Dylan Mierzwinski is the artist behind our Book Club poster of the month for Fashion Climbing. We love Dylan’s unique style and what really sold us were her wonderfully colorful retro flowers. Dylan is the jack-of-all-trades when it comes to creativity. Not only is she a self-taught illustrator but a pattern and surface designer, sewing enthusiast, and a lover of the Valley of the Sun (Phoenix, AZ) where she currently calls home. We are so pleased with the chance to know Dylan a little better and can’t wait for you guys to read about how incredible she is!
Interview with Dylan Mierzwinski
You have done quite a number of things in your career. Can you walk us through that?
My career took a big shift in 2017 when I traded my graphic designer hat for an illustrator messy bun. I had been working in graphic design since 2012, and shortly after moving from Michigan to Arizona, was fired from my fancy design job for ‘not being a good culture fit.’ I knew there was an important decision in front of me: to go find another stable graphic design job, as someone else’s hands, with benefits and a salary, or…trust myself and make the leap of bringing my own world and vision to life as an illustrator. I had just published my first class on Skillshare and had some money coming in from that, so I went for it! My life before that moment is hard to recognize, and it feels like magic has been on my side since I’ve decided to be brave. My first big dreamy dream was taking myself to Quilt Market in the Fall of 2017 to try and score a fabric deal. I barely had the money to get there, staying in a crappy motel (no bed bugs, though!), wishing I could just go home and not face the mountain in front of me. But I shook hands and showed my portfolio and landed a deal with my number one pick, Windham fabrics. From there my career has been a repeat of that cycle: set my sights on big things, be scared and procrastinate, do it anyway. I had been working really diligently on weeding out beliefs that weren’t serving me in favor of powerful, fuller beliefs, and I have no doubt that that’s how brands like Anthropologie, Urban Outfitters, Red Cap Cards, (and other shiny names I’m not allowed to share yet), and even my agent Jennifer Nelson, found me through all the noise. I believed they were looking for my work. I believed the work I was making (including my 11 Skillshare classes) were/are important and valuable.
What do you usually call yourself? Artist? Creative?
To the general public, I say ‘Illustrator’ because most people know what that is, and because I still have weird feelings about saying ‘artist’ and people translating that to mean that I don’t do anything. To people within our realm, I use artist, illustrator, and surface designer interchangeably. The best part is that I don’t really care what my title is because I love my job.
Do you think you have to go to school to become an artist?
Noooooooooooo. I think you need to check in to see what you need and how you learn best. Some people learn better by having an immersive curriculum that walks them through what they need to know. If you can afford art school and have the interest, I say go for it. BUT, if you think you need art school to succeed, surprise! You don’t. I dropped out of school because my loans were mounting and I was highly aware of my own gaps in my education, and trusted that I would seek out the resources to fill them faster and better than any curriculum could offer at the time. I made the right choice for myself, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right choice for everyone.
What are you most proud of in your career?
Before getting fired I imagined being fired would be the absolute worst thing (save for death of loved ones, etc etc), I mean your livelihood just drops out from under you! But when I was actually fired, and saw the two roads in front of me, for the first time ever I trusted myself. I had no guarantee or safety net, and I trusted myself. I could cry just typing that! So while that’s the moment I’m most proud of, my job has required me to make that choice over and over again, and I’m proud every time.
Did you have anyone along the way that was instrumental in the trajectory of your life?
No person is an island, and it’s hard to know who has had the most impact, but every Skillshare teacher, YouTuber, and fellow creative that has taken time to share a tip, glimpse some truth, spread some encouragement, they are why I’m here today. I also need to give a shout out to my imperfect and awesome parents (two by birth, one by adoption…I have a really messy family tree). Through addiction and various other life storms, they managed to teach me the things that really matter: treat others as you want to be treated (this expounds to: be the brand you want to interact with, be the teacher whose classes you want to take, etc), and that there are no rules.
What’s your work area like?
The second bedroom in our apartment is my happy creative space. There’s a long black utility table that cycles through as my painting and drawing space, sewing space, and holder of piles of books and papers. I have a convertible standing desk where all computer and admin tasks take place, and a walk-in closet stuffed to the brim with supplies. While I do regularly clean the studio, it’s never clean while I’m working, and I’m always suspect of pictures of studios that are perfectly put away…where’s the work?? (Pretty sure all the pictures I submitted are of a clean studio. Ahh well, I never said I’m not a hypocrite)
Did you always have an ultimate plan for your career?
No. Not even close. Like, I can’t even try to make something up for this. My plan has been to keep correcting course.
What’s a typical day like for you?
I’m a bad starter. TERRIBLE starter. I love my job and I still procrastinate almost every single day. I used to feel bad about this until I just accepted that that’s how I am, and could see that even though I’m a bad starter, I’m an excellent finisher. That said, my current workflow that works with my timid two-year-old self looks like this:
Wake up without an alarm between 7-8
Go for a one-mile walk (this is new! I’m so proud of it!), shower, get dressed, make the bed
1-2 hours of admin tasks. I know people in 2019 say to start your day with your most important work, but ol’ bad starter Dylan is too intimidated by that. Admin tasks are easy wins that ease me into the day
½ hour break, usually reading outside
1-2 hours of personal work time. This is when I paint, draw, and explore pieces for my portfolio. I used to save this for after client work because client work made me nervous, but it’s a matter of remembering that my personal art time is crucial to the health of my heart and career. No client comes before it.
½ hour break, usually lunch and reading more outside
1-3 hours of client work when I have it, otherwise digitizing and refining portfolio pieces.
½ hour break, you guessed it, book in hand, usually a murder mystery
1 hour of admin tasks to wrap the day up, maybe cleaning the studio if it’s the end of the week
Evening: free time! Dinner, TV (Parks and Rec or The Office reruns) with babe, crafts, classes, etc
What’s a piece of advice that you’ve carried with you and who is it from?
Back to the golden rule: treat others as you want to be treated. Guys, there’s SUCH A WEALTH of information in our own personal standards for what we want. I write the social media posts that I would want to engage with, I give advice in the tone I’d want to receive it, I unobtrusively wave at neighbors that I want to acknowledge but not talk to. Everything lies in the golden rule for me. The best part, one rule does fit all, and yet it honors all of our own personal intricacies and preferences.
What piece of advice would you give to someone starting out in a creative field?
Two things: you don’t have to do it all at once, and your craft is the most important thing. There are a lot of distractions (set up your email list! Register your company! Brand yourself! Build a following!), and you just cannot take it all on at once. My business has gotten stronger as I’ve put out the biggest fire, one at a time. For a long time, my accounting could be done twice a year in a spreadsheet – it wasn’t a big enough pain point to find a better solution. But then when the IRS said my quarterly payments weren’t enough and I owed them 10k, it became a pain point that merited my attention. Now my budget is healthier than ever and I’ve got time to focus on the next fire. Additionally, nothing, NOTHING, NOOOOTHING is more important than showing up and doing the work itself. For me that doesn’t mean: thinking about painting, Googling art supplies, laying on the floor of my studio, watching classes etc. It means putting my damn pencil/brush onto paper and making art.
What’s coming up for you in 2019?
I just finished up a really heavy season of commission work with brands that I can’t believe (but totally believe..because of all that belief work woooo) I get to work with, and my focus is now shifting to my Skillshare offering. So far my 11 classes have been covering BIG workflows, and tools, and processes. It’s great, but as I said above, the work, the practice, is where we get better. My next series of classes are all about getting in there and just focusing on banging out projects. I’ve been watching a lot of “Gourmet Makes” with Claire Saffitz of Bon Appetit (check it out if you haven’t!), and I’m so inspired by watching her fail in front of everyone, only to work through it to find a solution. That’s what the work is really like for me; I don’t nail a painting on the first try. I don’t create a beautiful color palette right out of the gate. I draw weird dogs and combine terrible colors and eventually I pick at it until it works. This series of classes will hold that spirit as a way to encourage artists to keep at it. To focus on the work. Also I’m going to the UK for the first time in October and am freaking out. In a (mostly) good way.
What’s inspiring you lately?
Real people doing the work. I’m so sick of perfect Instagram feeds and flowery words and perfect perfect perfect. I want to see your real sketchbook, your real workspace, your real spirit. It inspires me to embrace my own.
What did you want to be when you were young versus when it was time to decide what to actually do?
My youngest noted career dreams were dance choreographer and the Loch Ness monster. Not a joke. When it was time to decide I was actually, seriously considering dietetics (I was unhealthily obsessed with my body and how it wasn’t small enough), clinical psychologist, or a lawyer. Hilarious to think about those now. Well not the psychologist bit, I’ve always been fascinated with the mind.