CONFESSIONS OF AN ILLUSTRATOR
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I received an email recently from an another artist who is just starting out. He had great work but was unsure about how to launch off into the illustration world. I look back to years ago when I made the leap into full-time freelancing as an illustrator and was probably quite naive, and wasted a lot of time, money and emotion working things out.
I thought I’d offer these points for your consideration and hopefully they can help you avoid some of the pillow punching I went through and more streamline your journey towards creating beautiful artwork for the world.
I’m sure there’s a number of different articles out there talking about similar things, and you may already know about this stuff or maybe it won’t necessarily apply to what you do. So I’ll just say the following is my personal take on what I think are the essential ingredients, that at a bare minimum, need to be in place to make your way towards illustration success. There are many other little clumps of clay to slap on top but I think everything else builds on the foundation of these six.
I realised I’ve got a lot of drawings hidden away in various sketch books so I thought I’d compile a few of my favourites and share them with you, along with a few words about them i.e, what was going through my head, what I like/don’t like about them. FYI I also have a lot of crap drawings in my sketchbooks but no one needs to see those.
I’ve simply taken photos of them to show them in their raw, untouched state. A lot were done in cafes, simply because I love coffee and I love to draw in the warm ambience of a nice cafe: the sounds, the various conversations you overhear, the weird characters you notice – they all have stories.
A couple of these you may have already seen if you follow my instagram, but you can probably see more detail with these larger versions:
I was on a Saturday mission to have coffee and get supplies all within two hours so I wouldn’t have to pay an extra tram fare (hey, we’re all on a budget sometimes). The top image is what I completed in that time, I later filled in the rest at home, as I already got the basics I needed. I was really inspired by the lighting in the cafe and wanted to focus on pretty much using large areas of black.
Tennis is one of the sports I grew up with. When I was younger my dad worked as a tennis coach and would regularly take my sister and me down to the local courts on weekends to play.
Although I don’t really play much any more I still like to watch, and I have immense respect for professional tennis players. It’s one of the few sports where the mental aspect of the game is just as vital as the physical aspect.
I’m a big fan of Novak Djokovic. The man is a great role model and sports personality for various reasons.
I was recently hired through my agency The Drawing Arm to do a spot of live painting for the perfume brand Jo Malone London. It was hands down the nicest smelling job I’ve ever had.
This was a job where I had to step out of my comfort zone, literally and figuratively. Three days of live painting in a large department store. I’d never done this before, and wasn’t sure what to expect…
The job involved painting London landmarks on Jo Malone perfume boxes which were available for customers to buy over the Mother’s Day weekend. When I arrived I was directed to a cosy little table at one side of the department, covered in a mountain of boxes.
Welcome back! In my previous post I mentioned I was hired to produce some background and character designs for an animation studio — the wonderful London based Picnic Studio. It was a bitter-sweet job, a dream opportunity that got snatched away too soon, though through no fault of the studio I must say!
The studio had been hired by a big sports brand to produce an animated TV advert in the style of a black and white Japanese anime. They had seen my work* and liked my style, asking if I’d be interested in producing character designs and backgrounds for the animation.
Attached in there email was a PDF file explaining the style they were going for along with visual references to Akira and Katsuhiro Otomo, at which point I started to salivate.
It sounded like a big responsibility, but it was an opportunity to produce work in such a wonderful style and with the potential prospects the job could bring it was too much to turn down. I also felt flattered that they sought me out and consider me to undertake what would be a big contribution to the look of the whole animation.
With pretty much most jobs offers that sound good to me I will always tell the client “Sure, I can do that for you, no problem.” I feel confident enough at this stage in my career, with the success of past jobs and the creative challenges I’ve faced that if I just say “Yes” I can find a way to get it done.
In the early days I used to over-think things and question my abilities; “Am I good enough to produce what they’re asking for?”. But my past successes have taught me to stop that sort of thinking, now I just slap myself and say “C’mon man! You’ve done it before, you can do it again! And you’re even better now than the you that did it before!”
When working for clients, especially new ones, I always feel a real motivation to prove my value as an illustrator, as I know it could lead to more jobs with the client or a recommendation from them to other people. However, with this in mind I find it usually creates a lot more tension in my drawing. There’s more pressure to produce quality work.
Recently I was hired by an animation studio to work on an a project where I was required to come up with character and background designs. I had a couple of weeks before it all got the go ahead so I took the opportunity to refine, not only my drawing skills, but also my ability to draw imaginatively (purely from my mind).
I wanted to really immerse myself in the process of drawing and become more aware of what goes through my mind during the process.
I had recently read a great article about Bill Murray in Rolling Stone magazine in which he’s quoted “You can do the very best you can when you’re very, very relaxed.” It had a really profound impact on me, not least because I’m a big fan of Bill Murray and his off-screen escapades, but also because when I thought back to when I’d created my best work, I was in a very relaxed state of mind.
As I only really post my sketches through instagram I thought I’d chuck a few on here.
For the next few months I’ll be working on the illustrations for a picture book written by my friend which I’m really excited to be working on.
Below I’ve posted the outlines for pages 1-3 of the book.
I’ll be posting regular updates as I create them here on my site and also on my Behance page.
Another new Conversatial?! Yes. I’ve already explained what Conversatial IS (see two posts below), check it out if you haven’t already.
“I just want to clean you.”
I wasn’t sure where to go with this Conversation snippet. Sometimes an idea for an image comes straight to mind and other times I need to brainstorm a bit.
Hey Ladies and Gentlemen! Just thought I’d let you know I’m now on Instagram under the name ainsleyknott. I’ve started using it exclusively to show sketches that I do on the go, mainly because it’s quick and easy but also because I think it helps get over the need to be perfect and polish everything off.
I may post the odd one or two which I really like here on the site, but I like the idea of having a separate vault, so to speak, for all my sketches. Here are some to whet your appetite. AND they’ll only get better over time!