So, You Want to Be…An Illustrator

We all know the old adage, “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life“. However, pursuing your passion can be a daunting endeavor when you don’t know how to turn that passion into a career. That’s why we’re introducing a brand new series on The College Juice: “So, You Want to Be A…” Each installment will focus on a different career path, with a new expert or two sharing their insights into that particular field. We’ll pick their brains and find out how they got where they are, where they find their motivation, and what their advice is for students looking to work in a similar field.

Artist Shot - ThumbnailWe had the opportunity to speak with Chris B. Murray, a Philadelphia-based illustrator. Chris grew up in Norfolk, a small town in upstate New York, hidden in the forests along the St. Lawrence river. In 2006, he graduated from the R.I.T. illustration program, with a creative writing minor. Shortly after, he was given his first real client job. With little money in his pocket, he moved to Philly to further pursue his art career in 2008.

In the fall of 2011, Chris left his Art Direct/Graphic Design position and never looked back. Since then, he’s worked solely for himself. Chris was kind enough to share with us his insights into the world of illustration. We covered everything from what he loves most about drawing, to advice for students who need some extra motivation. Whether you’re currently majoring in the arts or just considering different options for the future, keep reading.

When did you first become interested in illustration?

It’s something I’ve always been interested in – even as a 1st grader I used to illustrate my favorite toys. However, I wasn’t always aware that a person could make a living from illustration. That concept really didn’t hit me until my sophomore year in college.

What do you love about drawing? Do you have a favorite piece?

It really sets my mind at ease. It also gives me something to look forward to. I love to draw and create and get excited about new ideas or concepts that hit me randomly throughout the day. I honestly think without art, I would be terribly unhappy.

Describe a typical work day for you.

Well, depending how much work I have on my plate, I typically wake up between 11:30am – 12:30 pm, get some breakfast,  and check my emails. I waste some time on the internet and take my dog, Chunk, for a walk. Around 4, I sit down and start working until 7:30 or 8PM, when I stop to eat dinner with my wife and hang out for about an hour or so before bed. After a short nap, I wake up around 11PM and work through the night into the early morning.

Night time is when I work best. It’s quiet and I’m alone without any distractions…I love that. Just me, the paper, and a movie/music or podcast.

What is your favorite part of the job?

Being able to stamp the product with my name and not another company’s. That was always important to me. Getting the recognition for making something. There is no better feeling than when somebody recognizes your work or is a fan or your work and you know it’s because of all the hard work and dedication that you spent crafting it.

Is there anyone in your field that you admire? Who?

There are really too many to list. I grew up studying the work of graffiti artists and comic book illustrators, so there are a good bunch of them in those fields. I admire anyone who stuck with it and never threw in the towel…as much as they wanted to. It’s not an easy road to travel!

Holy Honey - Chris B Murray

As you know, at Barnes & Noble College our main focus is our students and their success both in school and outside of school. What advice do you have for any students hoping to pursue a career in your field?

I would keep the connections that you have made while in school strong. A good number of your friends and acquaintances will go on to work in all levels of the field after graduating. It’s good to keep in touch with them – not only for work, but for a sense of community. Those are your peers and it’s important to keep that circle strong.

Also, be a sponge and soak up as much information from other students and professors while in school. Have a strong work ethic, develop thick skin, and be very open to constructive (and not so constructive) criticism because you are going to face a good deal of that once school is out!

Did you have a favorite class or project you worked on while in school? Describe it.

I liked a good deal of my classes, but I liked my professors even more. They were the ones who really lit the fire in me during my sophomore year.

Were there any student organizations or clubs you belonged to that you think were important to your success? 

Unfortunately not.  I wish I had been more outgoing in those areas….instead, I was a stubborn college kid.

Was there anyone in particular who helped mentor you?

There were a handful of people along the way who really helped me piece everything together. I’m not going to rattle off names, but they know who they are. I will say my parents and family played a strong part in me getting to where I am. They were a big, BIG help along the way.

What jobs did you have before you got to where you are now? Any that stand out?

[I had] so, so many side jobs. In college, I worked in the men’s club house at a local country club. After college, I worked for my brother’s contracting business for a short period…that is hard work, but very rewarding. In 2008, when I touched down in Philly, I worked for an art / framing store. Then, I did a bit of graphic design work until I quit that grind and became my own boss. Greatest feeling on the planet!

Now that you are a successful artist and illustrator, think back to when you started this journey. Where did you think it would lead you? Do you have tips or advice for students who want to stay focused and motivated?

Looking back, I always envied the careers of more established artists. I’d study them so much that I would end up comparing my age with their age at a specific point in their career. That was a good and bad thing to do. It was bad to get caught up in someone’s work so much that I risked losing sight of my own path. It was good because it showed me that reaching similar goals was not impossible. So, I persevered. I stopped looking so much at their work or client lists and focused on my own. [I looked at] where I wanted to go and who I wanted to reach with my work.

It’s important to stay focused and positive. If your work is strong and you really have something to say, people will take notice. Even if your work isn’t strong at the beginning, don’t be afraid to show it. Your work will never stop growing, so don’t be afraid to share the process. People like to see the growth of an artist…it’s fascinating to look back and track the path of an artist.     

Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

Work hard, be kind…keep an open mind!


Which career should our next installment of So, You Want to Be… focus on? Tweet us using #TheCollegeJuice with your suggestions!

Feeling inspired? Keep up with Chris B. Murray!

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