How I Became An Illustrator

From an early age I was always interested in art but it was only at University that I discovered illustration as a vocation. So, I thought today I’d take some time to reflect on how I become an illustrator.

I always had a passion for drawing and painting. I took Art GCSE and eventually went on to do it at A Level but I understood that I’d probably never make it as a fine artist. So, when it came to thinking about what I wanted to do at University, Graphic Design seemed to be a natural option for me. I even took a Graphic Design AS Level but my course at school mainly consisted of designing posters and creating a (pretend) shoe brand- suffice to say it wasn’t an in-depth education of Graphic Design principles.

When I was accepted onto the BA (Hons) Graphic Arts degree at Southampton University, we had the option of four pathways- Graphic Design, Illustration, Photography or Motion Graphics. Then, we were given the time to take on each of these subjects and complete a project. It started to become clear that I didn’t really have the knowledge to continue with Graphic Design as it was very typography and layout heavy, something I knew next to nothing about. I would be starting from scratch. So, I drifted towards illustration and found that I really enjoyed it, despite it being something I had never considered studying before. It had the drawing aspects that I knew from fine art but could also be used to get across messages and communicate complex subjects to people- be it through editorial illustration, book covers, character design etc.

Once I started my course, I threw myself into the deep end of the illustration world- learning everything I could about its history, how it works today, how illustrators make a living and so on. I also visited museums, talks and illustration festivals and met other creatives who were making a living from illustration. Talking to people really helped to inspire me and also assured me that this was something I wanted to do with my life.

Then, in my final year, I found my ‘style’ which is something I struggled with for the first couple of years. I was used to drawing things as they were, not a stylised version of how they could be. So, with every project my style changed to fit the brief and it meant that I wasn’t building a cohesive body of work. Finally, I realised that I enjoyed creating digital work and worked with my graphics tablet so much that it became as easy to use as putting pencil to paper. I knew I liked using vibrant colours and thus, my style was born *dramatic music*. From there it was all about developing my portfolio and getting my work out there to be seen. (I’m still working on this bit.)

But I still had my doubts, even after University, as I realised there were a lot more jobs being advertised for those with graphic design backgrounds than illustrators and I started to worry I didn’t have the necessary qualifications to be employed. But, since I’ve started out as a freelance illustrator professionally, I no longer have those doubts. Of course, there are times when I don’t have work coming in, which is why my part-time job is helpful, but through time and perseverance I believe I can build my illustration business. It helps to keep learning more about my profession, stay motivated/inspired and keep in contact with fellow creatives because, most of the time, they’re going through the exact same thing- doubts and all.

So, if you’re thinking about going into the creative industry, why not give illustration a glance over? You never know, it could be something you’d really enjoy and there’s so much you can do with it. And, if you’re currently studying illustration, find out what inspires you and learn all you can about it. Being an illustrator requires a lot of determination and perseverance so it’s important you love what you do (not to scare you off or anything). In the end though, it’s a really rewarding job role because you’re essentially turning your hobby/passion into your vocation and that should be something we all aspire to do.

Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed learning a bit more about my background and why I do what I do. Let me know what you think in the comments below!

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Alice L Clark Illustration © 2020