BYU alumnus embarks on foreign adventures as backpacking illustrator

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Andrew Colin Beck enjoys guitar time with his son Colin at their home in Greece. (Photo courtesy of Andrew Colin Beck)
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By Fran Djoukeng

Andrew Colin Beck begins his day eating breakfast with his wife, Ashley, and their baby boy, Colin. At about 9 a.m., he starts his work at home, sequestering himself in his “special dad room.” He plugs in his headphones and listens to film scores, classical music, even sound effects to block out distractions.

Once Beck created an illustration for a Boston Globe story about farming. While working on the illustration he listened to farm noise. “I found six hours’ worth of YouTube videos of ambient farm noises, pigs and cows and sheep,” Beck said. “I played that and listened to that the whole time while I was working on the illustration.”

Corresponding with clients, billing and brainstorming, Beck runs his own business while crisscrossing northern Africa and southern Europe as a freelance illustrator. After a successful internship and later job opportunity with Edenspierkermann, a design agency in Amsterdam, he left for Marrakesh, Morocco, and has been traveling with his family ever since.

A 5-year-old Beck would not be surprised at what he is doing now. As a little boy, he remembers, he was always drawing. “I would record cartoons on VHS, and when I was re-watching them, I would pause the tape on a frame that I liked, whip out my sketchbook and draw it,” Beck said.

Beck also wrote his own comic books. His hyper-creativity was sometimes overwhelming for the adults in his life. “I remember I was always drawing strange stuff,” Beck said. “I think my kindergarten teachers were worried about me when other kids were making ponies and rainbows, and I was over in the corner finger-painting Draculas and mummies covered in blood.”

Marching to the beat of his own drum has always been a staple of Beck’s personality. He took every opportunity to create and use his imagination. Through his formative years he made movies, claymation films and animations, wrote music, learned lots of instruments, wrote stories, played in rock ‘n’ roll bands and acted in plays.

Beck credits former BYU faculty members for the development of trade skills and experience he acquired while under their tutelage. He especially gives credit to Adrian Pulfer, head of the design program at BYU. “He is intimidating at first meeting,” Beck said, “quite severe and quietly powerful. After being with him for a few years in the program, you are exposed to a softer, loving, wonderful side where he becomes your closest confidante.”

The design program at BYU is a competitive two-year program — at least 100 students apply for at most 15–18 open seats. Beck worked hard to get into the program and experienced a steep learning curve. “It really changed my head and heart,” Beck said. “The program taught me to ‘see.’ The program taught me to really discern what makes powerful creative work and the importance of conceptual thinking.” The BYU graphic design program gave Beck the tools he still uses every day.

Associate graphic design professor Brent Barson said Beck demonstrated artistic strengths. “He was extremely creative, and he worried mostly about his concepts and ideas,” Barson said. “His ideas were sort of a cut above a lot of people in the class. When he first got into the program I think he might have been overwhelmed. When he was a senior he really flourished.”

One of the assets of BYU’s program was the critiquing process, according to Beck. In the graphic design program, students work on an assignment for a day or two. Then the assignments are printed off and displayed on magnetic boards in one of the classrooms. One by one, students present their work and receive critiques by both professors and peers. “Critiquing is really hard on people at first,” Beck said. “Lots of tears. Lots of ego. Lots of pain. But in the end, it makes us really strong creative people.”

Mentors who watched Beck develop and grow are not surprised Beck is exploring illustration after being formally trained in graphic design. “He had the skills all along,” Barson said. “He was very interested in everything and wanted to do a lot of things.”

Currently Beck is busy balancing several different projects for various clients. He recently performed editorial work for several companies and publications, including Monocle Magazine, the Boston Globe and LinkedIn, as well as an upcoming piece in the New Era, an LDS magazine. “I feel like my work is gaining some ground in the circles I am aiming at, which is a very exciting prospect for me,” Beck said.

Things weren’t always this way.

“When I first started out, I had terrible clients. They payed me terribly and were terrible to work with, and frankly I was terrible as well, so it basically made sense,” Beck said. He started designing logos and websites, work which he said he’d rather die than do again. Still, Beck believes that those first terrible jobs were some of his most rich learning experiences.

Beck’s wife was instrumental in her husband’s transition from tailoring graphic design projects to working on illustration assignments. “My wife and I had a pivotal conversation where she helped me see that if I could make my work, free time, and studies all the same subject it would really simplify my life,” Beck said.

While working at Edenspierkermann, Beck discovered his true passion: illustration. After a year at the company Beck decided to leave and become a freelance illustrator, but his wife took the decision one step further. “My wife hatched the scheme that we begin traveling the world, since my job is location independent,” Beck said.

Beck markets himself using multiple social media channels, including Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram and Dribble, a design community. Almost daily, Beck posts something on Dribble, a social media site where potential clients visit. “Self-publishing is a really important part of what I do. It keeps people remembering who I am, that I am available,” Beck said. “It’s good, because it keeps me producing, and it keeps me accountable to this community who is looking forward to my work. Small or big, I do it everyday.”

Beck’s day ends like it begins — with family. Normally Beck finishes his day around 6 p.m., and then it’s time to play. The Becks enjoy the white-and-blue dwellings dotting the cliff-side island of Santorini, off the edge of mainland Greece. “There are award-winning sunsets out here, donkeys walking up the hills and beautiful mountains and cactus,” Beck said. “The colors, the culture, the smells and the sights and the sounds, I can feel them permeating my consciousness, and I can see them coming out of my work in literal ways or figurative ways.”

After putting the little one to bed with story time and a guitar session, Beck might watch a movie or plan the next trip with his wife. The Becks’ traveling lifestyle sounds like an impossible dream to most people, but they claim it can be a reality for anyone whose work can be done independent of location.

“I think more people should join us out here,” Beck said. “I think most people don’t realize that living as a nomad can actually be cheaper than living a more conventional life (with a house payment and car payment, etc.). It is very doable!”

For Beck, life as a traveling illustrator is the realization of a lifelong dream he never knew he had. It is a culmination of a lifetime of creativity and independence. Most importantly, it is an experience that he believes is molding and shaping his family into something better than before.

“I want to imagine,” Beck said, “that when or if we come back to a more traditional lifestyle, after living this way, we will be more open, enthusiastic, patient, interesting and intelligent humans.”

Hear more from Beck in the cross-Atlantic video chat below.

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