By: Emily Maybanks
I recently picked up a copy of Popshot – an illustrated magazine full of short stories, flash fiction and poetry. What really caught my eye though, was the front cover.
I was so impressed by the illustration, that I reached out to the artist, Zach Meyer, who agreed to answer some questions for me.
Based in Brooklyn, New York, Zach is known for his detailed portraits and narrative works published most notably in The New York Times, Harper Collins and now internationally in Popshot magazine. He holds a BFA from Pratt Institute, New York, and an MFA with honours from the School of Visual Arts.
How did you get into design/illustration?
I was always drawing but in my junior year at Pratt I discovered editorial illustration, and that is when I identified as an illustrator. Being someone who is interested in telling stories and communicating ideas, illustration appealed to me more than a career of making my own personal work.
What inspires you in your work as an illustrator?
I currently look to the past for inspiration, very inspired by 60’s Lifestyle illustrators, J.C Leyendecker, Charles Dana Gibson and the etchings of Mary Cassatt. These artists reach a level of elegance that I always aspire to. Also my talented friends Erik Jones, Alessandra Maria, and Mari Juliano they push me to make better work.
What software do you use (if any) in your work?
I use Photoshop for sketches for clients and then some of my work is coloured and finished digitally. It allows for endless possibilities when trying to develop an idea for a client. But I will always stick to brush and ink on paper to do my line work because it feels the most natural to me.
How has your role as an illustrator changed over time?
I’ve noticed that more and more clients are hiring me for my ideas which is really exciting. In the beginning, I was more of a hired hand, people used me for my technical ability now I’m getting hired for both.
Typically, how long does an illustration take you to do?
Most illustrations take a minimum 12 hours some even longer if I had my way I would work on a piece for a week to two weeks. But editorial doesn’t always allow for that amount of time, which is good for someone like me that obsesses over details in a piece. Let’s just say if I got paid hourly I would be Bill Gates.
Can you describe a ‘typical’ day as an illustrator/designer?
I wake up early, around 6:30, sometimes earlier, grab a coffee and then draw until around 20:00, 21:00, taking breaks here and there. I am always communicating with clients throughout the day. When I am done with the workday, I go skateboarding around Brooklyn.
What advice would you give to someone who is considering a career in illustration?
Just to know that you have to put yourself out there, most of the work I’ve done has come from me reaching out to clients and galleries I’ve wanted to work for. No one finds you in your studio. Rejection is also a big part of it but know you don’t need everybody to like your work. You just need a couple of people that believe in you to create a career for yourself. My belief is if you believe in what you are doing eventually someone else will to.
What are the key qualities/skills that an illustrator needs, in your opinion?
Three main ones: be nice, be on time, and do your best work. If you can do all three you will get hired again and again.
What are you most passionate about in your illustration work?
Coming up with ideas and then finishing things traditionally. Both make me very happy and remind me of how lucky I am to be able to be an illustrator.
Similarly, is there anything about illustration that frustrates you?
When clients try and control every bit of the process. I’ve had clients that ask for files to colour things themselves or ask for in progress shots the weekend before something is due. To a certain degree you have to trust the artist, you hired them for their aesthetic. So that gets frustrating and often slows things down when clients want to have their hand in everything. But the positives of working with art directors overshadow these more difficult jobs.
Do you do anything else in addition to your illustration work?
I am very into skateboarding; something I’ve been doing since I was kid. I try and skateboard every day, at local skate parks and in the streets of New York. Skateboarding allows me to clear my head and focus on something else. I’m also very into reading books and comics; lately I’ve been super into Charles Burns and Adrian Tomine’s Graphic Novels.
Finally, can you tell me more about yourself in general? (Interests, inspirations, favourite music etc…
I am very inspired by photography; I often go to the Strand to find inspiration, pouring over their photography section. And just in general, life and relationships offer inspiration. Music inspiration as of lately has been Elliott Smith, Lotus Plaza, The Damned, and Bad Brains, but my tastes are always changing.
If you want to see more of Zach Meyer’s illustrations, you can visit his website by clicking here.