Amy Flynn in her workshop.
From greeting cards to children’s books to robots, illustrator-artist Amy Flynn
has done it all. In-house and freelance
? Yes, she knows both worlds. Flynn graduated from San Jose State University in California 30 years ago, and since then she’s worked as an illustrator for Hallmark and American Greetings as well as amassed her own clients. A freelance illustrator for the past 20 years, Flynn’s latest venture is the Fobot
, short for Found Object Robot, for which she printed 2011 calendars
through PsPrint. I recently asked Flynn about her long career in design – the evolution of her skills, how she finds balance and when robots invaded her life. Your career started in illustration. How did it evolve to robots made of found objects?
It wasn't intentional. I was a full-time illustrator for 25 years until the economy tanked. For the first time in my career, clients were failing to pay me, going bankrupt and canceling jobs I had already finished. My biggest client, American Greetings, put a one-year moratorium on buying any freelance art – it was beginning to really depress me. But I had started making robots for my own amusement out of junk from our basement and the local flea market. My husband said, "Why don't you just take some time off from illustration and go make some robots? You're so much happier when you're making your robots." So I did – and I was happier. After they started to take over the house, I brought them to a local gallery, and the owners encouraged me to sell them to galleries. From there it progressed to selling them at big art fairs, and I haven't looked back. When and how did you learn the technique for assembling your robots?
I've been making it up as I go along. But it seems like every skill I've picked up in my whole life has gone into them – except cooking. Soldering, from years working with stained glass; a lot of tool and machine skills from working on our 90-year-old house and from making props for theater groups in the area; a sense of design from years as an artist; Photoshop and web design for promotional materials – oh, and shopping! Hunting and shopping for good junk is a big part of it. Your career started with a big, well-established company, Hallmark. As a fresh-faced college graduate, were your expectations for the professional design world accurate?
Oh, honey, that was so long ago I don't remember what
my expectations were. I do know that I never expected to work in greeting cards, children’s books, decorative arts. Nobody ever mentioned that option when I was in school – it was editorial and advertising art or nothing. But when Hallmark recruited me, I know I was just relieved to be working in my field. And with benefits and a steady paycheck – woo hoo! You graduated college in ’82, and obviously, a lot of technology has launched since then. How have you kept up on all the new design tools?
I resisted for years,
feeling that no computer program would ever be able to duplicate the effects I could get with paint and brushes. I was wrong. About five years ago I saw some amazing illustration showing up in my local newspaper, and when I tracked down the artist, he said he was working in Photoshop, and I was hooked. The last few years of my illustration career I was working entirely in Photoshop and a little in Painter. Then I picked up Dreamweaver so I could design my own website. But it's been tough, making the transition – I think technology is one of those things, like language, more easily picked up when you're young. You’ve been freelancing for more than 15 years. Is there anything you miss about the in-house world?
Of course – being in the same environment as all those other crazy, creative people! Always having other artists around to bounce ideas off of, share techniques with, bitch with. But then I think about the office politics, having to keep regular hours, filling out time cards – and I miss it less. But I don't really think of myself as a freelancer anymore – since I started making the robots, I'm just an artist. As a freelancer, do you keep regular hours, or can you be found in your home office at all hours of the night?
All hours. I get a lot more done at night. But that's the problem with working from your home – when you're at home, you're always at work. What’s your favorite perk about freelancing?
The office parties. What do you do when you start to feel isolated while working from home?
I do community theater – appearing next as Lorraine Sheldon in "The Man Who Came to Dinner." Working with actors is a lot like working in-house – the politics, the drama, the friendships. I highly recommend it. What’s your office setup – Mac or PC?
PC for years and Mac since August. I highly recommend it. If your career as an illustrator hadn’t taken off, you would have sought a job as a ... ?
There never was a plan B. It's artist or nothing. Do you outsource any of your business, say, accounting or PR?
No. Sadly, no. The Fobot calendar is a pretty brilliant idea – design a calendar with your products that doesn’t look like your usual quickie handout. (Hell Mary is my favorite, by the way.) Is this your first stab at that type of promotion?
This is the third year I've done a calendar but the first time I've had it professionally printed. It started as a gag gift for my friends and family for Christmas, and now I sell them as well as use them as promotional items. I can't sell the calendars at art shows (original art only), but I do have posters up in my booth with the calendar bots on them. People see those, ask about them, and I tell them to sign our mailing list if they want to know when the next calendar comes out. Some of them buy a calendar; some end up buying a Fobot, too. And when their friends see the calendar – who knows?