Illustrator Profile - Rachel Idzerda: "Keep yourself invested in your work"

By Robert Newman   Thursday May 26, 2016

Rachel Idzerda is a Montreal-based illustrator who creates editorial and portrait illustrations and lettering with skill and grace. Her smart graphic novel-like portraits appear weekly in the Globe & Mail newspaper, and she has branched out to do advertising and commercial work as well. Idzerda originally created in ink, pencil and paint, but her work now is primarily digital. Her advice to up-and-coming illustrators: “Be nice and meet your deadlines!”

I’m currently living in Montreal, Quebec, but grew up in cities around the outskirts of Toronto.

I’ve been illustrating for about four years, full-time for three. My illustration career is still a young thing!

My first work as an illustrator was long before I knew what an illustrator even was. I was in elementary school during the whole Pokemon craze, and my classmates would pay me a dollar apiece to draw their favorite characters battling. I spent the money on candy, obviously.

Neither of my parents are in artistic fields of work. My dad does industrial controls automation and my mom does the accounting and paperwork for their business (she originally went to school for advertising), but I was lucky enough to grow up in a home where art was always encouraged and appreciated. I’m the middle child of five, and I feel like all of my siblings have been drawn to creative pursuits in some way. My two older brothers are a package designer and an industrial designer, and my younger sisters (a nurse and an aspiring environmental scientist) dabble in photography and drawing in their free time. I never had to worry about my parents disapproving of my choice to pursue an art career—it was practically assumed that I would.

My first job was testing machine parts over the summer. I wore oil-stained coveralls and moved around tons of metal in a sweltering hot factory, but it supplied me with spending money and made my subsequent jobs feel like a piece of cake! After that I worked at a laser tag place (which involved a lot of yelling, smoke machines, pizza and breaking up crying children’s fights) and a string of retail jobs that got me through college.

I got my BAA in illustration from Sheridan College in Oakville, Ontario.

I live with my fiance (also an illustrator, Steven P. Hughes) and two dogs in a little Montreal apartment. Our dogs are big babies and love the fact that we work from home so they can harass us for belly-rubs 24/7.

I work from home, and though my studio space isn’t anything special, it’s the little things that make me love it. I have a collection of potted plants on my desk and throughout the room, plenty of storage for my disorganized self to hide things away in, and a balcony about two feet away so I can always step out for some sunshine when I need it (except during these miserable Canadian winters). My desk is also within arm’s reach of my favorite guy, so that doesn't hurt.

I love the fact that I can roll out of bed and be ready to work, but it can be challenging to separate work and home life. I wish I could say I have it all figured out, but I’m still learning to let myself relax and take time off. I’m getting there!

I used to work with more traditional materials (ink, paint, pencil) but these days my work is predominantly digital. I do a fair amount of traveling, so being able to pick up my workstation and go is a necessity. I still like to create elements of my work in pencil or ink now and then, but the availability of great digital tools these days (thanks, Kyle Webster!) allow me to maintain some of that look and feel without worrying about set up, clean up, and scanning things in.

I’m not sure I could pick one event to classify as my “big break,” especially since I’m still so early on in my career, but I can think of a few moments or jobs that felt like milestones at the time.

I got my first real job (a section cover for The National Post) the day after my grad show. An editor had been at the show and passed on my name to the art director. It was validating, exciting and nerve-wracking all at the same time. I remember being so nervous that I would screw it up and never work again. Needless to say... it was fine. I even liked the final image! Me: 1, Nerves: 0.

A few months after graduating, I got a call from The New York Times to do an image for the Sunday Review, and I was over the moon. Working with the NYT was something I dreamed of when starting out, and I never expected to get a chance so soon. I was still working retail at the time, and I called in sick (one of the only times I’ve done so) in order to meet the short deadline.

Earlier this year I worked on my first advertising job for Swim Across America. It was great to take a step out of editorial work and get a little taste of what other avenues are available.

Hiking, camping and being outdoors in general, travel, avid people-watching where ever I go, and my hardworking parents for showing me that you can be the boss of your own career.

I'm going to say Bill Watterson. I was such a huge fan of Calvin & Hobbes as a kid and recently bought a hardcover box set for my partner to read for the first time. Rereading them as an adult and illustrator has made me able to appreciate so much more the creativity, humor and skill that went into every one of Watterson’s strips.

I have folders of saved imagery on my computer that I’ve collected over the course of several years. Sometimes if I’m stuck, I’ll do a quick scroll through to see if anything sparks an idea. Usually it’s something vague that will get things rolling again; a pattern here, a rough composition there. I find crops of architecture photography great for composition inspiration. I also get inspired while cooking. Fruits and veggies have amazing colors and patterns!

Most of the time I like working alone (I hate the feeling of someone looking over my shoulder) but I also miss the community feeling that comes with being around a group of creatives all the time. I spent a year after college living with five people in an apartment; all but one of us were illustrators. We had a round table in the living room where we would hang out, drink beers and have brainstorming sessions at a moment’s notice. When most of your work interactions are over email, you need to search out those connections or it can become a very lonely career.

I enjoyed working with Small Army and Swim Across America on their Crazy Big Swim campaign. It was a bit of a step away from my regular editorial work and was a great learning experience to be working with an advertising team. The event also raised money for childhood cancer research, so who can dislike that?

I’d love to get an assignment that would require me to travel around the world and draw. I’m not sure what that job would be, but I’m just going to put that out there!

The team at The Globe & Mail have been always been great to me. They gave me the opportunity to work on plenty of illustrations and covers when I was still fairly new, and were always the most lovely people to deal with. I now illustrate two weekly portraits for their Saturday and Monday papers.

Oh, there are too many to name! I’m a big fan of Jillian Tamaki's work; her ink work is gorgeous. A few others I really enjoy are Keith Negley, Edward Kinsella, and for lettering Jessica Hische.

Right now I mostly do editorial work, but I’d love to get into book illustration and possibly textile work as well. I've recently been doing quite a bit of portrait work, and am also trying my hand at illustrative lettering.

I haven’t been working long enough for anything to have changed very drastically, but I do think you need to keep yourself interested and invested in your work. If you get too comfortable or bored, the work will suffer and stagnate. There are always trends in illustration, but I think paying too much attention to them instead of following your interests will ultimately lead the work to suffer.

My main means of promotion at the moment is online via social media and my portfolio. I make sure my website, blog, and Instagram are updated regularly so there is always new work to see. I try to send out regular emails and occasional mailers as well, but I'm pretty terrible at keeping up with it so it’s sporadic at best. I’ve gotten a lot of my work through word of mouth or through clients coming across my work in print or online.

Be nice and meet your deadlines! It’s really that simple.

See more Rachel Idzerda illustrations, new work and updates here:
Rachel Idzerda website
Instagram: @rachelidzerda
Twitter: @Rachel_Idzerda


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