Lilian Darmono, Illustrator & Art Director

Glory To The Mother | Lilian Darmono
Glory To The Mother © Lilian Darmono

Lilian Darmono is an Illustrator & Art Director who was born and raised in Jakarta, Indonesia and now lives in Melbourne, Australia. She has over 15 years experience as a designer, specialising in character-driven animated and illustrative pieces. Her client list includes American Express, Coca-Cola, Disney, Google and Unilever among many others. In her spare time she is dedicated to helping the creative community flourish through journalism, mentorship and public speaking engagements. Thanks so much for chatting with us Lilian!

What do you do?

I’m a working parent, who earns a living through being an Illustrator and an Art Director. Most of that involves designing concepts, characters, and environments for animation projects, but recently I’ve started doing more ‘traditional’ illustration gigs like posters and flyers via my agent Jacky Winter Group.

Whatever the end result, what I get paid for is to solve visual/aesthetic problems. Clients will come to me with a list of requirements and/or influences and it’s my  job to come up with the best visual solution that meets their communication objective. In whatever little spare time I have, I also try and do what I can to give back to the community via informal mentorships, writing articles, and so on.

What did you want to be when you were a child?

A doctor, or an artist. My father told me when I was 13 that I am too soft to handle the emotional tribulations of being a medical professional, so I concentrated on the artistic path instead.

Tell us about your journey to becoming a freelancer.

I was made redundant from my first proper job after graduating. I’ve only worked there for a year, but I was sick with glandular fever for 10 weeks and at the same time the company I was working for was bought by a larger organisation. As a part of the purchase process, they started cutting out staff, and being one of the most recent addition, i was one of the first to let go. They paid me a handsome settlement package, which I used to live on as I slowly recovered, then when I was well enough I got my folio together, and looked for freelance work. It was terrifying, but looking back, it was what got me the adventures and the open road that I really wanted but was too afraid to reach out for.

TFL London Stories poster | Lilian Darmono
TFL London Stories poster © Lilian Darmono
When you first started, how did you find clients?

The company that laid me off actually re-hired me as a freelancer for another year after my dismissal. Beyond that, I do a combination of googling studios, then sending them cold emails, followed by calls, and asking people I’ve already worked for if they can refer me to other studios they think would be a good fit.

What are the biggest milestones that have led to where you currently are in your career?

Being laid off when sick as I mentioned. Then writing a criticism email to the founder of Motionographer about the fact that their team is all male. I was blind to this sort of imbalance, but my Creative Director and producer at the time were women, powerful, strong, inspiring women, and they pointed out these things to me and explained how unconscious bias worked.  He (Justin Cone) ended up inviting me to be one of the contributors, along with two other amazing women: Michelle Higa Fox and Lauren Indovina.

This put me in touch with the network of other remarkable people in motion design, one of whom is Jon Saunders. Jon was generous enough to send me his working PSD file for a styleframe he did which I loved, and I learned a few good techniques out of looking at his layers. This came in handy: at the time I was stranded in London with no work in the winter of 2008, in the height of GFC. I decided to do a digital painting inspired by the new technique I learned from Jon, just to stay positive. It took a few weeks, but that personal work then went up on my folio, and my fellow contributors at Motionographer was suitably impressed with the entire site, to post it on the blog, and soon after I started getting styleframe work from US clients. This made me faster and better at illustrating and designing in general, and it really helped me get to where I am now.

Another milestone is reaching out to Jeremy Wortsman of Jacky Winter Group. We kept in touch on and off for seven years, and last year he decided it’s the right time to sign me on. I’ve really enjoyed working with Jeremy and his team of amazing producers at JW. It’s added an extra dimension to my body of work, not to mention the luxury of having people who will argue (nicely of course) with the client for you, who will sort out billing and payment and deliverables and all you have to do is concentrate on making something look good.

Do you have a motto that you work by?

Tomorrow has to be better than today.

How do you stay productive?

By knowing when to take breaks. I’m also a mother, and when I’m on baby duty, I stay focused and immerse myself in that world, and when I’m at work, I try to do the same. It helps me stay grounded, and more efficient in whatever it is I do.

What are you working on right now?

Concept work for a stage show in China, based on the IP owned by DreamWorks, via an Australian large-scale visual design company.

New Normal | Lilian Darmono
New Normal © Lilian Darmono
Lilian Darmono
Be nice, keep reaching out for opportunities, or make your own if there’s none. Work hard, and really know how to talk to people. Follow those steps and you’ll do just fine.
What is your dream project?

Something that pays me loads of money so I can retire in a fantastic aged care facility, far away from the rising sea level, off the grid, in case armgeddon decides to come early.

Serious answer: a few things, such as: a kids book that I know will put a smile on those who read it (both parents and their children), such as ‘Tricky’s Bad Day’ by Alison Lester, or a picture book that sends shivers down your spine in a fabulous way, like those Shaun Tan writes and illustrates, a large scale mural somewhere fun, like on a public transport site or in a shopping centre, or in the lobby of a corporate office in the CBD. To be honest, I’ve done a few things that have helped causes I believe in such as animal welfare, refugee aid, feminism, and the like. I’ve also just wrapped up a project with Melbourne Youth Orchestra, which involved me creating art inspired by a piece of music that they will perform. That’s really right up there for me–making art inspired by another piece of art that moves me.

What one piece of advice would you give to a freelancer just starting out?

 Be nice, keep reaching out for opportunities, or make your own if there’s none. Work hard, and really know how to talk to people. Follow those steps and you’ll do just fine.

What is the best piece of advice you've been given?

Do not measure yourself against the specter of ‘success’ and ‘prestige’. You’re not a failure even if you have to work non-design related jobs to support yourself while getting your freelance design/art career on track. This was given to me by Jessica Hische who kindly wrote a long, lovely email to me when I reached out in time of confidence/career crisis.

Capricorn Headshot | Lilian Darmono
Capricorn Headshot © Lilian Darmono
Tell us about a time in your career when you struggled.

I’ve found myself struggling many times over. As said above, being laid off, moving overseas to travel and freelance but was caught in the GFC climate, hence no work. There are other times. At one of my fulltime gigs, I felt constantly unheard, overlooked, and underestimated. I didn’t understand it at the time, but looking back, this was due to gender bias. About six years ago when I was living in London I was constantly comparing myself against other ‘more famous’ illustrators and designers, and feeling like I’m no good. My husband kept telling me to get those things out of my head, and I kept trying to focus on just bettering myself instead of comparing against others. It took a long time, a lot of effort and determination, but I must say what finally liberated me was having a child. You’re so hard pressed for time, and your priorities shift so dramatically, there is no more room for insecurities or doubt. You throw any energy/time you can get into just getting things done. In my case doing the best I can to answer clients’ briefs so I can get paid, and whatever little time I get to do personal work, I just try to make something I enjoy, usually watercolour or ink, away from the computers.  No resources are left after that, to worry how much worse or better I am against other illustrators and designers.

But even then, the struggle continues, because as many parents can attest, still having to earn a living on top of raising children, is hard work. I often wonder at the luxury of time I got to have before my child was born, and I squandered a fair bit of it worrying over things that don’t matter in the long run, like ‘prestige’ and ‘career’.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

Happening right now: somehow surviving each day, no serious injury to reputation as far as client is concerned, while still being a good enough mother.

What are you listening to, reading or watching that is inspiring to you lately?

One of the most inspiring things I’ve come across recently is the Ancillary trilogy books by Ann Leckie. She’s a great sci-fi writer. It’s set in a universe where people’s genders can’t be really determined from their appearance, and everyone is referred to as a ‘she’. It really shows how language changes the way you think / feel about gender and their roles, but more importantly it’s got tons of really great nuggets of mystery, justice, freedom, self-determination, free will, friendship, all the great elements of stories that I usually love. It’s a space opera/saga, but the heart of all that is very much relatable to our society in the here and now.

What is your favourite piece of clothing?

My husband’s button-down flannel shirts. So comfy to wear.

What is the strangest thing about you?

I’m really really drawn by gothic horror, decrepit buildings, and cemeteries. I like people but large crowd and gatherings make me uncomfortable.

Who would you most like to answer these questions next?

Amy Charlick: amycharlick.com

How can we find out more about your work?

Follow me on Instagram @liliandarmono or twitter @liliandarmono