From a young age, I never went anywhere without my bright red plastic briefcase of crayola products (my pride and joy) and a stack of A4 paper. I loved cutting things out of magazines or embellishing photographs with my own drawings. Over time I moved on to copying images from anything that happened to be lying around, usually getting upset that I’d rubbed out too many times and destroyed the paper (Leonardo Dicaprio’s face never did quite recover). There wasn’t a specific thing that led me into design, rather a natural progression of being artistic at school and pursuing it along an educational path. I remember being very upset that my parents wouldn’t let me do all art based A-levels. As a compromise I had to pick ‘academic’ subjects alongside graphic design and I couldn’t understand the point—I knew I wanted to do something creative and everything else just felt like a waste of time.
I studied Graphic Design at Salford University because it seemed like the next logical step after studying it at A-level. From early on it became apparent that I didn’t have the ability for typography, layout and structure. I spent the whole of my three years trying to make work that I thought embodied graphic design and feeling pretty miserable. It was encouragement from my tutor to pursue a more illustrative approach to my final project that changed things. Suddenly I was producing so much work and actually enjoying doing it. Despite this, I felt I couldn’t let three years of a graphic design course be ‘wasted’, a decision that seems nonsensical with hindsight. I got a job as a Junior Designer, lasted 8 months and then finally decided to pursue a career in Illustration.
I didn’t really delve into illustration until after I graduated, so my style developed alongside working for clients. As a result, I’ve been through many different style changes whilst trying to land on something that felt like me. I think the thing that’s helped me to define my own style is to look for inspiration outside of illustration. When I first started out, I’d look at other illustrators and try and emulate the work I liked, whereas these days I look for inspiration in anything and everything. I think it’s important not to get too focused on having a particular style from day one. If you identify the things you enjoy making images of, experiment (a lot) and stick at it, a style will naturally begin to emerge.
I don’t know if I’d call them disasters but there have definitely been bumps along the way when it comes to professional practice. Early on in my career I would hand work over without any specific terms attached, resulting in clients changing my illustrations, using them out of context and even once winning an award by passing them off as their own work. Figuring out the rights you have over your work and having the confidence to ascertain that early on is really important, and I’ve found the Association of Illustrators really helpful for contracts and professional advice. I also learnt that attacking these issues from an emotional perspective didn’t get me anywhere. It’s hard not to be angry because my illustrations are so personal to me, but I’ve found that it’s important to detach myself from those feelings and approach issues in a clear and calm way.
I’ve always wanted to do something for The New Yorker and last month they asked me to work on a portrait of author Jesmyn Ward. I was over the moon and felt so proud to have some small involvement in such an iconic publication.