Friday, 11 May 2012

"Bear Have You Been?"

After much blogging around the subject of working on my 'Final Major Project', it occurs to me that I have yet to post any of the actual work itself. Well, now you can see for yourself what all the fuss has been about. It's taken me a while to get to this point. It has taken numerous character designs for the two main protagonists. Numerous background designs for the world in which they inhabit. It has taken a lot of experimenting with various styles to use for the book. I've tried using block print textures, charcoal, pencil, and crayon. I've tried creating it all digitally, then when that seemed too artificial tried the opposite only to find that a compromise between the two was the best way.

I think most people would agree that I spent too much time worrying over little insignificant details of the designs, like if both bears should be wearing glasses, or what colours their clothes should be, or if I should draw each individual hair. The list goes on, and I don't like to think about all the time I have spent worrying over how I should do the shading, or if there should even be shading, how dark should it be.

Its fair to say that some of this time could have been better served, perhaps on the animation, perhaps even on updating this blog more often. Either way the important thing for now is the work is done and I am pleased with it. For the most part that is. When I look at it I still see my mistakes and can't help but think of things I would like to have done differently. But then, I think most of my classmates feel the same way when looking at their 'Final Major Projects', we have to accept that we will never be totally satisfied, we just have to be content in the knowledge that we have done as well as we can.

So, here it is, see what you think:

Inspiration From Diverse Sources

Working on this 'Final Major Project' has lead me to realise that inspiration for illustrations can come from a diverse range of sources. As a first year I imagined that my inspiration should always come from within the illustration and design discipline. Now, however I realise that if you never take ideas from anywhere outside of the 'illustration bubble' then your work will lack originality. You should always be soaking up inspiration that can feed back into your illustrations.

I understand now why, at the beginning of this year, once a month our tutor would gather the class for a 'creative review'. This was a discussion where everyone came with a book, a film, and article from a publication and an exhibition to recommend to the rest of the class. At the time I really enjoyed these discussions, I enjoy any excuse to chat about books and movies. Now, I'm grateful to these sessions as they made me realise that all of the above forms of diverse culture can feed back into your work.

When it came time to decide on a brief for our  'Final Major Project', we were asked to use the Christmas break before starting as time to gather inspiration. One of my presents that Christmas was the book 'The Road' by Cormac McCarthy. A book as bleak as it beautiful, that tells the story of a father and son, trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. McCarthy describes terrifically the way that the father cares and worries for his son, who he will do anything to protect and the son who fears the large, dangerous and confusing landscape, and looks to his dad as his saviour. McCarthy sums up their love and dependency on each other perfectly when he writes that they are: 'each the others world entire'.


When I wrote my initial brief for my 'Final Major Project', I wanted to write and illustrate a children's book and I looked to 'The Road' book for inspiration. Although 'The Road' might seem like an odd place to take ideas for a book aimed at children, the core themes of the text seemed to me like ones that would suit children's literature. The themes of parent- child bonding seemed universal to me. The way that the child looks up to his dad, reminded me allot of my childhood years, where a parent can be your entire world.

So I came up with a story of two bears, a father and a son, lost in a forest, trying to find their friends. Like in 'The Road' my book is about parent-child bonding, about father and son against the world, working together to overcome adversity.

The book is now finished, I'm pleased with the illustrations I created for it and with themes those illustrations represent. These are themes that I found by looking to sources far outside 'the illustration bubble' for inspiration.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Hopes, Fears and Opportunities (Part Two)

As I rapidly approach the end of my degree, now would seem a good time to reflect on how this 'Final Major Project' has gone. Now is also a good time to look forward to what comes after my increasingly limited time left as an illustration student, as I begin the journey into the world of freelance illustration.

At the end of 2011, when writing 'Hopes, fears and Opportunities (Part One)' I wrote of my fear of the 'Final Major Project'. I was afraid that I would write a brief that would turn out all too late not to be right for me. I feared that at this point in the course, I would look over what I had created and feel ashamed, embarrassed and gutted to have wasted the opportunity. Back then I was continuously haunted by the image of myself at the end of year show, surrounded by the brilliant work created in this module by my talented colleagues, and then looking to my own sorry offering and thinking: "Where did it all go wrong?"

As relentlessly pessimistic as this now sounds (and it really does) I don't think that I was alone in this fear. I think all creative types occasionally doubt their abilities. I'm sure that this is true for even the most talented of illustrators. And when your classmates produce work as original and beautiful as mine do, there are few that wouldn't fear their own work looking weak in comparison. In a way, this fear has helped me to improve my work. I've constantly been striving to create a better quality of work, because the quality of work amongst my colleagues is so high. Some would call this competitive, but I think of it more as a 'team spirit. We've been on a journey together, refining our skills for the last three years, and for me to produce work that doesn't meet the standard set by everyone else would feel like letting the team down.

Thankfully, some six months later, this fear of letting both myself and 'the team' down hasn't come true. I feel that I chose the brief that was right for me. I've wanted to write and illustrate a children's book for years now, and I feel that my personal 'style' has developed into one that suits children's illustration. If I had chosen an alternative, more 'grown up' and serious brief for my final module I wouldn't have been being true to myself.

I also feel that the project has been something of a success. I usually shy away from saying that I've produced work that I'm proud of. I suppose because of a lack of confidence and fear that others may not agree. But this time, at the end of this project, I actually do feel proud of the work I've produced. That is not to say that I think the work is perfect, or that there aren't millions of other, similar pieces done by more talented artists that have been executed better. But I do feel that the work I have produced is of a higher standard than the work I created previously and is of the highest standard that I am currently capable of. So for that reason I do judge the project to be a success, and for that reason I am pleased, relieved and proud.

Last year I wrote of how during the closing months of my degree I hoped to make the most of the time I had left with my tutors and colleagues; I wanted to soak up as much of the inspirational studio, atmosphere as I could while there was still time. As this remaining time becomes evermore scarce, I am pleased to say that feel I have made the most of it. I've spent a lot of time working in the studio, with my friends and tutors following the progress of my project and giving me help and advice every step of the way.

The fact that at the end of the project I feel pleased with my work, is all down to the support I have received during the previous months. Pretty much every element of my final piece would have been different had it not been for all the input I have received from the guys in the studio. No matter how hard I work on my own, there is still no replacement for the casual, regular advice that you receive from your mates, whilst you work together.

It is only really now that I am able to fully appreciate how important and influential this studio atmosphere has been and how my work has improved as a result. My fear now is that after university, when I can no longer rely on my friends and tutors for advice, that my work will suffer as a result.

My hope is that we all stay in touch, that we continue to keep each other informed of how our work is progressing and that we continue to offer each other hints, tips and advice on how we might improve.

A good way to do this could be through social media, through blogs and Twitter: Posting our work online and gaining feedback from each other. This is of course, no match for the studio atmosphere and I hope that we still regularly meet up and discuss work.

Another good solution to this could be through 'Draw North West', a monthly meet up for illustrators in the region that has been started recently and is proving to be a success. These meet ups could give us an ideal opportunity to stay in touch and to discuss work.

There are a few of us in fact, who enjoy working together and who find the feedback from each other helpful, that have talked of setting up a collective when we finish university. This would be an ideal way to stick together and to continue to support each other. And of course, to encourage each other to keep up the illustration work.

This brings me to my biggest fear, a fear that I had six months ago when I blogged of what was to come and a fear that still troubles me. This is the fear that I will not continue to utilize and progress with the skills I have learned during my degree once I finish university. The fear that all this work will have been in vain.

This is a fear that is often backed up by those in the industry, who talk of how few of their peers have gone on to pursue illustration post graduation: of how most of them spent three years learning skills that they will never use and learning of an industry that they will never be a part of. I so don't want this to happen to me. I have wanted to be an illustrator since I was thirteen and dreamed of illustrating children's books. Now at the age of twenty-two, after three years of studying the subject, my passion for it is as strong as ever. That's why I can't bear the thought that I might gradually give it up, that I would let all this enthusiasm slip away.

 This is why I need to stick by those who feel the same, to keep myself focused on developing my work. After all, university may be almost over, but as I begin to edge towards the world of the freelancer, I can see that the real work is only just beginning.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Beginnings in Animation

Above you will find a short animation I made as part of my 'Final Major Project'. The animation is based upon the children's book that I have been working on, on a double page spread that features the book's two lead characters caught in the rain.
Although I am pleased with the piece (I think the way that the characters looks to each other communicates their relationship in much the same way as the book) I still wish that I could have done what I, perhaps naively, hoped to do earlier, which was to animate the whole of the book. 
Looking back now, it seems obvious that with the time given for this project, just getting the book done would take up the majority of the time, and that with animation being such a long process, getting the entire book animated would have taken longer to make than the book itself.

My finished animation may seem only incidental therefore as it only lasts twelve seconds and only incorporates one double page spread. But working on it has rekindled the passion I had for animation when I was ten and would use my Dad's camera to create stop motion films with my 'action men'. As I began creating the above piece, I felt that same excitement about bringing characters to life as I did back then.

This has convinced me that although my time as at university may be drawing to a close, I should still experiment with animating my characters. I'm excited at the prospect of pursuing this new direction in my work further and am determined to make more animations in the coming months.

So, although the above piece is only short, the experience of making it is one that has rekindled a passion in me that I hope to continue as a graduate.

Moving On Into Moving Image

During the closing months of our degree we have been set the task of creating a short animation, with regular weekly tutorials to help with the progress. I was really excited when I heard about this, I'd enjoyed working on a collaborative animation with Sarah enormously. There is something magical about watching a character that you've created come to life, and now I was to get the chance to learn how bring them to life myself. 

Following our initial briefing for the animation project I spent a fair amount of time on Vimeo, staring in wonder at one beautiful animation after another. An early favorite of mine, one that I have played endlessly, is this 'Sherbert Christmas Card' from 2010 by the 'This Is It Collective':

There is so much to love about this video, for a start I love the character designs, which are a fine example of someone creating a range of characters that, although diverse, are all instantly recognizable as belonging to 'the same world' (this is something that I have been advised to work on). 
I also love the technique: each model had been painstakingly hand cut and hand painted, a feat even more admirable when you consider that some models look to only have been used for single frames (or at least through my still amateur eyes they do). There are some who would question going to such lengths to create something that could perhaps have been made easier and faster digitally (in a program like Maya maybe). But I would argue that the extra work is totally worth it, the piece has a certain beauty and charm that can only come something that has been crafted by hand, pause the video at any point and you are given a beautifully crafted masterpiece.
Another personal favorite of mine is 'The Man with the Beautiful Eyes', a collaboration between animator Jonathan Hodgson and illustrator Jonny Hannah based on a piece of writing by Charles Bukowski:

Again, there are many reasons why I love this animation, and again a large part of that comes down to the handmade quality of the piece. There is something charming about being able to see the craft behind a piece in the piece itself, by which I'm referring to the variety of textures that are present in the animation: the watercolour paper, the inks the paints. The whole thing looks literally like drawings come to life and as with the previous piece, every frame of he animation could be framed on the wall.

Is Illustration Still Relevant? Part Three

Across the river however, Shrigley has created something to appeal to a broad range of people, not just illustration geeks like me. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I loved 'Brain Activity' and left the gallery smiling. The point being so did everyone else, everyone that wasn't associated with the illustration industry. The gallery was filled with a broad range of people all enjoying the artwork. These people may not have cared for the works aesthetic quality as much as I did (I really like Shrigley's style but am aware that it is one that can divide people) but they still enjoyed themselves. They enjoyed the exhibition because they enjoyed the message. Because Shrigley had something to say and that something was smart and witty.

The question now is how do we, those illustrators in training, keep the discipline that we love relevant in today's world. How do we stop the work we create only being appreciated by those within our circle? In my opinion the best answer is to follow Shrigley's advice and 'Fight the Nothingness!” We make sure that our work has ideas behind it; we make sure that we use the skills we have been honing during our training to communicate a message to a specific audience, one that doesn't end within the illustration circle.

For example, for my 'Final Major Project' I've been working on a children's book.  The message of my book is all about the father son relationship, and it s intended to be one that farther and their children will read through together, perhaps a bedtime story. The book is aimed at children. I do of course hope that my friends, colleges and tutors like it, and it would give me no greater pleasure for those in the illustration industry to think that it is of merit. But when I created the book I created it specifically for children to read, in the hope that they identify with the characters and enjoy the story.

To conclude what has become a lengthier point than planned: "Is Illustration Still Relevant?" Yes, but we can't take that for granted. We need to ensure that our work has an idea behind it, regardless of its aesthetic qualities and we need to ensure that the idea is one that those outside of the 'Illustration Circle' can appreciate. I'm aware that Zeegan's recent writing may have upset some of those within the circle, but the intentions behind the text are those worth taking notice of. It is only because he loves illustration that he worries for it so, and why he was inspired to write such a piece. It is up to us now, the illustrators in training about to put what we have learned into practice and heed Zeegan's warning. We must remember the message. We must remember the audience. We must fight the nothingness!

Is Illustration Still Relevant? Part Two

This article was written in September 2007, at the time all was well in the world of illustration and the future looked bright. What a difference five years can make. In February of this year, Laurence Zeegan, he who had written about the discipline with such enthusiasm and optimism some five years previously, wrote an article for Creative Review, entitled: 'Where is thecontent? Where is the comment?', about how in his opinion, the illustration industry has lost its spark and is in danger of becoming irrelevant. According to Zeegan:

"Illustration has become entrenched in navel-gazing and self-authorship."

Zeegan goes on to write of how illustrators have nothing to say anymore, they still create work that is aesthetically pleasing, but it is all merely an exercise in image making. Illustrators, according to the text, are no longer speaking to the public but to other illustrators and illustration students. This same culture of creating ones own opportunities as opposed to waiting for commissions, has lead to an industry that values means over message, where illustrators produce empty, shallow, if beautiful work, whose target market is others within the discipline.

As an example of this, Zeegan cites 'Pick Me Up', a graphic arts fair that ran at Somerset House in London. He wonders if the event, where illustrators display their work and sell prints and related ephemera, will appeal to anyone outside of the industry. When commenting on the work itself he writes:

"...what is there to be discovered? Are we offered much more than contemporary eye candy? Are we offered much more than mere nothingness?"

 This reasserts Zeegan's opinion that the illustrators of today have nothing say, and regardless of the merits by which they say it, they are still saying nothing. Hence his assertion that the discipline could be in danger of sliding towards irrelevance.

He then writes of 'Brain Activity' the David Shrigley exhibition, which he puts forward as an alternative to 'Pick Me Up': here is an illustrator with something to say. Shrigley's 'Fight the Nothingness' poster, displayed outside the Hayward Gallery would appear the encapsulate everything that Zeegan sees as being wrong with the industry.

As someone who visited both 'Pick Me Up' and 'Brain Activity' I can understand this point of view. Don't get me wrong, I loved 'Pick Me Up', I really loved it, I will definitely be going again next year and dream that one day my work might even be displayed there. I thought the work was fantastic, and many is the time that I've looked through the collection of postcards that I bought as a souvenir, and marvelled at just how beautiful the work really is. That's why I can't wait to return next year as I found the collection of work to be an endless source of inspiration.

However, some would argue that of course I would say that: I'm an illustration student, so it would come as no surprise that I found 'Pick Me Up' to be such a joy because the event was targeted at people like me. But what of people outside of the industry? What's in it for them? 

Is Illustration Still Relevant? Part One

It seems like only yesterday that illustration was going through a resurgence of interest. It had all of a sudden become cool to be an illustrator and the industry was one that was vibrant, exciting and ready to take on the world. Contemporary illustrators were taking the discipline in all kinds of interesting new directions, and were the subjects of big glossy coffee table books full of contemporary illustration, that couldn't hit the shelves fast enough. Lawrence Zeegan, Illustrator, Educator, Writer and all round authority on the subject; documented the disciplines sudden rise in popularity in his 2007 article for Computer Arts magazine, entitled 'Illustration Renaissance'. In this piece, Zeegan writes of how after years of struggling, illustration was all of a sudden in vogue:

"After a decade climbing the ranks following a period as underdog, illustration now sits as top dog."

 Zeegan discusses the role played by the 'digital revolution' in this renaissance, a revolution that had once bought about the downfall of the illustration industry, now looked to be the discipline's saviour. The 'digital revolution' had come as a gift to graphic designers and photographers, who embraced this new technology and whose industries prospered as a result. But as the photographers and graphic designers raced towards their exciting digital futures, Illustration was left on the starting line unsure of its place in this new revolution.

Come the time of the 'Illustration Renaissance', however, this new and sophisticated technology that had for so long been out of the price range of the average illustrator was suddenly affordable and a new tech-savvy generation of illustrators were emerging to breath new life into the industry. They did so by creating work that was fresh, unique, exciting and which now seemed to art directors like a viable and interesting proposition, one that could compete with photographers and designers.

These illustrators were not only revolutionary in their work, but also in their approach: they didn't wait for commissions to coming, they created their own. Zeegan commented at the time on how illustrators were increasingly creating their own: "self-publishing fanzines and mags; launching own-label products, such as T-shirts, badges and stickers; and promoting self-initiated, self-directed one-off and/or limited edition artworks, through the organization of exhibitions and events as well as through online portfolios and stores."

David Shrigley: Brain Activity

Towards the end of our much blogged about journey to London, myself, Jord and Dom found ourselves at a bit of a loose end and so headed down to the SouthBank to catch David Shrigley's latest exhibition 'Brain Activity' at the 'Hayward Gallery'. Being a big Shrigley fan, I was excited about this, it sounded like fun way to round off what had been a fun and rewarding visit to 'the big smoke'.

I wasn't disappointed, every room of the exhibition seemed to be buzzing with creativity and humour. That is what I like and admire most about Shrigley is his sense of humor. Perhaps the funniest room, in a blackly comic and sardonic way, was the room entitled 'Death'. 

The first thing you see when you enter this room is a bizarre piece of taxidermy and one of the funniest pieces in the exhibition. It is the piece that has been pretty much ubiquitous in terms of the shows promotion, it is a deceased Jack Russell terrior, stuffed, stood on its hind legs and holding a sign bearing the morbid phrase: "I'm Dead". As I wright this I am aware that such a thing sounds like it would display vulgarity and a lack of taste, but quite to the contrary it actually displays a very playful sense of humor: the piece is hilarious. As people entered the room you could see them begin to crease up with laughter at the sight of this piece, and let us just pause for a minute to consider what an achievement that is: what other artist could make a dead dog funny? Designers pride themselves on their 'out of the box thinking' but I can't imagine there are many that when presented with the corpse of a Jack Russell would see its humorous potential.

Another macabre, but equally funny piece was entitled 'Gravestone' (2008). As the name would suggest the piece is indeed a gravestone, but one that lists the contents of a shopping list 'bread, milk, cornflakes... etc'. Again, I found it hilarious, I'm sure that if you think about it for long enough you could see it as the artist mocking death, or pointing out the futility of a life driven by consumerism (because when you die you can't take it with you) or any number of equally deep and disturbing interpretations. Or you could just see it as a good joke, delivered well. Personally, I choose the latter.

As we left the Hayward Gallery we felt satisfied and pleased to have visited, content in knowledge that we had been true art students and seen something culturally and artistically meaningful, and had a laugh at the same time. And then, again like true art students, we got the cheapest possible train home.

Portfolio Visit: Scholastic

Whilst in London I was fortunate enough to get a portfolio viewing at 'Scholastic', a publisher that specializes in books for children and teenagers. As someone that would like to pursue a possible career in childrens illustration, I was very excited for this visit. I was also very nervous, 'Scholastic" is such a mayjor publisher that I couldn't help but feel intimidated.

When I arrived, I met with Andrew Biscomb, the Creative Director, who within five minutes had put me completely at ease. What followed was one of the most thorough, helpful and enjoyable portfolio viewings I've had yet. Andrew was very generous with his time, going through each piece of my portfolio in turn and mentioning what he felt were the pros and cons.

For example with my character designs for 'Helping Uganda Schools' he liked the monkey and the crocodile, saying that although they were stylized they were still recognizable as the animals. However, in the case of the elephant (that wears glasses and stands on its hind legs) he felt that it was too 'human like' and needed to bear a closer resemblance to the animal in question, like the previous designs. He went on to say that he would be interested in seeing a collection of animal characters in the same ilk as the aforementioned monkey and crocodile. I was really pleased, to find that there was an area of my work that he felt was strongest and worth developing was really helpful and encouraging.

When it came to the character design for 'Why Are Girls Always Right?' he felt that the characters were too stylized and abstract to appeal to children in a storybook (perhaps better suited to a medical context). I can totally see what he means, now that it is a year on from this brief, the characters do seem slightly 'distant' and 'sparse' and lacking a certain warmth. When I compare these characters to my more recent designs I feel that I have moved on and that my recent work has more of the warmth that these designs were lacking.

He liked the pieces I had designed for 'Music' (the poster and the 'Heroes' piece), he said it is encouraging to see elements of graphic design in an illustration portfolio, as it shows that the illustrator is able to work with text and composition. He said that it is rare to find illustrators that can create and work with type as well as the image. Again this is encouraging and helpful, it is good to know that the design skills that I have been taught will be thought of as useful and it has encouraged me to experiment more with text and get some of my own typography in my portfolio.

Once we'd discussed my portfolio, he went on to mention other illustrators that I might be interested in (he recommended Oliver Jeffers and David Hitch). He then went on to mention illustration agencies that represent the kind of work I am interested in: 'The Bight Agency' and 'Arena Illustration', both of which I have since looked into and both of which are full of just the kind of illustration that I admire and aspire to.

When I left 'Scholastic', I did so buzzing with enthusiasm and excitement. It had been everything that you'd hope for in a portfolio visit, with lots of helpful feedback and advice. I left feeling that I had a clearer understanding of the direction that I'd like to take my work in the future and of where I'd like to work within the illustration and design industry. I feel very grateful to Andrew for giving up so much of his time and for helping me to get more of an idea of where I'd like to aim towards after finishing my degree.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Jill Calder Part Two

Next came the subject of portfolios, of course in this day and age a portfolio is contained within an illustrators website and allows people from all over the world to view their work. Jill began her career at a time when portfolio visits (much like the viewings I’ve recently had) were the norm, and the best way to get your work out there. Although times have changed, Jill still puts a lot of thought and attention into her physical portfolio.

Jill’s advice is to create a physical portfolio that will stand out from the crowd and will inspire people. She has her portfolios custom made by a professional bookbinder based in Fife, who she went to meet in person and together they collaborated on creating a series of unique portfolios that are works of art in their own right. 

However, alongside these handcrafted pieces Jill also uses an iPad as a portfolio. One of the benefits to this is the zoom feature, meaning that those viewing the portfolio can look closely to admire the intricacies of each design.

The second big lesson was: Draw. Jill made it clear that although she, like many other contemporary illustrators, uses Photoshop to compose illustrations; the elements used are all drawn by hand. Drawing is still very important to Jill, as are the materials she draws with. She made a point of saying how she draws with anything and everything. From the small pencils that are given out free in IKEA, to crayons that she bought years ago at a market in Mexico. And then of course there is ink, which can transform any household object into a drawing implement and produce a unique and distinct quality of line.

Then there is the question of what to draw; Jill talked of the time she likes to spend exploring the world with a sketchbook at hand to document her discoveries. She now has a large collection of sketchbooks documenting various people and places that she has encountered over the years, and all of which are now unique reference points that can be used in commissions.

She also mentioned what she referred to as ‘Google Drawing’; this is where you draw with reference to Google Images. To be honest I’ve been overly reliant on this process for a while now and could do with collecting more first hand sketchbook references like the kind mentioned previously.

Jill’s final lesson was to “Make mistakes and be silly”. She explained how illustration student are often guilty of taking themselves and their work too seriously, and that often when they start to get paid to illustrate they take their work even more seriously and forget to have fun. This means remembering to be playful in your work, to have a sense of humor about it and to have no fear about making mistakes. It is often when we are at our most playful that we are at our most creative and create our best work. If you have fun in creating a piece this will show in the piece itself.

I myself, now that I am faced with looming deadlines and responsibilities have been guilty of taking my work too seriously when I should always be remembering to be playful and enjoy the process. This important piece of advice came just at the right time for me, and I’m grateful that it did.

This was a fantastic talk, given by a passionate and confident speaker. Jill was as humorous and entertaining as she was informative and helpful. Thanks Jill!

Jill Calder Part One

I’ve been a big fan of Jill Calder for a while now and recently had the pleasure of attending a lecture, where she spoke of the lessons she has learned over her prolific and successful career. A career which began in 1993, with her first commission from ‘The Scotsman’ (a £65 editorial job) and has gone from strength to strength ever since.

She started by discussing the business side to illustration, and began with her first lesson: ‘Get Paid!’ It may sound like an obvious point but as Jill went on to explain, there are certain commissions where the job is the easy part but getting the client to pay you can be a long, arduous drawn out affair. To illustrate this point (no pun intended) she cited the following quote:

“The freelance writer is a man who is paid per piece or per word or perhaps.”

Although the quote was made in relation to writing, the words ring all too true when describing the world of freelance illustration; some clients will do anything to avoid paying and it can often be up to the illustrator to be insistent and persistent and chase up payment. 

Jill found this out the hard way and had her fair share of difficult clients. She is now however represented by the CIA (Central Illustration Agency) who handles that side of things, giving Jill more time to concentrate on her work.

Of course, the pros and cons to agency representation could be a whole blog post unto itself; Jill finds that the agency she is with is right for her, she has a good relationship with them and the arrangement is one that works well for her. She feels the same way about her American agent ‘Friend and Johnson’, she said that with both agencies she has received, interesting and exciting high profile and well paid commissions that she might not have had otherwise.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Portfolio Visit: Serpents Tail

"Serpent’s Tail is a consistently brave, exciting and almost deliriously diverse publisher."
Will Self

Whilst down in London, a few of us from the ‘Illustration’ Course went to visit ‘Serpents Tail’, an independent publisher that specializes in publishing books that represent the kind of independent thinking that is so often neglected by the mainstream. It is this philosophy towards representing unique and interesting ideas that gained them a reputation as a publisher of brave and exciting work.

When we arrived we met with Marketing Director Niamh Murray, who talked us through the process of commissioning book cover designs. What came as news to many of us was how many different people are involved in the cover design. Many people were under the impression, as I was, that it was down to the illustrator and the art director.

What we hadn’t realized was the number of marketing representatives who needed to approve the cover before it could go ahead. For example there would be a representative from ‘amazon’, who would asses a covers potential based on how well it works as a thumbnail; similarly a representative on behalf of supermarket chains would asses how well the cover would fit into their store, views which may contrast with that a book shop representative.

I then, met with Art Director Peter Dyer for a portfolio viewing. As most of my portfolio was made up of children’s illustration, there were a few pieces he didn’t feel he could comment on, which lead me to realize something I should have learned a while ago, which is that it is important to edit your portfolio before a viewing depending on who you are going to see.

The piece that Peter was most interested in was the ‘Heroes’ piece I developed for ‘Music’. He said that it is the kind of image he could see on a book relating to pop music. He liked the notion of the ‘reductionist portraits’; he said that this was an avenue worth exploring. However, he went on to say that Noma Bar is currently the ‘go to guy’ for this kind of illustration, and that if I wanted to pursue this ‘reductionist portrait’ area further that I would need to work on a way of separating my work from Noma Bar’s.

A big thanks to Niamh Murray and Peter Dyer for all their help and advice; and for giving us all a rare insight into the world of publishing.

Portfolio Visit: Nobrow

Nobrow is a publisher that specializes in showcasing the work of illustrators. I’ve been a big fan of Nobrow since I first discovered one of their publications in the first year of my degree. Ever since then I have watched with a keen interest everything that they have published as their collection grows along with their reputation for representing interesting, exciting and diverse illustration from around the world.

I was really excited when, on a recent journey to London, Myself; Dom, Jord and Kris went along to the Nobrow Headquarters for a portfolio viewing. When we got there we met with Sam, one of the founding members of Nobrow. He began by talking to us about breaking into the illustration industry after university.

He talked of how upon finishing university, few students ever actually progress onto becoming full time illustrators and that those who do make it in the industry do so through persistence. He spoke of how many students wrongly assume that upon finishing their education, they are the finished article and that their working method or ’style’ is set in stone, and how in reality the most successful of styles are those which are developed over many years of refinement and persistence.

Then he looked at my portfolio. His preferred pieces were those, which had more of a ‘hands on’ physical process behind them. He was less keen on the digital pieces and preferred those that had been created through printmaking. He said that it was the texture and imperfections of those pieces that made them more interesting. He said that although this process had its limitations when compared to working digitally, these limitations worked towards creating stronger more interesting work.

When I mentioned that my main interests lie in character design and children’s illustration he recommended I look at the work of Mark Boutavant (who Nobrow have worked with in the past). He said I should work towards creating my own ‘world’ of characters in the same way as Boutavant, where the style is versatile enough to apply to a variety of characters but also refined enough that we can tell that they all belong to the same ‘world’ created by the same artist.
The advice we all got regarding our work was helpful, informative and honest. Thanks to Sam from Nobrow for taking the time to see us and helping us to move forward in our careers.