Building an Artist’s Life

For freshman Mady Ford, pursuing a degree in painting means being able to carry on the service of writing and drawing children’s books.

She is chasing this goal, even if that means she has to face criticism and job insecurity along the way.

“As a kid you always get asked what you want to be when you grow up and it constantly changes,” Ford said. “I was young in either kindergarten or first grade, and I remember looking at picture books and this time I answered, ‘I want to be the person who draws the pictures in the books,’ an illustrator. And for the longest time my answer didn’t change.”

Her love for children’s books started with “The Magic Tree House” series by Mary Pope Osborne. They sparked her curiousity as a kid, and she wants to be the person who can do something like that.

“I love how each book shared some aspect of history,” Ford said. “It’s so imaginative: a kid goes into his backyard and wakes up in ancient China. It’s about believing in something you can’t see.”

For students pursuing a degree in a field seen as unstable, criticism is inevitable.

“I’m lucky because no one wants to say it to my face,” Ford said. “They start saying, ‘What about a real job?’ When you go into this field, you have to understand it’s going to be hard and you’re going to struggle. There were times when I wondered if I should go into something steadier where there’s more security than a freelance artist.”

But at the University of Illinois, Ford is working on tackling these obstacles. The art department has its own career service that has all resources tailored for finding a job in the arts. They help students with making a portfolio, choosing what would fit best in it, and teaching how to present it.

“I went to the Career Center and they’re really good at what they do,” Ford said. “They helped me get in contact with an illustrator who’s an alumnus.”

But most importantly, according to Ford, they help students with marketing themselves.

“Half of the job of an artist is marketing,” Ford said. “There is lots of job insecurity in the arts. The ultimate goal is to get to the point where work starts looking for you.”

She has found herself in a department that has helped her do that. With great services, lots of materials to work with, and lots of studio space, she has kick started her career.

“I feel attached to the school so far,” Ford said. “It’s a good place to grow with a creative mind. They pushed me to get started and they’re successful in the sense that they get you to apply everything you know.”

Once the community of illustrators knows her name, she plans on presenting what she can bring to the table to them.

“I am so ready to sit down and draw somebody’s story,” Ford said. “It’s really crazy to think I can come up with a story that will impact kids and adults. It’s intimidating, but I’m working on getting past that.”


Acacia Hernandez

Acacia Hernandez is currently a freshman studying Journalism and Spanish. She is from Des Plaines, IL and attended Maine West High School. She holds an internship with Fighting Illini Productions and is a part of Society of Professional Journalists on campus.