Questioning Creatives


This article was written on 14 Jan 2013, and is filled under illustrators.

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Rory Butterworth

My name is Rory and I am currently a self-employed (read: pennyless) illustrator, designer and art director. I graduated in Illustration from Falmouth last year and I now reside in Cardiff, so at least I’m still close to the sea in some respects. I co-run Wolf Town DIY with two pals from back home, and also self-publish comics, artists works and photography under a imprint called Crippling Doubts.


When did you decide you wanted to be illustrator?
I think my first inkling of the ‘idea’ of becoming an illustrator probably only happened about four or five years ago whilst I was studying on my Foundation course at Stafford, but I’ve been creative in some form or the other long before, but I guess it wasn’t until I attended a college that specialized in art until I saw the potential in it. When I was younger I used to draw on the walls of our house quite a lot, much to my parents dismay, and that carried on over to paper, canvases, sketchbooks and the like from there. I’ll still go to town on a blank wall if you give me a thick enough marker, though, as those that know me can vouch for. Sorry, London.

Would you recommend studying at art school?
Absolutely. I think for me, personally, the most useful studies came from doing a Foundation course and I don’t think I could recommend that enough to students coming out of Sixth Form or college – it’s so refreshing to just have a year of doing nothing but pure art and design after several years of being couped up in school classes. That was really the turning point for me, and I still look back on my portfolio and tutor Spencer with some of the fondest memories. After all, it was the work on that course that got me into Falmouth which was my dream destination to study at even whilst I was still in Sixth Form.

As for university, I would say the same, though two of the best things I got out of my course were actually the people I met and the place that I was in. I don’t think I benefited massively well from the course as too many of the studies weren’t necessarily paths I wanted to go down myself, but that’s really on my own head. I don’t regret it for one second if just for the fact that I made some amazing friends who are all rotating in similar creative circles and are incredibly inspiring contacts for working with or simply just following, and also for that I got to live in Falmouth for three years. Best place, best people.

How long was it before illustration became your primary form of income?
That’s still an ongoing endeavor, really. I’m not even 100% sure it ever will be a reality for me if I’m honest. When our tutors said it would be tough, they weren’t lying! But it’s really down to the path you choose, I suppose. A lot of the illustration or design work I do is for bands or labels which is often unpaid work which I’m pretty cool with as I know these are largely groups of people who are in similar conditions of my own, where they just want to put music out with what little money they have and likewise I just want to bolster my portfolio or work with amazing bands as much as possible. The majority of my time these days is spent doing in-house art and design direction work for Wolf Town DIY, which is an independent label myself and my two pals Andy and Richard all run together, but all of the money made from releases goes right back into then next lot of releases. It’s the same for Crippling Doubts, though that moves at a much slower pace as it’s solely funded and developed by myself. It’s not so bad, though – I work in Lush part-time which helps keep the wolf from the door, and it also means I get to come home every day smelling lovely!

Could you describe your typical day?
Everything starts with tea and/or coffee. And toast, if the toaster isn’t playing up and incinerating the bread. If i’m working then it’s enduring the miserable Cardiff wet on my walk to town and then spending a couple of hours picking up heavy soaps and bath bombs at Lush and inevitably getting glitter onto all of my clothes and into my hair and beard. If i’m not working then it’s still tea/coffee and toast, and then the rest of the day can go whichever way after that. A typical day would be checking e-mails, talking things over with Andy and Richard about releases/artwork for the label, and then subsequently talking things over with members of bands or their own designers about what we or they want to do – which can either be really, really easy going or mind-numbingly frustrating, and i’m sure other illustrators can share similar experiences when it comes to talking with clients.

I usually like to work on creative stuff up til about 6 or 7 and then take the rest of the evening off to do my own thing, read some comics, play some games or just chill out. I have a lot of time for spending hours just sitting in the bath since working for a soap shop. More times than not I’m usually having to do edits or tweaks for work sporadically through the evening because I don’t like to just say ‘no, i’m done for the night’, or at least up until I go to bed at least. Tonight will be one of those nights as i’m waiting on some content for a record to come through for me to work on, but I enjoy this way of working. It’s one of the perks of being freelance and when the work I do is fulfilling then it doesn’t really matter what time of the day I’m working from or til. There were points at university or with outside clients when the briefs were just so dull that it gets to a point where you’re having to drag yourself to your desk to pick up a pencil and that really isn’t a healthy or creative way of working. I try to avoid the jobs that don’t interest me from the get go, even if that does mean that I don’t really get an income from illustration or design work.

What do you wish you’d know when you first started out?
I think that if I had known that my course was going to be so focused on commerical pathways through illustration then I might of taken a step back to reconsider my own route. In the three years I’ve spent visiting or having visits from agents and publishers I’ve come to see just how painstakingly dull and strict some of the more commercial options are, and in one particular publishing outlets case an almost malicious approach to churning out content for younger audiences. I appreciate that at the end of the day it is work for some folk and they are, obviously, free to choose whatever work lands at their feet, I just wish there wasn’t so much of a reliance on commercial illustration when sometimes the agents, publishers or clients who dole it out couldn’t be further away from the word creative if they tried.


What’s the best thing about being an illustrator?
Being an illustrator and everything that comes with it. Like i’ve already said, the people I got to share a studio or house with are truly incredible at what they do and really at this point, with the label and the self-publishing, I just want to work with them and others alike. Working with them has been way more satisfying then anything I ever did at university that was submitted as an actual credit-based brief.

What’s the worst thing about being an illustrator?
I think a lot of people here have probably said something similar, but the loneliness of working freelance is a bit of a bummer. I guess one of my many cons is that I rely way too much on some forms of working and when you’re alone from studio contact or any form of critical discussion about the path your work is taking it can often lead to working too comfortably in one particular area, so the isolation is pretty lame and makes me really miss (and appreciate) all the studio time I had in Falmouth.

If you weren’t an illustrator, what would you be?
I’ve always fantasized about being a train driver. Preferably on one of those old steam trains that operate in obscure parts of the country, just going up and down the line, living the dream and replacing glitter for soot. Lot of my friends think I belong on some Eastern European merchant ship, though.

Any other tips you could share?
Do it yourself! It’s no use just sitting around waiting for an agent or publisher to find you, go make something. Anything. I can’t stress just how amazing the DIY movement of artists, musicians and other creative folk is right now, and it’s built upon the back of people spending time making cool shit with no worries about it’s commercial value or how well received it might be. I sort of forgot that illustration was still an art during my time at university, and that is absolutely crippling.

Follow all the creative folk ever on Twitter and Tumblr and be inspired at least once a day by something awesome that someone makes or even just retweets/blogs from the other side of the world.

Start a band, send a demo to Wolf Town DIY.

Make a zine, send it to Crippling Doubts.

Listen to all the Dillinger Four records.

Don’t graffiti the name of your university wrong.

Thanks for reading!|


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