Can you tell us a little bit about the moment you realized you were an artist?
The first time I realized I was good at art was in first grade when I won first place in an art show. I didn’t start seeing myself as an artist until I started visiting, then eventually getting adopted, by my artist grandmother. She had so many art supplies and we would always make art together. I was in middle school, working on a portfolio to get into the gifted arts program in high school with help from Gran, when I realized I wanted to be an artist.
How did you learn your necessary skills? a) intern b) school c) apprentice
I fortunately had an amazing art program and art teachers in high school. I took art classes every day in high school, and would sometimes skip gym class to work in the studio! After high school I attended Memphis College of Art and knew immediately that I wanted to focus on illustration. I got my BFA with concentrations in both illustration and painting. Right after college I got accepted into a gap-year program run by Church Health as their digital design assistant for their publications department. Once the program ended, I was hired on as their illustrator for the Church Health Reader for several years. I learned so much from that job and I credit that experience for how my artwork has developed. I also give credit to my teaching jobs for MCA’s Community Education program and Art Project, and my three years of working at a restaurant. I know that may sound disconnected, but those jobs taught me so much about time management, professionalism, communication, leadership, and problem solving. I wouldn’t be where I am if not for those jobs.
Who do you consider as your most influential mentor?
Definitely my gran. She was the first who inspired me to pursue art. My high school art teachers were also huge inspirations. They were so supportive and never doubted that I could make it as an artist.
Artists are extremely resourceful and often create multiple streams of income. How do you generate income to support yourself and artistic practice?
Haha! I’ve had four jobs at once before! So it definitely takes a lot of dedication and passion to pursue art as a career. After Church Health I had three jobs: contract illustrator for the Church Health Reader, art instructor for MCA’s Comm. Ed., and server at the restaurant Belly Acres. And then the occasional freelance stuff. It wasn’t until I left Belly Acres, did I really start pushing my freelance business. Everyone should have to work in the food industry or customer service at least once to realize what they really want out of life. Currently I do family portrait commissions, the occasional comic con or craft show where I sell cheesy cat prints, and I teach art for The Art Project and now Arrow Creative!
How do you measure success in your work and career?
I don’t know...I used to think that success was measured by how hard and how much I work. Like, I have to draw all the time every day to be successful. But now...this is cheesy but I love making people happy. There’s this gratification I get when I finish a family portrait for someone and they get so excited! Or when I’m teaching children and they get so proud of what they’ve made. Or when I hand make presents for friends and family. I put heart into each thing I make. It brings me joy and gratification to capture an adorable family in my illustrations. Success to me is measured by how many people I’ve positively affected with my art.
What artist inspires you the most?
Aw man...how do I pick just one? I grew up reading Harry Potter and A Series of Unfortunate Events, so that illustration style definitely influenced me. Mary GrandPre was the illustrator for the U.S. version of Harry Potter, and Brett Helquist illustrated the Lemony Snicket books. I have so many more, but that may take a while.
Do you have a creative hour, or a time/ place/ or activity that inspires your creativity?
I draw silly cats on my iPad or funny little comics or characters if I’m bored. I’ll sit on the couch next to my husband, with our three cats snuggled around us, and I’ll draw goofy things while he plays video games because that’s what real adults do! Also...Dungeons and Dragons. It’s the perfect inspiration!
In your creative practice, do you have a ritual? Do you set specific assignments for yourself?
I’m constantly changing my routines depending on my work schedule. I work best later in the day, so I try to schedule morning work shifts. Which then forces me to go to bed at a reasonable time. With much trial and error, I’ve learned to set realistic deadlines and give myself plenty of time to work on commissions. I’m still working on it though...I have to set timers to remind myself to take breaks and eat food! You can’t create if you don’t take a break!
Also another thing...I can’t work on my commissions if my apartment and work space is untidy. And don’t even try to talk to me for the first 2-3 hours of an illustration, because that’s where most of the problem-solving takes place.
Do you keep a journal of ideas, where do you draw ideas from?
PINTEREST! And a literal cork board with notes and things on it. Confession...I hardly use a sketchbook! Even though I literally told my students today that all good illustrators keep sketchbooks. I just doodle and draw in mine, same with my iPad. My ideas mainly exist on my two bulletin boards...my real one and my Pinterest one. Oh. And sometimes in a random notebook. And lots and lots of sticky notes.
What is your guilty pleasure?
Cartoons, comics, and Animal Crossing! Not to mention D&D. My favorite animator and cartoon is Gravity Falls created by Alex Hirsch. I’m also a HUGE fan of LAIKA Studios, a stop motion animation studio that made Coraline, ParaNorman, Boxtrolls...so so good. Oh...and Lauren Faust’s My Little Pony and DC Superhero Girls. A LOT of my art style comes from the cartoons I watch. I’m currently rewatching the original Powerpuff Girls, my all time favorite as a kid next to Courage the Cowardly Dog. They’re even better now that I understand the sneaky adult humor!
Also Animal Crossing is so addictive and cute and I can’t stop playing.
As a kid what did you see yourself doing as a career?
I wanted to be a teacher, veterinarian, writer, interior designer, ghost hunter, detective, singer (I can’t sing), and an artist.
When and what told you ‘this is the life for me’?
I want to say I’ve felt that way since middle school, but actually it was probably two years ago after leaving the restaurant where I was like, “I want to give this freelance thing a shot.” Even though I was already technically doing that. I can’t imagine NOT being an artist. It’s my identity.
What compromise have you had to make in order to succeed (ie: location of studio, driving a lot, not doing something you really want to do, working seasonally etc)Has it been worth all of your effort?
Being in a lot of debt for the rest of my life and knowing that I may never make enough money to pay off my loans for an art school that shut down because of debt. It’s a fact that I’ve accepted and I do the best I can to make payments. As far as the school thing goes, I don’t regret going. My experience there was so worthwhile and valuable. I’ll definitely miss it. I’ve been asked by students and parents if it’s worth going to an expensive art school versus a regular college with a good art program. I’m gonna be honest. You’ll probably do just fine at a regular college with a good art program. No one cares about which college you went to as an artist. They care about the art. I don’t regret my decision because I knew exactly what I wanted going in and I’m actively doing the things I got a degree in. But don’t go to art school if you feel like it’s the only way to be an artist. It’s not. It was worth it for me but doesn’t mean it’s worth it for someone else.
Terri Scott is an illustrator, art instructor, and storyteller. She received her Bachelor's of Fine Arts at Memphis College of Art in 2014, with a focus on illustration and painting. She splits her time between teaching art to children and working as a freelance illustrator. She currently resides in Memphis, Tennessee with her husband and three cats. When she isn't watching cartoons or reading comics, she's drawing cats. A lot of cats!