Tim Williams is an Atlanta-based illustrator whose work for ad agencies, magazines and children’s books have won him seven Addy Awards and a National Award for Magazine Cover illustration design. Hightail spoke to him recently about developing a smooth creative process with clients and why he feels like he’s being paid to eat ice cream.
I’ve been freelancing for over 30 years
I started out as an illustrator/designer for Ted Turner’s billboard company in downtown Atlanta. When I went freelance, I did a ton of marker comps for Atlanta ad agencies and magazine editorial illustrations. As the magazine industry started to die off over the last few years, I’ve moved into illustrating children’s books for several different publishers…over 30 by now. Plus, I’ve done illustration work for all three of Atlanta’s pro sports teams.
Others can tell when an illustration is mine but I can’t see it
I don’t think I have a recognizable style. One day I’m doing cartoons or caricatures, the next might be tight realism and the following day a loose, sketchy illustration. It’s difficult for me to pinpoint how my style has evolved. When illustration went digital, I had to teach myself how to work on my Mac. The challenge was for me to make it look like the illustrations were still handcrafted.
Being paid to draw is like being paid to eat ice cream
I can’t count the number of times a new client has come to me with a story of having just dealt with a difficult illustrator. I’ve never understood that. You’re getting paid to draw so be professional, do what you say you’re going to do and meet your deadlines. Part of my success as a freelance illustrator comes from simply being friendly and confident when dealing with clients.
Listening to your client is key
If you are a working illustrator and aren’t paying attention to what your client is telling you, you’re making extra work for yourself. In the long run, you won’t have any clients at all. When I first started freelancing, it was almost all face-to-face conversations with a few phone calls. That rarely happens now. New clients often find me through my website and contact is usually through email.
The files I create can be up to 100MB
This size file is too large and takes too much time to send via regular email. Hightail allows me to quickly and efficiently send illustrations to all of my clients with no headaches. One of my goals when I started freelancing was to make the creative process as smooth, client-friendly and productive as possible. Hightail helps me achieve this goal on a daily basis.
I have a dry room and a wet room
The dry room is where my iMac, Wacom tablet, reference books and awards are. My wet room is for my drawing board, paints, projector and reference books. I’m usually at my computer by 8AM to check my emails for any overnight communication from clients that need a response. After that I get right to work. Most of the time I have multiple projects going on, which means allocating a set amount of hours to each one. Because of the volume of work I have in my studio, I frequently work into the evening.
Running is great for inspiration
On most days about an hour before lunch I go for a run. It clears my head and quite often gives me ideas for illustrations. I also listen to music. Amy Winehouse is a new discovery for me, so I put her on and that gets me inspired.
The life of a freelance illustrator is somewhat solitary
My studio is in my home, which is about 50 miles north of Atlanta, but pretty frequent trips to the city’s High Museum of Art and other galleries and art fairs keep me inspired and connected. I also just attended my first Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators meeting and enjoyed that interaction.
I like virtually every other illustrator
I can see something in just about everyone’s work that I admire, though my biggest influences are: the great animators from the old Warner Brothers cartoons; N.C. Wyeth; Norman Rockwell; the classic MAD magazine artists, Mort Drucker and Jack Davis; the great caricaturist, Al Hirschfeld.