Time is one of the most natural teachers on earth. It’s over time we learn from our mistakes, what works and what doesn’t, who we are, and what we can and cannot do. Will Terry has had over two decades of lessons and he admits that he’s still taking in things. From a freelancer in financial distress to a man who’s found stability balancing life doing everything from children’s books to running an online school.
Will Terry could’ve kept his lessons to himself, but he was kind enough to share some of the things that have led him to where he is today.
Kendra: Throughout school, you said that you didn’t take to anything but art. When did you realize that wasn’t something that made you less than but was rather a gift that made you unique
Will Terry: I think I’m still coming to this realization. We can never fully forget the painful moments in our past. We can gain perspective on how they fit into who we have become though. I had a friend who majored in illustration alongside me tell me last year, “I thought I went the safe route and thought you took the risky road when I went into graphic design and you started freelance illustration. Now that I’ve been laid off 12 times and had my finances wrecked over and over I can see that your road was the smoother of the two.” Having these conversations over the years has helped me realize working on my own projects has led to the financial stability I’ve enjoyed over the past 7-8 years.
But prior to that, I rode the roller coaster of a freelancer who earns intermittent money with plenty of dry spells. We also had our financial woes during the 2008 housing crash but through that experience I learned that building multiple streams of income built stability. Now I have three major sources that make up my income: Freelance children’s books, selling fan art at comic conventions, and my online school, Society of Visual Storytelling, where we teach people how to illustrate for publishing and animation.
Kendra: Now you’ve been in art one way or another for over 20 years. You actually got a bit of a more corporate chapter in your life doing advertising. Even though it’s still art based, do you feel there are creative limitations when you work in advertising or editorial?
Will Terry: Absolutely. Advertising clients, in general, don’t respect the artistic process or the artist as the expert THEY chose to deliver what they saw in his/her portfolio. It’s almost always an exercise in anger management – but the money is almost always 4-5 times better than publishing – so choosing to work with them is to understand the game and play along as a means to an end.
Kendra: Your lengthy career also includes illustrating children’s books. You’ve said you love to see their reactions to the drawings. Can you remember the first children’s book that had that effect on you?
Will Terry: It was a book called Urashima Taro. It’s a Japanese fairytale about a boy who stopped some bullies from killing a sea turtle and the gift/curse the turtle gave the boy. It had a profound effect on me. I identified with the turtle right away…and the ending was disturbing yet meaningful. I didn’t realize how much I would care about telling stories later in my life.
Kendra: Do you finish a story before you start to sketch, or do you go page to page with ideas flowing through your mind?
Will Terry: It’s a combination of both. I can’t start reading a new manuscript to writing a story without visual ideas firing in my mind…doubt anyone could. I do try to resist creating visual characters until I fell I fully understand the story. Working too fast can create value that I’m resistant to discard for better ideas later.
Kendra: I came to know you at LA Comic Con thanks to your LITTLE series. Me and my fiance have three in our bedroom now! Is there a character you haven’t done that you are maybe weary of taking on?
Will Terry: I have a list of characters I’d love to tackle but I’ve learned not to start on one without a solid concept first. Link from Zelda is one such character. It’s interesting. After doing 125 characters and counting I’ve learned that I know it when I hear the idea – or come up with it on my own. I’ve sent lots of friends and family to dinner or given them gift cards on Amazon for a killer idea. The craft of the visual art is what people see first at my booth. So it has to be compelling enough for them to take a second look. The concept is why they end up buying the print or book. Story is king and that’s why authors typically make more money than illustrators. It took me many years to finally understand this.
Kendra: You’re very helpful with your vlogs when it comes to advice. What’s the best advice you’ve gotten in terms of making a career out of art?
Will Terry: My best advice is to create art for yourself. It’s so simple but most artists don’t learn how important this principle is. When you create art for someone else you don’t love it as much – and it shows. That’s why people don’t respond to it. If you create for yourself you will bleed for it. And the people who are just like you will find it – and it will speak to them.
Kendra: What is going on for you come the new year?
Will Terry: I’m working on a few new classes at SVSLearn, working on some new characters for conventions, and starting the sequel to Bonaparte Falls Apart published by Penguin Random House. It was wildly successful during the Halloween season so they are greenlighting the next book! Yay!
Kendra: We are trying to bridge all the artistic realms we represent at ZO. So if you had to make a playlist that represents your art, what five songs would have to be on it?