I’m 54, British (born in Manchester, brought up in Chester) but now live on the Gold Coast in Australia with my long suffering wife of twenty years. She deserves a medal!
When did you decide you wanted to be an illustrator?
Well I’d always been able to draw, but never really considered making a career out of it until I was in my final year at school. This was in 1972/3. I had a superb art teacher called Mrs Joy who let me run wild in the new art department and suggested I do something with the talent I had. I didn’t even know you could make a career out of it!
Would you recommend studying at art school?
Being an illustrator is like any other profession. The more you learn about it and the more you do it, the better you’ll get. If there are people out there that can pass on their experiences and teach you some tricks of the trade, go for it. The social life was pretty darn good too!
How long was it before illustration became your primary form of income?
Unemployment was pretty high when I left college but somehow I landed a job in a fashion photographers studio in Manchester. I was 19 years old and surrounded by gorgeous models every day. So no complaints! But I did learn a lot about putting artwork together too. After that I spent several years working in various advertising agencies as a visualiser and finished artist. My freelance work was taking over and I had to make a choice – regular paid income or the uncertainties of freelance illustrating. I chose the latter and have been at it for nearly 30 years! Some days I’m still not sure if I made the right choice or not, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.
Could you describe your typical day?
I started The Illustrators Agency in 1996 back in the UK. I’d had a few agents over the years, some good, some not so good. I knew the business inside out by this time, having seen it as both the person handing the work out and the person actually doing the work. I had more work on than I could handle myself so I asked some of my colleagues if they could help out. We started with just three illustrators in a tiny studio in Manchester and now represent over 75 in seventeen different countries. Our clients are from all around the world too, so the first order of the day is to sort out the work that’s come in overnight. That starts around 5am. My wife (and co-founder of the agency) takes over around 7am when I start on my own work. We generally finish around 8pm.
What do you wish you’d known when you first started out?
That computers would eventually take over my life. I’d have saved a fortune in materials!
What’s the best thing about being an illustrator?
Every brief is a challenge, every day is different.
What’s the worst thing about being an illustrator?
I know it’s a cliche, but chasing for payment six months after you’ve turned a panic job around for someone in three hours. Oh yes, the client that calls you at your mothers funeral to ask how long you’re going to be. (It did actually happen)
If you weren’t an illustrator, what would you be?
That’s an easy one. A pilot. I’ve always been fascinated by aircraft and flying. No idea why. There’s no aviation history in my family so far as I know. I got my pilots licence a few years ago, but finding the time to go flying these days is quite difficult. There’s a lot of paperwork too and I hate paperwork! Ask me to drive from here to the shops and I’ll probably get lost, but I could navigate my way to Darwin no problem!
Any other tips you could share?
Always be professional whether it’s on the phone or by email. Clients are your lifeblood and first impressions are lasting impressions. Treat them with respect and they might, just might treat you the same way. It takes years to build a good reputation but you can lose it in seconds. You’re only as good as your last job and most important of all – never, never miss a deadline!