This post is part of a series in which we interview successful makers on how they built their business. Today we are interviewing professional illustrator, Sophie Dufresne.

Sophie Dufresne is a Los Angeles based illustrator. She crated unique art to be licensed on products for marketing like gift, home décor, apparel, stationery, books and magazines. She was a top semi-finalist in Lilla Roger’s Global Talent Search, was featured as a new illustration talent in Uppercase Magazine and chosen for the group show at ICON8.

Sophie is teaching a session during our live online workshop, Growing Your Freelance Illustration Business on December 7th.

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When did you first discover your love of art?

Probably as soon as I could hold a crayon! My mom is an artist so I grew up around art. We had a ceramics studio in the house, and besides pottery she would keep me and my siblings busy making drawings, collages, and other crafty projects. I remember creating little projects of my own, like turning a cardboard box into a restaurant, or making characters out of fabric and inventing names for them (I even sold those to a store).

Did you always know this would become your career?

Yes, and my life would have been simpler if it just stopped there! But I also liked mathematics and solving problems and wanted to find a way to do both. I figured I could first go into science and keep doing my creative thing on the side. It satisfied me for a while. In college I volunteered illustrations whenever I could, for the student newspaper and various clubs. Outside school I did pottery classes, sewed my own clothes, glued things together, sometimes went to live drawing sessions. But as my career evolved I always held on to the plan of someday making art my primary focus.

What did you do before you were a full-time illustrator?

After my bachelors in engineering I spent some time doing research in applied mathematics via a masters degree and pursuing a PhD in water sciences. Then circumstances brought me to Los Angeles at the exciting time of the Internet boom. I joined startups and did web development, and over the years gradually made my way into the design side of things and user experience. In the middle of all that I also studied interior design and worked in architecture for a few years, drafting and making models.

How did you start your illustration career?

With a personal project (my animal haiku series) and taking online classes while working full time. I did that for over a year then a couple years ago I left my corporate job (with the safety of a good cushion) in order to progress faster on building my portfolio and the business. I put myself out there as much as possible, posting my work on social media, taking part in online communities, local events, and contests.

What kind of art do you create?

Digital illustrations and surface pattern design made from hand sketches, painted elements and textures. I also sometimes create small dioramas scenes with paper and lights.

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Which three words would you use to describe your style?

Colorful, modern and playful. Additional words I’ve heard from others: clean, flat with a handmade feel, vintage yet modern, sophisticated with a distinctive color palette.

How do you come up with new ideas? What inspires you?

Inspiration can come from different sources, it depends on the kind of project I’m working on. If it’s a conceptual piece I google the first few words on the subject that pop in my mind and read whatever intrigues me in the search results. I love doing that. It often leads to unexpected ideas plus I learn all kinds of interesting things along the way. I also use image search quite a bit or flip through books in my library for visual references. As much as possible I try to tell a story. For projects that are purely decorative like patterns, depending on the subject I might walk around and take pictures, simply let my mind wander and sketch, or look at images on Pinterest. If it’s a type of project I’ve never done I can use the images to notice what I’m attracted to and envision how I might approach it.

What kind of clients do you work with?

So far it’s been private individuals, small business owners, sometimes a larger company for projects like licensing images, creating a piece of wall art or diorama on commission, or design consulting.

How did you find your first few clients?

It’s been an organic process. Some I found through personal contacts or local events, and others have found me online most likely through social media. Just recently however I signed up with a local creative agency and also with the database service Agency Access so I can take a more targeted and proactive approach to go about finding new clients.

Please describe an average day in your life.

It’s my dream to become more of a morning creative type, but my normal tendency is to perform better under a certain amount of pressure. That means I end up working fairly late and usually start the day towards mid morning after breakfast and maybe a quick bike ride or hike. I’ll check email and social media and do the most urgent things first. If starting a new project, I use the rest of the morning to do research/browse images and let ideas simmer while having lunch. Then the afternoon is the time I like to do traditional media and take advantage of daylight to snap pictures, or run errands when there are less people in the stores. Otherwise I basically progress on whatever I’m working on and most nights continue after dinner until eleven or so.

What advice do you have for someone who wants to start their own freelance illustration business?

Be engaged locally as much as online. You never know where clients can come from.

What do you hope the not-too-distant future holds for your illustration career; Do you have any exciting, upcoming plans that you would like to share with us?

Right now I’m concentrating on licensing and at some point would like to find an agent, access bigger clients. Also I’ve been wanting to get into animation, perhaps make animated gifs and cinemagraphs for the editorial market or more elaborate projects with After Effects. I had so much fun with Flash in my early web days and it would be a great way to leverage my technical background. And then, but this is a long term project, I’d love to publish my animal haiku series into a book eventually.

Sophie is teaching a session during our live online workshop, Growing Your Freelance Illustration Business. This program will give you an inside look at how three freelance illustrators built their careers, and provide you with the insight you need to grow your own freelance illustration business.  The live workshop starts December 7th, but everyone who signs up will get lifetime access to the content. See the full schedule and sign up here.

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