Devin McSherry is an illustrator, lettering artist and surface pattern designer in the Chicago suburbs. She pivoted from a job in marketing, when she enrolled in a graphic design program and realized the ‘starving artist’ stereotype was a myth! Read on for great advice, a monster list of her favorite resources and the next thing she’s going to teach herself.
- Name: Devin McSherry
- Location: Chicago Suburbs, IL
- Role: Freelance illustrator, lettering artist & surface pattern designer
- Reason for Waking Up Every Day: Knowing every day is a blank canvas
- Next Thing She’s Going to Learn: Illustrating for children’s books
- Go-To Learning Resource: Books, online learning platforms & podcasts
- Favorite Place in the Chicago suburbs: DuPage County Forest Preserve
- Find Out More: https://www.devinmcsherry.com/portfolio | Etsy shop
Tell us about your background and how you got to where you are now.
I’m an illustrator, lettering artist, and surface pattern designer born and raised in the Prairie State of Illinois. I’ve been getting lost in art projects since I was a little kid. Always a bit quiet and introspective, I feel like art has always been an outlet to express myself, like a mindful meditation where I could ‘just be.’
As I grew into adulthood and spent a few years in what I thought was a more ‘practical’ job in marketing, my love for art always simmered under the surface. Then, in 2017, I enrolled in a graphic design program and I began to discover countless digital and traditional-media artists doing amazing work in the art world. I realized the “starving artist” stereotype was a myth! I started working on my skills and eventually took the leap to starting my freelance business in late 2018. I’ve loved the freedom it’s given me in all areas of my life and I haven’t looked back since!
What made you want to pursue your profession/area of focus?
Being able to call myself an artist came after lots time and practice… it was a slow journey of building self-confidence, a journey I’m still navigating! For any passion, it’s important to just start. So, I created a bunch of art. A LOT of it was not good, ha. Even now, I make things I don’t like and end up not sharing. But the important thing is to keep going. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, ‘every artist was first an amateur.’
In terms of passion projects, it’s all about finding your niche. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received as an artist is to embrace what makes you unique. I asked myself: What am I truly passionate about? How can I incorporate those interests in my art business?
Over the last few years, my eyes have really opened to the climate crisis, public health issues, and social injustice, so I have made it a point to seek work with brands doing good things for people and the earth. And when I have time to create work that isn’t for a client, I like to incorporate those subjects in my wall prints, greeting cards, pattern designs, and other work.
What gets you excited to wake up every day?
Knowing that every day is a blank canvas – I can wake up and create something that has never existed before. That’s pretty exciting!
What’s the best/most important thing you’ve learned or taught yourself? Why?
I think the biggest lesson I’m learning is that I still have a lot to learn! Never getting comfortable with my level of understanding will hopefully lead to greater levels of empathy for others, increased passion for good causes, and better art.
What’s the next thing you’re going to learn or teach yourself? Why?
I’m signed up for an online children’s book illustration course that starts soon, so I’m excited to dig into that! I’d LOVE to illustrate something that teaches kids about the soil, the fun of growing/cooking natural foods, and greater empathy with all beings on this earth we share.
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received as an artist is to embrace what makes you unique. I asked myself: What am I truly passionate about? How can I incorporate those interests in my art business? Over the last few years, my eyes have really opened to the climate crisis, public health issues, and social injustice, so I have made it a point to seek work with brands doing good things for people and the earth.
Do you have advice for finding a strong mentor/ building a relationship with one?
Most of what I’ve learned has come from online teachers and books, but if you’re looking for a mentor, I’d suggest just keeping your eyes open and look for ways to transition your social media connections to real-life connections!
Social media is a good start, but relationships don’t have to stop there. Go to networking events, in-person workshops, and reach out to local people you admire and ask to meet up for a cup of coffee. Just don’t ask to ‘pick their brain’. I also see the value in not just finding a ‘mentor’, but finding people on the same journey, walking alongside you, learning and growing together.
Favorite resources for ongoing learning?
Books I’m loving:
- I just started illustrating a book series this spring! It’s a folktale series written by Brian Fox Ellis that includes Tall Tree Tales, A River of Stories, and more coming soon. Each book features short stories with a single ecological theme (rivers, trees, birds, etc.). The books are fun and suited for kids and adults – learn more here!
- Art, Inc. by Lisa Congdon is a great resource if you’re looking to turn your artistic passions into a business!
- I finished the Anne of Green Gables series this past year and LOVED it! Any other kindred spirits out there?!
- Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver discusses the benefits of eating locally.
- I’m also reading a few gardening books I picked up from the library since I started my first garden this year! I just have a few vegetables in containers, but it’s been so fun to see my little plant babies grow!
Online learning platforms I use:
Podcasts I’m listening to right now:
- Sustainable World Radio (discusses climate change, permaculture, and overall respect for the earth)
- Creative Pep Talk (great for any artists, musicians, and other creatives)
- Rich Roll Podcast (interview series with people in the health and wellness sphere)
With recent protests following the death of George Floyd and countless others, I’ve been confronted with the fact that I don’t know enough about the experience of the black community. I’ve realized that my ignorance and silence has not served this community, and in fact, has hurt them. I recently started listening to Layla F. Saad’s podcast, The Good Ancestor Podcast, and the Shine Brighter Together Podcast by Monique Melton to start doing the work. This is a very small step on a long journey of learning, unlearning, and action – I have to do a lot better.
What’s your favorite spot where you currently live & why?
After moving from the city to the suburbs, I’ve been really enjoying getting out on local trails, especially in the DuPage County Forest Preserve. I also love visiting the Morton Arboretum for a nature fix. Walking around and taking time to breathe, noticing the subtle changes through the seasons, observing birds and other animals…it all makes me feel centered and inspired to create art. I love snapping photos and using them as reference images for my illustrations.
Out of all the places you’ve been, which has been your favorite and why?
For beautiful landscapes, Iceland and Ireland are at the tippy top of my list. Hiking through Glymur Falls in Iceland and touring the Wicklow Mountains just outside of Dublin were both magical experiences in nature.
But my best memories have to be travelling as a kid to northern Wisconsin and Michigan. Those relaxed, agenda-less trips to rental lake houses with my family were always so much fun. Just swimming all day, eating fresh farmstand fruit, going on hikes, painting rocks…such good times in nature surrounded by people I love.
Bonus: What’s the one thing you wish people would ask you?
‘Hey Devin, want to design a greeting card line printed on recycled paper with plant-based inks?? Oh, and a pattern collection for fabric? And if you want, maybe illustrate a few kids’ books?’
I think all these things can eventually happen! I’ll just continue to learn, make art, work toward goals, form real connections with people, fight for causes I believe in, and create room for new opportunities!