An Interview with Freelance Illustrator and Designer, Paul Girard

By: Katherine Humphreys | Faculty, Graphic & Digital Design, The Art Institute of Pittsburgh—Online Division

August 17, 2018

Paul Girard
Paul Girard lives in New York City where he is in high demand for both his illustration and design skills. Paul works in various media and does anything from book illustration to event display design. Some of Paul’s clients include: Star Wars, Conan O’Brien, HGTV, and the Harry Potter franchise.
We sat down with Paul and asked him how he got his start and how he keeps the work coming in as a freelancer.

Hi, Paul! Thanks for talking to us today. How long have you been drawing? I've been drawing since I could first pick up a pencil! In fact, I have an odd way of holding my pencil when I'm drawing because I taught myself to do it before I ever entered pre-school, and they were never able to break me of my bad habit.

Star Wars Book Covers

Where did you go to school? What was your major? I went to the Maryland Institute, College of Art (MICA) in Baltimore, Maryland. I started out as an illustration major but, at the time, the school was much more geared towards fine arts. I wound up switching majors to General Fine Arts because there was a lot more flexibility in what kinds of courses you could take. I specialized in drawing and printmaking.

Where are you from, where do you live now? I'm originally from Norwood, Massachusetts but I currently live in Manhattan in New York City. I spent about 20 years in between living in Baltimore, but moved to NY in 2010.

What kind of jobs have you had? While I was in college I worked a lot of retail, and then my first full-time art job turned into a career. I got a job as an illustrator with The Becker Group where I did conceptual artwork for large scale holiday displays for malls, hotels and casinos. We also did entertainment based experiential marketing touring museum shows for such things as the Chronicles of Narnia and the Harry Potter films. Eventually I worked my way up to running their art department until the owner retired and the company was restructured. 

Gingerbread house for HGTV

Tell us about a current project. Some of the most exciting work I've done over the past couple of years are book cover designs for Barnes & Noble's leather-bound classics line. I've done a total of 8 covers and 4 of those were Star Wars themed, which were a dream come true. I'm currently working on a 5th Star Wars book that will be out around Christmas of this year.

Star Wars poster created by Paul Girard

What does professionalism mean to you? Being on time. Having good communication. Listening to what the client wants is always important. It's crucial not to let ego get in the way of doing the job you've been hired to do. 

How do you get these jobs? Honestly since moving to NYC most of the work I've been able to do has been through people I got to know through my years of working. Contacts and connections are very important. It truly does sometimes come down to who you know. 

How do you keep these working relationships so that they continue to ask you for more work? First of all, do good work and they'll ask for you again. But second, do keep working relationships ongoing even if there's no work at the moment. Be active on social media and show off personal work or other jobs you're doing. Remind people you're there. 

How much direction do customers give you? I'm usually given pretty specific instruction when I'm working on a project, which I find actually helps. I am much more successful when I have set parameters to work with. The more the client tells you what they specifically want, the easier the job is. 

What is your exact process? I'm guilty of not doing enough prelim work. I hardly ever do sketches, as I tend to jump right in to more finished work. The majority of my work is done digitally through Photoshop and Illustrator. These days I don't do a lot of hand-drawing, so sketching happens less often. For the book cover work I've been doing, generally I wind up doing between 5-10 very rough digital comps for the client to pick from, and then a more final version is illustrated from there. If I'm working with a licensed property, there tend to be multiple levels of approvals I have to go through before the final is decided upon.

Do you use a wacom? Do you use a giant pad? What are the technical details? I've been using a Wacom tablet since 1997. I was lucky enough to learn to use it on the job at the same time I was learning Photoshop, so I have a lot of experience with it. Over the years I've used various sized tablets. Right now, since a lot of the work I've been doing is on a laptop, I travel around with a Wacom Bamboo tablet, which gets the job done for me.

What do you do for fun? I'm a giant nerd. I'm big into comic books, video games, toys, etc. I thought that might change as I got older, but not so far. 

Vintage image - recoloredWhat other kinds of art do you do? I have a side business ( selling vintage stock illustration on some of the bigger stock sites. It involves vectorizing and coloring old copyright free images from the 1940s-1950s and repurposing them. Beyond that, I don't do any work just for fun or for myself these days. When you're busy working on art for other people, it becomes hard to find the time or energy to produce work that's just for you.

What advice could you give to students who want to enter the illustration world? I would say a lesson I learned is not to turn down work you feel might be beneath you, because you never know where it might lead. I took on a temp production job at Sterling Publishing for three weeks literally hand-cutting out 300 flat package design prints with an exact-o knife and folding them into boxes for a presentation. While I was there, I got to know the woman who art directs all of Barnes & Noble's leather books. She found out I was an illustrator and a sci-fi fan and offered me my first Star Wars book. That book job led to 8 more.

Star Wars poster created by Paul Girard
Anything else you'd like to add? Style is no substitute for substance. Before you develop a personal style, make sure you have a good solid foundation of drawing skills. But, ultimately, do the kind of work that you love and makes you happy and someone is sure to respond to it. To find out more, visit Paul's website:

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By: Katherine Humphreys | Faculty, Graphic & Digital Design, The Art Institute of Pittsburgh—Online Division

August 17, 2018