Cedric Hohnstadt Interview and Life & Work Lesson

Cedric Hohnstadt professional illustrator specializing in character design and toy design.

Cedric is teaching the Be Your Own Boss: Freelancing Tips and Tricks online course.  In this interview Cedric shares some advice and a short story on the importance of meeting expectations which may sometimes means saying “no” to a project you really want to do.  Cedric expands on many of these ideas in the online course on freelancing.

Life & Work Lesson

When I’m talking about freelancing I like to share this story about a time I really screwed up a job:

Several years ago I got a call from Crayola asking if I could illustrate some characters for them. This was early in my career and it was one of the first times I was ever contacted by such a big client! How could I say no to Crayola? The only problem was, they needed the art in a hurry and I was getting ready to drive my family across the state for a wedding. My gut was telling me “Don’t do it, you won’t have time” but my brain was thinking, “This is Crayola! I’d be an idiot to say no to them.” So I told them I could do it.

I wound up working in my hotel room very, very late. I was exhausted and stressing out and it showed. The work was definitely sub-par. I turned it in, and a couple of days later Crayola called and said they were pulling the plug. It was years before I could ever convince them to hire me again.

That experience taught me about the danger of over-promising. Yes, it would have been hard to say no to Crayola. But the truth is if they liked me enough to call me once, they would likely call me again. They would have respected me for admitting I was too busy to do a good job for them, and eventually we might have had a long and fruitful relationship. Instead I promised more than I could deliver and as a result I destroyed any chances for future work. That was a big lesson for me.


What advice you would give to aspiring artists?

There’s so much I could say but for the nutshell version I like to quote Neil Gaiman. He said you only need to do three things to succeed in any career: Be skilled, be likable, and meet deadlines.

In other words work hard until you master your craft; be kind and helpful (especially to your clients); and build a reputation for turning things in on time. Get a handle on those three things and you’ll always have work to do.

What is your favorite movie?

That’s a tough one. Lately I’ve been studying filmmaking and watching a lot of old classics. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find some old black and white movies that are still remarkably entertaining after all these years. Some are as good or better than a lot of what is coming out today. Billy Wilder’s “The Apartment” is probably my current favorite. Another one is “Marty”, the winner of Best Picture from 1955. It’s all about a bachelor dealing with the pain of loneliness, yet somehow the movie is never depressing or sad. I’m still wondering how they pulled that off! Rent both of them. You won’t regret it.

What is your proudest accomplishment?

On a professional level, last year I was chosen to do the artwork for the back of the “monster cereal” boxes (Count Chocula, Frankenberry, etc.). That was amazingly cool! On a more personal level, several years ago I illustrated a cartoon Gospel tract that I think has a very important message. To date over five million copies are in print and it has been translated into over twenty languages. You can read it for free at http://www.freecartoontract.com.