Featured Illustrator

Oliwia Bober

September 2019

UK-based Polish illustrator Oliwia Bober recently chatted to us about the practicalities of working as a freelance illustrator. She shares some advice on staying motivated after graduating, how to find your own style, and being kind to yourself.

Any hilarious stories about you as a kid being creative?

Maybe not hilarious but mildly humorous: when I was in Primary school in Poland, we’d make anonymous Valentine’s Day cards that would get handed out during assembly. I meticulously hand-crafted one out of torn coloured paper — nothing too out of the ordinary — except at the age of 10 I thought there was no greater symbol for a declaration of love than a chipmunk. So the card was cut in the silhouette of a chipmunk. What I hadn’t foreseen while sticking down the microscopic pieces of paper is how odd it would look when opened. Anyway, the love blossomed and peaked when we drove in my mum’s car listening to music; me, on my yellow walkman and he, on a Discman. Not much has changed in the card department.

Who are your top five design crushes globally right now?

Aitch (now and always), she's a Romanian illustrator who kicked my obsession with plants and Eastern European folklore into high gear. Garance Vallée, Muzae Sesay and Isabelle Feliu all incorporate geometry and architectural elements in their work, which is something I’ve taken inspiration from for a while; it also gives my illustrations (especially the more complex ones) a structure to build imagined worlds on. Lastly, Ricardo Bofill and his work on La Muralla Roja, the pastel pinks and blues are basically what my entire colour palette is comprised of.

What's the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

That sometimes the best form of self-care is not taking the evening off. Obviously it’s not advice for every single moment of free time, but it helped me stay motivated when it was easy to give in into the skewed notion that self-care was becoming (the self-care of face masks, eating cake and taking the evening off for something self indulgent), and when I found it hard to find motivation in my environment and peers. It was helpful for me provided I was going to be working on something that would hopefully make me happy in the long term. But it’s advice I have to take with a pinch of salt, as it can easily play into the romanticised idea and value we place on being/looking “busy”.

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“Styles” are always going to be an amalgamation of things and artists that influence us, mixed in with our own perspectives.

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

I’ve always struggled with “style”, not in the sense that I couldn’t find one, but in the sense that I felt like I was a little bit too inspired by other artists’ work. I’ve never been one to draw from imagination, and used photographic or drawn images as references, so that probably didn’t help. I’d say that for me, finding a style was less about looking for one that was my own and more about making sure that it was one that wasn’t also someone else’s. I think in most cases it’s difficult to come up with something completely unique and original and “styles” are always going to be an amalgamation of things and artists that influence us, mixed in with our own perspectives.

I think it’s always good to experiment with different things, but if you find something you like, stick with it (at least for a while). Equally, if you don’t like something to begin with, I think it’s usually a good idea to keep at it, rather than discarding it straight away. Overall, I don’t think that style is something that should be given too much thought in the process of creating work, especially if you are starting out. It’s more important in the long run for the ideas behind the work to be nurtured — the style doesn't amount to very much if there is no subject matter to apply it to. Of course, coherency is nice to see within a body of work, but I think it’s just something that comes with time.

What advice would you give students graduating in 2019?

Don’t stop making. Take a break and pat yourself on the back for the effort you have put in in the last few years and see how much you have progressed, but don’t rest on your laurels.

If you are thinking of pursuing the route of freelance illustration, brace yourself for having to work day jobs for at least a year, most likely more. Pulling off a 40 hour week and still having the time and energy for creative work is an optimistic outlook, but it’s worth trying.

Sleep is important too; be kind to yourself when you don't get to do what you planned.

If you are getting commissions, great, but try not to abandon personal work/projects. Getting new work is based on the work you have done before and if it was something you were enthusiastic about, you’re more likely to get commissions that interest you.

Try to keep in touch with the people from your course. It’s easy to take for granted how motivating it is to make new work when everyone around you is doing it; in isolation doing the bare minimum can feel like enough. But also don’t compare yourself to your friends (that’s easier said than done).

Be thankful for the rejection emails, most of the time you don’t hear back at all. The former are usually constructive and helpful.

If you read this far, I really believe that if you keep at it good things will happen sooner or later — they have to.

2019 for you in a sentence.

Be less impatient.

Website: oliwiabober.com

Instagram: @oliwia.bober

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