Sunday, August 1, 2021

Writing an Elevator Speech (for Illustrators)

© 2014 Don Arday.

In addition to a professional bio and an artist’s statement, every illustrator should write an elevator speech and then memorize it. An elevator speech provides an intelligent answer to the archetypal question posed by acquaintances and your grandparent, “Now what is it you do again?” A good elevator speech can even provide the answer to “Now what is an illustrator exactly?” And a really good elevator speech can do it before the questioner has a chance to roll their eyes. All kidding aside, you will be asked these questions time and time again over the course of your career, so it only makes sense to have a well thought out answer prepared. Especially for those times you least expect such a question…like when you are riding in an elevator or you happen to encounter the creative director for a large ad agency in a bar.

What An Elevator Speech Is


First and foremost an elevator speech is a short and concise statement. In fact is can be as short as 10 seconds, or the infamous “in 25 words or less”. However, depending on the setting it can also be longer. 

An elevator speech is usually spoken in conversation, which may result in some verbal interaction, but it can also be written when a brief introduction is needed.

By comparison, not exactly an elevator speech, and even briefer, social media such as Instagram limits bio statements to 160 characters. This compounds the challenge to state your case briefly.


Your speech contains chosen aspects about you, your activities, interests, and where appropriate, even your sentiments. Even the very way it is composed and presented can communicate how you think and view your profession.

Example: I’ve been an illustrator for 24 years, a graphic designer for 19 years, an art director for 6 years, a creative director for 7 years, a copywriter for 13 years, an educator for 32 years, an administrator for 9 years, and an author for 3 years. How old am I?

Example: I’m an illustrator who educates, a graphic designer who writes, an art director who designs, a typographer who illustrates, a creative director who writes, an illustrator who art directs, a writer who types, an artist who designs, and a teacher who learns. I could keep going if you’d like.

What An Elevator Speech Contains

All or some of the items below can be combined to form your speech depending on the position and vocation of the people you will have the occasion to speak it to, and the amount of time that will be available.

 A personal and or professional description of you.

Example: I recently completed my BFA Degree in Illustration at the Rochester Institute of Technology, RIT.

Example: I just relocated from Minneapolis to New York to illustrate entertainment and broadcasting commissions; my favorite type of work.

 An attention grabbing statement.

Example: I worked on an animation that just appeared on Saturday Night Live.

Example: I designed the latest edition of “The Winnie the Pooh” books for Penguin.

 A description of what you do.

Example: I mainly create illustrated characters that appear in various forms of print such as books and print ads.

Example: I create interpretive illustrations of subjects that are to difficult to be photographed like schizophrenia or indigestion.

 What is unique about what you do or the way that you do it.

Example: I produce illustrations for editorial articles that appear in medical journals and healthcare publications.

Example: My work is definitely unconventional as I illustrate on sheet metal rather than paper.

 A statement including your target audience.

Example: My latest commission had me working on settings and characters that were animated in Houghton Mifflin Harcourt children’s video books.

Example: Braintrust Creative, where I work, has me creating storyboards for retail market clients like Premium Outlet Centers.

 A statement referencing your clients.

Example: I’ve illustrated for Forbes, Business Week, The Atlantic Magazine, and others.

Example: I work on a variety of in-house publications for Bank of America and Merrill Lynch.

 A concluding statement of a goal or an aspiration.

Example: I feel a good place for me would be working for an advertising agency or television network like ABC.

Example: I eventually want to write and illustrate my own children’s books.

What An Elevator Speech Does Not Contain

 Long drawn out statements or stories
 Any type of criticism.
 Non-relevant information.
 References requiring further explanation.
 Commands or directives.
 Excessive background information.
 Excessive emotion.
 Swearing or slang.
 Mention of other artists for the sake of comparison.

Writing a Bio (for Illustrators)

A business biographical statement is yet one more credential in your arsenal of job and business documentation. Bios are an essential and necessary component that must be provided for many professional opportunities and situations. A bio serves as a formal, personal introduction that vocalizes your status as an illustration professional to potential employers and other parties interested in you and the work that you do. Bios are needed when applying for a job, posting on a blog, communicating through social media, etc.

© 2014 Don Arday
To write an effective bio you must know what your bio should be about and identify your purpose and whom the bio is intended for. You must also know the media or venue you are writing your bio for. A bio for a personal web page might be very different than a bio for a job application or a presentation to a professional society.

A bio can be formal, entertaining, professional, or secretively personal, and it may be necessary to write a bio as a specific occasion demands. It is not uncommon for bios to be customized for the need at hand. Regardless of what the purpose of your bio may be, there are certain given pieces of information that will form its basis.

Your Name 

Always introduce yourself, both on paper and in person.  Don’t assume whoever is reading the bio will have heard of you. In fact, assume that they know nothing about you. Use your true name. The name you want to be referred to for the rest of your professional career can also be included, but after your true name is stated.

Example: Elizabeth (Liz) Jamison although born in England, grew up stateside in Indianapolis. Liz attended the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) where she received a BFA in Illustration.

Your Profession

Not all of the places your bio may be seen, such as Facebook, will be directly related to your profession, so it’s important to quickly and specifically identify your field of business.

Example: James specializes in children’s book illustration; there are more than two-dozen of his books available nationally.

Third Person

MOST importantly, you must write in the third person. THIRD PERSON IS THE STANDARD STYLE FOR A PROFESSIONAL BIO. Though your bio is written in the third person, it can still be made to sound personal, familiar, and friendlier.

Example: Ron has been creating award-winning illustrations since 2009. This sounds less egotistical and more believable than: I have been creating award-winning illustrations since 2009.


A bio is not a novel. In fact it is a story of a professional life in 300 words or less. Start with what is essential to establish whom you are. Explain your relationship to your field is and what your career desires are. For a boxer, it would be his fight records and his physical statistics. For an illustrator it would be accomplishments that are relevant to the illustration profession. Extraneous details, in other words, information that is off topic has no place here. Due to the limited format of social network sites and online web hosting sites, an online bio will probably be even shorter with the most important information coming in the first 25 words. Also be aware that certain venues limit the number of words or characters allowed such as Twitter, which has a 140-character limit.

A less than 140-character example: Chicago born, and an alumnus of Northwestern U., Gary Miller has illustrated for Pepsi, Google, Reebok, and the NHL, with awarded success.


Be certain to highlight your most important accomplishments, Dean’s list, a juried national exhibition acceptance, etc. If an accomplishment is significant accomplishment, then include it. However, it is not necessary to repeat notable information that is listed on your resume.

Example: Sarah will have a solo gallery in the 2018 Armory Show.

An Attention Getter

If you have a special accomplishment then state it. Something you are, or can be identified with. If it is on your resume, don't expect someone will find it. Use an accomplishment to hold a readers interest, or to make a note. Illustrator’s who have some notoriety for a particular achievement will state it along with their name.

Example: Aldo Mere known for his excellent digital vector art technique has worked with John Lasseter at Disney...


It’s perfectly acceptable to include a statement or two that will project a bit of your personality. This can add some character to your written materials, which can in turn support the character of your visual presentation. It also helps to humanize you in a way that would interest a reader.

Example: When Don was three years old he knew illustration was in his cards, he couldn’t read the cards yet, so he relied on the pictures, from then on he was hooked.

Closing Information

A good way to conclude a bio is with contact information, short and sweet, such as an email or web address. You can’t assume that other materials that already contain your contact information will accompany your bio.

Example: Susan can be contacted at


Your bio should be well thought out and carefully composed. Your bio is a window that readers can look through to see what you look like. It is important that there be no typos or improper use of language. And you can’t always rely on a spell checker to catch all the mistakes. (See below.)

Example: Recently, Beth was also delited to here she recieved too awards from the Society of IIIustrators, there top metals. The sentence should appear as: Recently, Beth was delighted to hear she received two awards from the Society of Illustrators; their top medals.

Writing an Artist Statement (for Illustrators)

But I’m an illustrator…artist’s statements are for fine artists…why should I need one…?

In addition to having an effective bio statement, these days, illustrators need to have an artist’s statement. And whether it is written by the illustrator or written by a “ghost” writer, an artist’s statement can provide desired information to a reader in the absence of the illustrator, or even examples of their work.

© 2014 Don Arday.

What An Artist’s Statement Is

Many people don’t realize that most fine artist’s have more than a single artist’s statement, and in fact may have created several of them. They most likely will have a general statement, which is meant to serve in non-specific situations, such as online, social media postings, or for other media publications. Artists will also create specific artist’s statements, that each pertains to a specific art installation, or to a thematic body of work. So some artist’s who explore a variety of different directions for their work may have written a number of individualized statements.

An artist’s statement would be more aptly titled, “an artist’s ‘art’ statement”, for it is really the art itself that is being written about, not so much the artist. One way to look at it is as a biography, not of the artist, but of the artist’s work. Another way is to think about it is as a story of your art.

What An Artist’s Statement Is Not

It is important to remember that an artist’s statement is not strictly speaking a personal biography, although it usually contains biographical elements for the purpose of establishing a context for the artistic narrative. Let your bio do the job of providing information about yourself, position, qualifications and, achievements. Allow your artist's statement to speak about your art.

The Proper Voice

There is some debate concerning whether an artist’s statement should be written with a first person or a third person voice. Depending on the purpose for the statement it may be appropriate to use either. The first person voice is a more personal way of stating things. The third person voice is considered more formal and impersonal. Many fine artist’s prefer to write using first person form, especially for exhibition specific explanations their work and processes. For this sort of purpose, the first person form is perfectly appropriate, whereas for a more general, holistic purpose, the third person form would most likely be more beneficial.

First Person Voice 

© 2006 Don Arday.
The abstract works represent a total departure from the genre, style, and direction of my past work. The works are a part of 
my ongoing series that is based on the perceptual effects of association and geometric logic. They are concerned with the unraveling and/or building recognizable patterns, and a search for meaning in the discovered forms. The composition, surfaces, and elements within the image suggest possible identifiable, familiar human traits, expressions, etc. I call on each viewer to exercise his or her own set of visual beliefs. However, the number of elements and inconclusive suggestions for a viewer invite them to constantly reevaluate their perceptions.
My process of creating the works involves an investigation into decision-making, connoisseurship, intuition and serendipity. All bear a central role as intangible influences on the effect of a completed work. Viewers are engaged in the process of forming images in an attempt to define their own parameters for the image. The complexity of elements within the images challenges the attention capacity of the viewer compelling them to engage in their own manner of perception, judgment, and discovery.
             My work is created digitally using raster and vector based software programs. There is no acquired imagery of any kind used. All forms, textures, objects, and lighting effects are digitally created. All elements are prepared in Illustrator, exported to Photoshop, and customized for final output.

Third Person Voice 

© 2000 Don Arday.
Don Arday is Professor of Illustration in the School of Art at Rochester Institute of Technology. He has produced award-winning illustrations using computer media for Forbes, Coca-Cola, AT&T, Pepsi, Sprint, Fidelity Investments, and CNN to name a few.
            The work shown here presents narrative themes. The illustration themes were inspired by story concepts, content, and context. Although the images were created for a particular story, seen out of context, the narrative works invite the viewer to define their own version of a story, which will be influenced by their own history and associations. Several works were commissioned for corporate and consumer publications.
The works presented are created digitally using raster and vector based software programs. There is no acquired imagery used in any of the works. All forms, textures, objects, and lighting effects are digitally created. All elements prepared in Illustrator, exported to Photoshop, and customized for final output.

What Should Be Included

A Description of the Art

The physical appearance of the art should be briefly described. Although artist’s statements are usually seen in context with an exhibition or examples of the art, sometimes they are not. Using distinguishing adjectives to help describe the art can add interest for the reader.

Example: Described as logos on steroids, the bold geometric forms in Don’s illustrations give them an iconic appearance.

A Historical Context

All art, or in our case illustration, has a place among other art and illustration. And is usually influenced if even subconsciously by other art. Influences are appropriate within this context.

Example: The illustrations evoke the mechanical simplicity and directness of early 20th century applied advertising art as well as other art genres such as Art Deco.

A Biographical Context

As artists the directions our work takes and what we wish to express within our work are often influenced by our past personal experiences. Each and every artist has a unique background, which shows itself in the personal preferences that influence the appearance and provide an inspirational basis for our work.

Example: Having worked as a graphic designer for many years, Don applies a conceptual methodological approach to create inventive visual interpretations of narrative subjects.

Media and Techniques Used

Readers and viewers of the work will be interested in how it was achieved. What media and or materials were used, and the way the media was applied to create the work—in other words the artist’s artistic process. Whether the art was produced with traditional materials and methods, using digital techniques, or a combination of the two, this information should be provided in an artist’s statement.

Example: All of Don’s illustrations are a combination of vector- and raster-based digital software. By combining Adobe Illustrator with Adobe Photoshop Don is able to utilize the best of both digital environments. The “drawn” portion or basic structure and coloration of an image are laid out in Illustrator. Don’s work requires the utmost placement and compositional accuracy. From there the “design” is exported to Photoshop where photographic and painterly techniques are applied. All textures and any environmental effects such as wood grains, or cloudy skies are digitally created if not in Photoshop, then by using Daz 3D Bryce.

Content, Concept, and Context

If there is an ideology that underlies aspects that appear in the artwork, then it should be explained. A body of work usually has thematic overarching concepts that weave though it. An artist’s statement identifies and explains the context for these aspects and concepts as they relate the work. Illustrators may not realize it, but the reasons behind the decisions that are made in the work are of interest to an audience and are equally as important as the physical aspects displayed in the work.

Example: Abstraction of form and a deliberate visual understatement of detail are themes common in Don’s work. The images call on the viewer to understand a narrative that is visually presented as a combination of simplified geometric forms. The abstractness of form gives the illustrations a unique identifiable style.

What Should Not Be Included

 Quotes about your art made by others such as clients, art reps, and colleagues.
 Uncommon language, such as colloquial slang, or invented phases.
 References to little known sources that require their own form of explanation.
 The mention of other artists for the sake of comparison or name-dropping.
 Non-relevant information such as statements that are off topic.
 A diatribe or any other form of criticism.
 Imperative statements that appear as commands or directives to the reader.
 Exclamatory sentences that display excessive emotion.
 Excessive background information.

Always Proofread 

Your artist's statement should be carefully composed. It is important that there be no typos or improper use of language. You will most definitely benefit from having someone else take a look at it to get a second opinion.

300+ Action Verbs To Improve Your Resume Writing

Action verbs play a very important role in effectively presenting activities on a resume or in a cover letter. When used to describe academic pursuits, occupations, accomplishments, skills, knowhow, interpersonal experience, and interests; action verbs add clarity and interest to items listed on a resume. Additionally, an effective choice of action words can eliminate wordiness from activity descriptions, thus making a resume more efficient.

© 2014 Don Arday.
Example 1:
Without action verb: 
Was responsible for forming groups of incoming students for activities and exercises during freshman orientation.
With action verb: 
Grouped incoming freshman for orientation activities and exercises.
Example 2: 
Without action verb: 
Had authority over a team of employees who were tasked with producing creative concepts for clients.
With action verb: 
Managed concept production of company creative team for clients.

The verbs below are arranged into skill categories relevant to types of job descriptions that pertain to careers in illustration. Some words are applicable to more than one category.

Management/Leadership Skills

Achieved, administered, arranged, articulated, assigned, attained, authored, chaired, competed, conceived, conducted, contracted, convened, coordinated, created, delegated, designed, developed, directed, earned, effected, employed, executed, facilitated, influenced, initiated, instituted, instructed, intervened, invented, investigated, managed, mastered, modeled, organized, oversaw, planned, presented, presided, protected, recommended, regulated, represented, resolved, shaped, solved, specified, succeeded, supervised, visualized

Research/Writing Skills

Analyzed, annotated, appraised, assessed, authored, briefed, calculated, catalogued, categorized, charted, coded, collected, compared, compiled, composed, computed, conducted, consolidated, contacted, corresponded, created, critiqued, defined, derived, designed, determined, developed, devised, diagnosed, directed, discovered, dispensed, displayed, distributed, drafted, edited, elicited, estimated, evaluated, examined, exhibited, expanded, experimented, explored, forecasted, formulated, identified, illustrated, inquired, inspected, interpreted, interviewed, inventoried, investigated, measured, modeled, observed, outlined, predicted, presented, processed, produced, published, questioned, recorded, regulated, reported, reproduced, researched, reviewed, revised, rewrote, searched, solicited, solved, studied, summarized, surveyed, synthesized, tested

Teamwork/Interpersonal Skills

Articulated, arranged, briefed, clarified, collaborated, communicated, competed, confronted, contacted, convened, coordinated, delegated, elicited, employed, encouraged, endured, enlisted, exchanged, explained, facilitated, fostered, influenced, initiated, inquired, instructed, interpreted, intervened, interviewed, introduced, listened, mediated, motivated, negotiated, participated, represented, resolved, responded, shaped, shared, solicited, supported

Financial/Technical Skills

Acquired, activated, administered, analyzed, applied, assessed, briefed, calculated, catalogued, categorized, channeled, coded, compiled, computed, conducted, defined, delivered, derived, designed, developed, devised, drafted, formulated, implemented, inspected, installed, mastered, monitored, operated, processed, programmed, protected, provided, published, recorded, regulated, repaired, reported, reproduced, responded, searched, shared, simulated, solved, supported, systematized, tested, trained, translated, tutored, updated, wrote

Teaching/Training Skills

Adapted, advised, assigned, coached, collaborated, communicated, conducted, counseled, critiqued, demonstrated, designed, developed, directed, educated, encouraged, evaluated, examined, facilitated, guided, implemented, imposed, influenced, informed, inquired, instilled, instituted, instructed, introduced, investigated, judged, lectured, modeled, monitored, motivated, organized, outlined, oversaw, participated, performed, persuaded, planned, prepared, prescribed, presented, programmed, questioned, reported, researched, responded, reviewed, revised, rewrote, scheduled, schooled, studied, supervised, taught, trained, tutored

Sales/Public Relations Skills

Articulated, communicated, contacted, convened, corresponded, delivered, demonstrated, developed, dispensed, displayed, earned, elicited, encouraged, entertained, exhibited, expanded, facilitated, formulated, increased, influenced, informed, introduced, inventoried, listened, located, maintained, marketed, motivated, persuaded, promoted, publicized, purchased, recommended, recruited, represented, responded, routed, scheduled, shaped, shared, solicited, sought, stimulated, succeeded, suggested, supported, surveyed, targeted

Organizational/Detail Skills

Administered, arranged, assembled, briefed, catalogued, categorized, coded, collected, compiled, contacted, coordinated, corresponded, distributed, edited, executed, grouped, identified, inventoried, located, monitored, regulated, responded, retrieved, scheduled, summarized, supported, systematized, updated, verified