2018 Had No Time For My Comfort Zone.
2018 was definitely the year that my comfort zones got BURNED UP AND OUT.
Scared of public speaking? Time to deliver dozens of talks and workshops.
Not worked on comics for long? Time for a client 120 page full colour graphic novel.
Not left the country on your own before? Time to book a trip to a huge illustration convention in Italy.
Always had a part-time job? Time to quit. Go full-time freelance.
It was without a doubt the busiest, biggest, and most exciting year of my career yet. Definitely a heady mixture of ups and downs, with lots of confusing bits in between, but overall I can say that I achieved a few goals and milestones this year and I’m proud of it. So I’m going to do what I do every year and write up a quick review of the last 12 months, how they went, and what I’m planning on powering through in the next 12 months. Some of the next 12 months are planned, some of them aren’t, all of them are terrifying, but I’m excited nonetheless.
So first here’s a breakdown of the things I’ve done this year…
Myths & Space
At the beginning of 2018 I was gearing up for another year of part time employment, small projects, and frustration, but in January I received a couple of emails which turned that whole template on its head.
I was asked to illustrate two titles: a full colour, 120 page non-fiction graphic novel on space travel, and a large book on myths and legends from around the world. Two of the biggest and most exciting jobs I’ve received to date! They were so big - in fact - they gave me the ideal opportunity to quit my part-time job, but more on that in a bit.
As the titles aren’t released yet, I don’t want to say too much about them, but what I can say is just how much I learned from these awesome opportunities.
The graphic novel was over 200 panels of tricky camera angles, foreshortening, perspective, and loads of other elements of drawing that used to send me running and screaming to the comfort zone. But thanks to the systematic desensitisation of this mega project, I’m now so much more willing to try out complicated angles, twisted poses, and even backgrounds(!).
The Myths and Legends book not only had one of the most challenging set of deadlines I’ve faced, but it also allowed me to focus fully on communicating narrative and character in single illustrations, something I’ve been meaning to hone down for some time. And even better, the project has given me dozens of illustrations for my portfolio!
Taking the full-time leap
Something I didn’t think would be possible for a many more years… as I mentioned above, the two publishing jobs gave me the financial stability and boot up the butt that I needed to finally quit that part-time job.
For the four years since I’ve graduated from university, I’ve been relying on a part-time job to keep rent paid, the fridge full, and the dog fed. This wasn’t a huge inconvenience, I knew that 99% of freelance illustrators start off in this exact same way so I was happy to keep powering through - but those few days taken out of my week made an impact, especially when I was at that job thinking about all the things I could be doing with my time instead. So you can imagine my surprise when I calculated the income I’d get from the publishing jobs and the time I would need to complete them meant that not only I could quit my part-time job, but I needed to!
So, as of the end of February 2018, I went full-time freelance with 100% of my income now coming from my illustration and illustration-related work.
It’s been terrifying, liberating, and something I have to try very hard not to take for granted. Getting into a strict schedule has been so important to keep ideas, work, and progress flowing in the right direction. Up early, minimise distractions (I’m still working on this…), be efficient with the time I have, but also very importantly I’ve needed to focus on trying to keep a healthy work/life balance.
It can be so easy to feel guilty about spending any time (including weekends and evenings!) on something that isn’t work. Trying to relax and leave the work for a few hours can be a real struggle, especially when you know that your entire income relies on you putting the work in. There’s no point, however, in working yourself to exhaustion when all this produces is sub-par work and an unhealthy brain!
I’m still relatively new to being full-time freelance, but this has always been my goal. I couldn’t be happier to be in this position, as stressful and unstable as it sometimes feels. This has always been where I’ve wanted to be and I’m going to put all my effort into seeing it grow in 2019!
Another amazing opportunity I got this year was being brought on board as an artist for the latest instalment of Wild in Art sculpture trails in Norwich.
I had the pleasure of painting Narni-Hare, a Narnia inspired design. Narni-Hare lived right in the city centre and was visiting by thousands of trail explorers! She eventually sold at auction for £8.2k, one of the highest of the night!
On top of painting a hare, I was also incredibly excited to have been asked to illustrate the trail map for the whole event as well. Dozens of small spot illustrations decorated the map, showing visitors where to find hares, landmarks, and shops. Thousands of the maps were used by visitors to the trail, it was such a huge buzz to walk around my city seeing families using the maps with my illustration work inside.
The whole project was hugely enjoyable, from painting the hare itself to meeting so many other amazing artists and designers who worked on GoGoHares. Can’t wait to see what the next trail will be in a couple of years time…
Talks & Workshops
In late 2016 I delivered my very first talk and it was… terrifying. It was an hour long, no breaks, and in front of a couple dozen teenagers. This year I delivered upwards of 20 talks, workshops, and events including:
Talks and workshops in schools and colleges throughout Norfolk & Suffolk, delivered to both students and parents
A talk in the Norwich University of the Arts lecture theatre for HotSource
Writing and solo-delivering a storyboarding workshop for the creative team at Global HQ in Leicester Square
Instigating and co-ordinating the first official AOI meet-up/talk event in Norwich for 2019
I never in a million years thought I’d be confident at public speaking, but now I can’t get enough of it!
I love any excuse to talk about my practice and the illustration industry as a whole. Not only does it - hopefully - help those I’m speaking to, but I’ve learned so much through researching the talks and workshops that it’s been invaluable to me too.
I’ve already received bookings for next year from schools and I have some exciting plans for the AOI meet-up in the new year. Talks and workshops will play a large roll in my plans for the coming year and I can’t wait to see how it all develops.
This year the popularity of the iPad pro - combined with amazing drawing apps like Procreate - has boomed.
Some artists have even abandoned their graphics tablets and replaced them with iPads, especially with apps like Astropad floating around making it possible to link your iPad to your computer. At the beginning of this year I gave into the temptation and bought myself an iPad pro, Apple Pencil, and Procreate to see what the hype was really about.
Oh dang am I glad I did that. Not only is Procreate an INCREDIBLE piece of drawing/painting/designing software but having the accessibility and portability of an iPad has allowed me to draw more often and in more places.
Popping into the city? Bring my iPad and draw people in a cafe.
Hanging out at a friends house? Bring my iPad and doodle.
Have client work but also places to be? Do the work on the go.
I’ve also moved over to the iPad for the vast majority of my linework drawing. Easier to edit, easier to colour, easier than lugging a graphics tablet or scanning a billion traditionally inked pages, it’s work perfectly for tight deadlines and large jobs like graphic novels.
In short, I’m now producing more work, being braver with the work I do produce, and I have a super easy way to take my portfolio around with me as well!
A relatively recent development for this year, Shauni’s Zoo is an in-the-works personal project, borne out of my newfound confidence in my creative direction.
I’m hugely enjoying the publishing route at the moment, so I’m really focusing on exploring kid’s literature and picture books. Shauni’s Zoo will - potentially - develop into a dummy book to take to the amazing Bologna Children’s Book Fair in April 2019. Myself and a couple of other awesome illustrators have booked our flights to this huge event and we couldn’t be more excited. It is, however, going to be a hell of a lot of work… with at least one dummy book to write, produce, and print, and then a full portfolio overhaul, it’s going to be a busy start to 2019.
I won’t say too much about Shauni’s Zoo for now, as it’s very much in the early stages and I’ll probably do a full blog post about it soon anyway, but I will say that it sparked me doing something really, very, hugely out of my comfort zone… Backgrounds.
A gap in my skillset has always been backgrounds and scenes; with buildings, perspective, and foliage sending me running in the opposite direction… But with my iPad at the ready, my drive at a high, and a bit of free time, I tackled a proper background and I think it went ok for a first attempt! Still lots to improve and lots to study * looks at the stack of perspective and building books on the desk * but it’s certainly a start.
I’m really looking forward to working on this project and prepping my portfolio for Bologna. It’ll be the perfect exercise to reflect and examine exactly what direction my work is taking and where I want to take it next.
The goals for 2019
No point in just reflecting. So here’s a few realistic and healthy goals I’m aiming to achieve in the coming year…
Bologna dummy book(s)
As I mentioned above, one of my main goals for the first half of 2019 is to finish at least one dummy book to bring to the Bologna Children’s Book Fair with me in April. The foundation is there, the characters are almost finished, all I need is to finish writing the story and get those pages done!
Make better use of my sketchbook
Just before December this year I invested in a nice new sketchbook. Like, a nice sketchbook. I desperately want to get into the routine and habit of using a sketchbook to note ideas, designs, and plan out thumbnails.
For years and years I’ve really struggled to be open and honest with the drawings I create in sketchbooks, I’ve always been too worried about what the drawings will look like. But, in 2019, I’m going to focus on moving away from this and drawing without hesitation or worry. I hugely believe this will not only help with idea generation and development but it’ll also help me become loser and more confident in the illustrations I take to completion.
2018 was primarily spent in the headspace of “Oh my god deadlines”, so I’ve had relatively little time to buckle down and work on some studies to improve my skillset.
As I mentioned, I need to work on backgrounds, buildings, perspective, and keep practicing the things that are inside my comfort zone as well. 2018 has seen one of the biggest improvements in my work thanks to the HUGE amount of drawings I had to generate for client work (good lord, graphic novels and comics are intense) and I want to keep this going with more focused studies.
Drawing from life, drawing backgrounds, and generally keeping my sketchbook handy at all times are some of the ways I want to level up some skills. On top of this I really want to power through the huge amount of reference and art books I’ve bought over the year. I have some incredible books that I was so excited to buy but have barely had the chance to look inside the cover. I feel that absorbing as many of these as possible on top of physically practicing and working on my weaker skills will see this coming year be the best year for my portfolio yet.
Stop feeling guilty about personal work
From speaking to my illustrator friends and seeing other illustrators’/creatives’ responses to this sort of thing as well, this is a real common issue with personal work. Feeling guilty about doing anything other than client work or admin is not good. Not good at all.
So I’m going to strive to take more time out of my week to generate personal work, write blog posts, and try to be more of a three-dimensional artist instead of just a client work producing factory.
Record more of what I see
I’ve always wanted to be the sort of artist who takes photos of everything inspiring, thinks up stories by looking at a leaf, sketches everything around them all the time, and whilst they heavily romanticised version of an illustrator isn’t necessarily achievable, taking elements from that character could help.
I’d like to pay attention to my surroundings more, taking photos of things that interest me and collecting images in one place (maybe a Pinterest board or something else digital, can’t be dealing with scrapbooks…). I always say to students when I do talks that collecting and hoarding ideas and images is a brilliant way to kickstart ideas and projects, so I really do need to practice more of what I preach.
I’ll invest in a new phone with a better camera (my current one takes around 37428.9 years to load up the camera), make sure I bring my sketchbook out with me when I’m going somewhere, and I’ll strive to be more present, whatever I’m doing. Good for my brain and good for my work!
Grow my network
It’s really been in the last couple of years that I’ve fully realised the value and importance in having a creative network around me, both online and in real life, to the extent I wrote a whole blog post about it.
It’s helped keep ideas fresh, morale high, work coming in, and the isolation of working from home at bay. I’ve been trying to attend more meet-ups, talks, and workshops this year and I’ve enjoyed every one of them. I’ve met some awesome new people and got closer to the ones I already knew, it’s been a damn good year for networks!
In the coming year I’d love to explore this idea more by putting more focus on using my free time to expand the network of people I know by taking a more proactive stance on correspondence and conversation. The AOI meet-up I mentioned earlier will be a huge milestone in this, as well as Bologna, attending more events in my city, and aiming to hang out with more illustrators more often.
So that’s 2018 done and 2019 goals at the ready…
A huge thank you to everybody who has supported me throughout the year. Every single like, share, retweet, and purchase has made such a massive impact on keeping this freelance dream alive. I’m really optimistic about 2019 and ready to tackle the challenges, out-of-comfort-zone terrors, and projects that may come my way. Keep up to date with my doodles and adventures with any of the social links at the bottom of the page.