How I Got to Be an Illustrator at Google, with No Qualifications

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Comic Strips / Creativity / Interviews / Motivation
How I got to be an Illustrator at Google, with No Qualifications.
In the summer of 2012, I was hired to work with Google in their Mountain View HQ (now remotely) as an illustrator. I'm self-taught and have no qualifications in art or
design. A lot of people asked me how I did it. Here's the story... Since around the age of four, I've enjoyed drawing and making art, especially pictures of buildings and landscapes...

...I also loved volcanoes in school. After school, I was at a crossroads. I needed to decide on whether I wanted to study art or geography.
I chose geography because it seemed more sensible.
When the course ended, I decided to study 'Real Estate' because I had watched loads of TV
programmes featuring building houses and Sarah Beeny
Whilst studying for the course and working for a property magazine in London, I began to teach myself Adobe Illustrator using some online videos...
...This was partly for fun, but also so that I could make pocket money through royalties earned from a stock illustration site. Making illustrations to be sold made me think
about what worked commercially, and forced me to develop a style that stood out.
Within a couple of years I had a portfolio of 350 illustrations on the site, earning me enough to buy sweets and pay the rent each month. This also got me some commisions and I soon
quit working in an office and set out to work for myself.
For the next few years I paid the bills by making pictures of monkeys, undersea creatures, landscapes and buildings, for various people.
I learned so much about promotion and the business of illustration in a short time, that I decided to write a book and set up a website to help other creative people: the one you're reading!
Soon after, I wrote a guide on using social network 'Google Plus' to find new clients.
Through the very actions I recommended people to use in the guide, I got into a conversation with a future designer at Google. He liked my work and was interested in the other
projects I was working on, except the ones where I was taking pictures of my cat.
When he got hired by Google, he dropped my monkey illustrations in front of the head of design at Google+, and a while later, I was offered the job via video chat on Google Hangouts, while wolfing sushi in Tokyo.
And that's my Google story
Takeaways: Be aware of early interested and talents
College training can be really useful, unless it's not. Doing interesting thingsm that are useful to people will be useful for you. Making friends with people in the right places can
change your life
Do share this with the people who night be interested and join the newsletter above for regular tips for creative people who make cool things.
Thank you for reading! Alex (March, 2013)

The Author

Alex is a project starter, sometimes finisher, writer and illustrator. He started Red Lemon Club in 2009 with the aim of helping talented creative people leave their mark.

84 Comments

  1. This is great! The sensible choices don’t often lead to a happy work life but they do give you skills that help later. I too loved volcanos, ended up in management and then discovered my happy skill was illustrating (why didn’t I notice?) It’s so liberating and inspiring to hear success stories!

  2. Loved this one, Alex! For myself, it was: “I chose engineering because it seemed more sensible” and here I am, a designer after all πŸ™‚ Thanks for this.

  3. woah, i know i’m not exactly an optimist person, but when i read these kind of stories i feel a bit of a smile inside. my sincerest congratulation alex

  4. Congratulations Alex, you are an example!
    I’m on the road of building my own brand “Lilipops” and has not been easy, stories like yours I love them !! Good luck and thanks for sharing your adventure πŸ™‚
    I send you a from Colombia South America. Do you have a fanpage on Facebook about your job? I would be a fan of it. My page is http://www.facebook.com / heylilipops

  5. Haydn Golden says

    This is a very awesomely inspiring story. What site were you on when you first started illustrating? I really like your story. Definitely sharing this. Your awesome!

  6. anjocerdena says

    Interesting story, Alex. I sure could use more people like you around me right now, what with all the dilemmas I’m having about sustaining my life and keeping my creativity alive.

  7. Cosimo Andronico says

    Love your work. This made my day ( or maybe my week)
    Thx…

  8. Fabia Turner says

    Brilliant blog! Thanks so much for writing this. As I fellow creative and freelancer deciding on a new career path, this has inspired me! Love your illustrations too!

  9. Lanre Immanuel says

    Though a lot has been said, the beauty and inspiration of your story and work can’t be over stressed, many thanks!

  10. Thanks for sharing your amazing story Alex πŸ™‚
    I think we all dream of that kind of break but I guess the thing is you kept plugging away, making a name for yourself, it wasn’t just chance, you made your own luck by preparing to succeed πŸ˜‰

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  12. Tim Squires says

    Hi Alex, thanks very much for this post – I’m really glad to have found you. I have often admired your work on Google, but have been continually frustrated by Google’s lack of providing a credit for the artist/s who provide them with such outstanding work. Do you have any thoughts on this? Certainly for work in print illustrators are always given credit for their work, and it seems rather unfair for Google to not do the same and display a clear credit line or link for you. But anyway, it really is good to have finally discovered who owns the talent behind this beautiful work – sincere congratulations. Tim

    • Thank you for your concern, Tim. I couldn’t comment, but this will be dealt with in the agreement artists have with the company. Good point and thank you!

  13. love this story! I went through a similar meandering experience and finally affirmed that I couldn’t escape my true nature, no matter how badly I wanted to have security instead. Once I made that affirmation, things began to magically fall into place. Now, for a living, I interview other creative people with similar stories. The best interviews are with people in their 70s and 80s who have spent a lifetime perfecting a craft. You can almost feel the deep happiness radiating out of them. As Joseph Campbell said, follow your bliss. It’s really that simple, as scary as it is to take a step into the dark unknown. Kudos!

    • Thanks Amy! Interesting about the affirmation. It shows that by making a firm decision on something, especially when it answers to your true ‘nature’ you can really move forward and do well. Great to hear about the happiness in those that follow their craft. Excellent! Thank you.

  14. I think you should have used the word Credentials instead of Qualifications in the title. Having sold many illustrations and developing a style that is unique is the hardest part. You’re clearly qualified, just not formally schooled. That being said, capitalizing the skill on social media is a nifty trick most creatives want and need to learn more about. Thanks for learning what works and sharing what you know now.

    • Thanks Jeff. That’s a good point and I agree, though the post title has a certain ring to it, and I’ll leave it for now. All the best! Alex

  15. Andre Tacuyan says

    Amazing story! Gives me so much motivation and inspiration! πŸ™‚

  16. This is very inspiring. Thank you Alex. It gives me faith that I can still make it.

  17. Marc Lougee says

    Great post, Alex. Inspirational, and real world proven. Nice! ALso, love the illustrative stuff sprinkled the– you’ve got a great style, and neat to see the stuff front and center.
    Cheers, M.

  18. Hamish says

    An inspirational article. Great style! Next stop youtube and adobe illustrator :). Best of luck with everything Alex.

    • Hi Rika,

      I went to see them in Japan, and I think first got excited about them in a BBC documentary about them πŸ™‚

  19. Chiali Tsai says

    Thanks for making those articles. its so easy to read with the illustrations and so encourage! πŸ˜€

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  22. Really interesting read! I had experienced a similar situation, although mine didn’t end with a job offer from Google. I wasn’t able to find the style that will make me stand out so instead I decided to combine the illustration skill, the marketing skill, and my web development skill I got during that period and created my first startup (http://www.mycolorscreen.com) and sold it later on.

    “Be aware of early interests and talents” is the best advice you could get as a youngster. Once you know, every decision you make after that will get you closer to your dreams than not knowing what you love.

    Love your illustration by the way. πŸ™‚

    • Alex Mathers says

      Great comment Pete, thanks! Great story too – the startup you built looks excellent. I’d love to hear more about it and your experience with setting it up and selling it.

      Thank you dude!

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  27. Malika says

    Alex, I love you! Lol. Thanks a lot for sharing your journey! I’m a rising college senior and I’ve been contemplating whether I should take the mass industrialized route to “success” and go straight to graduate school or take some time to explore the dormant seeds of talents and interests that are waiting to germinate within me. This inspiration is the water to my garden, right now.

  28. Angelica says

    Wow, I really needed this. I’m 14 and I want to pursue art so badly, but no one I know believes it. I love learning and all, but NOTHING gets me as interested as art. Nothing. I can draw for hours, and I do, save for the 30 maybe 40 minutes arguing with my parents about it. I know I ‘have’ to do good in school, and to be honest, I know I can. But I want nothing else but art. I don’t want to be rich and go to an Ivy like every else I know does, I just want to afford to keep drawing.

    Why does life make it so hard? Why can’t I say I want to be an artist and not get the dirty looks my friends and parents give me? They say, be anything!, but when I picked art their opinion totally changed.

    Anyways, I saw the last comments were from two years ago, so chances are you’ll never see this Alex… but thank you, I needed this badly.

    • Alex Mathers says

      Angelica – seriously – do what you are passionate about. Absolutely do not give into the comments and suggestions of others, even family. Do what makes you come alive. Do email me if you have any questions. Alex

  29. Eva Valentine says

    Dear Alex,
    This is really inspiring..I just got out of my drawing II class where we were having a critique. Im usually proud after a critique but this time I wasn’t. I went home feeling like my heart wasn’t in art anymore or maybe just that style. I want to be an illustrator. So I looked up how and came across this article. My heart is in my cartoonish style with crazy hair not this realist charcoal powdered drawing business. I just want to take this moment to thank you for cheering me up. 1) because your cat 2) because sushi 3) because of those silly pink monkey people whom I adore and 4) because you helped me realize that instead of me making art to please people in school, I should adapt my style to the requirements of the project. Anywhoo, thank you
    Signed, Eva V.

    • Alex Mathers says

      Hi Eva,

      thank you πŸ™‚ and it is my pleasure to hear things like this. Go for it!

  30. ArchiVisionDirectory says

    Great story, sound like a dream to me. I’m so glad you made it. I think you have more quality in your life because you have more freedom than before. Now you have much more choices and more time because of you passive income. Who doesn’t want that?

    • Alex Mathers says

      Thank you! It’s great, but there is work to do to be completely free :)…

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