Illustrator Spotlight: Will Terry

© Will Terry


Illustrator Will Terry is known far and wide in the online kidlit community, not only for his vibrant and fun illustrations, but also for the tremendous outreach and education he provides on his blog, YouTube videos, and online classes (Folio Academy and The School of Visual Storytelling, or SVS). 



Tell us about your background and how you came to illustrate children's books.

I really wasn't good at anything else. . . and when I went to college I realized I really wasn't that good at art either. I was allowed in on probation in my BFA program. I think being on the bottom of the class gave me the fuel I needed to work much harder than many of my classmates. 

I started illustrating concepts for editorial publications but the stress of coming up with good ideas was paralyzing. I found myself working on narrative illustrations in my spare time. I realized I was a children's book illustrator without book projects. So I joined an agent who was heavily immersed in the publishing world and started getting picture book assignments.


© Will Terry


Like many other illustrators, I came to know you through your blog and online classes. You have been so generous with your knowledge about illustration and the industry. How did this gig (sharing information and teaching online classes) come about?

It's kind of a long story, but after my wife got sick and had to quit her teaching job, I was left to make up her income while maintaining mine. All of this happened when the recession was ramping up. We were struggling and I got the idea out of sheer necessity. I asked myself, "What can I do that I'm good at and that I love?" The answer was teaching online. I was already teaching part time at Utah Valley University (UVU) in the illustration department but it wasn't paying enough. I asked my developer brother-in-law how hard it would be to put videos on my site and he made it happen. I've now sold my tutorials in over 60 countries and counting.


© Will Terry


What's the difference between the Folio Academy and the School of Visual Storytelling? 

Folio Academy (www.folioacademy.com) provides self directed art and illustration video tutorials. This was a great start into the world of online teaching but I was being asked if I would mentor, tutor, critique, or teach live classes online. It was a natural progression to start The School for Visual Storytelling (www.svslearn.com) so I asked my friend and fellow illustrator Jake Parker if he would want to enter into a venture like this with me. 


Work done for Character Design SVS class © Will Terry

I felt I needed a partner to help in the online classroom and to back each other up as well as argue about principles and art decisions. I think it makes for an interesting way to learn for our students. They don't have to only take one teacher's word for it but they also get differing opinions from time to time. We spend a lot of time critiquing our students work which is invaluable for improving. We have big plans for the future of this venture and it's a lot of fun!

What projects are you working on these days?

I blog regularly, post YouTube videos regularly, work on SVS, fullfill freelance assignments (just finished one for Nat Geo Learning), work on picture book projects, teach part time at UVU, am about to release the second Gary app - "Gary's Worms" on iOS & android, and have started working on an Xbox game with a talented team of developers. (Ed. note: Gary's Place is the original app)




What is the biggest mistake you see with beginner illustrators?

Not developing a unique style. Using too many stock digital tools and looking too much like everyone else. I think moving to digital tools before you can create traditionally is the culprit. The most successful artists I know who are working digitally were accomplished in their traditional mediums first. Of course there are exceptions but I don't think it's a coincidence that so many digital superstars can create traditionally. The "undo" and ability to use and throw away layers is counter to the natural learning process through consequences. What ability of great worth have you learned without consequence?


Recently published book


What advice would you give to new illustrators trying to break into the field?

I could talk for an hour on this subject. I'm going to have to rely on my youtube videos for this one - it that's legal :) "My Speech to Illustration Students- Part 1"


© Will Terry


What inspires you?

Hard work and passion. I feed off the energy other artists are putting out. If I can tell you had the time of your life making an image I'm usually inspired. I consume a lot of great illustration work. My creation workflow begins with about a half hour on Pinterest.

What is one thing most people know about you?

I've shared so many things on my blog and YouTube videos and facebook that there isn't much left...so how about a random fact. I'm the only person I know who has ZERO cousins, aunts, or uncles. Both of my parents were only children.


Thanks so much for joining us this week, Will!


Will Terry has been a freelance illustrator for 23 years. He was horrible at math, english, and science...luckily he found art. After finishing his BFA project at BYU he began working for magazines and newspapers not far from where he grew up in Washington D.C. His early clients include publications such as Time, Money, Wall Street Journal and ads for Sprint, Pizza hut, M&M Mars, Fed Ex, and Master Card. He has illustrated about 30 children’s books for Random House, Simon Schuster, Scholastic, Penguin, Klutz, and Albert Whitman. He has created several indie ebooks that have sold tens of thousands of copies and has started a story app series with Rick Walton beginning with “Gary’s Place”. He also co-owns Folio Academy and svslearn.com - online illustration classes for children’s book illustrators selling in over 50 countries.

3 comments:

  1. Will Terry is some kind of awesome! I love his Folio Academy classes (whenever I can get the internet speed to watch them...*sigh*). I also love his classes with Jake Parker...so much fun watching the two of them banter! Excellent advice about mastering traditional media before moving onto digital. I honestly cannot believe that he was not that good in art either. :)

    Thanks for a terrific interview, Sylvia and Terry! If I weren't already a fan of Terry's before, I surely am now.

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  2. What a fantastic interview! I also feed off the drive of others (which is why my critique group is invaluable to me on so many levels). Your illustrations are amazing and so vibrant, I could look at them for hours! Thank you so much for sharing your insights with us, Terry! :D

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  3. I am so glad to see an interview with Will Terry and learn a little more about how he got to where he is today. I have done a couple of his classes and his YouTube videos are invaluable for emerging illustrators and equally practical and inspirational. Thanks for this interview Will and KL411!

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