Member Spotlight: Cherilyn Colbert

Our next member spotlight is a talented illustrator and storyteller who has managed to blend her two passions into a freelance career. Cherilyn Colbert is a Hampton Roads transplant with over a decade of working as a graphic designer and freelance illustrator. We caught up with Cherilyn recently to see what she has been up to and to also understand how her profession evolved into blending her love of illustration and her love of storytelling.

Cherilyn Colbert

Are you a Virginia Beach native? Where were you born and raised?
No, I’m not a VB native. I grew up in Roanoke, Virginia — a small city in the Blue Ridge Mountains. We moved to Virginia Beach in 2013 and it immediately felt like home. We really love it here.

Have you always been interested in art?
I think so. My favorite books to check out of the library when I was a kid were those “How to Draw …” books — How to Draw Airplanes, or Cars, or Animals, with the step-by-step instructions. I attended an arts program in middle school, but in high school didn’t study art at all. I’m not sure why, really. I was intrigued by advertising in high school and considered studying graphic design in college, but I ended up going to Roanoke College, a small liberal arts school. I fell in love with the campus and knew that’s where I wanted to be. I think at 17, it’s hard to assess what you’re really looking for out of your college experience; at least, I guess it was for me since a major deciding factor was that the campus was lovely. But, I’ve never regretted my decision to attend a liberal arts college. It served my curiosity well and some of my nearest and dearest are people I met there.

What led you to choose the path of art and design?
I ended up studying literature and creative writing at Roanoke. I was always an avid reader and I enjoy the art of storytelling. I was focused on writing poetry and short fiction, and during my senior year, was named the editor of the College’s literary magazine. As editor, I was also responsible for the design and layout of the publication, and that ended up being my favorite part of being editor. After graduation, I knew fairly quickly that I needed a career that would allow me to be creative every day, and I wasn’t certain that being a poet would be enough to keep the lights on, so I decided to go after graphic design.

Pressed Panda

What was your strategy for entering the design field? When did you graduate? Do you have any insights to share with recent graduates?
I graduated from Roanoke in 1999. Since I had practically no experience as a designer and no portfolio, I ended up taking night courses in art and graphic design at a community college. I needed to master the software and develop a portfolio. So, that’s what I did while working jobs I didn’t really enjoy. After a year and a half or so, I got lucky and someone I knew was leaving an entry-level position at a small business. I ended up filling that position after she left and was thrilled to be a working graphic designer.

My advice to students:
A lot of folks see college as the means to an end (with that end being a job) and I understand that college is presented as such. But, college is an opportunity to explore and spend time with topics and subjects that interest you. It’s about feeding your curiosity and growing as a human. So, while you are working towards graduating and getting a job so you can pay the rent, don’t forget to explore. And being challenged is what makes you grow and get better, so embrace it.

...on the sketchpad

Where do you currently work and what is your role? What is a typical day like for you?
I’m a freelancer. This winding path has led me professionally into the world of illustration. While completing my MFA, I discovered that illustration was like, a real job. I mean, I knew people did it, but it never occurred to me that I could or even wanted to. After moving to Hampton Roads, I began working solely as a freelancer and illustration became more and more a part of the work I was doing for clients. About a year ago, I completely transitioned my website away from graphic design to focus on illustration work. It combines my love of storytelling with my love of art and it feels like I’ve come full-circle. It’s definitely the right place for me.

I am also an adjunct instructor at Old Dominion University (and at Tidewater Community College this fall). I teach graphic design and digital art courses. I love teaching. It’s exciting to work with students and watch them discover and grow and be proud of their work.

Forest Cafe

Forest Cafe

Do you have any side projects you are working on?
Everyone should have side projects! They are what allow you to really hone your craft and make the work you want to make, I think. At the beginning of 2016, I began a personal project that I called Critter of the Week. It’s simple, each week I draw and post an animal illustration. It started as a way to make me practice and try new things. It’s become an assignment and a priority in my week. I have found, though, that it has also become a bit of a visual diary of my year. Usually the illustrations are inspired, at least in part, by something going on in my life and finding that it has become a documentation of my year was unexpected.

NYC Pigeon

Where do you go to find inspiration?
This is tough to answer, because inspiration isn’t a tangible, identifiable thing, really. I’m not sure it’s something one should chase after, but if you find the places, people, activities that get you in your creative groove, that can be inspiration. I’m motivated and moved by people who are super passionate about their work, and I enjoy great conversation. When I’m around thoughtful, passionate and creative people, I’m more creative. I also believe that a morning walk does great things for my productivity.

How did you first hear about AIGA and what made you interested in getting more involved? Have you been to any events recently?
I can’t say when I “first” heard of AIGA. As a designer, it’s an organization you know. As we were preparing to move to Virginia Beach I discovered there was a Hampton Roads chapter and thought joining would be a great way to get to know the area and the folks in my field. And, it was absolutely the right call. I found being a member really helpful in growing my freelance opportunities in a new area, but I also met really interesting, variously talented and kind people who share an interest in art and design. Hampton Roads has a robust and active arts community and AIGA is a great way to be a part of it.

Follow Cherilyn on Instagram and Twitter (@cherilyncolbert) to see her adorable animal illustrations and behind the scenes posts of what she’s up to day-to-day, or check her out on Etsy, Spoonflower, Facebook, or her web site at

Each month, AIGA Hampton Roads strives to highlight one of its members. If you have any ideas for our next spotlight, please contact Emily Wilson at

By aigahamptonroads
Published November 4, 2016