Isabel talked about keeping your work diverse and how winning the Observer Jonathan Cape Graphic Short Story Prize, in 2011, gave her the break she needed. She shared nuggets of sage-like advice, some of which she said we could write down others she wanted us to skip. Here are what I managed to capture:
Put your work out there, even if it is not ready
Isabel reinforced the message we had already heard – sharing work and being open to people seeing it can help you progress. Competitions are good but posting images in progress can also be good.
Working with others can help improve your work but also take it in new directions that you might not have tried on your own. Isabel works with her sister, who is a historian, to create illustrated non-fiction.
Find time for the projects you love
Yes, you may have to do something else to pay the bills but it is important to make time for the projects you love, by following your passions you will create more exciting work that will lead to projects that you love too.
Try stuff out
Don’t be afraid to experiment. Just because you haven’t done something before doesn’t mean it won’t work. By playing around you can find new and exciting ideas.
Get out of the studio
Isabel acknowledges that the internet is great for research but sometimes you need to get out into the real world and experience things first hand.
Go for adventures
Traveling and exploring is a great source for ideas even if you don’t use them, they may feed into new things in the future.
By continuing to learn your work will evolve and you will continually improve. You’ll find your own way of working but don’t get stuck in a rut, keep trying new things. Isabel is excited to start an animation MA soon, so her work will be moving and changing in new ways.
A collective of three people, that were four until one ran off to start a band, and only two were presenting… They met at uni, where they first started collaborating, they have similar ways of working, share the income and encourage each other to experiment. Pretty inspiring stuff, plus they have started their own book press.
They really promoted the idea of playing and scratching the itch when you feel the need to try something. Their work seems to be based in playing and experimentation, by not giving themselves too many rules. They recommended just doing something if you want to, to see what comes of it. They also have had success with residencies, both applying for them and being offered them.
As a Senior Art Director at Walker Books, David talked about the process of working on a book. Starting with being emailed the manuscript, digesting it and then letting it settle in. He thinks about who the book is for and what it is trying to do and this feed into the creative brief.
He finds illustrators through portfolio submissions, but also through invites, pinterest, blogs, flyers – anywhere you might see visuals. He looks for a varied portfolio that does go beyond picture books, he likes to see a wider variety of work from packaging to bookmaking. Anything that demonstrates the desire to make and do.
He hailed Quentin Blake’s work as the timeless genius that illustrators should strive to be –not through copying but the consistency of voice throughout all applications of our work.
Helen thinks it is a really exciting time for illustration – there are younger titles, novelty books, graphic novels, comics, illustrated educational titles, packaging, covers. There are a lot more possibilities to earn money as a children’s illustrator than just picture books.
Illustrating classic covers can be a good way to show you can do cover projects. Helen recommends researching what else is in the bookshop and having a go at those kinds of projects. Keep up with industry news and trends, keep an eye out for competitions and twitter challenges like #colourcollective.
Trying things out in your sketchbook is another great way to expand your work and can be great for showing what you can do. You should play to your strengths, get your work out and network.