We had the good fortune of connecting with Ian Dale and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Ian, how has your work-life balance changed over time?
Work-life balance is always a struggle for me, and it seems the stakes keep getting higher, especially now with a family. My default setting is very tilted towards work. In early adulthood it was an extreme imbalance and I grew disillusioned with work after a while. I was aware that an “all work” approach could not satisfy me as a whole person, but also feared that a more balanced life could never achieve the levels of artistic excellence I aspired to.
Finding balance isn’t just a scheduling technique, it begins deeper down with questions about how life works and what is important to you. I had to sort through my values, but I was prone to extremes—was work everything or was it nothing? Over time my understanding of the role of work has gradually matured and my goals and expectations have moderated, becoming more realistic yet still a vision worth striving for. It is never perfect, but to the extent I still harbor expectations that are out of line with reality, I’m probably setting myself along a path where work-life balance will be that much further out of reach.
That said, I don’t see work-life balance as a consistent, finely proportioned formula that looks the same every day or even every week. I’ve become more okay with the idea that balance occurs over time, with seasons or cycles throughout the year. There are periods when the balance shifts in favor of work —the best take-it-or-leave-it opportunities arrive with a rushed timeline, or my most committed clients have urgent needs arise. And then between those peaks there are periods where I can try to tip the balance in the “life” direction to catch up for a while. I assume that I will always be somewhat out of balance, and I have learned to look for indicators of which things are under-addressed so I can shift more focus there.
It is also increasingly important for me to identify some boundaries—things that will stay in place unless there is a true emergency. Elements like family, faith practices, health… some minimum amount of sleep? When I’m under pressure it can be hard to see clearly, so it helps to already have commitments, habits, and relationships in place that will tug at me and help me stay on track with my values. For me, having some time with my kids in the morning, or being involved at church on Sunday, those are already fixed in place, and I know there will be people depending on me. So when crunch time comes, I need to look for other areas to dip into instead.
As I get older and with two little kids now, it does feel like I have tighter constraints and less ability to scale up to meet a heavy work demand. More than ever, work-life balance is not measured by what I can personally tolerate or find fulfilling – I need to look at it more in terms of the impact I have on others. I’m still getting acclimated to that so I can properly judge my capacity and be able to follow through.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
My illustrations usually revolve around characters and often also point towards some inner state or deeper truths about life. I want my work to be fun and beautiful, but also be real about the complicated brokenness in our world.
I frequently illustrate for children’s books and educational programs and much of my work is with non-profit organizations and faith-based publishers serving a global audience. Some highlights include an ongoing series of international trauma-healing programs with the American Bible Society, illustrated storybooks and materials for children sponsored through World Vision, and artwork for The Bible App for Kids, which is available in over 50 languages and recently celebrated 60 million downloads worldwide!
Recently, I have also been teaming with some self-published authors to get new projects off the ground. With author Laura Richie, we launched The Advent Storybook as a Kickstarter project. It seemed unlikely but the funds came through in the eleventh hour and a great publisher unexpectedly picked it up for distribution! Now we have an expanding series of faith-focused books for families to enjoy reading together year after year.
As a young adult I wrestled with accepting that I would never be the best or most-skilled artist out there, but I felt like one way I could make a distinct impact would be to invest my gifts in directions others tend to overlook. I have traveled abroad and was struck by the contrast between what we take for granted in the United States and what others may not have access to. It is thrilling for me to know that my artwork can reach kids all over the world without me leaving my bedroom! When I started freelancing in 2007 I had a longing for this kind of work but didn’t know if it even existed or how to get involved. I was doing graphic design for local businesses and paying the bills but it took about five years to get my illustration skills up to a more professional level and to eventually have the courage to take a risk in a new area of work.
Once the preparation was in place and I started to take some risks, it wasn’t long before some great new opportunities started to fall into place a little bit each year. I can look back on the last ten years and see so much progress and development, but at each step along the way, there has still been a sense of uncertainty about whether I’m on the right path, frustration with problems, and wondering how long it would be before the next step forward. Patience is key and I’ve had to learn to expect problem solving and growth to occur over a longer timeline than I’d like. It does help a lot now that I have more of a track record and can look back to see how God has provided at different times, I find I can rest a little easier in the many present and future uncertainties.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I’m drawn to the arts and cultural attractions, and enjoying both the urban atmosphere and easy-access natural beauty. We could start one morning in South Pasadena which is like a small-town oasis, and take the metro train into downtown LA for a big city walking tour, including Grand Central Market and the Central Library.
Another day we could combine a visit to The Getty Villa and the beautiful beaches of Malibu. I enjoy the hikes near the Griffith Observatory where you can see expansive 360 views of the whole region, as well as the curated natural beauty at The Huntington and LA Arboretum.
For art we could check out one of the big museums in Downtown LA or Miracle Mile, and some smaller galleries in a hub like Bergamot Station or scattered all around. I love how LA provides a world tour of food, so each day we could enjoy some of the authentic offerings of each region, whether it’s kebab, poke, pho, or injera. I don’t get out as much these days, even before COVID, so thanks for reminding me of all the things I enjoy around the city!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
One pivotal investment in my art career came through Michael Mattesi, a former Disney animator who for a while operated his own small school in Pasadena called The Entertainment Art Academy.
I signed up for a few art classes to address some lacking skills, and for one of the classes, I turned out to be the only student that semester! Rather than cancelling the class, Michael gave me a one-on-one experience, sitting for instruction in his office. I learned the course materials but also gained even more through the impromptu conversations and being able to observe him pursuing his business operations while I worked on assignments.
I only studied there for a year but Michael gave me a road map for the various things I would need to think about and continue learning in the years that followed. After that year he closed the school and was recruited to teach at Pixar in San Francisco, so I am truly thankful God provided that unique opportunity at just the right time!
Michael Mattesi now has a full set of books and online courses about drawing lively characters and animals, as well as online one-on-one mentorship offerings. Check out his instruction at DrawingFORCE.com
Other: Represented by DEBORAH WOLFE LTD: https://illustrationonline.com/artist.php?artistid=114