Questioning Creatives


This article was written on 13 Mar 2013, and is filled under illustrators.

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Samantha Mabley

My name is Samantha Mabley and I am a Greetings Card Designer by day and an avid Freelancer by night. I am a 26-year-old, living in London and I can finally say I have a job that actually lets me use my degree. After much hard work, persistence, a variety of random jobs and cake eating, I landed myself a job in a well-known Greetings Card Company about a year and a half ago.


When did you decide you wanted to be an illustrator?
When I was at school, I was always Miss Average at every subject apart from Art. I always knew I wanted to do something creative, but I just wasn’t sure what exactly.

It wasn’t until I was on my foundation course that I realized through my lovely teacher, Rodger, that I was good at Illustration and exceled in creating narratives and character designs. I also enjoyed bringing my pictures to life, through movement, which is why I went on to study a degree in ‘Illustration with Animation’.

Would you recommend studying at art school?
Yes I would. If it weren’t for my degree, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

But I also think, you have to be well aware (especially in todays job climate) that the hard part isn’t the degree, it’s the ‘doing something with the degree’ after you finish. I see so many talented illustrators give up before they even reach the first hurdle and I was almost one of those.


How long was it before illustration became your primary form of income? 
After university, it took me over 2 years to find the job I am doing today. During those 2 years I had a variety of jobs, including pub work, estate agent (don’t ask!) and office temping.

Then, one day I woke up and decided I was going to give illustration one more almighty push with the help and encouragement from a fellow designer, Emma Patterson. I quit my job, with enough money saved to survive in London for 2 more months and I stepped into the freelancing world. I worked as a freelancer for about 6 months, which is what lead me to my current job.

I found freelancing hard as I never knew where my next rent money would come from and I started to go a bit insane from sitting in a room on my own all day. It really threw me into the deep end without any floats or a rescue boat or even a rubber duck for company. I was forced to learn the ways of the design world, and quickly!

Could you describe your typical day?
I wake up and try to make myself look decent for the outside world. Fight my way to work on a busy tube, while attempting to read a good book.

First thing I do when I get into the office is make a strong coffee, eat some fruit and have a good natter with the girls I work with. Then I settle down into my work. Usually I will have a few briefs on the go, so when I start to struggle creatively with one, I can swap to the other for a day or so.

Some days I will be out of the office on comp shops. This is when I go around shops or design markets seeking out new trends, inspiration from Fashion and what is going on in the Greetings Card world. These are the best days.

After a days work, I head home, cook dinner and then settle down to do some freelance work for my other clients. I do a variety of work for clients. I have recently just created a selection of party products for a client, ranging from cake stands and paper cups, to bunting and platters. I have also designed branding for jewelry startup companies, mugs and t-shirts for commercial use and leaflets for companies.

I also spend evenings working on my own personal projects and love entering illustration competitions online. I have recently got my first publication in an illustration book, which is very exciting for me!

If I take a night off from the computer, I love sewing and making dresses, baking cakes and zonking out in front of some trashy TV.


What do you wish you’d known when you first started out?
I wish I had known how to not worry so much or stress about the future so much. Everything works out eventually if you keep trying at it. Or at least, I think it does.

What’s the best thing about being an illustrator?
I get to go to work with bright blue hair and it’s ok, because I am ‘creative’.

I get to draw unicorns and gangsta cats as part of my daily job.

I get to work on a variety of different projects. So many people hear the words ‘illustrator’ and just assume we sit and draw children’s books all day. There is so much more we can do, and I am here to prove this!

What’s the worst thing about being an illustrator? 
All the doubt and worry in your mind and other peoples minds that it is not going to work out and you won’t get a career in illustration or make any money from it. The fact that you have to prove yourself and push yourself so much harder, just to get that first foot in the door because there is always someone out there willing to do the job cheaper or for free!

If you weren’t an illustrator, what would you be?
Sad… and probably really large… I would sit and eat cake all day to try and fill the ‘illustration’ void.

Any other tips you could share? 
If you are freelancing, keep motivated and if you are having a negative day, visit friends. When I was freelancing, I became a bit of a hermit and forgot that I enjoyed socialising and being around people. You know it’s all gone wrong when you start talking to yourself.

Don’t start talking to yourself. 

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