Too old for the industry?

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While browsing twitter a few days back I read a thread which began with a simple question ‘Am I too old to get a job in a studio? I’m 24.’

The replies were plenty, reassuring her that she was not too old, many claiming they were working in a studio at the ripe old age of 26! Others had people in the studio ‘as old as dirt’ at 32.

This certainly hit a nerve with me and many ‘older’ professionals I know working in the animation and illustration industries – we fight our demons regularly about whether we have drawn our last good scene or illustration and how to stay relevant.

These thought processes are nothing new, the industry of drawing has always been changing and morphing with new techniques and technologies and it is our job to stay with the game. Surely with age and experience comes wisdom, but when it comes to being an animator or an illustrator is it a job you can pursue into middle and old age or is change moving too swiftly for us old curmudgeons to keep up?

I’ve put this question to a couple of my very favorite illustrators who maintain a high level of visibility and relevance through clever social media engagement and self-­‐marketing. And guess what? They are over 40!

Sarah McIntyre, who is a champion for the cause of crediting illustrators with #PicturesMeanBusiness campaign she started in 2015 and Mattias Adolfsson who launched his illustration career at 42 gave us a little insight into what strategies have they identified for being able to work as long as they want to.

“I keep an eye on the oldest illustrators and see how they do it. I see some of them getting jaded about certain things and I try to assess how I can keep that from happening to me, whether it’s keeping up with technology, keeping the look of my work fresh” Sarah McIntyre – illustrator & Writer

One consistent tip from my peers is practice your craft. When times are quiet it could be so easy to kick back and enjoy the break, but practice is the key to maintaining a flow of work. Experiment; you may hit on something new that brings that extra level of relevance to your work.
While age brings a certain amount of cynicism it also brings knowledge of budgets, insights on dealing with clients and situations and also a level of responsibility in life, which makes us a highly reliable resource.

“Work’s too precarious to feel smug; it could all end tomorrow if my retinas detach.” Sarah McIntyre – illustrator & Writer

While creative work can be excruciatingly painful at times, we do it because we love it and couldn’t think of a nicer way to spend our days than staring at a blank page pulling our last remaining grey hairs out.

“I tried to find something I could work with for the rest of my life and I could not see myself working for a company much longer. Choosing the path I choose will probably force me to work for the rest of my life but it does not matter, I’m working on something I love.” Mattias Adolfsson -­ illustrator

“The tipping point in my career I think it’s when literary festivals started inviting me to do events. That seemed to open a lot of doors, in media, paid school events, awards, etc. I think in the run up to that, getting involved with comic festivals really helped give me confidence in presenting myself and my work, and those tended to be much more open to anyone; you just need to pay a little bit of money to book a table.” Sarah McIntyre – illustrator & Writer

“The great tipping point was when I decided to quit the game industry (at the age of 42) and start working as a freelance illustrator instead.” Mattias Adolfsson -­ illustrator

“I love trying new ways of working, and new ways of collaborating with other people. I suppose collaboration might be my big thing. My first real success at it was doing Comic Jams with David O’Connell, which led to our Jampires book contract. (We both wrote and both drew the picture book.) For the last five years or so, I’ve been collaborating on books with Philip Reeve, which has given my career a huge boost, and we turn out better books than I’d come up with by myself.” Sarah McIntyre – illustrator & Writer

“I try to encourage younger artists, mostly just because I like their work, but also because these will be my colleagues when I’m older, and I may rely on them to fight our corner against ever creeping grabs of our income in publishing.” Sarah McIntyre – illustrator and writer

Author: Ann Kiernan

Ann is an Irish illustrator and animator based in Berlin. Her illustrations are mainly light fresh watercolours and brooding inks. Her style is a blend of realism with a whimsical flavour.