Quite simply for me, I tell visual stories with my images.
Andrea Pippins is a force in the world of art and design. With a vibrant, expressive and empowering style of illustration, her work is immediately recognisable and impactful due to the strong messaging it conveys. Now based in Stockholm and working as a freelance illustrator, Andrea’s work spans commissions for brands such as Nickelodeon, Sephora and ESPN, talks and seminars and a range of graphic publications including children’s book Who Will You Be?, illustrative journal Becoming Me: A Work Of Progress and I Love My Hair amongst other books.
Illustration is perhaps one of those careers that can feel out of reach. Many traditional school systems don’t often focus on careers in the arts and it can be tricky to carve out a path for yourself, without knowing what kind of career is possible. Andrea knew from a young age that she wanted to work within a career that allowed her to express her creativity. Formal education within graphic design allowed her to develop her skills and make connections with other industry professionals and all this eventually led to her success as a freelance illustrator.
Hi Andrea, thanks for taking the time out to chat about your career and your work. First things first, how did your career as an illustrator begin?
After working as a graphic designer at companies like Hallmark Cards and TV Land/Nick@Nite I returned to school and graduated with an MFA in Graphic Design so I could teach design on a college level. After several years as a full-time assistant professor, teaching courses in graphic design I decided to take a leap of faith and pursue a path as a full-time freelance designer and illustrator. Soon after that decision I got my first book deal and have been focusing on illustration ever since.
Besides your MFA, what steps did you take to carve your career in design and illustration?
Some steps I took were to engage with my professional and creative community, like go to talks and lectures, gallery openings, take workshops, and attend conferences. This allowed me to make connections with people who could potentially support my career aspirations and vice versa. Additionally, being consistent with my practice by making personal work as often as possible. Doing those two things (nurturing community and my creative voice) have really helped me along my journey.
As a freelance illustrator, your transparency with your income distribution charts are really insightful and useful for other creatives. What are some other ways illustrators and designers can generate an income?
Finding ways to create passive income is a great income stream. Passive income is money coming in that takes little or no effort to maintain. Some examples are creating digital downloads, licensing artwork, or subscription service. Another good way to make money as an illustrator or designer is by selling art, whether online or at a local market, it also helps with getting exposure for one’s work.
“I am a strong believer that image is power. Whether it’s in propaganda, a protest poster, a story being told, or an advertisement it’s the image that people see first, and really drives the message.”
You’ve previously described yourself as a visual activist as well. How would you describe what visual activism is?
At its core it’s using the image to educate, inform, and empower others to create political or social change. It’s truly visual activism when the images are tied to and aligned with campaigns and movements that enforce that change. I’m not sure if I call myself a visual activist anymore, because my work does not directly align with a specific cause. But it does align with this deep desire to get people to recognize their own power, which in turn can change our world.
“I see creative slumps as time to step away and do something different, to nurture another part of one’s life. It’s also a great time to download versus executing.”
I love that! Are there some visual activists who inspire you and your work?
I admire the work of Luba Lukova who focuses on social issues through minimal color, line and shapes; Emory Douglas for his powerful storytelling through imagery and elevating the “common person” and their experiences; and Corita Kent for her desire to inspire peace, love and joy using bold color and graphic shapes.
What change are you hoping to make in the world through your work?
My hope is to encourage others to see their power, especially through their imagination—because it’s in our minds where we come up with our ideas to change the world. And we can only access that power when we have a moment to just be, to reflect and process what is happening around us. My books and illustrations offer space for that. I also look to highlight stories that are often untold, to create sources of inspiration for others, which I believe is another tool for allowing others to think differently and ultimately cause change.
Can you share an example of an image that has had a significant impact on you and how has it done this?
Wow, there are so many! I have to say the first time I saw Sister Corita Kent’s work at Art Basel in 2011 was a big moment for me. I can’t remember which piece it was but the way she used color with overlapping text to talk about what was happening in the world inspired me to think about how I could do the same.
What is your favorite piece of art you’ve created?
Oh wow, I have so many favorite projects. Right now my favorite would be the graphics I created for “Celebrate Black Sunshine“, an animated visual poem narrated by Alicia Keys for Nick Jr. The poem was a celebration of the joy of Black children. It was emotional for me to see the kids laughing and smiling in the video, and a privilege to create the graphics to amplify that joy.
You’ve also created a selection of coloring books, I Love My Hair and Becoming Me. Why did you decide to create these?
I created the coloring book I Love My Hair and the journal Becoming Me because my hope is to create work that allows the viewer to practice self-love, to reflect on who they are, and to nurture their creativity daily. Although both books are very different, those three things are at the core of my intention for creating them.
I also wanted to ask about something that we’ve all experienced – creative slumps. What would you suggest for those of us who find ourselves in a creative slump?
I see creative slumps as time to step away and do something different, to nurture another part of one’s life. It’s also a great time to download versus executing. When I say download I mean intentionality gathering resources to support a new creative direction, like doing research, going to a museum, or taking a class. My favorite way to download is go to the library or a bookstore and browse the art section—doing so with no specific agenda. Doing this is a great source of inspiration and often gets me out of any funk.
And finally, what would the world look like without illustrations?
In some cases you only get a part of the story without illustration.
Check out Andrea’s blog flygirlblog which features interview series with other female creatives, sneak peeks into her creative process and insight from Andrea on topics such as finding an illustrator for your children’s book. Her website also has a selection of her commissioned work which really highlights her vibrant, colorful illustration style. She also has an illustration masterclass on Skillshare for budding designers.