She’s worked with a roll call of the world’s most renowned luxury brands including Dior, Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Tiffany & Co but Megan Hess admits that in the beginning she had no idea that her love of drawing could one day become a successful business and career. Starting out studying graphic design and working as an art director for advertising agencies in London, she continued illustrating on the side until her first big break which involved a 3am phone call from Sex and the City author Candace Bushnell’s publisher in 2006 asking her to illustrate the author’s next book, One Fifth Avenue. Since then Megan has released several of her own books including the recent children’s book Claris the Chicest Mouse in Paris. Here I chat to Megan about doing Skype phone calls in her pyjamas, moving on from drawing pizza toppings to high end fashion and the one thing that keeps her organised.
What inspired you to become an illustrator?
I always knew that I wanted to draw for a living but when I was growing up I had no idea that a fashion illustrator was an actual job! It was just always the thing I loved to do. I still feel incredibly lucky to do what I love what I do as a profession.
How did you get your start?
I studied graphic design because it felt like a ‘real’ job in the art world, but really always wanted to be an illustrator – I just never knew back then that it was a possible career choice! After working as an Art Director in ad agencies for several years I packed everything up and moved to London. It was in London that I worked in a million different creative jobs and in my final job there realised that I had a burning desire to be an artist. At this time I’d became the art director for Liberty department store. Whist I loved art-directing fashion I loved illustrating it more. I started to do very small illustrations for Liberty and from this art directors saw my work and little commissions began to follow. After about a year I found myself with non-stop work. I wasn’t earning a fortune but I’d never been happier and I knew I was going to do this forever.
As my clients got bigger and better I was able to be a little more selective and just work on briefs that I knew had a great creative opportunity. Then in 2006 I got a call in the middle of the night from Candace Bushnell’s publisher asking if I would illustrate her next novel ‘One Fifth Avenue’. This was when things took off at rapid speed for me. Her book became a New York Times bestseller and I met with Candace and she asked me to illustrate all her previous books including the cover of ‘Sex and The City’. Once ‘Sex and the City’ was released I was contacted by TIME and Vanity Fair magazine in New York to create portraits for them.. Following this, I began illustrating for Tiffany & Co, Chanel, Dior, Cartier, Italian Vogue, Bergdorf Goodman, Prada, Fendi, Harrods….. Ironically, at the same time as my work finally took off I had my first baby! Its funny, I always tell people that I haven’t really slept since 2006!!
What’s the biggest business challenge you’ve faced and how did you overcome it?
Managing it all! In the very beginning the struggle was to find great projects to work on. I had no clients and I wasn’t yet a mother so the initial challenge was to get things moving. Then once my work took off after Sex and The City I had the opposite problem – I had lots of great projects and brands coming to me to collaborate and I also had just had a baby so it was quite overwhelming. Today I still find the biggest challenge juggling it all. I can now only take on about 20 per cent of the jobs that come to me each year so I have to be very careful about what projects are the best fit –I’ve learnt that its better to do a smaller amount of jobs at 100 per cent then lots of jobs at 50 per cent. At the end of the day I try to base this decision on what projects will have the best creative outcome–some projects have huge budgets and others are tiny but I always choose to work on projects that will fulfil me creatively.
What’s been the biggest turning point in your career? Why?
I think the biggest turning point for me was realising that absolutely anything is possible–it was my mindset. It wasn’t a big life changing event that happened and brought me to this realisation, it was just moment in time where it became very clear to me. It changed my outlook from ‘I wonder what will happen to me?’ to ‘I wonder what I will decide to do’. Once my mindset changed I noticed everything changing. Theres nothing more powerful than a positive outlook.
Who or what is your biggest inspiration?
Everything! I love just getting out of my own little world and seeing how other people dress, live and create. I’m an observer and I love all the little details that make people interesting. I also think travel has a huge influence on me and provides endless inspiration.
How do you start each day?
On weekdays I’m up early. I switch on my coffee machine and drink a quick espresso, I do hair and make up in about five mins and I dress professionally from the waist up. This is so I can do any Skype calls on my computer to clients overseas (I keep my pyjama pants on the bottom because they can’t see that bit!). After the calls I’m getting my kids breakfast and ready for school. Then once they’ve been dropped to school I walk to my studio (it’s just metres up the street from my home) I walk in and greet the lovely girls that I work with, I switch on the music, light a candle and I’m ready to draw!
What drives you?
I live to create. All my passion and purpose in life comes from being with my husband and children but my drive comes from my love of creating. Sometime my heart races with a fresh piece of white paper in front of me…What could I draw? What could I create? I love the process of bringing something to life.
What’s one thing you’ve achieved that you’re incredibly proud of?
Getting paid to do what I love for a living and being a mother. I see that as a huge luxury to be able to do both and it’s something that I’m very grateful for every day. I’ve also been able to donate many pieces of my work for charities and causes all over the world and in some small way I feel proud that one of my drawings may have helped someone in need.
What are some tools – whether it be a gadget, an app, a favourite site – that help you manage all your various projects?
I love my iPad and I’m always on Instagram BUT my biggest organisational app is my actual team! I work with a very talented team who are much more organised than me and they keep me focused and on time for all our projects!
What do you think has been the key to your success?
I’ve always believed that ability will only get you so far and attitude is everything. I think that in the very beginning (before Sex and the City) I gave 100 per cent to every single illustration job that came my way. Most of the projects that came to me in the very beginning were NOT inspiring–for example I was asked to illustrate a 375-page horse manual that on completion was cancelled! After six months of work I received a tiny ‘kill fee’ and really felt like giving up on my dream of becoming a fashion illustrator. Another soul destroying job that almost made me give up was a pizza toppings illustration for a pizza company. I remember very clearly the day I finished drawing that–I turned off the light in my studio at the end of the day and thought to myself….I think its time to give up. That very night at 3am in the morning is when I received the call from Candace Bushnell’s publisher and my life would be changed forever. In short, I think never giving up is the biggest lesson I’ve learnt. My favourite quote that relates: ‘Those who failed, didn’t realise how close they were to success before they gave up!’
Where do you hope to take your career in the future?
I never put one specific goal out there but my dream is always the same–if I can continue to create and draw for a living I will be the luckiest girl on the planet!
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt in your career?
That you never regret taking the high road. Over the years there have been many tricky moments and times where I’ve felt very frustrated or disappointed on a project but I’ve always taken the high road and put being professional above anything else. I’ve looked back and always felt so proud and grateful that I handled things that way.
What’s your working style? Ie where do you love to work? What’s your most productive time of day?
I do the majority of my drawing at my desk in my studio. I really love my workspace. I’ve always loved to create a space that’s inspiring to work in. My current studio is filled with all my artwork and all the little things that are inspiring to me.
I think there’s two different times when I’m most creative. The first is when I’m actually in the process of drawing a concept that I’m excited about. It’s almost like time stands still and I’m just very immersed in the process. The other time that I’m really creative is when I step away from my work. It might be when I’m travelling or on holidays, I think stepping back gives you that much needed perspective to be more creative.
What’s one motto you live by?
Enjoy the journey as much as getting to the destination. Sometimes I think we spend so much time getting to the next thing that forget to stop and enjoy the process of getting there.
What’s the biggest tip you can give to other women out there trying to cultivate a successful business or career?
Decide what is the one thing that would make you excited to spring out of bed on a Monday morning and do for a career. Write down a plan and strategy to make that dream happen and start on it TODAY. You don’t need to suddenly quit your current job or dramatically change your life but taking the first step is always the hardest, so decide to do it today. Never, ever give up on that dream. If its something that you love then you will enjoy the process regardless of the outcome.