Questioning Creatives


This article was written on 20 Sep 2012, and is filled under illustrators.

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Scott Garrett

I’m 41 and I live in Hastings. I’ve been illustrating full time since graduating 1994, so I’ve had lots of practice! I worked from home for the first 15 years, I now share a very cool studio with 3 other illustrators, 2 designers, a photographer and a ceramicist. I got my first job a month after leaving college, it was a book cover for an Oliver Sacks book (who I love). I was then just really lucky to keep picking up more and more work.

When did you decide you wanted to be illustrator?
I was always drawing, but never knew what an illustrator really was until I ended up on a graphic design course and realised one didn’t have to lay out all the boring copy! I then realised I had always been an illustrator, doing covers for school plays, christmas cards, school ticket designs, making up my own rhymes and drawing pictures to go with them etc. Initially I thought I wanted to work in an advertising agency, just coming up with the ideas and creating rough visuals for someone else to work up. Now I get to do both, well for certain things, like editorial jobs where you get much more say in the ideas. I came from a family with no art/design history, or where anyone had even been to college/university, so I was very fortunate to have an art teacher watching out for me and somehow persuading me to give art college a try. I really have no idea what I would have done otherwise. I’ve been very fortunate to have had good people in the right place to help me at various points along my career. That’s very important, we need these people. Sometimes you just can’t do it all yourself, as much as you would like to think so!

Would you recommend studying at art school? 
Absolutely, it not only gives you time and space to develop your own visual language and figure out what it is YOU do, when you’re not following the lead of other artists/designers, but it’s also about the people you meet. To be surrounded with people who are just like you (mostly!) and to inspire each other. Also you have contact with tutors who are out there doing it for real (well, they should be.). These people are great contacts as they will help you bridge a gap when you leave, mine helped me set up meetings with commissioning art directors who were their friends or partners etc. that first job I got was from the wife of my tutor! A lot of it really is who you know and college starts that network.

How long was it before illustration became your primary form of income?
Straight away. I signed on for 6 months, but then just got on with it. I wasn’t making much, but I chose to make do, as I hardly had any expenses. I knew the danger of taking on a temporary ‘real job’, they soon become permanent as the money becomes nice and it seems like a big step to give it up. It’s hard to go and get work, it’s full time, you struggle if you’re trying to fit it around a day job … and if you need that work for survival you become a bit more determined.

Could you describe your typical day?
Not sure there is a typical day. I have two young boys now so nothing is typical. I just try and make each day fall into place, but I can tell you how it used to be pre-children. I’d get up and deal with emails and boring daily junk. I’m never good creatively in the morning. I’d have early lunch, then my day would begin, working on whatever jobs I had on. I then go for a walk, get a coffee, sit, think, watch the world go by, think some more, scribble (always have a notebook/sketchbook on you). I’d then have dinner and then crack on, evenings were always my most productive and creative, probably something to do with the fact that everyone else had finished work, so there was no one I should/could be contacting. My mind could just focus purely on the art. I’d stop around 10pm, have a break, coffee, news, then I’d work through to midnight or 1am … sometimes then just sitting and scribbling random ideas for another hour or so. 2am was usual for me. I always like those really late moments where your logical mind is just too tired and the really crazy stuff can be heard. The next morning I’d assess what was actually just plain crazy and what had some mileage.

What do you wish you’d know when you first started out?
That it really would take that long to get firmly established (I’d been told 5-10 years). But don’t let that put you off, there’s fun to be had along the way. Just don’t expect to be an overnight sensation!

What’s the best thing about being an illustrator?
Doing what you did as a kid and getting paid for it! Also having some control over your working day, eg. taking a walk in the day and seeing lots of miserable faces through office windows, like life is a sentence just to be served.

What’s the worst thing about being an illustrator? 
Never knowing where the next job is coming from. Even after all this time I still think my next job will be my last and that they’ll finally figure out I’ve been winging it! (it’s not happened in 18 years, but that doesn’t stop me thinking it). I also think it’s pretty hard to make a living solely from illustration these days. There are just too many illustrators (well, people who can make images, thanks to computers) and not enough work to keep everyone going. You do need to diversify. Think of yourself as a brand, get a strong identity, run a blog, make prints, exhibit, teach, etc, any avenue where you can take your ability to design, or apply your imagery.

If you weren’t an illustrator, what would you be?
I would happily be a potter, that’s my new passion and one I’m developing. Hopefully I’ll have saleable pots soon, but I could have chosen easier things to do! I do see it slowly taking over and hopefully I can take my years of creating commercially into a world that isn’t used to exploiting that.

Any other tips you could share? 
Be nice. Never fail to hit a deadline. Never deliver work you think is a bit shoddy, but you think you’ll get away with, work hard, care about every piece (you really are only as strong as your weakest link, you will more often be judged by your worst piece, rather than your best.) Don’t give up, never give up if you know it’s within you. It’s very true that the harder you work the luckier you get, so go be lucky!

One Comment

  1. Thomas Condon
    May 15, 2017

    Question for Scott Garrett: I recently ran across John Laughton’s piece on Thomas Kuhn (Guardian 2012)… You created the accompanying illustration with a pool table theme. My question is Why you chose this theme? It does not seem to fit with Naughton’s treatment. It does, however, symbolize the billiards-like scientific world view initiated
    (according to Kuhn() by the Copernican / corpuscularian Revolution underlying classical physics (Galileo, Descartes, Newton, etc.). Was your choice serendipitous or accidental?

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