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Illustrator Jamie Zollars on 5 Keys to Living Like a Creative Professional

During the SCAD Atlanta Illustration Forum this month, I had the chance to sit down with illustrator and educator at MICA (Maryland Institute College of Art), Jamie Zollars. In our talk, Jamie shared how she has taken the scenic route to finding her voice, style and strength. In a candid interview, she explained that having support, being powerful, present, patient and most of all being yourself are the keys to being prepared for anything that awaits.

Have a steady support group. (And if you don’t have one, get one together!)

Image courtesy of Jamie Zollars.

Jamie Zollars: The trick is to make it consistent. Surround yourself with supportive people; the ‘yes-and’ people, who add to you. Limit negative people in your immediate circle; you don’t want one pulling the group down … While I was in school I joined the SCBWI, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, because I knew that I probably was going to do books; I joined while I was still a student.  Also, right out of school you need a group, at least 6 people. [My group] did a lot of networking together; there’s power in numbers and also confidence. We would go to gallery shows in groups together or we would do promotions together. It was like support socially, moral support, emotional support. I was always having to be accountable … You also need to have your significant other on-board.

Learn what you need and ask for it.

Image courtesy of Jamie Zollars.

JZ: Your whole life you’ve been told where to go next, and you just assume because of all the standardized testing all through grade school, you just kind of assume you’ll get what you need and you just believe what people say. It feeds right into college. And then you just take all the classes kind of like high school … [I learned later] that it’s more than just getting that education; it’s about business and [having] personality. I had this idea that it was like a meritocracy; that I work as hard as I work and I work the hardest. I really did the work; that’s a huge part of it, but it’s not the bulk of it. Nobody told me what to do. Now I know how important teachers are; get to know your instructors. But I was going to school now to get the things I needed. I became a little more aggressive in getting what I needed.

Be Present and Maintain that Connection.

Image courtesy of Jamie Zollars

JZ: If you are shy, be active in growing in social confidence. Be assertive to ask for what you need or want. Even if it is uncomfortable, learn to communicate and be sociable. Become a part of the community. Taking an improv class was great for me! You really learn to listen to what other people are saying; and to respond to what people are actually saying. This will help you find your own voice.

Just admit it: you’re an artist; be yourself. 

Image courtesy of Jamie Zollars.

JZ: I had to stop pretending I was trying to do something more important. You know it feels weird to have no work, to have no job, nobody’s paying you; you’re sitting there and you have to draw. It’s hard for your creativity not to be stifled by the stress of that situation. [It’s] how outsiders look at that. People who have a job, like 9-5 will be like, ‘Oh, wait, so you just sat around and painted all day? Who’s the painting for? How much are you getting paid?’ There’s this weird amount of guilt. It’s a weird thing, but for whatever reason, I tried to justify wanting to draw pictures for a living.  

Be patient with yourself.

Image courtesy of Jamie Zollars. 

JZ: I remember going to a talk [at the end of my time at Art Center]. The first speaker was Camille Rose Garcia, a painter in the OA area. One of the things she said was that her professor told her when she graduated that it was going to take a good 15 years for her to settle in and become that person she wanted to be and start making that work that is her work. I was thinking I would be different, more immediately doing what I was meant to do. In the end, it has taken about this long for me to find the thing that I do and be willing to say ‘yes’ to the work that I like and ‘no’ to the projects that weren’t me. 

Starting out as a staff writer & visual contributor in the Spring of 2016, Christine soon became the replacement Campus Correspondent at Her Campus Savannah College of Art and Design for the 2016-17 school year. In January 2017, she facilitated the launch of the SCAD Atlanta branch's own editorial launch, apart from the Savannah campus, leading the team to win some 2017 Her Campus awards!  She is an illustrator and avid history lover, and she also served in the Army as an Analyst and went to Bethel Ministry School before attending SCAD.  Her goal, as an illustrator, writer and in life in general, is to mine life of the treasure contained within.  She loves to find and put on display ideas, people (portraiture) and beautiful things.  Valuable things that are all around us in our everyday life in the form of friends, coworkers, classmates, nature, even industry.  She loves music (even writing songs and performing!), dance and new adventures.   Eventually she plans to write and illustrate children's books, have her own business featuring greeting cards, paper products, and her own revolutionary online/physical editorial publication.  For more about Christine check out her website at www.christineburney.com.
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