How Drawing After Work Steered Columbia Student to a New Career Path

Camille Estrada Willaford talks about publishing their comic in a well-known comics magazine

After dropping out of music college, Camille Estrada Willaford worked retail for a few years to save money and decide what they wanted to study. Each day, they’d come home from work and draw for fun. Camille knew they enjoyed drawing but didn’t think they were good enough to pursue art as a career. After much practice and with a true passion for drawing, Camille initially enrolled in Columbia College Chicago’s Illustration program. Soon after taking an Animation Foundations course, however, they decided Animation was the path they wanted to pursue. Now in their final semester at Columbia, Camille talks to us about their experience, publishing their comics, and future plans.

Can you tell us more about how drawing as a hobby after work led you to study animation?

I learned that practice really does make all the difference. After about a year of drawing seriously every day, my skills completely transformed and my art was completely improved. After a while, I developed a style and found a lovely supportive community of artists on Instagram. I watch TV constantly and love cartoons, and while working retail, I found that I enjoy working in groups with co-workers. This led me to realize an animation studio might be the perfect work environment for me. 

Why did you decide to study at Columbia? What has been your experience at Columbia so far?

One of the biggest things that sold me on Columbia was how accommodating the school is to transfer students—I had a lot of music credits that frankly many other schools wouldn't have accepted for an animation/art major. I stayed because I found the animation department to be full of some of the best teachers I’ve ever worked with, as well as a super nice and supportive student body. 

Tell us about some of your favorite projects.

I took a cartooning class with Tim Seeley in the Animation Department. It was one of my favorite classes. Tim made the class fun and extremely informative, even offering us a week on being a freelance artist and walking us through things like taxes and invoices. After this class, I sent Tim a pitch deck I had put together (in a Business of Animated Content course) hoping to get some notes on how to improve it. Tim enjoyed the pitch so much that he wanted to take it to his bosses at Heavy Metal magazine. While this initial pitch didn’t get picked up, it did give me the opportunity to meet with the President and the CEO of Heavy Metal over Zoom. It was an honor and completely mind blowing, and eventually led to me getting this two-page comic into an issue. The comic short is called Outer Demons, and I just finished a second installment of this series. It will be in a future issue of Heavy Metal.

What advice do you have for prospective students or students who want to study Animation or Design? 

It’s important to develop and evolve your own personal style. But it’s also equally important to have a range. Practice in other styles, challenge yourself, use references. A portfolio that shows you can produce a range of different art styles will show your skill and versatility to prospective employers. 

What are your plans after graduation? 

I plan to start looking for a job immediately (possibly even before graduating). I would love to work for an animation studio of course. But I will definitely continue working as a freelance cartoonist/illustrator. I also plan to apply to indie publishing companies as I would love to make a graphic novel or comic series. 

Anything else you would like people to know?

When I initially dropped out of college, I was extremely depressed and disappointed with myself. I was ashamed to be going back to school at 23 while many of my friends from high school had already graduated. If you take anything away from my story, please realize everyone’s journey is different, and comparison against others is pointless. If you’d asked me four years ago, I would have never guessed I would be doing something like this with a company like Heavy Metal. When I first came to this school, I remember seeing these interviews and success stories and thinking “that will never be me.” Enjoy school as much as you can, we get to MAKE ART FOR HOMEWORK! It’s an incredible chance to do what you love and get something useful in return. Put 110% into your assignments, you never know which teacher could be a future employer. See each assignment not just as something you have to get through in order to pass, but as a chance to further your art skills, and make something you enjoy. Remember that anything you make here in school has the chance to be in your portfolio, which will be your key to getting a job when you leave here. Keep practicing and put yourself out there! Support and celebrate your fellow artists. Put love and positivity out there and it’ll come right back to you! 


Daisy Franco
Communications Manager