Nina Cosford

A stone's throw away along the coast from Brighton, you'll find Hastings-based Illustrator Nina Cosford in her big, light studio illustrating playful & honest depictions of her everyday thoughts and observations. We recently caught up with Nina to ask about how she's navigated through life since University; we discuss how tone, alongside a unique style, can really set you apart, and she shares the pros and cons of living by the seaside.

Where did you study and what were some of your first jobs?

I studied Illustration & Animation (BA Hons) at Kingston University, London. The first job I got I was part of a pop-up series by Walker Books. I was very fortunate in that I was offered the contract straight after graduating because the art director was at my degree show and happened to see my work. For my final show, I exhibited a huge poster which featured a montage of a load of buildings I'd illustrated over the years, and this tied in well with the book project which was mainly architecture-based in subject matter. I struggled a bit with my final show and ended up exhibiting in quite a basic way — but I'm glad that I chose to show work I liked and was most passionate about because it showed potential clients the sorts of themes I liked to work with and was confident in. From that first book contract (which was a twin contract — so 2 books commissioned together) came six more book contracts on the same series. Though I didn't earn a lot of money and worked very hard and long hours, that ongoing book work was valuable in giving me structure and confidence in the early stages of my career.

Did you have a plan for graduation and what actually happened?

Life was a bit odd after graduating, as it is after any other anticlimax. There's a huge pressure and build-up to finalising your work and preparing for leaving uni and then suddenly the bubble bursts and you are out there in the world. As I mentioned, I was fortunate in getting work quite soon after graduating. That was really important in building my confidence from early on, and as I was stepping into a brand new world, I had to very quickly learn about contracts and licenses and payments. It's all a work in progress though, and a lot of the learning is done along the way —even if you wing it—like I did! I was very eager to work and to be busy and wasn't very picky with the jobs I took on - as long as it was paid, it was worth a shot.

Design work by Nina Cosford The Design Kids interviews Nina Cosford work-2

Give us the elevator pitch on what you do.

Some of my favourite subjects revolve around female narratives and a lot of my work incorporates a tongue-in-cheek sense of humour, relatability and a playfully honest depiction of my everyday thoughts and observations. I also love to travel and document people and places wherever I go.

What are some of the best and worse parts of your job, day-to-day.

I appreciate the freedom of saying yes or no to projects (unless there are money issues, which doesn't always leave a lot of choice). I think I'm at a place now where I consider myself a collaborator rather than a contractor; that is to say, I need to consider the type of clients I'm working for and how that fits with my business and my outlook rather than seeing my work as purely serving others. It needs to work both ways. I like how each day is different and I have a choice in which direction I'm going in and would like to try out. On a bad day though, I find it can be very stressful. There's a certain amount of pressure to always be better than your last project and to keep yourself inspired, motivated and relevant; there's a constant pressure to make enough money and sustain yourself without selling out or succumbing to stuff you don't want to do; it can be tricky to keep on top of admin, and contractual/legal matters can be incredibly dull and tiring, particularly when all you want to do is make work. But ultimately, it's been good to learn these aspects as it's part of making a business and understanding how the industry works.

Design work by Nina Cosford The Design Kids interviews Nina Cosford work-4
Design work by Nina Cosford The Design Kids interviews Nina Cosford work-4

I personally feel that a unique style — and above all tone — to your work can be super important when entering or working in the creative industry.

How does the local culture of where you live affect your design work and getting clients?

After leaving university, I instantly assumed I'd have to move to London. I went home to Hastings for a while in order to save money and prepare for a move that didn't happen. One day I realised that there was not a huge need or want to move to the capital as I was very busy with my work and was already building up a large client list. Plus living down by the sea here means I can afford a big, light studio and can easily travel to London or elsewhere very often. If you are going to live outside of a city, I do think it's good to make an effort to stay in touch with what is going on there - socially and professionally. I find it's good to keep that link, at least for a while after I graduated. I like to be around other creative people because having peers helps to keep my morale up and work can be a great excuse for social interactions too.

How did you develop your style as an illustrator and what tips would you have for others?

I think this could be argued, but I personally feel that a unique style — and above all tone — to your work can be super important when entering or working in the creative industry. It's what can set you apart and get your work recognised for being yours, which, in this day and age of mass content creation available on the internet, can be very important. As a graduate, I tried to be as consistent as I could with my portfolio, showing my angle and viewpoint on subject matters and restricting my aesthetic to certain composition styles and limited colour palettes, which I guess I still do now. Obviously, this doesn't always work for everybody, and some creatives enjoy the chance to adapt to each project, in whichever style they feel is most fitting or appropriate. But for me, it has really helped to carve out my own niche, both stylistically and with regards to the type of subject matter I tend to focus on. If you are still really stuck in terms of subject matter/style/general confidence (which is normal from time to time with most people!) then try and sit back and look at the work you have been producing. Look through old stuff, recent stuff, ideas you may have jotted down and later forgotten. Try and pick out a couple of key pieces or things that you LIKE. Look at those things and question "why do I like it? What works? How could I extend upon this?". I started to realise that I was drawing the same sorts of things over and over (certain shapes, certain figures, certain textures, colour schemes, etc) and when you put it all together you will start to get an essence of what it is all about, and what you are all about. And that is what will make your craft unique.

Design work by Nina Cosford The Design Kids interviews Nina Cosford work-6
Design work by Nina Cosford The Design Kids interviews Nina Cosford work-6

Where to find Nina Cosford online.


Instagram: @ninacosford

Twitter: @ninacosford

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