Patience, persistence, and portfolio: Advice from illustrator Eric Wilkerson

In his nearly 20-year career, illustrator Eric Wilkerson has worked in the video gaming, film, commercial, advertising, and publishing industries, as both a staff member and freelancer, providing concept art, matte painting, and art direction services.

He’s designed characters and theatrical costumes, works in digital and traditional media … it’s a wide-ranging resume. And his passion, and specialty, is scifi illustration — a true creation of other characters, and other worlds.

Wilkerson presents a Virtual Artist Talk Tuesday, March 23, an opportunity not only to get an overview of his work, but also to gain some insight into what’s needed to make a go of a life in the creative arts.

Artist Talk by illustrator Eric Wilkerson

Tuesday, March 23, 11:30 am, via Zoom

This event is open to the general public; please email jkopf@pcad.edu to register for the link

For young artists just leaving art school: What are the most useful “non-art” skills that you can cultivate for clients?

EW: First and foremost, I think having patience is the most useful skill to cultivate since this career is not going to happen for you overnight.  This is a journey, NOT a race. You’ll need to understand that even if your portfolio is amazing, it might take time for your work to find the right audience.  It could take months or maybe years for you to build up a consistent enough client base to call it a career.  Be patient.

The second skill I say is work ethic.  You just can’t stop producing portfolio samples after you leave school and hope what you did in class will be enough to land you work.  Sometimes it will, but most of the time the stuff currently in your book does not speak to who you are or what you really truly want to create.  When you leave school you need to set aside the time to focus on making YOUR portfolio that will help you stand out from the sea of competition.

You have to want this.  A career in the arts is not like some vocational training where you have mastered a skill in a few months and can go get a steady job.  This is a commitment of time and energy.  You have to want this so bad that you sacrifice other things less important than improving your skillset because if not, someone else in this country or abroad will.  They will be at their digital or traditional easel putting in work late into the evening while you’re binge-watching something.

image by Eric Wilkerson

Image courtesy Eric Wilkerson

Your website lists so many avenues that you pursue with your art: character design, digital media, illustration, storyboards, theatrical costumes … is there a common thread that runs through it all?

EW: I made a conscious effort to diversify my portfolio back in SVA so that I had multiple backup plans just in case Plan A of diving right into being a scifi fantasy illustrator didn’t work out. I’m glad I did, because for the first 10 years of my career I did everything but. In so doing I discovered that some fields of illustration pay infinitely more than others, often with far less work involved.

The common thread that runs through all my different experiences is a real love for film, animation, and scifi fantasy art. So I was able to find something in each of these different paths to latch on to in order to make the work enjoyable while also putting in work to get to where I wanted to be.

Image courtesy Eric Wilkerson

Image courtesy Eric Wilkerson

How has the last year, with pandemic considerations, affected how you approach your work (or has it not changed at all)?

EW: In addition to freelance illustration I have also taught digital illustration and concept art for the past two years. Before that I had been working remotely for several years. So I wasn’t really leaving my basement studio for anything before the pandemic.  The only difference now is trying to juggle what I love to do with having my entire family home all day with me.  The upside of last year was being able to watch my son take his first steps at home rather than be told it happened at daycare.

 

image by Eric Wilkerson, Tristan Strong Destroys the Wordl

“Tristan Strong Destroys the World,” by Eric Wilkerson.