Where Are They Now? Interview with former WIC staffer turned illustrator, Sarah Jacoby

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© Sarah Jacoby 2015

Hello, PennWIC readers! My name is Elizabeth Crowder and I’m a new(ish) graduate intern at the Weigle Information Commons. Our inaugural post in the “Where Are They Now?” blog series features former Vitale Digital Media Lab consultant (2007-2011) Sarah Jacoby who resides in Brooklyn, NY. She currently works as a production designer with the creative team at Tinybop, an educational children’s app and media company. You might be wondering what a production designer does. According to Jacoby, her job as a production designer involves anything from creating art for Tinybop’s apps to helping prepare art for the apps as well as myriad miscellaneous design-oriented things.

In addition to her work at Tinybop, Jacoby works as a freelance illustrator and designer. Current exciting projects include working on a children’s book for a UK publisher and a line of wedding invitations for friends. She has also contributed to books about illustration, shown art internationally and throughout the United States, published with folks like The New York Times, and won awards in fancy places.

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© Sarah Jacoby 2015

Sarah was kind enough to take time out of her busy schedule to discuss how she landed her job as a production designer and all the hard work that went into propelling her from a lab consultant at the Vitale Digital Media Lab to where she is today.

What were the steps (specific or more abstract) you took in order to get the job you have today?

I work in commercial art now, but it took me a long time to get here. I’ve always loved visual narratives, films, graphic novels and all that. When I went to college I chose to follow that intuition and study literature and cinema history. While those topics were relevant to my intellectual leanings, I didn’t really come of out school prepared to be an artist. I worked for a few years in arts-related marketing departments before realizing that I really, really wanted to pursue art independently. I wasn’t entirely sure what kind of art at that point. Luckily I had just started working at the Vitale Digital Media Lab as a lab consultant. I came in knowing a good deal of Photoshop, but the following years taught me more than I could have imagined. I still use the skills I learned at the lab today. For example, I’ve made the past several opening animations for Tinybop apps. I originally had to learn animation on the job at Vitale because I was helping a student with a video project.

I’m very grateful for my time at Vitale, it truly did enable me to experiment, play, and learn as I worked. The community at the library was especially kind and welcoming and I felt very supported there. (Thanks Anu and Dave!)

Outside of Vitale I joined an art collective and made a bunch of installations, videos, paintings, and drawings. I also met a lot of artists, which was extremely important-I started to understand where I fit in and met people who believed in the path that I wanted to forge. Eventually, I met a few illustrators.  Upon seeing their work, I immediately recognized the sort of art I wanted to make. Illustration made so much sense; it  was the perfect union of storytelling and drawing.

I spent a couple years building a portfolio and learning as much about the field of illustration as possible. After all that time I still felt like I wasn’t quite achieving my goals at the level I would have liked, so I applied to several MFA programs for illustration. I ended up attending grad school at the Maryland Institute College of Art.

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© Sarah Jacoby 2015

Do you have any words of wisdom for anyone out there still trying to figure out what they want to do/be in life?

Try everything. Figure out a way where you can try the thing you want to do-whether that’s shadowing a person who has your dream job, interning, or just reaching out to those who inspire you. It’s important to demystify the things you want so that you can evaluate your dreams realistically.

I should note that I am a firm believer in following your heart or dreams or whatever, but doing so in a practical manner.  If you are smart, you will no doubt get where you want to go as long as you remain focused on your goals, can develop resilience, be persistent, and have faith and patience. That’s all. It’s cliche, I know, but I do believe you have the right to follow your passion. However, even though I believe that everyone in this world is a special snowflake, it is also true that  you are one amongst many special snowflakes in the world. There are a lot of people trying to “make it” in all fields. As long as you keep a sense of perspective, and be compassionate towards others, you should be able to get where you need to go. I spent a lot of time doubting myself when I was younger. It was especially helpful to hear Ira Glass talk about creativity and what he calls “The Gap” when I was struggling to define myself as an artist. He articulates the problem of being a young creative adeptly.

“The Gap”

You need to work very hard to explore and figure out how and why you want to work. I think a lot of people spend time thinking about “what they want to be” but spend less time thinking about why that is or how to achieve it. I believe you should know why your goals are important to you and where your drive comes from. It if comes from an inauthentic place, that will reveal itself eventually and all of your work will be for naught. Also recognize that things change. You can always create that change.

Who or what inspires you?

Many different things inspire me-people, music, ideas, environments. I look to people a lot-I am very impressed by people with conviction and style-it takes a lot to have an unwavering and unique voice. I don’t care if I don’t personally relate to the style, I admire the courage it takes to have an opinion. So I have a range of heros, a lot of the are female artists, musicians, and comedians-I can name a few-from Mary Oliver to Carrie Brownstein, Nell Zink to Lynda Barry. I admire people who are willing to take risks and try new things and people who are engaged with the present world.  

A lot of successful people failed over and over again before “making it”. What are your thoughts on this? Does/has failure played a part in your success/creative process?

Failure is very helpful. Failure is your friend. It’s definitely the best way to learn and grow.

When I was younger I was very scared of failure. Disappointment was a huge issue for me.  It’s still a huge deal, but I try to not let it affect me as much as it used to.

A quick story: My parents worked extremely hard to send me to a prestigious private high school. I studied all night, did all the clubs and sports, took, like, eight years of Latin. I tried to be everything to everyone, get great test scores, stay out of trouble and all that. I applied to a lot of colleges-about fifteen or so. I waited to hear back as my friends were hearing from crazy elite places like Yale, Bard, and RISD. Out of all of the schools I applied to, I didn’t get into any of them.

In fact, there was one day every year at school, where the headmaster of the school printed and hung a list of the colleges a public bulletin board. Next to my name was just a black X. I was humiliated, disappointed, and had no backup plan.  I ended up taking a year off, and signing onto an Americorps program for a year. I quickly learned that there were larger problems at work than my own.

As I lived and worked that year I learned that there wasn’t any point to trying to find approval or validation from external sources. You can’t fail yourself, so get comfortable with who you are. At the end of that year I applied to almost all of the same schools that I had applied to the year before. I got into nearly all of them.  So, it turns out, that life is weird, arbitrary, and  “failure” can often be a result of the fates not being aligned at particular moments in time.

I still fail all the time. Now it’s usually when I take creative risks. There are plenty of projects that I embark upon, but end up feeling like I didn’t land where I would have liked. But that’s ok, I try to learn what I can from these experiences and move on. It’s how I grow. When I feel especially discouraged I try to think about the bigger picture and not take things so personally. Perspective is important, and being able to laugh in the face of defeat has been one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned over time.

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© Sarah Jacoby 2015

To learn more about Sarah or view some of her inspired illustrations and musings, check out her website, like her on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter and Instagram!

Know of someone who would be perfect to highlight in our next “Where Are They Now?” blog post? Leave a comment below!

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