When Jared Lee picks up a pencil, millions of children laugh

If you know a kid who loves the Scholastic “Black Lagoon” book series, then you’ve likely seen an illustration by IUPUI Herron School of Art and Design alumnus Jared Lee, who earned a BFA in visual communication in 1966.

Below are highlights from a Herron blog post featuring Lee’s reflections, 46 years and 27 million books after graduation.

Did you ever want to be anything other than an illustrator?
No, I’ve always wanted to be an illustrator. I’ve always drawn. And when you’re that young, you don’t really know what to do with it, but I wanted to be an artist.

Why did you pick Herron?
I remember my parents taking me to the art school. That was really cool. I got to meet some of the people there, walk around, look at the classrooms. One thing I’ll never forget is the smell. It smelled like oil painting and paper and charcoal. I loved it. As far as I knew that was the only art school in America. You’re a little kid, right? You don’t know any better. And that’s just where I was going to school. So, it would have broken my heart if they’d said “No, you can’t come.”

How did Herron inform your growth as an artist?
In my life drawing classes, I did the flowers and the models, I could do that. But where it got to be a problem was in advertising. Everyone else would think serious, or the design guys would be very design-y, but my stuff was always coming up humorous. I don’t think they knew what to do with me, to be honest with you. My junior year my main advisor, Mr. Weaver, pulled me aside and said “Hey, Jared, we had a meeting, and we decided you do what you want to do.”

They were going to grade me on my own merit, not compare me to this guy who did this great design piece or someone who illustrated what the car really looks like. So that was a big opening for me. And my grades got better then because that’s how I was graded. They accepted me doing this funny stuff.

My senior year the National Cartoonists Society had a contest. I sent my stuff in and I won it. I had a letter from them to show Mr. Weaver, and I don’t think he could believe it when he first saw it. My dad and I went to New York to get the award and the school flew Mr. Weaver up, so he was there when I got the thing. So letting me in worked out for the school.

What advice would you give a student?
What do you do if you’re a young artist and you want to stay focused on what you do and maybe someone says they don’t like your style? That happened to me one time in Chicago. I was kind of established then, maybe I was in it for 10 years, and I went to this one agency. At the time, airbrush art was big. This one art director says, “You know, maybe you should change your style, go to the air brush thing.” I walked around the city, depressed, until my next appointment, where I got rave reviews. That snapped me out of it.

It’s OK to get criticism. Some of it’s good, you know? You always want to listen. My thing is, this is just how I draw.

What would you say to someone who questions the value of an art degree?
I’d say they’re wrong, of course! We’ve been blessed with a talent. And there are schools that grow this talent and help you develop it. I’ve never talked to anybody that’s ever regretted having an art degree. So in answer to your question, go for your art degree for sure! Be happy. Work hard. Grow your business. You don’t have to be a freelancer like me but whatever company you work for, be the best artist you possibly can be … and be happy doing it.

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