“If you’re using a different style for each drawing it’ll be more difficult for you to stick in a person’s head.” – Karl ‘Monaux’ Kwasny
Talent precedes success, but anyone who has succeeded will tell you that hard work precedes talent. In a creative world of untold aliases, each with their own right to existence, how does an artist go beyond dumbfounding, and actually create works that will establish a demand and generate cash inflow.
Karl Kwasny goes by the name ‘Monaux’, a name that was produced according to an array of influences such as innocence in religion, sex, death, pencils and colour. Karl evidently pours himself, good and the bad, into his work; the end result being artworks with colour that compliments detail and evident handwork that brings a more holistic experience when viewed.
Having spent a decent amount of time in the industry, Monaux has had his fair share of experience in the field of getting work out there, getting it noticed and getting hired. At the end of the day, all design roads cross the discipline of freelance at some point… So we crossed paths with Karl to get some insight into his life as a professional freelance designer.
I was born in Melbourne and my family moved to Brisbane when I was five.
What made you realise you wanted to design/art for the rest of your life?
It was actually a fairly long process. I’ve always wanted to dedicate myself to some form of creative pursuit, but until a few years ago I didn’t know precisely what I wanted that to be. Throughout my childhood, I always found pleasure in drawing pictures and writing stories. Then in my teenage years, I was more interested in design, typography and the digital side of art. Between the ages of fifteen and eighteen I barely drew at all, which was detrimental in a way (I feel as though my skill level would be higher now had I persevered with drawing), but it also forced me to explore other facets of visual design that I may have neglected otherwise.
It was towards the end of my graphic design course at university when I truly decided to dedicate myself to illustration and typography. Before that point, I was convinced that it wasn’t possible to make a decent living out of drawing, but during my studies, I became exposed to several successful illustrators. A combination of envy and determination made me want to give the profession a proper go.
How’d you go from nobody to being slightly noticed?
I’m never able to accurately gauge how successful or noticed I am. I think I’m too close to my work for that. My advice to people who are eager to get their work noticed is as follows:
1) Have a website (a proper website, not a deviant-art page. Whilst deviant-art is fun, it’s not really a good way of getting noticed and I don’t think it’s considered too professional). The Internet has made life a lot easier for freelancers. It’s essentially free and reduces the need to produce costly printed promotional material. Make sure your site has a clean, simple design that requires the least amount of input between the user and your work. The point of a website is to showcase your work, not the website. People will lose interest if the design is too complex. Which brings me to point two.
2) Present yourself as being successful, even if you’re not. Make sure that your visual identity presents you in a successful and professional light. If you have quality work, but have a terrible site design and juvenile business name/alias, it will undoubtedly taint people’s perceptions of the work. This includes your website, business cards, packaging, promotional material and anything else associated with you. Always do your absolute best work, even if you’re not enthusiastic about the job or don’t believe in it. If you do sub-standard work, people will pick up on it.
3) This one is really important: create examples of the sort of work you want to be doing. This one seems obvious to me now, but I think it is really good advice for people starting out. Work out what sort of work you want to attract, and do some examples of it. If you want to do t-shirt designs, do some quality t-shirt designs as personal work and put them on your website. People will realise that you’re proficient at doing t-shirt designs and are subsequently much more likely to hire you to do some.
4) Email art directors. This is pretty much the only way to get work when you’re starting out. You’d be surprised how effective this can be! It can, however, be very discouraging because it’s likely that 95% of your emails will go unanswered. In my early days as a freelancer I would try to send five emails per day to art directors at companies I’d like to work for. There’s no need to aim low either. I emailed Adidas, Nike, skate companies, every fashion company I could think of… the more emails you send out the more chance there is of getting work. You can often find the art director’s contact details on the company’s website, or you can call the receptionist and ask for the art director’s name and email address. Of all the emails you send off, maybe one in twenty will receive a reply, and of those replies, maybe one in three will result in a job. Still, amidst the disappointment, you’ll be getting work! Gradually you’ll have to send fewer and fewer emails until most of the work simply starts to find you.
When did you move the office out of your bedroom and into a studio?
I still work out of my bedroom, to be honest. I have most of the furniture for my ideal studio, but I just don’t have the right space at the moment.
Do you stick to one unique style that you’re known for?
Well, I have a certain way I like to draw, but I think it’s important to be versatile. It’s fairly rare for a project to come forward where they just want you to draw the way you do normally. I do think it’s important to cultivate your own distinct style, at least for your personal work. If you’re using a different style for each drawing it’ll be more difficult for you to stick in a person’s head.
Is it better to be represented or to represent yourself?
It’s definitely better to be represented by someone. Technically, the only disadvantage in having an agent is the fact that they take a percentage of the fee. This is negated by the fact that they tend to be able to negotiate a higher fee (because that’s a big part of their job, they are good at it) and are often able to find high-paying/high-prestige work that an unrepresented illustrator would almost never be able to get.
Having said that, I think that it takes a few years of solo freelancing to build up a portfolio strong enough to apply to an agency.
Compromising moments in your career?
I’ve had a few jobs where there have been misunderstandings or the client has requested an excessive amount of amendments or the client has become angry with me for one reason or another. I think it’s probably impossible to avoid these sorts of situations as those sorts of situations happen in any job.
I would love to eventually move away from freelancing. It’s a great job and it affords you many freedoms that regular office jobs do not, but the grind does get a bit overwhelming sometimes. I have several ideas for a series of little picture books I want to write and illustrate, so that’ll be my passion project over the next few years. I hope to have the first one completed by the end of 2011.
For more from Karl, visit his site.
Browse the Trunk Junk collection; maybe even pick one out for yourself.
© Jonathan Boonzaaier 2016