For New York-based illustrator and recent graduate Gracey Zhang, the first few steps into the the world of freelancing started successfully.
Shortly after having thrown her graduation hat into the air at the Rhode Island School of Design, The New York Times commissioned the graduate to illustrate one of their opinion pieces. Although Gracey is starting post-grad life with a bang, the 23-year-old assures us that a year of hustling, persistence and dedication is awaiting her, before she really gets her foot in the door.
With summer coming to an end and friends heading back to university, the Vancouver born-and-raised illustrator feels slightly strange not going back to the world of classrooms, assignments and crits. Although the immediate future is intimidating, school often meant “getting caught up in assignments that aren’t necessarily leading you to where you wanna be,” says Gracey. The sheer thrill of doing what she wants to do when she wants to do it, clearly overshadows the apprehension that goes hand in hand with entering post-grad life.
“Style is not something we should concern ourselves with. Rather, everyone has their own voice in the way that they create.”
It’s no secret that self-motivation is key to freelancing—but for Gracey that seems a definite non-issue. Though property prices in New York currently force the freelancer to call her bedroom her studio, procrastination and the nearby fridge loom large. Gracey has a solution for that: coffee shops. The mere presence of people, for her, creates an encouraging environment that usually sees her getting a lot more work done than at her improvised studio space.
The Hidden Scars commissioned by The New York Times Opinion Pages
Coming Closer but Unfeeling
“I really enjoyed school but you can get caught up in assignments that aren’t necessarily leading you to where you wanna be.”
Still, Gracey is not one to wait around until creativity hits: “I feel that when you wait for creativity, it is easy to get nowhere. Doing something, even if you don’t like it, at least you are producing and I think that is the most important thing.” Some days the illustrator draws what she wants to draw, a recurring theme in her watercolor and ink work being Asian women, usually nude. “I tend to work with black ink as it just comes most naturally,” she says of her signature style. For other works, she looks at past assignments or briefs of other creatives to explore how she would have interpreted them differently.
Pushing herself out of her artistic comfort zone forces the illustrator to continuously re-learn and re-evaluate her way of working, which might just have felt natural and right because she just got too comfortable with it. Similarly, style is a word the illustrator uses carefully, as she believes that “Style is not something we should concern ourselves with. Rather, everyone does have their own way and voice in the way that they create.” To her, style is the natural result of a consistent practice that’s unique to every artist, mirroring how they create based on their past experiences.
“I feel that when you wait for creativity, it is easy to get nowhere. Doing something, even if you don’t like it, at least you are producing and I think that is the most important thing.”
Gracey has been doing just that since early childhood, describing drawing as the only consistent ‘hobby’ that stuck while growing up, unlike piano lessons or skateboarding that quickly got boring. She is more than aware that the months ahead will likely be challenging, a sort of test-phase to establish whether or not the freelancer is able to push through rough patches of what can be an isolating way of making a living, but she is practical and yet boundlessly positive. “There are days when you get no feedback or responses and it can definitely be a testing time, but I’m excited for what’s next and I feel like now is the time.”
Text: Andrina Hutter