PROVO — In 2010, during the heart of the recession, Utah-based illustrator and founder of Inktober Jake Parker decided to make a career change.
He got his first job at Fox Animation Studios as an "inbetweener" — basically a bottom-of-the-barrel job assisting animators. Then, after working his way up in the industry for 12 years, Parker said he felt a pull toward something different.
Though he only went to a semester and a half of community college, Parker got a job at Brigham Young University teaching illustration. So, he and his family made the move to Provo from Connecticut. Parker said he saw the teaching job as a "transitional career" that would allow him to eventually work for himself.
Today, Parker has made that happen. He teaches online classes with a few other illustrators, but mostly works out of his private studio illustrating children's books and comics.
As a father of five kids ranging from age 7 to 16, Parker often finds himself shuttling them back and forth between their three different schools and various activities, but he makes sure to devote his mornings, when his mind is fresh, to working on creatively demanding projects.
What he enjoys most about illustration as opposed to animation is it's a "creative problem to solve that's all on me," he said in an interview. While animation is very collaborative, with children's books, he works alone to execute his artistic vision.
"There's something invigorating and enjoyable about that to me," he said. "I get to share with people how I envision this thing to exist."
His most recent book, "The 12 Sleighs of Christmas" (written by Sherri Duskey Rinker, Chronicle Books, $16.99, ages 3-6), is his first full-fledged Christmas book — his 2015 New York Times best-seller "The Little Snowplow" had plenty of snow in it, but no Christmas. When his agent showed him the story for "The 12 Sleighs," Parker said it was right up his alley.
"It was a really nontraditional approach to a Christmas story, about the elves designing all these different sleighs," he said. "That was super fun because I love designing really interesting vehicles, and I love interesting characters and complex images. (The story) just had everything I'm looking for in a project."
He enjoys the storytelling aspect of art and knows that even in a seemingly silly children's book about elves competing to make the best sleigh for Santa, the story teaches about problem-solving and consequences in an unexpected way.
In addition to illustrating children's books and comics, Parker is also the founder of Inktober. It started in 2009, when he posted on Instagram that he planned to create a new drawing every day for 30 days. This year, he said there were 3.2 million Intokber posts on Instagram.
Inkober is just one of the ways that he tries to pass on his experience to others. His personal mission statement for his art is to first, support his family; second, send something cool into the world; and third, teach others.
"If there's a way all three of those things can be satisfied at the same time, it's the perfect project," he said.
Parker shared these five pieces of advice for building a career as an artist:
1. Master your craft. Do whatever it takes to get your skill to the level that someone would hire you, whether that's taking classes at college or online, or finding a mentor.
2. Always have a personal project that you're putting out into the world. You can self-publish, make prints and sell them or post online. It doesn't have to be perfect, it just has to be finished and out there for the world to see so you can get noticed.
3. Document your progress online. Post your art on Instagram, YouTube, Facebook and/or Twitter. Have a clear goal stated on these platforms of what you want to achieve in your career and, as you attract followers, someone might help you get there.
4. Network offline. Attend trade shows, conventions, demonstrations or conferences and start making friends. Get to know people in the industry because that's how you get hired.
5. Fill your creative bank account. To continue to create, you need to constantly fill your account with creative ideas based on experiences. These can be the experiences of others you get from movies or books, or your own life experiences through traveling or paying attention as you interact with others.