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Daily Inspiration: Meet Salli Swindell

Today we’d like to introduce you to Salli Swindell. 

Alright, so thank you so much for sharing your story and insight with our readers. To kick things off, can you tell us a bit about how you got started?
I am an illustrator, entrepreneur, and cat lover. I’ve been in the illustration business for over 40 years! I graduated from The Columbus College of Art & Design in 1981 and had several jobs out of college before landing a wonderful position at American Greetings. I spent ten amazing years working there and eventually become a freelance illustrator after the birth of my first son in 1993. My brother Nate Padavick and I became studio partners in 2000. We didn’t actually have much of a business plan or set of goals, but we each used our strengths to help one another and build our business. We quickly became known as the brother/sister duo at trade shows. Over the years, we’ve created thousands of greeting cards, hundreds of editorial illustrations and have also worked with large corporations on special projects. Nate and I work really well together. He tends to think at a 10,000 ft. level while I’m more microscopic. Nate is more formulaic, and I’m more casual. In the 20+ years we’ve worked together, we’ve never had an argument! I like thinking up crazy ideas, and he likes building programs and websites. All of our ideas have come to us while on vacation, hiking, or just hanging out. In 2009 while on a family vacation, we came up with the idea that took us from merely freelance illustrators to content creators and community builders. We are now the founders of three amazing sites that we refer to as the Ecosystem of Illustration. Our creative communities all showcase and promote the work of illustrators around the world. We are the founders of They-Draw, Illustrators For Hire, and The Illustrator’s Circle. All of our platforms have robust Instagram communities that I tend to daily along with my own Instagram. We believe our different schooling and work styles have helped us build our business and our communities. Nate and I each spend about 50% of our time on our personal illustration practices and 50% on nurturing and growing these communities. My own daily mantra is to Stay Colorfully Creative. While not in my studio creating, I can be found hiking one of the many trails around home in Hudson, chopping veggies for my vegan lifestyle, or caring for our 18-year-old cat – ZaBun. 

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey has been a fairly smooth road?
Transitioning from one career endeavor to another has been fairly seamless. I had a bit of a bumpy start right after college. In the early days, I was the fashion illustrator for the Cleveland Press. I loved that job so much, but the paper folded (literally) after I’d been there for only four months. When I quit my job at American Greetings in 1993 to stay home with my first-born son, I didn’t exactly have a plan to become a freelance illustrator, but that’s what happened, thanks to a few very pivotal moments and one special art director. Everything that my brother and I have created has felt very organic and every decision we make reflects our founding principle – To Showcase and Promote the Work of Illustrators Around the World. In the early 2000’s I was taking on so many freelance projects and not always having time to be with friends and family. I’ve got a much better balance these days! 

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
Earlier I mentioned my mantra – Stay Colorfully Creative. That is my guiding principle in everything I do! I consider myself an illustrator not an artist. I love bold color and playful shapes. I like creating images that make people smile. I’ve illustrated thousands of greeting cards, several books, and an assortment of editorial illustrations and pattern designs. About five years ago, I realized that all of the work I was creating was mostly for clients and not for myself. Once I started doing work just for me, I found a new joy. I have a few different styles, but everything I create is definitely “ME.” Back in 2009 when we were on the family vacation that changed the course for Nate and I, it all started with an ink drawing I created of the crate of fresh figs Nate had purchased for the meal he was making. I instantly fell in love with illustrating food. That sent us on a new mission to gather more food illustration clients, which eventually led us to creating our first online community – They Draw & Cook. The full story includes a psychic named Ernesto and a few interesting twists. This was the start of many, many good things! I am definitely most proud of the online creative communities that Nate and I have developed, the friendships we’ve made along the way, and the opportunities we have had to help others on their illustration journey. Nate and I host monthly live Zoom DRAW ALONG sessions to stay engaged with the community. I create fun illustration tutorials and host lots of illustration parties and challenges on Instagram. I love illustrating food and vegan recipes and helping share plant-based goodness. I authored and illustrated a vegan cookbook titled “Colorful Easy Vegan”, available on Amazon. The proceeds from the purchase of my book are donated to Community Solidarity, a vegetarian food bank in New York City. I am probably most known for being an illustration community builder, a strong supporter of other illustrators, and a colorfully creative vegan. 

How do you define success?
My definition of success has changed over the years which is most likely the case for many people. I suppose success for me now means knowing that I’m helping to make a difference in one way or another. My husband and I have raised good kids who are kind, smart, and respectful. We’ve given so many cats a wonderful home and have helped them live happy lives. Nate and I are strong advocates of illustration and feel good knowing that we make a difference in the lives of both amateur and professional illustrators. Overall, every day feels like a success! Being creative, having amazing friends and family, and sharing much of the journey with my brother Nate fills me with immense gratitude. 

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Salli S. Swindell

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