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Joel Kimmel

Joel Kimmel

Faculty of Animation, Arts & Design

Degree: Illustration

Year of graduation: 2003

Luck of the draw
Joel Kimmel’s illustration career has led him to work with unique clients such as the Royal Canadian Mint

Joel Kimmel won media attention earlier this year for the creation of a coin commemorating the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, but the Westport, Ont.-based illustrator’s work extends to a wealth of other mediums.

Kimmel’s illustrations have appeared in publications including The New York Times, The Walrus, and Adweek, and he’s worked with major brands such as Nike and SunTrust Bank. With a penchant for portraits, Kimmel says he works to elevate and highlight written content with accompanying imagery.

Alongside his publishing work, Kimmel has designed over 25 coins for the Royal Canadian Mint, including coins commemorating the historic Last Spike, Battle of Neuve-Chappelle, Battle of Ortona and, yes, even Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s royal wedding. Kimmel and his wife, Chantal bennett, are also working together on an ongoing project with the ambitious goal of illustrating every chip stand in Ontario.

Kimmel shares how he got his start:

At what point did you decide you wanted to pursue a career as an illustrator?
Pretty early on. It was always my goal to make a living as an artist or illustrator, I just didn’t know how to get to that point. In high school, I knew that in college or university I wanted to take something specifically for art.

What was the appeal of Sheridan’s Illustration program?
I knew Sheridan’s Illustration program was more about drawing, whereas graphic design programs at other colleges were more based around computers. I was excited to go to Sheridan to become a better artist.

Did you always plan to be self employed?
Looking back on when I graduated, I was completely clueless. I had taken a business class during my program and they had told us to be prepared to become a freelance illustrator, but I wasn’t thinking too far in advance about how that was going to play out. I had all these other students in my program who were super excited to graduate and start work, but I was happy to stick around and draw. I didn’t really want to leave Sheridan.

What were your next steps after graduation?
I moved back to Ottawa and decided I was going to spend the next six months or so building my portfolio. After that six months was done, I started designing my website. I realized I wasn’t going to get work as an illustrator straight away, so I started working at an art store and ended up being there for three years. The entire time I was there, I was working on my portfolio and promoting myself.

What were you trying to showcase?

I was trying to keep in mind the big magazines that had been hyped while I was in school — Rolling Stone-level magazines. Maybe that was too ambitious coming straight from school, but I figured why not try for the big guys and see what happens?
I saw a lot of people around me after I graduated who I knew were getting work right away, and I wasn’t really getting anything. It took me quite a few years to get consistent work. It started small with local magazines, and then alternative news weekly-type stuff. Things changed when I started doing portraits and getting bigger magazines. I think my first big gig was with Wired. Once you work is in those magazines, other art directors start seeing it. It slowly went from one job every few months to every few weeks to every few days.

What does the bulk of your work consist of?
I mostly do portraits and spot illustrations now. It’s not Rolling Stone or anything, but I’m totally happy with what I’m doing. I work on a lot of portraits for magazines and some “how-to” stuff every now and then. I also do the occasional job for the Canadian Mint and a few personal projects when I have a chance.

How did you link with the Royal Canadian Mint?
The concept of collector coins was pretty foreign to me. Every now and then I’d get a coin that had a new design on it, but it never occurred to me that an illustrator had been hired to do it.
I got a call out of the blue in 2012 from someone from the Royal Canadian Mint asking if I was interested in doing a design for a coin they were testing. The coin never ended up being minted, but afterwards, he asked if I’d be interested in working on some coins down the road. He asked me what subject matter I’d be interested in, and I sent him a list of basically every subject matter you can think of — portraits, history, war, sports, animals, nature…I wanted to let him know I was willing to do pretty much everything.

What are some of the favourites that you’ve done?
Probably the war coins, because I learn so much. They require so much research into not only the battle, but also the clothing, guns and landscape. It’s really rewarding when it’s actually minted — I can see how all the hard work paid off and how the mint engravers took my drawing and turned it into a tiny little coin.

What’s the commissioning process?
The royal wedding coin was a bit of an anomaly. The usual turnaround for a coin is about a year. It’s a competition process, so the Mint commissions three artists from their own artist roster that they think would be best, then choose an artist from those submissions. When the artwork is selected, it takes about a year for the coin to be engraved, for the marketing department to do their thing, and for the coin to be released. But The Royal Wedding coin was a bit of an anomaly. They contacted me at the end of January and needed the coin within like two weeks. It was out in May.
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