Questioning Creatives


This article was written on 12 Nov 2013, and is filled under illustrators.

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Eliza Southwood

I’m based in London where I’ve been living for about 15 years since I finished university. I studied architecture at Glasgow School of Art and then did a Diploma and RIBA Part III (the final bit, where you qualify) in London, and a MSc in sustainable design.

After all that I decided to be an illustrator instead of an architect. I did spend about 8 years in practice though, that was enough to put me off being an architect. So at least I did try. I became a freelance illustrator and artist about three years ago and I very much doubt I will ever go back.


When did you decide you wanted to be illustrator? 
I always wanted to be an artist of some sort, but to be honest thought it wasn’t a good way to make a living. I’ve always drawn and painted. I thought architecture would be the best way to channel the artistic ability in a practical kind of way. The reality is much more mundane. I wouldn’t recommend architecture as a career. The last straw came with a particularly repellent project in the middle East which I had to work on and which I objected to on all sorts of grounds. I decided to hand in my resignation and have a change of career while I was at it. I’ve never been happier as an illustrator. You should stick to what you want to do.

Would you recommend studying at art school?
It might have been fun if I had. Then again I would imagine it might be a struggle to trust in your own ability and avoid following fashions. Actually architecture is fun to study at college. You can design anything you like without worrying about budget or whether it will fall down.


How long was it before illustration became your primary form of income?
About a year.

Could you describe your typical day?
Looking after the frigging dog all day (don’t put that in!)
I handle my admin first thing to get it out of the way, then I take the dog for a long walk on my way to the studio in Hackney. Then I spend the afternoon drawing. A lot of that gets scanned in the evening back at home so I can turn artwork into screen prints by separating out the colour layers. Alternatively I spend the day at the print studio where I do all my screen printing. I work at weekends too. But at least I enjoy it.

What do you wish you’d know when you first started out?
That I would need an admin slave (I haven’t got one, and I need one). I have someone helping me with my screen printing now, he’s great. And I pay him – I don’t believe in employing interns for nothing

What’s the best thing about being an illustrator?
Doing something I love. I really enjoy drawing and creating new things
And seeing other people appreciate your work and wanting to buy your stuff is great


What’s the worst thing about being an illustrator?
All the accounts, the emails, the paperwork. I’m hopeless with it
The posting and packaging. I would never get a job in a gift shop
Also ferrying stuff around for exhibitions. I do a lot of shifting stuff and driving around which is a bit of a pain

If you weren’t an illustrator, what would you be?
I’d still be an architect. Maybe a flamenco dancer 😉

Any other tips you could share?
Be confident in your abilities. If you’ve chosen this as your career, you know you are good. If you are proud of something you’ve done, chances are it’s great. (unless you really ARE delusional). Don’t say sorry too much. Don’t feel guilty about charging people money for work. Any chance you get to learn something new, take it.


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