masters Class: “I was starting to get work, I was starting to get traction, but then I had my baby.” I hear that so often. And it’s just what it is, and it’s hard, and you just need the fortitude to come back to it if you have gotten derailed. And some people might not have the energy for that uphill climb, because it is an uphill climb to establish yourself in this field.
Panepinto: Last year during the Women in Fantasy panel at Spectrum, when Tara McPherson was there and she had brought their young child—I forget how old Tara was but I think she’s in her early thirties—and she said she very consciously made the decision that she wasn’t going to have a child until her career had gotten to that point that she could survive. She knew she was going to have to coast for a year, so she waited until she would be okay. People wouldn’t forget about her in the year she was focusing more on taking care of an infant.
Guay: Being a mom shakes your brain up. There’s crazy brain chemistry that happens. You are just a different person after. And for some people, the need to make art might not be there afterwards. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
Bell: And having a baby is a great thing! It’s very fulfilling! And it’s totally fine if someone could feel very satisfied and happy in that role and puts other stuff on the back shelf.
Guay: There’s a lot of women who come to the Illustration Masters Class who fit this description. There’s Kim Kincaid: She’s a great example of coming back to an art career late and experiencing great growth. Teresa N. Fischer is another example of someone who came back to painting seriously after her child was older.
Gallo: She’s doing so phenomenal right now.
Guay: So you can come back, it just takes a few years. I think that a lot of people just get lost along the way.
Bell: These two artists had their kids and then they got a little older and felt more of the confidence and the power in themselves and believed in themselves enough so that they could do this thing.
Gallo: As you talk about community, hopefully the internet (for whatever it’s worth with all the trolls and jerks there are) and with the question of whether attrition will happen in this generation, having groups like the Facebook group Zoë started and being able to talk online and talk about these issues will keep people moving and not so isolated.
Panepinto: I was shocked! Zoë started that Facebook group and within three days there was over a hundred and fifty women having enthusiastic twenty-four-hour conversations! I couldn’t keep up with it! They were so thoughtful and amazing and great, and so excited to just to hear that other people were thinking similar things.
Robinson: Yeah, those people were really hungry to talk in a safe space.
Any final words of advice that you would give to other women seeking a career as an SF illustrator?
Robinson: Do good work!
Dillon: Do what you want to do. Don’t worry about what is expected of you, or what style or field you think will command the most respect, or whether or not it feels like you belong, and just do what feels most genuine to you. Do what you love with your whole heart, and things will work out, even if it’s not in the way you first imagined when you started out.
Gallo: Keep at it. There’s a lot of setbacks for everybody, so make sure you keep working.
Guay: It wouldn’t be any different than advice I’d give to any artist.
Bell: Be intelligent, work hard, work smart.
Leggett: Know yourself and know what really are your dreams. Know the difference between wishes and needs in yourself. Give time and make financial and emotional decisions that support those needs. Network with others dealing with these decisions. Feed your creative need every chance you can, even if it is after two days of double shifts. If you have children, share your joy of art with them. If you decide to pursue it, be courageous! This is a very tough gig, but so worth it!
Panepinto: Make sure you keep in mind that you deserve it as much as the other guy, to speak to the confidence problem. It seems so cheesy, but just believe that you have the right to be there. Don’t doubt it.
Dillon: Everyone has an important viewpoint to offer the world. And if your chosen field doesn’t tend to have many voices like yours, your unique viewpoint is all the more valuable (even if everyone doesn’t see it that way right away).
—With thanks to Zoe Kaplan for doing the lion’s share of
transcribing the audio portion of this interview.