We had the good fortune of connecting with Tony Gleeson and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Tony, what is the most important factor behind your success?
I think it’s crucial to first of all be sure you’re correctly defining “success:” what you want it to be, how to recognize it when it happens. I spent perhaps too much time in my early expectations comparing myself to others in my profession; I was guaranteed to fall short. It was only with some years into being an illustrator and designer–and later a published author– that I began to realize that real success, to paraphrase a famous quote, was what was happening while I was making other plans. Doors would abruptly shut on things with which I was involved and I learned to be willing to turn and walk through the unexpected one that subsequently opened. Good grief, sometimes it was more like a window I had to jump through, with no idea where it was going, but I knew I had to do it. One of my colleagues likes to call it “forward motion”: don’t stop moving, stride into whatever presents itself, do what you do. And one day I could look back and see a body of work that just built itself steadily, a wealth of experiences, a history of meetings with remarkable women and men, and the blessings of a family and friends. Quite the epiphany: success wound up defining itself to me rather than the other way around!

Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
My career path has always been more of a meander than a direct path. As a result, while some artists become known for a particular style, approach, or theme, I’ve been involved in a spectrum of styles and applications. The challenge to this is to get your foot in the door of a client to begin with, since they can’t necessarily pigeonhole you to a specific “look.” So that was always the hard part, to get the first job. That was often the most frustrating part that required application and lots of energy. What sold me after that was, to put it in a word, professionalism. Virtually every client for whom I’ve ever worked has said I gave then what they wanted so they came back. I attribute this first and foremost to LISTENING constantly, remembering they are paying me to solve a problem they can’t, to being sensitive to feedback. Of course I have some skills that I’ve worked hard to hone: I can sketch preliminary concepts quickly and with a lot of information and I can draw, paint and digitally render. I’m told I bring feeling as well, especially humor. And, crucial to the client, I meet deadlines. Always. You’d be surprised how many clients think creatives are unreliable flakes. I’ve always proven ’em wrong. And by the way, that practice resulted in LOTS of referrals. You can have fifty futile portfolio meetings and come back to three messages saying, “So and so says you did a great job, when can you start on ours?”
If I had to give one sentence of advice to an aspiring illustrator, that would sum it up: Develop and constantly improve your skills, comport yourself in a professional manner (be on time, act appropriately), LISTEN, remember your job is to solve your client’s problem, and MEET DEADLINES.

If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
My favorite place in Los Angeles is Griffith Park. I’d show them the views, the great trails, the wonderful sense of peace and removal from stress right here in the middle of our enormous hectic city. If that appealed to them, I;d throw in visits to other meandering places like the Arroyo Seco, Descanso Gardens, or the Huntington. If they were really into the tourist stuff, I’d show them some of the famous stuff like Hollywood: the Chinese Theatre, the Walk of Fame and so forth. but for me, the real heart of L.A. is getting up into the hills and beholding the entire stretch of the city. I’d take them on a walking tour of downtown, the Arts District with its amazing murals and galleries, the Last Bookstore, iconic stuff like the Bradbury Building. And I’d try to fit in a visit to the remaining murals by the earlier great wave of L.A. muralists like Kent Twitchell and the Fine Arts Squad. I’d also steer them to some of the great museums we’ve got here: the Getty, the Norton Simon, the Broad, and hopefully one of these days LACMA.
I’m an Eastside guy, and tend to be no-frills when it comes to cuisine. I’d take them to some of my favorite eateries: La Cabañita in Montrose, Shamshiri in Glendale, several haunts on Eagle Rock and Highland Park, and Taco Azteca in Glendale.

Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
In terms of my published books, my wise, patient and steadfast mentor Mary Burgess. In terms of my illustration and concept work: my long LONG time colleague Ted Baumgart; Bill Evans, my editor through four different publishers and several hundred projects; and Art Director extraordinaire Joel Vendette, who always made me look better. And most importantly, my wife Annie, who’s been beside me (and most of the time beside herself putting up with me) through everything.

Website: www.tonygleeson.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TonyGleesonIllustrator

Image Credits
In-studio photo: Marco Aidala Portrait: Tim Ryan

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