“Stay curious. Try a lot of things and be okay with being bad at them”- wise words from Illustrator, author and founder of Chipper Things – Becky Simpson, who tells us about her Creative Residency with Adobe and a simple, but great idea ‘The Brag list’, which we should all be doing!
What are some of your earliest creative memories and what lead you into design? It started early. In Kindergarten I was *devastated* when I missed fingerprinting day. In second grade, I would go to school an hour early to throw on the pottery wheel. Our art teacher, Mr. Schmucker, founded the coveted “Artist of the Week”. I still remember how much pride I had when it was my turn for my work to be displayed in the hall. I went to the same school from elementary through high school (it was a very small town), so I always had the reputation as the art kid. I participated in musicals, art and sports, but the latter was not my strength. One day when I was really bummed about being bad at volleyball, my older brother told me that if there was such thing as First Team All Conference for art, I would have gotten it. I knew that only confirmed that I really was as bad at volleyball as I thought, but the sentiment still satisfied me. Art was my first love and everyone knew it.
Give us the elevator pitch on what you do. “I’m an illustrator,” is what I say when I need to keep it brief. But the better answer is that I’m an illustrator, author and founder of Chipper Things. My second book, The Roommate Book, was just released in June. It’s a non-serious take on roommate life and contains an illustrated hodge podge of friendship activities. I want it to prompt readers to host silly parties, build blanket forts, prank each other and just make great memories. Chipper Things is my product line. It’s an online store (but I’m also getting into more retail stores) that carries pins, notebooks, totes, cards and art prints with my work. I spent the last year designing it and launched it thanks to my Creative Residency with Adobe.
What do you look for in a great portfolio? Personality. I don’t mean that the thing has to be slathered with slapstick jokes, but give me something that shows that you really like what you do. Students get to make up their projects, so why not make every project your dream project? Obviously having strong work that’s appropriately displayed is important too. I want to work with somebody who is confident and humble at the same time. If you’re just out of college, everybody knows you’re fresh from the oven. Use that to your advantage. If you can show that you’re teachable, that’s huge.
I think I speak for everyone in saying that it’s nice to work with nice people.
How did you develop your style as an illustrator and what tips would you have for others? I’ve never set out to develop a style. I think when you do something over and over, it naturally evolves and sometimes a style is born. What I do now looks much different than it did when I was in college, when I was using a rulers and cross hatching. And that was much different from how I drew in high school, which was designing clothes and drawing* fashion models (*attempting). Even now I really don’t worry too much about seeking a style. I’m acutely aware of my drawing tendencies, which have become my style, but I always want to challenge myself and get better. I’m hoping that means the style will change.
At the end of the day, I want to create in a way that’s the most fun and natural for me. That’s when my work is usually the most interesting and sincere. And even better, when you make things in such a way that you have fun making them, you’re creating a process that is actually sustainable.
C.S. Lewis says, “Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.”
What career advice would you give your 16yr old self? Stay curious. Try a lot of things and be okay with being bad at them. Everyone knows you have no idea what you’re doing—this is good! You’re so young!, so the sooner you’re okay with that, the more things you can try. Buy a ukulele, keep up with the pottery, take an improv class, volunteer, wear something bold, cook dinner for the family, etc. Care less about what other people think. You’ll learn this sooner or later, so try to learn it sooner.
What has been your highlights since you started out? My professional milestones have been acquiring two book deals, being one of the first two Adobe Creative Residents and launching Chipper Things.
Now I want to talk about the brag list. I started this a couple of years ago and I’ve been really into it. It’s a simple Word doc where I write down the month and then add bullet point brags below as they come up. They’re everything from personal to professional to cool-on-paper to “totally lame to everyone but me”. I started it because I thought the little victories deserved to be celebrated, but what’s come of it has been so much better than what I could have imagined! It makes me very grateful for the past and hopeful for the future. Some of the things on the list were a big deal six months ago and now they’re not. It reminds me that some of my crazy ideas might not be so crazy after all. It’s easy to take a lot of things for granted until you don’t have them or you remember what it was like when you didn’t. When I first started freelancing a few years ago, I remember thinking, “I am so jealous of anyone who never has to worry about paying rent. What a luxury!” Like I said, it’s hopeful and humbling at the same time.