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Nathan Wright: Illustrating full-time (And loving it)

Nathan Wright

It was January of 2017 when Nathan Wright decided to make illustrating a full-time job.

So we wanted to see how his first year went.

Wright is a Des Moines-based illustrator and a regular contributor to Clay & Milk. Whether it’s creating images for stories or his own cartoons, Wright combines art with his cynical sense of humor.

His latest cartoon is available here.

We asked him about the decision to go into illustrating full-time, the highs and lows that came with the job and advice for younger artists looking to do the same.

Our Q&A is below:

Where were you working before deciding to go full time? 

NW: Before making the jump into full-time illustration work, I spent three years leading digital marketing and innovation projects at the Hy-Vee corporate office.

Was there a moment that made you realize, I’m going to be an artist and an illustrator full time?

NW: I’ve wanted to pursue art as a career since I was a kid. But I always found excuses to stick with the “steady paycheck” jobs. About two years ago I was feeling a ton of regret and couldn’t shake it, so I started planning ahead and saving money for the big jump.

Talk about the last 12 months, what have you experienced?

NW: The last 12 months have been a whirlwind of highs and lows. Every single day has been a learning experience. It has been so much fun.

Any surprises?

NW: Who knew there was such a big market for illustrating houses? I drew my first one in September as an individual commission, and since then I’ve drawn 40+ houses! My customers love giving them as gifts. I wish I’d thought of it sooner.

What happened, that you were anticipating?

NW: I went into 2017 knowing that I needed to experience being a vendor at a variety of different art shows and fairs – from the Market Day Iowa events to Comic Cons. I signed up for quite a few and learned a ton along the way. Some shows were duds, others were outstanding!

How have you marketed yourself to reach new clients?

NW: I use my website, Etsy and social media channels to market myself, but the most effective methods are O.G. word-of-mouth or just asking someone to grab coffee with me.

How is being your own boss?

NW: I absolutely love it. This is the second time in my career that I’ve been my own boss. I’m better prepared and more disciplined this round. The concept of having to report to another human seems so bizarre now.

I remember one day that was full of frustration. Projects were falling through, clients were non-responsive and invoices weren’t getting paid. Later that day, a startup company in Ireland asked if they could license one of my cartoon characters (Fatberg) for a full year in their communication materials. We made a deal and my day was made.

Talk about your creative process…

NW: I don’t have a rigid process. For some projects, there’s research up front and extensive communication with the client about their needs and expectations. Often I’m studying reference material and work by other artists. My most productive hours for pure creativity are 2-10pm. Sometimes I brood in the dark.

What does 2018 look like ideally?

NW: Ideally I’d like to work with more companies and organizations, whether that’s interior art for their workspaces, live note-sketching during visioning sessions, visualizing their customer’s journey, or illustrated work for marketing materials. (Hey, it beats cheesy stock photos!)

Think about the younger artist, what advice would you give them about pursuing art?

NW: Well, I’m almost 41 years old! My advice is to pursue an art career now, as hard and as fast as you can, while you’re still young. If that’s not possible, then do art as a side gig, don’t be shy about marketing yourself, meet as many people as possible and prepare for that day when you’re ready to make the jump.

If you’re going to pursue art full-time you need really thick skin. It’s not for the sensitive. You can’t be in love with your work. You have to fully embrace rejection. Learn from it, get better at your craft, and move forward. It’s also important to develop good communication skills and business acumen. These are big advantages.



Nathan Wright: Illustrating full-time (And loving it) | Clay & Milk
A central Iowa ag-tech accelerator has secured more backers and finally has a name. The Greater Des Moines Partnership first announced the accelerator last year, naming four initial investors. On Monday, the Partnership said the program will be called the "Iowa AgriTech Accelerator" and named three new investors. The new investors include Grinnell Mutual, Kent Corp. and Sukup Manufacturing, all Iowa companies. They join investors Deere & Co., Peoples Co., Farmers Mutual Hail Insurance Co. and DuPont Pioneer. Each investor has agreed to put up $100,000 for the first year of the accelerator. Startups entering the program will receive $40,000 in seed funding in exchange for 6 percent equity. Tej Dhawan, an angel investor and local startup mentor, is serving as interim director until the AgriTech Accelerator names a permanent leader. Dhawan held a similar role with the GIA before Brian Hemesath was named as managing director. As interim director, Dhawan said his main job includes hiring the accelerator's executive director, establishing a business structure and initial recruiting for the first cohort. The accelerator will place few filters, such as location and product, on the applicant pool, Dhawan said. "When you’re seeking innovation, innovation can come from every corner of the world so why restrict ourselves," he said. One area the the AgriTech Accelerator won't recruit from is biotech. For its first cohort, the AgriTech Accelerator will work out of the GIA's space in Des Moines' East Village, Dhawan said. A future, permanent home is still to be decided. The accelerator's program will host startups from mid-July through mid-October, ending with an event connected to the annual World Food Prize. The GIA, which the AgriTech Accelerator is based on, also ends with presentations at an industry event. The accelerator has also started lining up a mentor pool. The Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Soybean Association and the Iowa Pork Producers Association have agreed to provide mentors, as has Iowa State University. While the AgriTech Accelerator is loosely based off of the GIA, it will differ in its business structure, Dhawan said. The GIA runs through a for-profit model for both operations and its investment fund. The AgriTech Accelerator will have a nonprofit model for its operations and a for-profit setup for its fund. Dhawan said the nonprofit model is being used so the accelerator can better work with other nonprofit partners, such as trade associations. "These are all organizations that are nonprofits and can be amazing stakeholders without ever having to be investors in the accelerator," he said. "It becomes easier to work with trade associations in their nonprofit role when we are also a nonprofit." When it's up and running, the AgriTech Accelerator would be one of a handful of ag-focused startup development programs in Iowa. Others include the Ag Startup Engine out of Iowa State University and the Rural Ventures Alliance from Iowa MicroLoan. Matthew Patane is the managing editor and co-founder of Clay & Milk. Send him an email at
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