The Aging Illustrator

Let’s face it… I’m getting old and the aches and pains are starting to set in. For me, that means carpal tunnel syndrome. It’s nothing new, I’ve been fighting it since about 2008 when working for FedEx and Brinks really started to damage my hands from repetitive use (pushing boxes and hefting coins).

Last week I finished this project I had been working on for the past 3 years. It was a personal goal to draw an animal for each letter of the alphabet. I started the project in 2016 with a few critters but it got put on the back burner several times while I worked on other projects both personal and professional.

Alphabet Animals A to ZZ

While working on the Yak last week, I realized how painful illustrating by hand had become to me. I sat alone and cried for a bit, not just because of the pain, but because of the realization that it wasn’t going to get better… that I wasn’t that young kid who used to lay on her belly on Friday nights in front of the TV with a bunch of paper and pencils and draw for hours while watching some late night horror show. I couldn’t lay on my belly (at all) or draw for more than about an hour or so these days. Hopefully, with the help of ice packs (try it, you’ll love it) and an OTC anti-inflammatory I’ll get better. (Thanks for the free medical advice, Dad!) So far, I’ve been able to regain a lot of the feeling I had lost in my thumb. 🙂

I’ve always been creative and I’ve always worked hard to keep doing creative things. I look for them all the time. I play with chalkboards, chalk and chalk pens. I do calligraphy, I play the ukulele and I spend a few minutes of every day, learning German because it’s supposed to be good for your brain. I recently discovered colored pencils and I think I may have a particular way to use them that suits my style and combines them with pen (my favorite medium).


Becoming an aging illustrator is rough, though I feel it’s something I just have to keep doing because I love it so much. As for being an aging graphic designer? Well, that’s still pretty easy on the body, except for maybe sitting at a desk for long periods of time. Either way, I love both and can’t imagine my life any other way.

Q & A With Rolling Rook Studio's Principal Creative

What/Who inspired you to start your own business? 

I did my first commercial project in 1987 for a small business in the Indianapolis area, and have been working in the industry ever since. I designed for several printing, publishing, apparel and promotional products companies, as well as designing smart, electronic forms for the U. S. Department of Defense. 

Eventually I found myself in the position of "graphic designer", working long nights (10+ hours), producing mind-numbing ad layouts for grocery stores, car lots and legal notices without ever interacting with one client. Although I felt a sense of privilege to be working for the largest newspaper publisher in America, I also felt that something was missing and realized that there is a difference between being production monkey and an actual graphic designer. Although the company had streamlined advertising production they had removed the one key element that I felt was most important...interaction with the client.

Shortly after leaving that position, I began what is now called Rolling Rook Studio...and I've been joyously busy, doing the work I love, ever since.


What was the greatest challenge that you encountered along the way?

The greatest challenges for Rolling Rook Studio are providing clients the right tools to communicate what they need, the ability to evaluate what they're looking for, and wether we're a good match.


How would you describe your usual clients?

Rolling Rook Studio actually has a wide range of clients from start-ups to large tech companies. We work with anything from bakeries and small breweries to much larger data management and software companies. 


What do you think is the most effective strategy to keep your customers happy and satisfied with your services?

I believe the most effective strategy to keeping clients happy and satisfied with your service, is to pick good clients, be honest, communicate, treat people well and do good (if not great) work.


What was your most favorite and successful project? 

Generally, I don't pick favorites. We are devoted to doing good work for all of our clients equally. One of our most successful projects, however has been designing for the Rogue | C6 kickstarter campaign which surpassed it's goal and is now in production making amazing, belt-driven, urban bicycles. The Rogue | C6 was even featured in USA Today as, "a bionic bicycle that's probably smarter than the car in your driveway".


In a short line, how would you entice your potential consumers to book your service?

Rolling Rook Studio simply encourages anyone to take a look at our portfolio, see our work, and evaluate if our services are right for them. Then, read the amazing reviews that our wonderful clients have graciously left for us and make that crucial decision to get in touch.

Lessons Learned: Project 365

Not long after ringing in the New Year, just past midnight, on what was January 1, 2014, I started a project with the following pencil sketch...

This project just popped into my head and I proposed to myself that I would create 365 visual projects for the year 2014. Ideally, a project would be completed every day. It didn't matter what medium or how good or bad the project turned out. The goal was just to do it.

Like Frederick Franck's 5th commandment, "You shall not draw with exhibitions in mind, nor to please any critic but yourself", each project had no audience in mind. Many projects were inspired from current events, news, articles, tweets, and things my friends said or did. Some were, shall I say, "uninspired", yet others were filled with passion and creativity.

"Can of Unknown" is some sort of mystery food from a video game that my friends play online.

There were days that I wanted to quit. Just like most human beings, I might feel overwhelmed, bored or tired. Some days I wondered what I was thinking on January 1st so early in the morning (affected by lack of sleep more than champagne). Then there were days where I was brimming with ideas and creativity, or inspiration inexplicably coursed through my veins. On those days, I might catch up on a week's worth of creative pieces or get ahead of the project entirely.

I'll admit, a few of the projects were design ideas or illustrations that my clients rejected. Being their creator, I had grown fond of them and thought they deserved a life elsewhere, so I went ahead and allowed them to develop. I often thought, if nothing else, it was good practice.


In the end, I have a project that no one really cares about, but me...a body of work... 365 images, designs, digital and ink illustrations, pencil drawings, and photographs. They are all mine and I made them. They prove to me that I can accomplish something, that I can stick with something (for better or worse) and in the process, learn from my mistakes, improve and learn. I have most certainly honed my skills in planning, design, composition, color, and execution. My knowledge of Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop have grown immensely. By posting many of these projects to social media, I've learned about who "likes" what and where. I've learned about hashtags and I've seen a keen interest in people wanting to get back to the basics (pencils, pens and paintbrushes, rather than pixels and vectors).

Would I recommend such a project? Most definitely! I believe in pushing yourself to see how far you can go. Just like when I'm out riding my bicycle and I hit 15 miles with 10 more left to get home. The thought occurs to me to quit, rest, hitch a ride, but I just can't. I just won't give up (even though, sometimes I probably should).

In the past 6 years I've ridden half of century (50 miles) twice. I've reached the point of exhaustion and feeling like I just couldn't keep going (particularly on the Hilly Hundred), but in the end, it's all worth the endurance (and the hot shower) for there is a certain joy that comes with knowing you can take something on and see it through.

Poster Makes it into Papergirl Vancouver Show!

With all the entries for Papergirl Vancouver, I never would have thought that my entry would have made it into the actual show and hang in the gallery. I'm honored and excited to see my poster hanging in the Roundhouse Community Arts & Recreation Centre, in Vancouver, BC, Canada.

Poster on the right, hanging on the line in the gallery on the left.

Photograph from Papergirl Vancouver

Poster created by Rolling Rook Studio for Papergirl Vancouver 2014

Poster created by Rolling Rook Studio for Papergirl Vancouver 2014