“From my earliest days in the crib, I longed for nothing more than to look at pictures and draw them.” These are the words of this week’s Member Spotlight honouree, Izabel Ciesinska, an illustrator who might very well have been born for the creative life.
From a young age the young Polish-Canadian absorbed every picture book she could get her hands on until she discovered and fell in love with the art of animation. After many broken pencils and torn up pieces of paper, she has spent the bulk of her career as an illustrator trying to fuse the energy of animation with the texture and warmth of hand drawn illustration.
Because, in her own words, “tracing 24 frames per second was easier seen than done” but that doesn’t mean she can’t still draw inspiration from the fluidity and delicacy of the best 20th century animation.
“I consider myself most lucky to be able to do what I do,” she says. “Quite often people carry their stories and ideas around for years before they finally gain the courage to manifest them. And when they come to me with a book or project, I am very much aware that what they come to me with are their very dreams.” And who doesn’t want to bring dreams to life?
How did you get into the industry?
After graduating from university in a degree that I knew I would never work in, I decided to return to my love of drawing and storytelling. I took a few weeks to create some new pieces, and I submitted my fledgling portfolio to various publishers.
One month later, a small Canadian publisher, High Interest Publishing, offered me my first job to illustrate a young adults book titled “Misty Knows.” I have been working as an illustrator full-time since.
Where are you based now and who do you work for?
I am based in Toronto, Canada. I work freelance for various clients, such as independent authors, book publishers, game manufacturers, character design for animation, and even NFT projects.
If you weren’t in your current industry, what would you be doing?
Trying desperately to get into my current industry.
Can you explain your creative process? What makes it unique?
My creative process differs slightly from client work and personal work.
For client work, I start with getting as much information about the client's vision as possible – I read the manuscript, the project brief, and I ask for visual references. Then I pitch my own ideas, which I try to keep in alignment with the client's vision. Clients love this process, because they get to keep the integrity of their ideas while allowing them to evolve.
For personal work, the process is more flowing and less structured. Sometimes a single image in my mind inspires and entire story, and other times a written story inspires a sequence of images. Other times, a random piece of music inspires an image or even a collection of images. My personal work is more intuitive and spontaneous than my client work.
How would you describe your style?
I would describe my style as vibrant and whimsical, with an emphasis on super adorable characters whose worlds hopefully feel meaningful to the viewers.
Which individuals do you gain inspiration from? Do you have any heroes in the industry?
The individuals that I gain inspiration from are fellow illustrators like Dan LuVisi, Fiona Staples, and Claudya Schmidt, and great film-makers like Christopher Nolan, Darren Aronofsky, and Tarsem. I also gain a lot of inspiration by studying the concept art for various animated films.
My heroes in the industry are Glen Keane and Walt Disney. Glen Keane is an incredible draftsman. His drawings, even though very rough, have a fluidity to them which makes his characters seem alive. And Walt Disney was an exceptionally productive creator.
In his lifetime he founded a world-class animation studio, created dozens of ground breaking films, developed new techniques and technologies, and he set a new standard for theme parks. He not only affected the art and film industries, but culture itself.
What tips would you give to aspiring creatives looking for work?
The main tip I would give to aspiring creatives is to stay focused on the quality of the work. Learn from the greats - the Renaissance men, great cinema and animation, top illustrators and comic book artists – they all have treasures to offer. Then strive to make each artwork better than the one before.
Make yourself seen – post on social media, apply for jobs, and send your portfolio to publishers, agents, and studios 2-3 times a year.
Above all, don't get discouraged. All of us get rejections, but all it takes is a few “yeses” to set a trajectory for success. If you focus on creating high quality art, prospective clients will notice.
What tips would you give to other professionals to get more clients?
My tips to other professionals to get more clients would be to branch out into new styles, projects, and technologies. I started painting concept art under a pseudonym 4 years ago in order to develop my own personal projects, and as I learned new skills and techniques my children's illustrations improved almost immediately.
Not only did my improved children's work end up attracting more clients, but my concept work opened up a brand new pool of clients. My job prospects doubled because I branched out beyond children's art.
What kind of tools/kit/software could you not do without?
I could not do without Photoshop, Clip Studio, and my Cintiq tablet. I use other drawing software occasionally, but the above feel the most fluid for me.
What’s your secret to staying inspired and motivated?
I think consistent learning is the secret to staying inspired. Not just artistic learning, but general learning. There are so many exciting mysteries in the world that are natural inspirations. For example, ancient history inspires much of my personal work, because it stimulates the imagination trying to visualize what the world might have looked like thousands of years ago.
Also, great art and great achievements are very inspiring. A spectacular piece of music is instant inspiration, but so is the biography of a great person. Learning about some of the greatest people in history and how they approached life instantly puts one's own purpose into perspective. It's almost impossible to not get motivated when learning about the life of Marcus Aurelius, Nikola Tesla, or Chris Hadfield.
What’s the work achievement you’re most proud of?
The work achievement that I am most proud of is a personal project that I have been developing for many years. It has not been published yet, but it is some of the best work that I have ever created. I look forward to sharing it with the world some day.
What is the one thing that you would change about the industry?
The one thing that I would change about the industry is that the earnings for creatives match the standard of living. Some creatives are doing well, especially those in studios, but the freelancers could use more support.
Any websites, books or resources you would recommend?
For creative courses I recommend 21Draw and Domestika
For tutorials I recommend Aaron Blaise and Proko
And for visual references I recommend Pinterest. Once you start making boards you won't be able to stop!