Ellen Porteus knew she'd made it - she was 27 and on an all-expenses-paid trip to New York City to complete an artwork in Facebook's office.
It was the culmination of a lifetime of creativity for the now-30-year-old Newcastle woman, who says she practically "stepped out of the womb with a pencil".
Porteus moved to Sydney on a whim after finishing school, and found herself surrounded by a "whole new world of design and art".
She began a bachelor of Visual Communication at the University of Technology Sydney, but it was during her illustration classes that things clicked into place.
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University proved not enough to sate the budding artist, and she began creating artwork outside of class and posting it to her blog.
And then, the impossible happened: in 2014, one of her designs caught the eye of an art director at New York's Bloomberg Businessweek, who emailed her.
Porteus says she almost didn't reply to the magazine, which is read by almost a million people a week.
"It was early in the morning... and I saw this email pop into my inbox," she says. "I was really confused, I didn't know if it was real or not, I thought it was a scam! So I went to work and showed my co-worker, I was like 'do you think this is legit?'"
Soon the magazine had commissioned her first artwork, to be splashed across two pages alongside an article about a new start-up that was disrupting taxis - called Uber.
It was then that Porteus decided to take a chance on herself: she promptly quit her job and moved down to Melbourne.
"I didn't have a client list, I didn't know anyone in the industry, I didn't know how it worked and I didn't know how to make money from it, but I thought: 'If this really big magazine found my work and wanted to pay me for it, surely there are other people who would want to as well?'"
She was in for a difficult year.
Porteus told herself she would work "9 to 5 every day on my own personal work". She survived by doing some graphic design work, but says it was barely enough for her to make rent.
"I said to myself: I was just going to work at it super-duper hard... I knew that if I tried to be the best illustrator I could be, then I was going to get somewhere," she says.
"It was a pretty hard year mentally, but I somehow kept it together, and the snowball started to get bigger and faster."
These days, Porteus is signed to one of Australia's top artist representation agencies, Jacky Winter - a "life goal", Porteus says, that she was astonished to achieve after just one year. Her bio on the Jacky Winter website sums her up: "Bursting with wit, visual metaphor and wordplay, Ellen's signature style is unmistakable."
"I was working towards building up a folio to send to them, but then one day I thought: I could work on this folio forever, and never be happy with it, or I could just send it to them now - not perfect - and just hope I could get some feedback," she says.
Porteus was signed a couple of months later, and big-name clients followed, including Facebook, Apple, Disney, Instagram, Bill Gates and Nike, to name a few.
An average day for Porteus isn't jet-setting and splashy jobs: during the last 12 months, Porteus and her French bulldog, Maggie, have been living and working out of her Collingwood studio amid varying degrees of lockdown.
The future, however, looks bright - Porteus and her partner Ryan Klewer, 29, are learning Japanese and hoping to move (Maggie in tow) to Tokyo next year.
Reflecting on her path so far, Porteus credits her success with her penchant for staying goal-oriented.
"This dream felt so far-fetched and ridiculous that any sort of step I made towards it was really rewarding, and helped me overcome that feeling of self-doubt," she says.
"But sometimes verbalising what you're trying to do to the wrong person can make you feel silly and very small.
"You've got to pick the person that will get it."
When asked what advice she'd give to aspiring artists, Porteus says there's a lot to be said for the power of a label.
"If you want to be an artist or a musician and you're doing that anyway, making music or drawing... you already are that thing, no one's going to give you a trophy and tell you, 'now you're an artist'," she says.
"You have to claim it for yourself."
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