Having artists do original illustrations to accompany articles has been key to the look of The Indypendent. We currently have a roster of 70 volunteer illustrators who I stay in touch with via an email list. It wasn’t always that way.
In late 2003 I was volunteering at an anarchist bookstore and always looked forward to reading the new issue of the Indy. I wanted to get involved somehow and the one thing I could do well was draw. At the first meeting I went to, I got an assignment to illustrate an article about unionized truck drivers fighting company demands for concessions.
I was a nervous wreck when I got home that night. I didn’t know what the hell to do. I drew a bunch of sketches that night and took them back the next day. I gave them to the designer, Ryan Dunsmuir, expecting her to reject me. She pointed at one and said, “We’ll use that.” I drew several versions of the sketch and then sent one in.
I was pleasantly surprised when I saw my illustration on the cover. My roommate at the time thought it was really cool and wanted to draw for the Indy too. I said, “Yeah, come on, let’s do it.”
Then I started hearing from other people who also wanted to draw for the paper. Nobody wanted to miss out. This was around the time that the front, back and center pages of the paper went from being black and white with one spot color to full color, which opened up new opportunities for artists.
When I became coordinator for the illustration team, things became a lot more structured. My focus went from “we’re all having a good time hanging out and drawing whatever” to actually making the paper look good. That’s when I started to become pickier about the art that went in the paper and who contributed illos.
Because of my role at the Indy, I got invited to portfolio reviews at schools like Parsons, Pratt and the School of Visual Arts, where I would see what students were drawing. I made personal business cards for myself and started handing them out, Johnny Appleseed-style, letting students and teachers know there was a place they could come draw. People spread the word around and it became a cascade. It was direct contact and communication: I was meeting people and physically getting the word out, not just putting up fliers or sending out email invites.
Some artists would tell me they were looking to get published in the Indy in order to build their portfolios and then move on to pursue other opportunities. Then they would later tell me how the story they had illustrated moved them, that they learned something they hadn’t known and become more politically and socially aware.
When I came to the Indy, I was working as a waiter to pay my bills. Now, I work as a freelancer and make a living doing my art. Looking back at some of my older illustrations, I see raw talent and raw passion, a kid who wanted it really badly. The newspaper cycle at the Indy forced me to constantly draw, look forward to new possibilities and improve on what I did in the past rather than wallow. I was an artist growing up in front of the public.
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