Marella Moon Albanese / How Illustration Changed My Life
Art has always been a big part of my life. I remember my mom’s bedroom door when I was a kid being covered ceiling to floor in drawings I did. Her room was right next to mine so between the two of our doors, it was like this tiny gallery of outrageous children’s drawings; from dragons and unicorns, to portraits of my family, and so on… but especially dragons and unicorns. I was always doodling, which was a bit of a problem in early grade school. I went to a catholic school and have many memories of class being stopped to tell me to stay focused and stop drawing; despite this, being the bit of a trouble maker that I was, I continued. I even ended up getting a little award in first grade at the local college for a drawing of a little plaid dog I had done! I had one specific teacher, however, that I’m convinced was hell bent on getting me to stop completely; at one point even holding out an eraser and convincing me the cheap pink eraser (I was in third grade, how would I know?) was only meant for real artists, (emphasis on real) before handing it to the kid next to me and declaring I could never be as good as him. This only pushed me harder into making art.
Growing up, I didn’t know going to school for art was really a path I would be able to go down, but nothing stopped me from drawing and feeling like it was possible to make a livelihood from it. My mom, despite working several other jobs at the time, had started her own business designing and crafting frames on Etsy (side note: she eventually opened her own store and years later, that is still what she does!) Seeing her do this inspired me to pursue art as a job, which I did with her help, by selling drawings and small pieces on Etsy as well. Even my first official clock-in/clock-out job, which I got when I was around 14, was face-painting at a local farm for their fall festival. Around the same age, for my birthday, my mom snuck me a drawing tablet so I could do digital work. We were pretty poor and living with my uncle at the time who was, needless to say, not a big fan of me or anything I found joy in, so her getting me that gift was a really big deal. I still use the same one to this day. I would spend any time I could drawing on the desktop, which, in a way, was my teenage rebellion against him.
When I was probably about 15 or 16, I saw an artist I followed on Tumblr had “studying illustration” in their bio. I had no idea what that was or that going into art that wasn’t graphic design was an option, so I googled “illustration” and was enlightened. Finally, there was a name for what I wanted to do. Around the same time, I was invited by a church friend to go see the Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC with her. A SUNY art school in New York City? It was perfect. I set my eyes on getting there no matter what.
Junior year of high school, my aunt told me about a state art school program she had once gone to for high schoolers called The New York State Summer School of the Arts (NYSSSA). I was able to get a scholarship and go for the summer. There, my future in art was solidified within myself. I began getting illustration work for a brewery my mom had been bartending for. It was very local and in a small town but I felt like doing this kind of work was what I was meant for. I finally felt at home doing what I wanted to do and couldn’t wait to push myself completely into the life of the arts. My senior year, I became art club president and held a show with my portfolio, as well as the work of peers! Art officially felt like home. I received several art scholarships toward school and was accepted into my dream school.
College is where my work blossomed. I felt I could truly express my work and grow as a person like no other point in my life. I learned extensively with the help of my professors about the upcoming world and how I would approach it through an illustrative lens. I was the first person in my family to graduate college after that. I also won best illustration for the class of 2020. Unfortunately, I was thrust into the world right at the start of COVID-19.
After graduation I was at a loss at how to pursue my career. I spent many (MANY) hours researching and emailing possible clients; writing personalized emails to each in an effort to get myself across even more in a newly shut down world. I had been told by professors to enter contests and had done so (even getting into Society of Illustrators Annual Show my senior year.) Luckily, it all paid off.
A year or so after graduation, I was approached by Anna Goodson, who asked if I was looking for representation. I jumped at the opportunity and my life hasn’t been the same. I have been with Anna for over two years now and every time I get a job, I think back to a time in college when I would tell myself I would be happy when I could buy myself a pizza with an illustration gig. Though I had worked illustration gigs in the past, none of them felt completely official until I was working with Anna. The pizza I ordered with my first job under Anna Goodson Illustration was vodka sauce with basil and I’ll never forget it.
Even now, I can’t believe this is my career. I often have friends and family who can’t make sense of illustration as a job ask me what else I want to do with my life or how I make money, and I get a sense of pride when I tell them I am actually doing what I want… which seems to be getting increasingly rare these days… but I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else than where I am now.