Megan Hess is one of the world’s most well-known fashion illustrators, having illustrated portraits for the New York Times, Italian Vogue, Vanity Fair, Prada, Cartier, Dior and FENDI. Not only is Megan a talented artist, but she has also written and illustrated seven best-selling books, is a mum, an artist in residence to multiple international venues and has built a global business. She is a leader who inspires!

Megan was kind enough to share her experiences in starting a business and her reflections on being a leader.

Megan Hess Drawing

How did you land your first client? Were they in fashion?

I studied Graphic Design because it felt like a ‘real’ job in the art world, but I really always wanted to be an illustrator. I just never knew that it was a possible career choice! After working as an Art Director in Ad agencies for several years, I packed everything up and moved to London. It was in London that I worked in a million different creative jobs and my final job there realised that I had a burning desire to be an artist.

At this time, I was the Art Director for Liberty Department Store. While I loved art-directing fashion, I loved illustrating it more. I started to do very small illustrations for Liberty and from this other art directors saw my work and little commissions began to follow. After about a year I found myself with non-stop work. I wasn’t earning a fortune, but I’d never been happier, and I knew I was going to do this forever.

As my clients got bigger and better, I was able to be a little more selective, and just work on briefs that I knew had a great creative opportunity. Then in 2006, I got a call in the middle of the night from Candace Bushnell’s publisher asking if I would illustrate her next novel ‘One Fifth Avenue’. This was when things took off at rapid speed for me. Her book became a New York Times bestseller, and I met with Candace, and she asked me to illustrate all her previous books including the cover of ‘Sex and The City’. Once ‘Sex and the City’ was released I was contacted by TIME magazine in New York to create portraits for them.

Following this, I began illustrating for Tiffany & Co, Chanel, Dior, Cartier, Vanity Fair, Italian Vogue, Bergdorf Goodman and Ladure. Ironically, at the same time as my work finally took off, I had my first baby!! It’s funny, I always tell people that I haven’t really slept since 2006!!

 

What was it like to go from working on your own to hiring staff and having to be the leader in your team?

At first, I was terrified of hiring staff because I had worked on my own for so long. But as soon as I had my first employee, I realised I should have hired someone years ago! My business dramatically grew, and I was suddenly able to get back to focusing on creating. It was the best business decision I ever made.

 

What do you look for in an employee about to join the Megan Hess team?

I always start with personality. I believe if someone has a great personality and is intelligent, they have the capability to do anything. My team is small, so it’s important that everyone gets along and respects one another.

It’s very important to me that everyone feels safe and loved. Even though it’s work, we all spend a lot of time together so everyone feeling good is so important. I’m so proud to say I work within a group of women that feel like family. I’m very lucky.

 

What achievement are you most proud of?

Getting paid to do what I love for a living and being a Mother. I see that as a huge luxury to be able to do both, and it’s something that I’m very grateful for every day. I’ve also been able to donate many pieces of my work for charities and causes all over the world, and in some small way, I feel proud that one of my drawings may have helped someone where.

As Creative Patron of Ovarian Cancer, I’ve also had the privilege of working with the most inspiring team of people trying to raise awareness and funds for the development of an early detection test for Ovarian Cancer.

Megan Hess Book

As your career has grown, you’ve worked with some incredible brands. How did you first initiate these client relationships?

I am very grateful to all the amazing brands that I have worked with. For me, it’s been years of building those relationships. Each new project attracts a new client, and I have been fortunate to have been commissioned by such diverse and creative companies all over the world.

 

What areas of leadership are you most confident in and are there aspects of it that you struggle with?

I’m a big picture person. I don’t like to micromanage. I’ve always believed in the theory that it is best to work with people who are faster, smarter and much better at certain things than me. I know my strengths, and I love to let my team manage and take ownership of their roles. I’ve learnt that autonomy is very important for people to grow and for a company to grow.

Megan Hess Desk

How do you find owning your own business and being a mum? Does your home, office etc always look as good as on Instagram?

Ha! Well, sadly no although I wish it did. Actually, my studio always looks pretty good because we all make an effort to keep it ready for both chic clients who drop by and last-minute photoshoots. My home is sometimes completely tidy and lovely, and other weeks I have piles of washing, dishes and school projects everywhere!! It’s a normal household full of lovely chaos!

 

You have such a diverse business including prints, commissions, books, homewares/styling and more. Can you describe your creative process?

I hand draw all my line work with a custom Montblanc pen and ink, then I either leave it black and white or add colour with gouache, watercolour and digital means. Some of my illustrations are very fast. I usually post a quick sketch on my Instagram account each morning (@meganhess_official) and I only ever give myself 10 minutes for that – because I have so many deadlines to get through! Most of my work can take anywhere from an hour to several days. It just depends on the complexity of the illustration.

If it’s for a client, it starts with a brief, and I always give myself a good amount of initial time to dream and get inspired about what I’m going to draw. Sometimes I’ll do initial sketches or create a mood board of concepts and ideas. Then I’ll discuss with my clients where my direction is heading. Then it’s to the physical drawing phase, and I’m usually in absolute joy creating the final image.

See the magical work of Megan Hess.

 

Anastasia BenvenisteAbout the author
Anastasia Benveniste loves anything digital or creative and is passionate about human rights. She gets enormous amounts of personal satisfaction through her work in digital communications, as it allows her to share people’s stories. She has a Masters in Design Communication, and her favourite academic experience was spending a semester studying at Yale University. Outside of work, she loves art history, painting and anything monogrammed! www.benvoa.com 


Are you thinking about starting a business as an artist and unsure of how you can make it in the creative industry? Camilla D’Errico (successful urban contemporary painter, illustrator, character creator and comic book artist) shares her journey of pursuing art, learning the business and building a loyal fan base. She details the first steps she took in starting a business as an artist and how she was able to work with brands like Disney, Hasbro and Wiz Kids.

Whether you are an artist or not this interview is full of tips, tricks, and overall encouragement for any woman looking to dominate her industry and make an impact through her work.

How long have you been an artist and how did you start?

I’ve been an artist all my life. My mother told me that I was born with an artist’s hands, so from an early age I was always drawing. My art journey started in high school by taking every art elective I could and continued my education at Okanagan University and Capilano University. I built my skills with years of learning various techniques and different styles.

I had to struggle with prejudice against anime and manga as a serious art style. Luckily, I’m pretty obstinate, so when someone tells me I can’t do something, I tend to stubbornly prove them wrong. I started in comic books in 1998 when I went to San Diego Comic-Con and showed my portfolio to various publishers. From there, everything began to take shape and eventually, I became a painter in 2004. 

The owner of Ayden Gallery in Vancouver loved my art and encouraged me to create a series of paintings on canvas, which I had previously never done before. From there, I went down the “painter’s rabbit hole”. I think my biggest take away in life has been to expect the unexpected and jump on opportunities when they present themselves. I may not have intended to be a painter but I’m incredibly happy that I risked it.

 

How did you turn your artwork into a thriving business?

It took time and lots of hard work. It all started with going to local comic book shows and building up an audience. Then I collaborated with local clothing businesses to merge my art with their lines. From there I started to work with my sister, who was a businesswoman, and she helped me with the contracts, business model and expanding my reach. After my sister left to work on her own business, I built a team that helped with fulfillments, contracts, and keeping things organised.

When starting a business as an artist, you have to work with people that you trust and that believe in the product, in this case, my artwork. I love working hard and making sure I stay on top of marketing, licenses, ordering, and building out my five-year plan. Keeping the business going means working hard, finding ways to budget and build, and always pushing forward and overcoming challenges.

 

What challenges did you face in starting a business as an artist?

There were so many challenges and there still are. I think the hardest thing about starting a business as an artist is how the world evolves and how you have to stay ahead of the game. When I first started there was no such thing as social media and then, of course, Facebook changed everything.

After that came Instagram and now we have curated algorithms which at times make it frustrating trying to stay ahead. I’ve been doing art for twenty years and I’ve seen industries fall (the paper industry), I’ve seen industries rise (online selling) and it has never been easy.

There were also the times when people didn’t follow through on their deals so now I know from experience to always have a contract even with friends or people you’ve worked with for years. At any time things can change and the saying “it’s not personal it’s just business” will eventually bite you in the butt if you don’t protect yourself.

 

How did you connect with high profile companies like Disney for partnerships and catch celebrity attention?

I go to so many conventions and get my art in front of thousands of people. Having a booth with my art is like a beacon in the ocean. There are scouts from companies that go to cons and seek out talent. That’s how I got my chance to work with Disney, Hasbro, and Wiz Kids, to name a few. The celebrities? Well, that I can’t tell you. I think along the way people noticed my art and some of it went viral online, which may be how I got on their radar.

 

What are effective tools or methods you use to market yourself?

Going to conventions, trade shows, markets, etc. is an excellent way to market yourself. Being physically in front of a targeted audience that appreciates art and what I do is a great way to gain exposure as well.

I also do a lot of social media which keeps me in touch with my fans, and I love connecting with them, so we have a very personal relationship. I read and reply to comments and messages, and never take them for granted. Every single person has the ability to change the world so I will do my best to connect with people positively.

 

I see that you self-published your own series, Tanpopo. Can you tell us more about what it was like and how you did that? 

I self-published Tanpopo many years ago until Boom! Studios picked it up and published it as a graphic novel series. It was an interesting process and I learnt a lot about working with print companies. I recently released my newest collection of art, “The Beehive: A Collection of Fuzzbutts Vol. 1.” which is the first book I’ve published since Tanpopo. 

Book printing requires a lot of technical aspects, knowledge of paper, various printing techniques and marketing is also a considerable part of the publication process. I would say that self-publishing is one of the hardest projects that I’ve done.

 

What advice can you give to anyone else who is thinking of starting a business as an artist? 

Work hard, sacrifice, celebrate the successes, and learn from your mistakes. If you’re thinking of starting a business as an artist, you need to realise that being your boss and other people’s boss is extremely hard. You are in control of your destiny, so do not wait for others to find you or for success to fall out of the sky. 

I gave up a lot to build what I have, every day I give it my all and I still sacrifice. To be honest, it would be so much easier if I had a day job as I wouldn’t have the responsibility of an entire business resting on my shoulders. However, I wouldn’t be as fulfilled as I am now. I love my business and career, and for me, the hard work pays off. If you want to follow your passion, then be prepared to work your butt off for it.

 

Follow Camillia’s work

Facebook @camilladerricoart
Twitter @Helmetgirl
Instagram @camilladerrico

Camilla D’Errico is an urban contemporary painter, illustrator, character creator and comic artist residing in Vancouver BC, Canada. With roots in comics, Camilla’s beautiful work is seen on toys, clothes, accessories and more. Camilla is published by Random House/Watson Guptill books, Boom! Studios, Image Comics, IDW, Dark Horse Comics and more, with self-publishing roots for her literature-inspired series, Tanpopo. Camilla has distinguished herself as one of the breakthrough artists in Pop Surrealism.