I’m 24, a freelance illustrator living in the beautiful Lake District. I studied illustration at an equally lovely place – Falmouth. I illustrate mainly for children and I’ve been pursuing illustration as a career for about a year and a half.
When did you decide you wanted to be an illustrator?
Like all illustrators, I loved drawing as a child. I would draw my teddy bears, ornaments in the house and even mum and dad’s friends when they came round. I was always “re-decorating” rooms in my dolls house and trying to make more furniture Blue Peter style from boxes and sticky tape.
Art was my favourite subject at school and when my teacher suggested doing illustration at Uni, I didn’t really know what it was. I knew it was drawing but that sounded like a bit of a “Micky Mouse” degree, as my brother would say, or an easy degree. I didn’t really have a clue what it meant to be an illustrator until I did my art foundation. I would really recommend that to anyone. It’s just a great year where you can try out different disciplines and see the difference between Illustration, Graphic Design and Fine Art etc. It was really my foundation tutor that pointed me towards Illustration, he looked through my sketchbook and said “definitely an Illustrator.”
Would you recommend studying at art school?
I would really recommend studying at art school. For illustration especially, although you don’t need a degree to be an illustrator and it’s unlikely a client will ever ask you if you have one, you learn so much just from being in a studio environment with other illustrators. You’re inspired and influenced by all the amazing work that’s going on around you and you find your own way of working through that. It really moves your work forward. We had regular group crits, where we would all comment and give direction on each others work. My work looks completely different now to when I started Uni. At Falmouth we got so much great teaching and advice from tutors who knew the industry well.
How long has illustration been your primary income?
It’s not at the moment. I’ve been working at a school part time while making new work and trying to get an agent. I’ve just signed with Bright Agency, so I’m really excited about that. I think it’s rare for graduates to be able to make a living from illustration instantly, for most people I know it’s taken a year or two to really get your self out there and build up work. You just have to be really determined and keep making new work and you’ll get there.
What do you wish you’d know when you first started out.
While I was at Uni we went to see some publishers and agents and the feedback I got was that I had too many styles in my portfolio. So when I left I wanted to work on that and finding a style I could stick with. That was something I needed to do but I almost felt like I couldn’t send any work out until I’d totally re-done my portfolio. I think I should have just went for it and sent work out anyway. It’s always worth sending what you’ve got I think because you’ll always feel like there are things to improve but clients might see something they like in what you’ve got already.
My typical day.
On a typical day illustrating, I would get up and check my e-mails, if I’m working on a new project I’d gather together reference photo’s and images, mostly I search online for these, at the moment I’m using pinterest quite a lot. I might go for a little run (when I say little I mean little) half way through my day, It’s good to get out in the sun and not be sitting at a desk all day. And apart from that just storyboard, write down ideas, write stories, draw and paint! Or at least that’s how I intend for my days to go. Sometimes I shuffle them around a bit, like yesterday was one of the first really sunny days in ages, so I worked until lunch and then went to the beach with some friends for the afternoon and then worked in the evening. That’s the good thing about working freelance, you can shuffle your hours and work when it suits you, and sometimes I’m more productive that way. You just need to set yourself targets of what you’re going to get done that week.
What’s the best thing about being an illustrator?
Apart from getting to paint and draw for a job, which is pretty great, I love with illustration that when you illustrate something it’s for a mass market. It’s not like if you’re a painter, you sell a painting and you may never see it again. Instead you get to keep the original and you get to see it in the hands of other people, whether it’s a book or a poster, or some merchandise.
The worst thing about being an Illustrator
The worst thing about being a freelance illustrator is probably that it can potentially be quite an isolating job, if you’re not in a studio. If I was doing this full time and working from home like I am now, I think I’d find it too quiet working on my own in the day. I think I would need to be in a studio or something working with others.
If you weren’t an Illustrator what would you be?
I did one of those silly quizzes the other day with a friend, “What job should you have?” According to that I should be an astronaut! Maybe I’ve missed my way in life? I really can’t imagine doing a job that didn’t involve art in some way. I did think about teaching when I finished Uni, so maybe that. I really enjoyed languages at school. If I hadn’t have done an arts degree I probably would have done languages instead. Maybe a missed a trick there, I could have been living in sunny Spain right now!
The advice I’d give to people is if you’re stuck for ideas don’t sit at your desk staring at a blank wall trying to come up with something. It’s never worked for me. Don’t feel guilty, like if you’re not at your desk you’re not being productive. Get out and about and doing something you enjoy and write about it and draw it in your sketchbook. Find pictures and illustrations and things that inspire you and pin them to your wall. And get your self out there! Make use of a website/blog/ twitter/ linked-In or better all of them and get making connections. The more ways you can advertise what you do the better and post work too. Publishers keep telling me they still love the good old fashioned way of sending things in the post, clients love to get nice parcels of illustrated things in the post. I guess it feels a bit like getting a present. So think of inventive things to send.