Views from the Middle with Katie Rodgers

This is part four in the Views from the Middle series wherein I post the same five questions to friends who are professionals in different creative industries (comics, film, music, art).  Inspired by this post, the series is an attempt to get an honest look at how different people define at success at different points in their career, hopefully encouraging young creatives to find their own definition in the process.

Katie Rodgers recently left her apparel design job at Reebok to pursue freelance illustration full time.  Her unique style has garnered clients such as Kate Spade, Coach, and Target and her work has been published in Lucky Magazine, ElleGirl, and The Great Big Book of Fashion Illustration.  Katie’s highly influential blog, is a how-to of modern self-promotion and she is a master of social media with over 400,000 followers on Pinterest.  Phew!  Success is a mouth-full.  Even though we went to the same high school, Katie and I didn’t actually meet until years later and she continuously blows me away with her brilliance, talent, unwavering positive attitude, and willingness to hang out with me until the wee hours of the morning whenever she’s in town.

At what point did you consider yourself a success?

I don’t think there’s any one point that I considered myself a success. Throughout my career (and life) I tend to think smaller events are what make me successful. Looking back, I see small steps clear as day (much like your post on different paths). Success isn’t one giant leap, it’s the little steps that get you there (insert mountain climbing analogy here). Looking back, I would have considered making it out to working on my own a huge success. Now that I’m here, I see it’s only one tiny step on my path. It’s one thing to start your own business, but there are a million other steps to create a truly successful business. Something I’m passionate about slowly building over time.

How long did it take you to get there?

Like I said above, each step and each success is different. I don’t think I’m even there yet (wherever there may be). It’s a constant journey, and one that’s always changing. Even just four or five years ago (heck even one year ago!)–my goals were completely different. I thought I was going to design products for X company… then I signed on to move to Barcelona with Reebok as an apparel designer just last year (and then ended up turning it down)… and now here I am, a full time illustrator. What’s important, is that you keep moving and striving for success in whichever direction life takes you… and to ALWAYS trust your gut.

Who do you look at in the illustration and/or fashion industry as someone you respect, that is “doing it right?”

This is a tough question. There are so many people “doing it right” in completely different ways… but here’s one example. I love how quirky Marc Johns work is. He’s got his style down to a tee and consistently brings something fun, simple, and fresh to the world. That’s one thing I admire about certain people; the ability to be creative and fresh, in the most simplistic way. When I think of Marc Johns, I can instantly see his style in my head. That’s what I call “doing it right”.

What’s the biggest surprise for how you expected life to be at your level vs. how it actually is?

Well for one, I didn’t think I’d be my own boss by 26 years old. I expected to be working for someone, and not always getting to do what I wanted to do. Now, I get to do exactly what I want to do (shout out to the internet for allowing me to do this) which is a pretty incredible feeling. Now that I’m working on my own, there’s a lot more business that needs to be accomplished than just illustrating. I’d say I only illustrate 40-50% of the time. The business side of things consumes a good chunk of my time. The amount of time it takes up was a big surprise at first… and one I’m still getting accustomed to. Fortunately, I enjoy it almost as much as I enjoy illustrating!

What advice would you give to someone wanting to break into illustration?

I remember being pretty insecure about my work in college just a few years ago, as are lots of people… simply because I hadn’t found my ‘thing’ yet. Actually, I had found my thing (fashion illustration) then, but I didn’t think it could be a career for me… so I always thought of it as a hobby. Looking back, I remember getting so nervous thinking about going on interviews, starting new jobs, etc. I still get a little jittery when meeting with a client for the first time (it’s sort of like an interview, right?), but I’m obviously much more confident about it now. It’s important to remember that people are just people, and to be confident in your work. Confidence in what you do, or what you want to do, is just as important as the work itself.

Also, I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to put yourself out there. With the internet, there’s really no reason you shouldn’t have a website. If you don’t, you’re probably not going anywhere too fast. The world wide web is great at spreading things like wildfire… so if you’re not using pinterest, twitter, facebook, etc… why not? So many people are in shock when I tell them I’ve gotten some of my largest commissions and jobs via twitter or pinterest. Crazy, right? I was also given the incredible opportunity of sitting down with Alicia Keys not too long ago–all because of a tweet she posted. The internet makes the world a whole lot smaller, and much more approachable.  Get online, find your niche, and start the conversation.

You can find Katie on Pinterest, Twitter, or view her work and find out more at

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