Rose on Illustration, Freelance and Productivity


Rose Wong is an aspiring freelance illustrator based in Brooklyn, NY. Her work is frequently featured in the New York Times, Bloomberg Businessweek, Buzzfeed, The New Yorker, and so on. From her studio in Brooklyn, she spoke to us about how she fell in love with illustration and making zines. Zines are self-published books that are circulated in different communities. Besides showing us all her beautiful plants, Rose also gave helpful tips on how to be more productive and motivated!

How did you fall in love with illustration?

I graduated from Pratt Institute in 2014 with a BFA in illustration and communication design. I am originally from a suburb in Michigan, so coming to New York City was a big change for me. When I applied to art school, I didn’t know what exactly I wanted to study. In high school, my dad once sat me down. “Rose, you have good grades, but you are not a doctor, not a lawyer or an engineer. You should do what comes easiest to you, which is art.” Now I have been doing illustration for five years since graduation.

I grew up reading a lot of books and drawing, which probably explains why I am primarily an editorial illustrator. Editorial design is on-demand work for media companies, like for news or scientific articles, and it usually has a very fast-paced turnaround. For op-eds, the turnaround time can be as little as 5 hours. Now, I am used to working very quickly, and I am better at conceptualizing things faster, and that has influenced my personal work as well. I tend to think of a lot of ideas and draw them all down at the same time. I like making my illustrations to be very simple and minimal. Once I have an idea, it is most effective if I can communicate it with the least amount of information.

Your work usually has strong concepts behind it. Do you ever feel like you are running out of ideas, and where is a good place to look for inspirations?

The internet is a great place for inspiration. If I have a project that has definitely been done before, I like to google it and do something that is not already there. For example, for the New York Times, I have done so many Trump illustrations. And you get to a point where you just don’t want to draw Trump anymore, so you have to find other ways to depict him without actually drawing his face. I would try to draw a silhouette or his back or use metaphors.

It is difficult because it feels like everything has been done before. On social media, I sometimes see something from an artist and think, “ahh this was an idea I was thinking and they did it BETTER!” On the bright side, it forces me to be creative and to think outside of the box constantly.

Besides the internet, I like to go outside and draw on location a lot. For example, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden is great. Other times, I talk to my friends because they all have different perspectives and experiences, and we can bounce ideas off of each other.

How would you describe your style, and do you ever feel confined by having a style?

I came to realize that style is how I express visual ideas, including my concepts and composition.

When I was in school, I had a Tumblr that had a big following, and people would call me “Tumblr famous” as a joke. When I look back at my Tumblr, I feel like I had a specific “style.” At the same time, I was constantly changing and growing as an illustrator, and my work online and in school looked very different. My work can appear very different, but the way I approach drawing is actually the same. You just have to live life and let your style develop naturally.

What is a project you are most proud of, and why?

I recently started riso printing, which is kind of like a combination of xerox and silkscreen. Riso printing is a printing process and it has a silkscreen quality and the colors blend together very nicely. I made a 28-page, 3-color risograph zine called “The Garden” last year, and it was my first zine project that had a loose, surreal narrative. I am really proud of printing it myself, and I loved the process of binding the zine. It gave my art another life, and it gets an extra dimension to my illustrations.

When did you start freelancing, and how do you get into the flow of working every day?

I started freelancing lightly in college, mostly private commissions and making music album covers. It was interesting because no one would hire me to draw anything that I usually drew, like plants or girls and their hair. I would almost say yes to anything because I was a student. I began freelancing full-time last year.

Having deadlines is really great to motivate myself to start working. Because of the nature of my work, I am usually given deadlines, which has molded me into a person who thinks and acts quickly. I plan my life around deadlines and having less time actually helps me do things more productively. I always fill my day with new and exciting projects.

Another helpful tip is to designate a space for working and separate it from other parts of your life. I live with a few other freelancers, and we have a studio in our apartment where we all work together. When I go into the studio, I know it is my workspace; when I go into the living room, I know it is my chill space.

Here is my last piece of advice: if you can’t focus, it is better to do it slowly than to not do anything at all. Procrastinating is always the worst. Even if you don’t feel like it, start slowly and eventually, you will get into the flow.

What does power mean to you, and what makes you powerful?

I feel powerful when I am self-sufficient. The burst of confidence comes when I complete a project to the best of my abilities, and I am happy about it. Since I do a lot of editorial work, I feel happy when my clients love my work. Financial sufficiency and stability are also very important to me. For me, it feels awesome to use my creative skills to pay for my life expenses. Because then I can do whatever I want! That’s why I am addicted to freelance and art!

Is there an item that gives you power when you need it?

A really good chef’s knife. My parents were immigrants, and I grew up in our family restaurant. Growing up, I helped out at the restaurant a lot and learned how to use a knife well. The best gift that my mom ever gave me was a very nice knife, and I love chopping vegetables with it. It reminds me of home and where I come from.

See more of Rose’s work on her website and follow her journey on Instagram!


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