Name: Meagan Morrison Job Title: Traveling Fashion Illustrator Job She Quit: Senior Graphic Designer / Social Media Manager
Meagan Morrison solidified herself firmly in the Quitters Club by not only quitting once, but by quitting twice. After receiving her Bachelor of Commerce Degree at McGill in Montreal Canada and working professionally in fashion for two years in Toronto, she decided to quit (the first time), move to NYC, enrol in a two-year illustration program at FIT, and start from scratch. After graduating from FIT she got a job working as a Graphic Designer, but after three years, she quit (the second time) to pursue illustration full-time - and it’s paid off. In less than two years of being on her own, her client list is a who’s who of the top brands and publications in the world, including Conde Nast Traveler, Vanity Fair, Diane Von Furstenberg, Harper’s Bazaar, Calvin Klein, The Ritz Carlton, Saks Fifth Avenue, and the list goes on.
Modest Upbringing: I’m from Canada, and went to high school in Newmarket Ontario, a little town outside of Toronto. I really got into fine art and painting when I was little. I was in an accelerated program in high school and really loved it, but by the time college came around, I wasn't sure about going in the direction of fine art. I feared a future as a struggling artist, so I went to McGill University in Montreal, Canada and got my Bachelor of Commerce degree. I minored in marketing and art history, so I got a little bit of that art influence still. When I graduated I was itching to get out and get into fashion.
The Spark: My first two years out of college I worked in the fashion industry in Toronto. My first job was interning for a fashion magazine. I was asking a lot of questions and trying to find my place in that industry. Eventually, a co-worker mentioned to me that I should look into fashion illustration. I found a two-year program at FIT in New York. I applied, got in, moved to New York City in 2009 and have been here ever since.
Starting Over: The hardest thing was going into an undergrad program with students a lot younger than me, and saying goodbye to the stability and independence of a full-time salary. I stuck out a little bit, but I knew what I wanted to do and for those two years, I was focused and in a world of my own.
Broadening Horizons: The Summer before my 25th birthday I traveled to Dubai. I was struck by how different fashion and culture was there. I started thinking about ways I could capture it and showcase it to an audience, getting them to engage with like-minded people. That was the spark I needed, so my 25th birthday hit and I set up Travel, Write, Draw that same month.
The Process: The name Travel, Write, Draw is really the process of inspiration to final product. Travel is the kickstart. Every painting begins for me with a destination as inspiration. When I travel to a new city I absorb it and process it. I like to write down my thoughts as I go, things that struck me or inspire me, and that inevitably comes out into a work of art.
The First Quit Moment: I had two major quit moments. The first one was after McGill working in fashion in Toronto. I was in fashion PR and I knew I wanted to take a chance to pursue fashion illustration in NYC. It was scary because I was already on this clear trajectory. I could have stayed with the same designer for a really long time and have the security net of being close to my family, having a salary and the independence that comes with having your own money, but I also felt this underlying feeling of “if I don’t take this chance I’m never going to know” and I couldn’t live with the thought of not knowing what could have been if I hadn’t gone to New York and pursued my dream. I really took a chance on myself.
Visa Complications: Visas are very stressful. The complications of being a Canadian in NY are that you have to have a company sponsor you so you can stay here and work. This put handcuffs on me essentially for a couple of years. So, by 2014, I decided it was time to go full-time. I co-founded my LLC here in NYC and then quit my full-time job to do Travel, Write, Draw full-time. For me, it’s a test of how badly you want to be here. I’ve been on 4 different visas in 6 years, not because I wanted to, but because I was required to. I’m always aware of that ticking clock, that you really don’t belong here as much as you would like to.
The Second Quit Moment: If I was going to evolve and do what I came here to do, it was time to leave. At the time I was picking up some speed with Instagram. At the point when I left my job, I had 8k followers on Instagram and was starting to get some traction. Now that seems like nothing because it feels like everyone has over 100k, but back then 8k was a lot. I was getting attention from magazine publications and different brands and certain things were saying this was the time to do it. It just took everything to fall into order with my company in terms of cutting the ties to my employer and launch.
I’m Really Doing It: September 2014 was a really big launch for me. It was my first month on my own and it was also fashion week in New York City. I was only about 3 weeks into blogging full-time when I was made a suggested user on Instagram and my audience went from 8k to over 100k in three weeks. That was the big propeller moment. It just felt like ‘wow, this is meant to be’.
Play the Long Game: When I first moved to New York City it was really devastating for my family to say goodbye. My Mom, Dad, and sister are all in Canada, and I was the first one to break the mold and come to the United States. There were a lot of hurdles every step of the way and there was a lot of doubt for a very long time whether this was going to pay off. Eventually, after putting in a few years of hard work is when we started to see the rewards of the labor, and my family was relieved, super proud, and really happy for everything that was going on.
Living the Reality: At the end of the day this is how I make a living. People always ask “what does it feel like to live the dream?” and I say it’s not a dream, it’s very real. There is a lot of hard work that goes into sustaining this. I can’t remember the last time I took a weekend off. I love what I do, but you are never really off. You’re married to your profession and that definitely has put other things on the back burner.
Becoming Sustainable: In the long term I don’t know if it’s sustainable, but right now the momentum is going, so I’m just running with it and keeping it up in the air. I’m getting to a point now where I’m being choosy with the jobs I want, and I don’t have the fear month-to-month that I won’t be able to pay rent or buy groceries. It’s slowly becoming more sustainable.
Painting for Instagram: When I paint, it’s often with the intention of posting to Instagram. It is a very different space now than it was 10-20 years ago. Back then, artists had to wait and reveal their work by getting published or in a gallery and they had more time to think and stretch their boundaries. Today, if you’re not posting everyday, people think you’re never coming back. There is a little bit of pressure to always be posting, so I’m always thinking ahead about content to pick for Instagram that makes sense with something I’m working on now or somewhere I’m traveling to very soon, but also being able to paint in private to push my own limits and expand my style.
Experiment, It’s Free: We are so lucky today because we have these platforms that are at no fee to experiment on and test before taking a huge risk. I was working on my blog from 2010-2014 before I quit my job. At that time I was also dabbling on Instagram to see if there was a reception over my work. A lot of people get into this situation where they want to do something innovative but there are too many barriers to entry. Keep it as simple as possible. Test the waters. Grow it organically. You don’t have to take the enormous leap right out of the gate. It pays to do your research and take your time. I was doing this for a long time before going full-time. I knew there was a changing in course. Instagram was picking up, there was a huge revival and interest in illustration, so I knew the timing was right to take the leap. If there was a recession, I wouldn’t have done that. You just have to be mindful.
Invest in Yourself: I’m of the belief that you’ve just got to take a chance on yourself, because life can be short if you’re not doing what you love. I think it’s good to be humble, to live in your vulnerabilities and own that. Be aware of the risks, but keep pushing through.
Freelance Realities: Last summer I was about a year into this and I didn’t know the ebbs and flows of freelance yet. Things inevitably died down and I thought “is this the end?”, but then September came and I had a huge fashion week season and everything turned around catapulting my career that much further. You never know what is around the corner, you never know where the next partnership is going to come from, you don’t know what’s going to happen with a chance encounter that’s going to change the course of your life. So I say just keep going, even when you have those doubts, just push through because you don’t know what’s coming next.
One Shot: Your happiness is up to you, your life is up to you. It’s up to you to find what makes you feel fulfilled. I was looking for answers, that’s why I found them. If you were waiting for it to fall in your lap, chances are that’s not going to happen. Everything that’s happened, that has come together for me in my career, I’ve worked really hard for. Every step of the way there was a cost to pay, but it has finally paid off. I’m no different than anyone else, I just tried really, really hard, and I stuck with it. We’re all on our own journey at our own time. No two lives are the same, you’ve got to go at your own pace and you have to go with your gut and your instinct.
Meagan Morrison is a fashion illustrator based in Brooklyn, NY. You can read her blog here, and follow her on Instagram here.