Courtney Knight is an illustrator and maker based in Portland, OR. Courtney graduated with her BFA in Illustration from Lesley University College of Art & Design in Boston, MA. She is currently working on illustrating books, freelancing, and an array of wonderful personal projects. We love Courtney's uniquely whimsical illustration style and look forward to watching her career blossom.
Tell me about your path to becoming an illustrator.
I grew up in Coeur d’Alene, ID and also spent a year in Winthrop, MA when I was ten, where my aunt and I would go to the water and draw the sail boats which then lead me to go to art school in Boston, MA at Lesley University College of Art and Design graduated in 2014 I eventually made it back to the west, now in Portland, OR. When I was younger I would make up drawing games and force my cousins and brother to draw with me- “You have the green gel pen you can only draw green things.” Now I’d like to think I’m more open with color and concept.
Right now I have a contract to illustrate a couple children's books, collaborations with books and textile design, consistent commissions drawing people's homes, and a shop stocked with originals while working on personal projects and working in the workshop at Tanner Goods.
You are in the beginning stages of your freelance career, how are you working to get noticed and land clients?
Work feeds more work. Instagram has given me connections to work and solid friend groups. Just recently I was asked to be a part of Define Magazine since the founder was talking with a woman that had photographed me and my work a year ago- we met through Instagram and lived nearby each other at the time. I think it’s incredible that I was a part of this conversation, that she thought to recommend my work just from that day of collaborating together. Sending out mailers is also a practice that is important and I need to do more of, it’s a reminder that you exist, this is my work, and I am available. Also trying new things out of my comfort space like going away on an artist residency, talking on a podcast, keeping pen pals, going to new social gatherings.
Do you have any tips for being your most productive?
The “it’s never enough” sentence fuels me to work harder, there’s always more to make. Leaving the house. Start at a coffee shop on the weekends. On weekdays head to studio after my other work. Know what time of day you are most productive- when the sun is out is when I can get the most done, when it’s dark I shift to relax or social mode. Keep a schedule. Write everything out in hierarchy of priorities. Take small breaks with walks. Have a group to meet and critique with consistently helps keep me accountable.
What has been your greatest struggle as a freelancer so far?
How to balance all my jobs. Figuring out timing of what I can realistically get finished in a day and leaving the studio or stop work to sleep. Lately I’ve been lost with what I want to spend my time with since I am interested in many projects- making clothes, children’s products, children’s books, editorial, journaling - I’m tripping over all the ideas that don’t get made fast enough.
What is your favorite thing about freelance?
It’s sending out a part of me that I am already doing and someone wants to pay me for it?
Each time I draw, it’s a secret I’m giving out. I’m attempting to be transparent by sharing this vulnerable internal thought or joke and I hope people get it. It can be exhausting but it’s my way of analyzing myself, which is important to move forward.
Where do you draw your inspiration?
Surrounding myself with people who constantly inspire. I go over to their houses and ask them to show me everything they are working on, any future projects, current inspirations. My closest people feed me. Going to comedy nights. Reading poetry. People watching/awareness in public settings and keeping them in my sketchbook for later.
Who are your dream clients?
Land of nod, Chronicle, Penguin Random House, NY Times, local shops.
Do you have any tips for dealing with the nitty-gritty business details?
Make all the lists. And trap yourself in a coffee shop with nothing to work on but the business details. I procrastinate on this part, I just always want to be doing the making. I file my out-of-shop work using postcards in a tin box, I draw a mini version of the project with the due date and transaction details and file it under the client name.
Since you are your own boss, do you have any advice for maintaining a work-life balance?
Have a separate studio space. Make coffee time with a friend who will also want to get work done. Schedule work/play time (feel guilty during whichever one you choose. Try to let go of guilt, balance better tomorrow) Learning to say No has been a new happening for me this year which is a wave of calm.
The 3 greatest attributes you need to be a freelance creative are:
Ambition, transparency, wit