Turning a passion into a career

Andrew Kolb never thought he would be able to turn his art into a career.

Photo by Heather Davidson
Photo by Heather Davidson

Now, the Kitchener-Waterloo native produces illustrations for clients across the country, in the United States and internationally.

“I ended up going to school for graphic design at Conestoga [College] … and then as I started in that industry, I tended to take on more of the illustrative projects without really knowing that it would be a career or something you could do full time,” Kolb said.

“It wasn’t that I went to school and then started a career … as I did my day work at a design studio, in the evenings I would be developing a personal style or what I wanted to do as a illustrator, and slowly transitioning from the one to the other.”

However, Kolb didn’t just decide to take up illustration one day; for as long as he could remember he had been drawing.

“I’m sure if you asked my mom she would say that I’ve been holding something in my hand and drawing with it since I’ve had the dexterity to do it,” he laughed.

When asked how he would describe his style, Kolb explained it is typically genial.

“I think I generally try to approach my projects with a sense of fun and enjoyment,” he said. “I want people to smile when they look at the work. Whether it’s because it’s fun and happy or because there’s some sort of kernel of an idea inside that they’ve figured out and found joy from that.”

“I enjoy what would be called fan art. I like reinterpreting an existing property and adding something new.”

Most of his pieces use bright colours and fun cartoon characters. Kolb noted he generally enjoys character-driven work, as demonstrated by several of his pieces that feature Disney and Pixar characters.

“I enjoy what would be called fan art,” he explained. “I like reinterpreting an existing property and adding something new to it.”

He said his favourite piece of his at the moment is a zine he worked on that reinterprets an old Zelda game using a simplified style.

Kolb doesn’t just draw inspiration from existing characters; he said old advertisements and furniture design from the 1950s, as well as comics, provide him with ideas for both personal and professional projects.

Though Kolb’s illustrations are enjoyed all over the world, he still finds flaws in his work.

“I tend to look at my older work — like anything older than two years — and see all the mistakes and blemishes that I think I would correct now,” he said. “I tend to like my more recent work and I tend to dislike my old work. I think it’s the nature of the beast.”

Though there is a less prominent art scene in K-W than in a larger city like Toronto, Kolb believes his experience as an artist is just the same.

“I don’t think it’s really all that different than being an artist [in K-W than] anywhere else. I think the Internet opened up this sort of industry to really allow you to work anywhere that has a power source and Internet,” he said.

“The trade-off is there’s less of a physical presence — I’m not necessarily going to art shows or gallery openings the same way as if I was living in more of an art-based community.”

Kolb emphasized the Internet is the key for any aspiring artists trying to get their work known.

“Get a blog, then constantly update it with work,” he said. “The Internet has been the reason why I can do this as a career because it’s easy for anyone to see it, share it and relink to it.”

He attributes much of his success to continuously making work and updating his blog with new art, whether they are personal or client pieces.

“There needs to be content on [your blog], so once you start it you have to keep it up. There’s no secret magic to it; there are lots of artists who maybe have less skill than others that are doing better, but it’s just because they put their artwork out there.”

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