My Story: How I got into Illustration

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Fashion and art have always been a part of me.  It's cliche to say I've been drawing since I can remember but that's the absolute truth.  I can remember several times throughout elementary school that kids paid me to draw them something and the praise I gained for my artwork was truly addictive.  It's no shocker that I sought out a creative career as an adult but illustration was never a career that I planned for.  I started my professional career as a fashion designer straight out of college but I couldn't be happier with the opportunities I've stumbled upon since taking a leap of faith and moving to New York City in 2012.

After landing a job at Calvin Klein as an assistant designer, I was on top of the world.  I was finally reaping the benefits of all my hustle in the fashion industry and loving my new team.  Unfortunately, the universe had its own ideas.

I started to notice changes in my energy levels:  Some mornings it was almost impossible to drag myself out of bed.  I began taking sick days due to pure exhaustion and when I did make it to work, I would sometimes fall asleep at my desk.  I was also gaining weight in a slow but steady stream and no amount of cycling or pilates was counteracting it.  I went to a few doctors but they were all convinced I was stress eating and exhausted from my new job.

After a year of struggle, I decided to resign and take some time to work through my health issues.  It was heartbreaking for me to let go of my design career, but I knew I needed to focus on my health and dedicate my time to healing.  I was sleeping close to 18 hours a day and essentially watching my life pass me by.  Doctors were hesitant to label my health issues, so I went untreated for Hashimoto’s disease for two years, causing significant weight gain, new food allergies and a host of other undesirable health problems.

It was during this time that I realized I needed a creative outlet.  I decided to try my hand at watercolor as I had seen some beautiful watercolor paintings online and was intrigued to try it for myself.  The beginning was rough.  Watercolor takes a good deal of skill and technique.  Through countless hours of practice and plenty of botched paintings, I found my footing.  

I (almost) feel lucky that my health forced me to take some time away from design.  I never would have had the courage to quit my day job to pursue art as a career and I couldn’t be happier with my new-found purpose in life.  I have been a freelance illustrator for almost two years now and I am happier than I have ever been mostly due to the creative freedom I enjoy on a daily basis.

My weight gain is still a struggle.  I have found a doctor who listens to me and I’m well on my way to recovery, however weight loss is a very slow process for someone with hypothyroidism.  I have spent the last few years hiding from friends, family, and followers, embarrassed about the dramatic change in my appearance.  Sharing my story and my struggles with all of you brings me a wonderful feeling of freedom and acceptance.  I'm so happy to finally be able to open-up and share how I turned one of the worst things that's ever happened to me into one of the best.


  1. Dena, I love following your Instagram and it's great to get a deeper insight into your work on your blog. I think we're living parallel lives! So much of the above relates to me and my career, I can totally empathise. Wishing you every success in your illustration career and hoping your health continues to improve. Charlotte x

  2. Hi Charlotte,

    Thank you very much for your kind words of encouragement - I think a lot of artists turn to their creativity in times of need. I can't tell you how many people have confronted me saying they have lived a similar story. It's wonderful to see people turn their hard times into art. I wish you the best and am following your journey as well! xx, Dena


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