Born and raised in southern Colorado, Sunny Eckerle is an illustrator now living and working in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. She is known for her series, Brooklyn Bodega Cats, as well as editorial and commission pieces, quite often featuring cats in some capacity. Her work has been featured on Brit+Co, DNAinfo, Time Out New York, Brooklyn Magazine, Design Crush, Greenpointers, Catster Magazine, and Brightest Young Things. Clients include Curbed, Urban Outfitters, Country Living Magazine, Valley Cruise Press, A Song A Day, Pancakes and Whiskey, Education Through Music, and more.
I moved to New York City a few months after graduating in 2011. I was lucky enough to be offered a paid internship at a (then) small digital agency in Brooklyn. I started there in August of 2011 and was hired full time toward the end of that year, staying with that company until 2013. I was able to work in several roles while I was there including design, copywriting, and creative direction. It was a great learning experience though I ultimately discovered that digital advertising was not my calling. I missed the conceptual and physical aspect of making art and wanted something more tangible and meaningful.
In February of 2013, I took a job at a two person illustration studio (including me!) that was also based in Brooklyn. Here I was able to experience both the creative and practical aspect of running a small business. Most artists would rather talk about their big name clients than how they do their taxes, but understanding the business side of the process was invaluable for me. I worked at this studio full time for 2 years or so while I built my client base and focused more and more on my own freelance clients.
My experience at FSU was much more conceptual than it was practical, though I don’t necessarily view this as a negative. Being at FSU taught me how to think about and do the work that I wanted to do. My project for the thesis show, for example, was based heavily on sculpture and printmaking. I was teaching myself how to design pattern repeats so I could screen print fabric. I love that I had the freedom to explore those processes and go down a path that I was interested in.
However, I didn’t feel particularly prepared when it came to looking for jobs after I graduated. My portfolio was a bit scattered and I wasn’t sure what area to pursue. I knew a bit of web design and some graphic design. I knew some print making techniques. But I didn’t feel particularly focused on any one avenue and I wasn’t sure where to start in terms of careers. Having said that, I was able to figure those things out and get closer to what I wanted to do as time went on. Knowing how to concept and complete a project was really the foundation, and I was able to build upon that and find my own way after school.
Be proactive about everything. I feel great about my time at FSU and what I accomplished while I was there, but when I think back on college, I always wish I’d done more. Met more people, participated in more events or activities, taken more classes or tried harder in those I did take. It’s hard to think that way when you are in the thick of it and just trying to meet your deadlines, but art school is a really amazing and fleeting time. You’re surrounded by young, passionate, creative people who are all going through the same process as you and trying to carve out a place for themselves and their work. Be around them, interact with them, and ask for their thoughts and advice. I miss late nights at the BFA Studios out in Railroad Square (R.I.P!) when everyone was stressed and excited and tired and working late, together. It was an amazing time and it goes so fast. Be present and open for all of it!
Aside from that, I’d say to really focus on creating personal work that you are passionate about. Don’t make it for anyone else but yourself, but share it with the world as often as you can. Many of the bigger projects I’ve received came about because someone saw a personal project I did in my spare time and liked it. I always expect a big client project to get a lot of attention and spur more work, but more often than not, clients come from the work you do for yourself that no one told you to do. That is the place where you’re really able to be yourself and share your point of view. People respond to that and it’s invaluable to always be making something just for you.
Lastly, I’ll share two of my favorite little phrases, which I repeat to myself quite often. The first is “Done is better than perfect.” You and your work will evolve and get better over time as long as you are consistent and keep doing the work. Don’t expect everything you make to be the greatest thing you’ve ever produced – you’ll produce a lot of crap. That’s ok. Finish it, learn from it, and move on to the next one. If I waited until something was “perfect” to share it, it’d likely never see the light of day.
The second is “Start before you’re ready.” I’ve received emails about projects and thought, “I can’t do this, I’m not good enough yet!” I’m not sure that feeling ever 100% goes away. Push yourself to do things that are outside of you’re comfort zone. The only way to improve is to challenge yourself. Take the jump before you feel fully prepared. Similar to the above, if you wait until you feel ready, it’s probably too late.