Back to the decision
This past spring, in Huntington as a guest lecturer, Payne looked at Pierson and said, similarly to 15 years earlier, "Jeff are you a bureaucrat or are you an illustrator?"
After visiting Payne, Pierson ultimately chose to leave teaching and not return to his previous job with the state.
"I walked home from that last day at the Montessori school and it was a long walk home, and I freaked out a little bit. Here I had left a really great job at the state with great benefits, insurance, all these things you're supposed to have. I thought 'What's going to happen next?'"
Pierson recalls the conversation with his wife, Shannon, a part-time art teacher, also at Charleston Montessori:
"So she said, 'Well, what do you want to be?' and I said, 'I want to be an illustrator!'"
His wife was concerned he couldn't earn a living as an illustrator. He was worried, too. Pierson said he didn't sleep that night. Fifty years ago, illustrators were in demand but as cameras and photography became more affordable the need for illustrations waned.
Pierson decided he was going to make illustrating his job. He had to be self-driven. "Nobody is going to make this happen for me."
He would have to create a market. He began compiling lists of clients, options and goals, which narrowed his focus. He had to decide what his family could do without. Could he and his wife live without health insurance? (Their 3-year-old daughter, Sylvie, is now covered under a state program.)
"I had to take some risks. I had to do some things I really didn't want to do in the interim to provide for my family before I make it. Up to this point, I had been passive. Now I have to be aggressive. Now, every time I leave the house I make it a point to talk to someone."
As his own promoter, agent, accountant, scheduler and boss, Pierson said discipline is the key.
"I can't come downstairs, go get a cup of coffee and sit on the couch for a few hours. I have to be disciplined in my approach."
He makes delineations between home life and his job by "going to work." This includes going to his home office and going through the ritual of changing clothes,
"It's a mindset," he said. "It is a mental thing that allows me to say 'OK, now I am working.'"
Pierson works every day, sometimes 16 hours a day, as an illustrator, and he also cares for daughter Sylvie while his wife works.
"The advantage to working at home is there is no such thing as weekends; the disadvantage is there is no such thing as weekends."
Pierson is slowly cobbling together a solid clientele. He has found work in more traditional sources like freelancing for newspapers and magazines. But he's also found some quirky and interesting commissions illustrating portraits, murals, home illustrations and album covers.
A lot of his work comes by word of mouth. He said living in West Virginia is both a boon and a challenge. Here, he is one of only a few illustrators available, so he has cornered the market, but the market isn't very large, unlike as in New York and elsewhere.
The Internet, though, has enabled Pierson to market himself and his product globally, allowing him to live in West Virginia for the foreseeable future.
"I can communicate with clients outside the state without being in front of them. I can email sketches and allow them to be part of the entire process."
"The great thing about it is I am home with my family. How lucky am I? To be with my wife everyday, to be with my child everyday, it is wonderful. I feel so fortunate. Sure, it is financially challenging, but I had to decide what is important in life."
To see more of Pierson's work, you can find him on Facebook, visit him at jeffperisonillustrations.com or call 304-541-9284. You can see his work around Charleston, on the "Peer to Pier" murals decorating the highway pillars of Interstate 64 or on the back of One Stop on Greenbrier Street.
Reach Autumn D.F. Hopkins at autumn.hopk...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1249.