When we think of people who have inspired us, Meagan Morrison comes to mind for several reasons: she created her own dream job, she’s incredibly talented, and she’s contagiously optimistic. You can tell right away from seeing her illustrations how much skill Meagan has, and you immediately get drawn into her colorfully brushstroked world.
Though Meagan studied business in undergrad, it wasn’t until she was 24 that she decided to go back to school for a degree in fashion illustration. After doing internships and asking lots of questions, Meagan realized that she was going to have to create the dream job she ultimately wanted. The awesome and inspiring part? She did just that.
As a Traveling Fashion Illustrator, Meagan works with fashion designers and high profile brands and travels the world illustrating what inspires her. During our conversation, Meagan consistently referenced how much hard work it takes to make your dreams come true and that you have to “rewire your brain to think positively.” Very true words, and it’s encouraging to know that the road to your dreams may not be easy, but it’s definitely worth the challenge.
We’re excited to share with you Meagan’s interview with Carpe Juvenis! Read on to learn about her role as an illustrator, the greatest lessons she’s learned from starting her own company, and of course, how she seizes her youth.
Carpe Juvenis: How do you define ‘Seizing Your Youth’?
Meagan Morrison: Making the most of every opportunity and asking tons of questions. Those who seek will find. Don’t wait for anything to fall into your lap, you have to go after it. Since I was very young I’d always ask a lot of questions to family friends and teachers. I was constantly educating myself and involving myself in things that I found interesting. ‘Seizing Your Youth’ is ultimately defined by each individual and what he or she wants to get out of life.
CJ: You received your Bachelor of Commerce from McGill University. What did you major in and how did you determine what to study?
MM: I went to McGill and studied business. My older sister went to McGill, as well. When I went to visit her, I remember looking at the girls in the commerce program and I loved seeing how they carried themselves. They were well dressed and professional. I really identified with them. They looked confident, empowered, and determined.
At the time I was very much into fine arts, but I wanted to step out of that for a bit to find myself and my purpose. I knew that with a foundation in business I could specialize and go smaller, but it would be harder to go from something narrower to a business degree. It felt like the right building block at the time.
CJ: You also received an Associate’s Degree in Fashion Illustration AAS from the Fashion Institute of Technology. What was that experience like?
MM: By the time I started my AAS in illustration I was 24 and really knew that the program was what I wanted to do. It was a highly specialized degree that offered fashion illustration as a two-year program. I didn’t want to commit to another undergrad degree, but I wanted a foot in the door in New York. I also wanted to be totally immersed in fashion illustration. I read this quote in a book about fashion illustration that advised to launch your career in a city that matters. I figured if I was educated here and given the opportunity to work here, I would be launching myself in the biggest city in the world for my industry. That’s what prompted my decision to go back to school.
CJ: What sparked your love of illustration and design?
MM: I always loved fashion and art. I didn’t quite know that they could co-exist so intimately until I started working in the fashion industry after McGill. My first internship was at a fashion magazine and I was constantly asking questions between the editorial department and the art department to see how much, if any, traditional art they used. It was predominantly graphic design and photography, so I didn’t see myself in that world. I thought maybe I belonged in the gallery world of fine art. Somewhere between trying out a bunch of different professions in the industry and asking questions, one of my coworkers mentioned the program in fashion illustration at FIT. When I heard the profession and researched it, it felt as though a lightbulb went off. I couldn’t believe that I found something that really combined my true greatest loves: art and fashion. That’s what really sparked the passion for me.
After hearing about the profession and the program at FIT, I went to bookstores and pulled all the sources I could find on fashion illustration. I searched through the glossaries and found names of illustrators, and some were located in Toronto. I reached out to Virginia Johnson, a local Toronto illustrator and textile designer, and brought her my portfolio. I explained to her that I loved illustrating shoes, and she pushed me to follow what I loved and told me that the rest would fall into place. I’ve been obsessed with illustration ever since.
CJ: You are a traveling fashion illustrator and recently branched out to start your own company. What does it mean to be a traveling fashion illustrator?
MM: It’s about being mobile and not just sitting at my desk pulling images off of the Internet. It’s about experiencing the culture firsthand and having that inspire my work. I have always been so passionate about travel and how that would inform my illustrations, and I wanted to be known as an illustrator at the intersection of both travel and fashion. There’s nothing like discovering a new destination and seeing how people dress in different cities around the world. I want to capture how the environment they’re surrounded by influences their style and my work. It’s the same thing when I’m at a fashion show and later do illustrations. I’ve seen the clothes, felt the texture of the fabric, heard the playlist, and felt the mood of the environment. I see the vision that the designer intends for the line. It helps bring the illustrations to life.
CJ: What are the greatest lessons you have learned from starting your own company?
MM: That you never stop fighting. Every paycheck is a fight. Every project is a new hurdle. I don’t mean to sound defeated by that, but it is the most obvious and striking contrast between working full-time and working for myself. I knew every two weeks I would get a paycheck at my last job, but now I have to chase and follow-up on everything. All the work of orchestrating that and keeping projects moving can be a challenge.
I’ve also learned that it would be great to have a sounding board. The thing I miss about working with a company is having the team to bounce ideas off of. It’s always a joint decision. I love the fact that I am making choices for myself and I do have the final say, but I think it’s good to discuss the decision with someone first and come to a well-informed decision. It’s a lot of pressure to not make the wrong choice on your own.
You also have to be careful so you don’t get taken advantage of. You’re constantly looking after yourself. The momentum has to keep going and the ball can’t drop. I find that the more I’m working, the more work comes in. It’s the ripple effect. The chain reaction in itself can be exhausting because when can you ever pause and catch up on your sleep?
CJ: You have done illustrations for amazing clients including Lucky Magazine, Rebecca Minkoff, Calvin Klein, and Conde Nast Traveler. When you work with each client, what is your process and your role as an illustrator?
MM: It honestly differs with every client, how big the project is and how much they want to involve the social and illustration aspects of it. When I come into a partnership I always gauge what the client’s expectations are, the breadth of the project, the timeline, their budget, and then we work from there. It’s about finding the middle ground between what you feel comfortable with and what the client feels comfortable with.
I have a clear vision about the brands I want to work with and how they align with the vision I have about being a traveling fashion illustrator. I don’t take on every project. If people want to sponsor things on my Instagram, I don’t take every product. Every partnership is very authentic. I don’t ever take on a job just for the money; I only do it when I believe it’s genuine and it makes sense.
CJ: How long does a piece take to create from start to finish?
MM: It varies per project and per client. For instance, my Calvin Klein job, I was at the show illustrating live. I could feel the fabrics and speak to the creative director, Francisco Costa, about his vision. I had about two days to turn around finals, but it helped to see the actual clothes. The pieces themselves takes me about three to four hours to complete, but that varies depending on how detailed each piece is. Then I scan the paintings, clean them up in Photoshop, and send the JPEGs to the client.
If it’s a customized piece or if I’m designing something from scratch, that requires a lot more preparation. I’ll do pencil sketches and color comps and then take it to the final round. Some are more laborious and expensive and others are just straight to final.
CJ: What should a teenager or young adult who wants to be a fashion illustrator do to set themselves up for success?
MM: Start asking questions and get a portfolio together. Also, don’t lose your voice. When people are younger they start to emulate the top people, but that’s not an advantage. People don’t want to hire a second rate version of someone else, they want to hire the first version of you. I’ve seen it on social media where people’s styles are so different, and that’s what’s standing out. It’s a saturated market. Keep true to you and keep your voice and style genuine. Embrace the quirks about your style.
There are tons of free websites out there as well where you can put your work online. Keep it clean and simple so you can showcase your work. When I was younger I was constantly illustrating to keep perfecting my craft and finding my voice. I wasn’t thinking about gaining clients just yet. Build your social awareness and share your journey. Then, when you are ready to work with clients, people will already know about you.
CJ: How do you stay organized and manage your time?
MM: I have a massive planner that is 8½ x 11 inches. I write lists every single day, and everything that doesn’t get accomplished the day before gets carried over to the next day. It’s blinding because I highlight everything. I also use whiteout so there’s nothing unnecessary on it. I start and end my day with that book.
From the planner I move to emails. The luxury of working for myself is that I can answer them when I’m in still in my pajamas. I get breakfast and then do errands. I want to get all my errands finished before I start painting, because once I start painting I lose track of time. It’s nice to have everything else taken care of so I feel at ease when painting. I don’t want stress to show through in the work. I often work pretty late into the evenings. It depends on how intense the turnaround time is. I like to end the day seeing a friend or unwinding watching Netflix.
One thing I’d like to do more of is exercise. You have to take care of yourself when running your own business. If you run yourself down there is no business. I don’t have weekends. I haven’t taken a proper vacation when I’m not working. For better or worse, travel has become part of my brand so I feel a sense of responsibility to cover what I’m doing and share it on social media even on my downtime.
CJ: What spring break experience has been memorable for you?
MM: I remember the spring break in my senior year of high school. I traveled with my class to France and Italy. That trip stands out to me because we had a small group of students in my high school, and we were combined with another high school group from the Ontario area. We got to meet new high school students on the trip and it was a prelude to university and meeting new like-minded people. I love how traveling and meeting new people expands your vision.
We started in Paris and hopped over to Florence and Rome. I had the time of my life. It wasn’t about the accommodations or amenities at all. It was about being with people you cared about, having a blast, and laughing a lot.
CJ: Is there a cause or issue that you care greatly about?
MM: Changing the perceptions on mental health, depression, and anxiety is important to me. I don’t think people should be scared to talk about it. Being open and dealing with it as you would your physical health is important. There’s more people suffering from anxiety and depression in the country today than there has ever been. Why is that? It’s a blessing and a curse that we have social media, but it also gives people a sense of inadequacy all the time. You’re constantly faced with what other people are doing and how much more you should be doing.
I’ve had to really practice changing my mindset about that. By nature I’m very anxious and hard on myself. I practice gratitude. My anxiety can be so bad that it could hinder my work flow. When things aren’t totally concrete I’m at my worst. The grey area is the hardest area to live in, but that’s life. Rarely is anything concrete.
CJ: What is your favorite book?
MM: Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert.
CJ: What advice would you give your 20-year-old self?
MM: I’d say not to worry and that everything is going to work out just fine. I feel more confident now than I ever have. Looking back at all the things I didn’t think I could get through, that I have since surpassed, helps me to remember that everything will always work out. I didn’t know then that I’d be able to build a life that I love so much.
I would advise people in their twenties that nothing is handed to you. You have to practice happiness. It can be tough but you have to practice that in the same way you train for a marathon. Rewire your brain to think positively. Also know that happiness isn’t at the other end of success. You can start with happiness and then everything else doesn’t have so much weight on it. If your happiness is contingent upon getting into a certain college or winning a certain award or landing a client, then you’re never going to get there because the benchmark is always raised.
But if you start with being grateful with what you have in the moment, then you’re already working at an advantage. Be grateful for what you have because it can all be gone tomorrow. I feel infinitely happier now than I did way back then, even though I have tons more responsibilities. It’s been a matter of self-awareness and rewiring the way that my mind works.
Images: Illustration Images by Meagan Morrison; photos of Meagan by Carpe Juvenis