Ellie Benuska | Illustrator and Content Creator
Photos by Betsy Newman
A smooth voice asks me, “So, Ellie, where have you traveled to lately?” Digging my fingernails into my palms, I stared back into piercing blue eyes hiding under perfectly trimmed bangs. “I recently visited my brother in Texas?” I answered with a question mark. I realize this is probably not the answer she’s looking for. How did I find myself in this pristine office towering above New York City? I feel like Cinderella, anxiously awaiting the clock to strike midnight. After being interviewed for what seems like hours, but probably more like a handful of minutes, I stumble out into the busy New York streets clueless as to how I’d performed.
To my surprise, I got the job. Yet after working for Vogue for a number of years and having the privilege of learning from the top minds in the industry, I've decided to go my own way. It was a difficult decision to leave after dedicating my life to the magazine and jumping through so many hoops, but something was pulling at me. I needed to create. And so I began down the path that I’m currently traveling.
I am now a full-time illustrator and content creator. My fashion roots are strong and inform most of my work. Nothing brings me more joy than waking up in the morning, making my coffee, and sitting down to draw and paint from what inspires me. Don’t get me wrong, working independently is tough. I have to make my own schedule, give myself deadlines, and try to balance personal time with work time. It’s been about 3 months that I’ve been pursing my illustration work full-time and it’s been a trying but also rewarding adventure.
I’ve always been a creative person and art has always been my number one passion. From a young age I showed promise in painting and drawing, especially in portraiture. I studied Fine Arts at the University of Southern California and it was an amazing time of growth and expansion for me as I explored arenas of my art that I never knew existed. After fully throwing myself into art school, I had a dream to work for Vogue. A fellow sorority member got me an interview for an internship my senior year, and thus began my journey. After a while though, I felt an emptiness in my life. I was not creating or expressing myself; I had cut out the creative part of my life.
Following my urge to create, I decided to combine my two passions: fashion and art. For fun I started drawing my favorite models and fashion editorials and posting them on Instagram. I came up with the name “Ellie du Jour” because it was my goal to post a little bit of myself and my inspirations daily. Slowly I began seeing positive responses to my work. People were reaching out asking to hire me. I was clueless when it came to things like how much to charge or how to professionally deliver assets in this new arena. While working my day job at Vogue, I illustrated by night and spent my weekends photographing and gathering supplies.
After some big client wins, I decided to take the leap. First, I moved to Los Angeles to be near family and friends that were supportive of me in my new venture. It took me a few more stints at editorial publications to have the confidence to really believe that I could make my illustration work a full-time gig. It’s been scary in a lot of ways. I’ve had to truly believe, at my core, that I am going to become a successful illustrator. If I don’t believe in me, than why should my clients believe in me? It takes real and unabashed confidence to post my work on Instagram for the world to see, or to send a drawing to a client not knowing whether it’s what they’re looking for, or to charge a rate that makes me blush a little bit. But I get to wake up every morning knowing that I’m truly following my dreams.
For those of you that are looking to enter the fashion arena, my biggest piece of advice would be to find an internship as soon as you can. It’s an über competitive field and anything you can do to get a leg up is worth it, including having a wardrobe that helps you look the part. If you’re looking for structure and upward mobility, this is the path for you. But if you’re like me and decide to lead a more creative, unstructured life, the lines are blurred and the rules more nuanced. Be prepared to question yourself everyday and to find your confidence from deep within. But also be prepared to live with freedom and joy. If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that there’s no right or wrong path as long as you are following your dreams and staying true to yourself. Nothing is more important.