Holly DeWolf Interview

As you may have read in earlier posts, I recently finished editing a book titled Breaking Into Freelance Illustration. It’s a great book full of business tips and self-promotion advice for artists (primarily illustrators and designers)–but I think the advice can really be applied to any creative endeavor. 

I had a chance to sit down for a quick Q&A with illustrator/author and super-energetic coffee aficionado Holly DeWolf. Here Holly talks about crossover in creative work and self promoting. Check it out:

Q. Your book is targeted to illustrators, but you wear a lot of hats—being a writer, for example. I think anyone who is creative could take something away from your book. What’s your view on the crossover between different creative occupations (for example, writing and illustration)?


Holly DeWolf

Holly DeWolf

A. I truly believe that creatives are good at many things. We usually have one or two major talents and some hidden talents that do not always surface right away. A job could require us to write something or create something in a different manner. This discovery can be an asset. Use it! 

It’s like being a Jack & Jill of many skills but we are actually good at it. This flexibility is good to have in our economic climate. Our many talents can add new life to our career, fill in an income void and shake things up. In my book I talk about tackling unconventional markets. There are many options to your career if you need a change or more revenue. To me its like the ripple effect-you may be a top notch illustrator but you could be a whiz at words that could lead to children’s books or other hidden possibilities. 

Q. In your book you give lots of advice about how to promote your work and yourself as a brand. What do you think is the number one thing that creatives need to do in order to succeed in a creative business?

A. Our talent comes natural for many of us. We usually end up spending the majority of our time time focusing on our skills and style. The other part of our effort is spent wondering how to get work. So, to me the number one area you need to focus on is knowing what you want! This ‘want’ can be a bunch of things such as: Who do you want to work for? What market/s do you want to focus on? 

Then the next step is asking for what you want. Asking is not an easy concept because it feels like walking the plank. As it turns out asking is a huge part of getting your creative needs met. Potential clients don’t guess so we have to get chatty!

Another very important question to ask yourself as you move forward: What is the creative market asking of you? This is a tough one. We really have to be paying attention to feedback, what clients notice about our style, and how versatile our work can be. This all comes down to our real creative strength and the desire to move in directions you were not expecting to go in but could lead to many great things and more earning potential.

Q. What inspires you?

A. So many things (open up the coffee flood gates)

• The big one for me is words! This can be anything from song lyrics, odd conversational banter, to quotes… I’m very narrative based. I write down everything.

• I love the creative process. This is primarily why I love to paint. Often what I start out with surprises me as it becomes something entirely different than what I had originally planned. Surprises can be a huge motivator. 

• Another is people. I love creative connections, finding out how people think and how they come up with ideas. 

• A funny thing I do daily is pick a theme of sorts and this can be an image in my mind or a word that helps me make connections to many other possibilities. 

• Quiet time allows me to decompress so I can really focus on the inward chatter that goes on. We cannot always pay attention when we become too busy. 

• Breaking out my Nikon helps. Photo essays are another playful thing that helps me break out of norms so I can tinker with a new way of looking. 

• Brainstorming alone or with someone is a playful way to break myself out of a slump or to help me look at things at another angle.

• I try to do something everyday that scares me which does not mean I am running with scissors while wearing stilettos juggling a coffee (quite an image) but this means breaking out of old habits &  letting go. It frees me up to go after things that I want in life & my career such as making that dreaded cold call or approaching a publisher about a book idea!! 

• Humor is another huge one that releases those wonderful brain chemicals and lightens the day and lowers the Stress-o-Meter which is always good for the creative soul.

Q. Running any business (even a creative one) requires a lot of diligence. How do you stay focused and on task? (You’re going to say coffee, aren’t you?)

A. Well, coffee is a wonderful asset to any creative career and without any it can make a day feel like sleep! I do try to look at my day in chunks or a series of baby steps. I approach my creative work life on the idea that it will be perfectly imperfect. This keeps me grounded because life happens and we have those tiny earth quakes that normally go on in any business. So my my approach involves escaping. I’ll go to my desk and try to avoid distractions as much as I can. I ignore the phone, the e-mail and turn off any chat sites that can distract me and put on the head phones. Sometimes when it gets too noisy or I need a new view, I’ll go to a coffee shop or just go sit outside. 

Distractions happen, computers act up and kids need snacks so I am learning to roll with it. My philosophy is the 20/80 rule. If I get that 80% done and if that 20% did not happen today, its OK! I’ll get it done when I gets it done. I did try to put in an order for a genie with a lamp, a decoder ring and a time machine but its not in the budget quite yet! So, in the mean time I’ll just keep doing what I do but I wouldn’t give up self employment for the word no matter how busy it gets.

Q. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Just begin! It sounds basic but its amazing how quickly we stop ourselves with excuses, lack of energy, lack of focus, or just plain fear. And the worst stopper of all is comparing our work to another illustrators/designers or artists work.

We think there are rules…rules to creativity, rules to illustration, rules to sketching and coming up with ideas… rules to creative business. There aren’t any. There are guidelines and creative blue prints that you can follow. However, creatives will come up with ideas and create in your own distinct way that makes you an attractive member of this creative corner of the world. There isn’t a box to creativity. When we stop over thinking we can just focus on doing. Just try to remember that creative life happens in between the trapeze bars! If your not paying attention you might miss something!!


“Chance favors the prepared mind.” -Louis Pasteur


Learn more about Breaking Into Freelance Illustration

Visit Holly DeWolf’s website


About seescottwrite

I'm a writer and editor. I've worked for Writer's Digest, HOW and Popular Woodworking and have authored and co-authored several books including "The Monster Spotter's Guide to North America," "The Unofficial Hobbit Handbook," and "The Writer's Book of Matches."
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