April 14, 2021
Berks County native Joey Strain is a Communication Design student at Kutztown University, graduating in 2022.
Kutztown University student Joey Strain has lived out his dream of being a children’s book illustrator, and he hasn’t even graduated yet.
While discussing an essay with his freshman-year English Composition professor, Strain shared his goal of illustrating children’s books. As luck would have it, the professor, Dr. Curtis Herr, was looking for an illustrator for a children’s book he was writing at the time. Herr asked for samples of Strain’s illustration work, and now the duo has published The Little Wolf Who Crooned to the Moon.
Joey Strain's magical illustrations gave a layer to my children's book that I never expected. Fantastical and heartwarming, they capture true celebration in explosive colors that highlight the magical and the intimate at the same time. It's no wonder that after one look, my publisher offered him a contract right away.Dr. Curtis Herr
It’s All About the People
How does a college student achieve such lofty goals? According to Strain, it’s all about the people he’s met along the way. Building relationships has been an important part of his success.
“Professors who have taken the time to meet with me and provide constructive feedback have really been the most important for furthering me along the way. They have taken the time to work with me and be personable,” Strain said.
In addition to building relationships, Strain has found success by living with an open mind and an eye to the future.
“I feel like it’s really important for people to put yourself out there and realize that whatever you’re trying to do can be done,” Strain said. “You can get a head start even before you leave college. Whether it’s with internships or just kind of finding your own way, don’t feel like your career is such a faraway thing. It’s closer to reach than you think.”
For artists, choosing between pursuing a degree or pursuing an art career without a degree can be difficult.
“It was a tough decision, but it really came down to two factors: relationships and depth of knowledge,” Strain said. “Surviving in a world of art is all about building relationships and connections with people. Beyond that, the education has been really important. The knowledge available here is much more worthwhile than what you’re able to just read online. Teaching yourself online just isn’t the same as experiencing an education through a real human being who has done this for years and has really valuable information to share.”
When choosing a college, Strain looked at many schools in both urban and rural environments. Cities can be great places for artists to set up shop, but Strain has found peace in the farmland of Kutztown.
“A city is a really busy, bustling kind of environment, but out here in Kutztown, there’s space to go on your own and think about things and focus on yourself. There’s more time for meditation, remediation in a way,” Strain said.
Kutztown University has really grown me. If I look back at myself before coming here, before freshman year, I was a lot more lost and a lot more unsure of what I wanted to do. But going here, and meeting the people that I’ve met, and experiencing art in this particular place, has furthered me as a human being for sure, but I’ve also homed in on knowing that no matter what, I’m trying to focus on this career in illustration.Joey Strain
In addition to the setting, Strain was attracted to KU because of the community.
“I’d say ‘down to earth’ is really the key experience I’ve had here. Everybody here is down to earth and friendly. It almost feels like living in a neighborhood in a way, living here. It’s a different feel than the other schools that I went to and it’s just more inviting, more personable.”
You can see more of Strain’s work on his website and Instagram. He also has books and prints available for sale on his Etsy shop.
By Margaret Gehman '22, Web Content Writer