Interview with illustrator Sarah Rebar
You currently work for Sesame Workshop. Can you briefly tell us how you landed the gig and what type of work you're responsible for there?
The year I got my job at Sesame Workshop, I had recently graduated from Syracuse University was in a Continuing Education night class at SVA. We had a really old school animation professor who was teaching us hand-drawn animation, where we'd shoot it frame-by-frame on film and edit it in post. A friend I made in that class worked at Sesame Street. At the time, they were hiring Production Assistants! My friend asked if I wanted to apply, and I did through her. When I got the gig, I started in Digital Media as a PA - not illustration-related at all - and then after two years, a position for a Junior Character Designer in Sesame Street's Creative department opened up. I had to revamp my portfolio and do an art test to prove I could draw the characters before I got the role. My title is currently "Senior Illustration/Designer," and I'm responsible for creating character design to be used for digital web games and products, licensing, and toys. I work on style guides based on trends that we create for our vendors, to keep the brand current. I also work with spin-offs and create art for some of the other shows and show pitches produced by Sesame Workshop. I art direct digital games on SesameStreet.org, art direct some book projects, create illustrations and character design as-needed for the TV show, and correct character art to make sure it's on-model.
Are there other full time jobs you would consider or be interested in pursuing (they don't haveto be in creative fields)?
Other than art, I was always interested in writing for TV! I would love to pursue that. Especially after working with scriptwriters at Sesame Street for so long. For a while, I also considered going back to school for environmental science and working for the national park service in some capacity!
I always carve out time to travel, because it's actually very important to me for my own balance and clarity.
In addition to a full time job, you also freelance, create personal work, travel and pursue other creative hobbies. How do you balance your time?
Yes! It's so hard to balance time. I'm a scheduler, so I always try to plan ahead and map out my schedule in terms of travel and freelance projects. I always carve out time to travel, because it's actually very important to me for my own balance and clarity. When I have time and the money to do it, I love traveling to new countries and doing hiking trips so I can take a break from the city and be surrounded by nature. I always come back refreshed and with a much better perspective to work. We're lucky at Sesame Street because we get a LOT of time off -- so I take advantage of that and use all my days. I try not to take on too much freelance work on top of my job because I find that when I do, I'm unable to work on personal projects or have a proper balance to see family and friends. I will usually say "yes" to most projects, but only when it's not super busy at work. I dedicate my weekends to freelance, personal work, and when I can, being away from a desk/phone and being outside in the city.
What are your personal creative goals for the next five years? Do you have any dream clients or assignments?
My personal creative goals for the next 5 years are to try being a full-time freelancer and see what is possible! I started off as a freelancer in New York, which was tremendously scary. But now that I have so much full-time experience under my belt, I want to try it again and see if I can work with a wider range of clients. That's my goal for 2020. I would love to work more in children's books/children's publishing, as well as creating concept art and storyboards for TV. I would love to branch out of the preschool bubble and do work for an older kid/teen/adult audience.
Some of my dream clients are Pixar's story department, Storybots, Google Doodles, Bravery Magazine, Anorak Magazine, Lonely Planet, and working in kid's books/publishing for Abrams, Scholastic or Chronicle. (Tell them I love their work!!)
What obstacles have you had to overcome in your creative career? How did you navigate those?
My biggest obstacles starting out were finding a full-time staff role at a company in illustration/design and then navigating the job title and responsibilities. Technically, I am an illustrator with almost NO graphic design training from college; but in my years at work, I've been lumped in as a graphic designer. I've had to give feedback for graphic design and UI/UX for apps/digital games, so it's been a learning experience with that. Learning how designers think and how to create that kind of work. Also, I've had other obstacles dealing with roadblocks at work, like having to negotiate a salary increase when raises were sparse. I wish they had taught us more about salary negotiation and asking for raises at school. I also had to deal with conflict/tension with a previous boss -- so having to navigate some work conflict between bosses. Not easy stuff.
How do you promote your work? What has been most effective method, in your experience, to connect with Art Directors and get paying jobs?
Social media was the best for my online promotion! Especially when I was posting constantly. Instagram casts a wide net and makes it easy to connect with talented art directors. I also use Behance, Dribbble, Working Not Working, Women in Animation, AIGA --- but I've gotten the most online work through Instagram. I've heard sending out physical mailers is still something that gets the attention of Art Directors, but it's not something I've tried personally. (I know that when I do get cool art sent to me, either a digital mailer or physical one, I'll keep it bookmarked or keep it on my desk. So maybe it does work!) Apart from promotions, I also attend conferences like Pictoplasma and ICON, as well as AIGA and WIA events in New York, as a way to meet more people. I've met a lot of great artists through those conferences.
Do you think living and working in NYC offers you an advantage professionally? Would you live anywhere else?
Yes, living in the city definitely offers a huge advantage for work and social connections. It's so easy to join big communities, like AIGA and WIA, who always host events, and take continuing education classes through places like SVA or General Assembly. Being close to the work puts you at a better advantage starting out networking and meeting people. Yes, it is expensive, but it's helpful for building a freelance base. Eventually, after you establish your network, where you live shouldn't matter. A lot of graphic design and illustration work can be remote work. Personally, if I didn't live in NYC, I would love to live in California or the Pacific Northwest. I'd love to be closer to nature. But I've also lived here in the city for so long, I want to be close to my 24-hour bodega, too. :)
What advice do you have for folks just starting out in their creative careers?
Advice for creative entry-level folks: join every network you can and network the heck out of everyone. Take all the freelance work you can, because you don't know where it will lead you.
Favorite meal/snack/beverage go-to before hunkering down on a project?
Favorite snacks/meal before hunkering down on a project: hot coffee!
Do you listen to music, movies/tv or podcasts (or sit in silence) while you work? What are your favorites to get you through a work-sesh?
My day consists of podcasts and music! I work in an office with an open floor plan, so people are always chatting and there are usually tours coming through. It definitely helps me focus to have someone talking in my ear as I work. I listen to a lot of NPR (Hidden Brain, Fresh Air), Andy J. Pizza's Creative Pep Talk, Meet the Creatives, and My Favorite Murder! (So many murder podcasts, ha. It helps balance out the cheerfulness of my day-job.)
What swap should Ten Paces do next?
Swap to do next: ooh! Please do an 80s pop culture themed swap if you haven't already! Or bad Halloween costumes!