Speaking of Illustration - Jacob Thomas

Pittsburgh Society of Illustrators is presenting four lectures this year called “Speaking of Illustration” to showcase nationally and internationally recognized illustrators. The first was on Saturday night and featured Jacob Thomas, an Art Institute of Pittsburgh alumnus living in New York as a professional freelancer.


He grew up in a small town, joined the Coast Guard for a while, went to art school and then (successfully!) made The Move to New York city where he spends his days making a living doing illustrations. He’s relatively young — as in, freshly into his thirties — and he has done so much in his years since leaving the Art Institute. His clients have included The New Yorker, Bath and Body Works, AIG, Forbes Magazine, Esquire, The Art Institute of Pittsburgh, Wall Street Journal, Vibe Magazine, ESPN Magazine… and more. His work has been recognized by NY Society of Illustrators, CA Illustration Annual #46 Cover, CA Fresh Section, American Illustration, HOW International Design Annual, Print’s Regional Design Annual, and Semi-Permanent.

So yeah, he’s got it — how do the kids say it? — going on.


It’s one thing to read about people that succeed in their fields; it’s another thing entirely to hear them speak about it in person… with a slideshow, no less. Thomas was casual, funny and came across as very approachable. His style is fun and fresh, with strong inking and vivid colors that smack you in the face (in a good way). There’s also a surprising amount of motion to each piece, which I find fascinating, and a yummy gritty quality that makes them more real.


As robust as his career has been so far, he was clear at the end of the presentation that his journey has taken a lot of hard work. He showed an abbreviated version of his process, a painstaking combination of hand drawn artwork and computer work. Plus, in the wake of many rejections over the years, he’s just kept trying which should be a lesson to everybody. I certainly saved it somewhere in my brain, and plan to pull it out when I get my next 20 rejection letters. In fact, I wrote “TENACITY” on a piece of 17×11 paper and hung it in my studio when I got home.


And, seriously: I thought I was goal-oriented, but this guy puts me to shame. He is a To-Do-List Master. Coast Guard in Hawaii? Check. Art school? Check. Professional New York Illustrator? Chickity-Check.

I originally moved to Pittsburgh to attend the Art Institute in the hopes of becoming an illustrator. Between you and me, I only took Graphic Design because it had two Illustration electives. Not one of the smartest decisions to base my education on, but thank goodness it all worked out. I found my illustration class to be lacking, although not because of the teacher: my brain just wasn’t ready for it yet. Around the same time, I broke out of my blood-feud with computers and fell in love with design. Six years later, I find myself full circle, designing for a living and doing illustrations on the side.

Sooo… semi-professional Pittsburgh illustrator? Check-ish. I’ll take it.

This was a great event. PSI plans to do three more of these, and I hope I’ll be able to make them all. It was insightful, interesting and the inspirational jolt I’ve been looking for since finishing my novel. It got me excited to create again. And I’ll definitely be on the lookout for more of Thomas’s work.

*All of the images in this post are Thomas’s. I don’t know the legality of posting them here, but I’m happy to remove if I’m contacted to do so.

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