Questioning Creatives


This article was written on 11 Mar 2013, and is filled under illustrators.

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Josie Vallely

My name is Josie. I live in Edinburgh, and have been a freelance illustrator for approximately 2 years now. My route to illustration has been unorthodox, as I originally studied medicine and decided to make a career change in my third year of university. My first move was to enroll on a foundation course. This gave me a chance to clarify what I was interested in and develop my sense of visual language. It also gave me a chance to start engaging in personal projects that have directed my work ever since.

I then went on to study with the Open University, focusing on children’s literature, which has given me insight into the way that language and pictures interlink. While studying I have been continuing to build up my portfolio and my web presence and work on exciting collaborative projects across many fields. Next year I will start an MFA in illustration, which will help me develop my work across two years, whilst also working on commissions.

Questioning creatives

When did you decide you wanted to be illustrator?
My decision to become an illustrator has been unusual and convoluted. After studying medicine I felt that I would prefer a career that had a strong creative focus and would allow me more autonomy. I am passionate about working in collaboration with third sector and socially focused clients, whether that is in editorial, design or narrative briefs. Illustration seemed a natural way to combine my creative drive and these interests.

Since deciding that this is the career for me I have been developing my network of clients whilst also continuing to learn – I have a lot of catching up to with students who have been studying for three or four years. That is why I have decided to go back to university and start the MFA in visual communications.

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Would you recommend studying at art school? 
I’m afraid I can’t comment on what’s its like, get back to me in two tears time! But, from the perspective of someone who has being trying to get established without the network of support it offers, I can imagine it is incredibly valuable. One thing I would recommend is getting some training in business skills. There are a lot of things that are mysterious in terms of business that can be integral to success! As a start, I would recommend the Illustrators Guide To Law And Business Practice by Simon Stern (AOI) because it is a great, informative read and is wonderfully illustrated.

How long was it before illustration became your primary form of income?
I work part time to supplement my illustration income. The great thing having additional income while I am becoming established is that it gives me space (financially and time-wise) to work on personal projects. This is so important at an early stage on my career because it means that my portfolio will represent the kinds of work I want to be commissioned on.

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Could you describe your typical day? 
Typically, I will get up and spend some time outside. Walk the dogs, go for coffee with friends etc. then I will settle down to work. I keep a lot of sketchbooks and do a lot of observational drawing to keep my drawing skills up to scratch. I find that I will often revisit sketchbooks and they will influence future projects. Then I might have lunch and meet with a client or go to a networking event such, like the great training events run by Creative Edinburgh. I keep track of emails and twitter throughout the day, and try to answer emails as soon as I get them! I tend to take weekends to study for university at the moment, but I hope to be able to take them off at some point in the future.

What do you wish you’d know when you first started out?
Do what you love doing and not what you think you will learn to love doing! Do Jillian Michaels everyday and expand your box.

What’s the best thing about being an illustrator?
From my perspective the best thing about being an illustrator is the autonomy you have over your day-to-day lifestyle. While you do have to respond to briefs and are often under time constraints, you act as your own boss to a certain extent. I love the constant buzz that seeking a new project and opportunities gives me. There is always something new to get involved with and this is exciting to be part of.

What’s the worst thing about being an illustrator?
I think the worst thing about being illustrator is probably the periods of time that you have to endure when you are quite isolated from the real world. You have to focus on what you’re working on, spend time engaging with it, and that involves spending a lot of time by yourself. I don’t think that it would be something that would put me off illustration however, because there is always the opportunity to move into a shared studio space or alter your day so that you can spend time with other people discussing your ideas. I think that is an important part of being an illustrator; it just takes a bit of effort to implement.

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If you weren’t an illustrator, what would you be?
I think if I wasn’t in Illustrator I would still be involved in visual design whether that be graphics, marketing or looking at visual identities, ideally that would be with third sector clients. If I was not involved with visual design in any sense then I suspect that I would be involved in project management because I find that fun and exciting.

Any other tips you could share?
I think my main tips would be to stay connected with what’s going on around you. Collaborate with people who interest you and make sure that you have a structure to your ‘freelance illustration’ plan. I think you need to approach it as a business plan rather than something that will just happen. You need to actually make it happen! The other think would be to create your own platforms for working. I recently established a group called Drawn In ( which links up student designers with charities, to offer budget design and great professional development opportunities.

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