Friday, 29 May 2009

Students: Starting Out

I've been working as a lettering artist and illustrator for 20 years this year.  Since publishing my personal portfolio site a year ago I've had quite a few e-mails from students asking me how I started out. 

If you've read my profile, you'll know that I studied for a BA in illustration at Newcastle upon Tyne. My work started to change direction in the third year of my BA - I became fascinated with letter forms (and 20 years later I still am). I applied for an MA at Central St Martins in order to push my work further and spent the time exploring the expressive and illustrative possibilities of hand lettering and type. I didn't spend a lot of time thinking about how I fitted into the industry - my work has always spanned
the divide between lettering and illustration - but I did do a huge amount of work and in hindsight, that has proved to be an incredibly useful foundation for my whole career.

Like most students I wasn't clear about my direction when I left art college to start freelancing. I'd done a few freelance jobs while still a student - most notably some work for 4AD Records - Vaughan Oliver was a visiting lecturer when I was studying my BA. Computers were still in their infancy so the only tools I had to promote myself were a portfolio of work and a batch of postcards. However, I did a lot of research into the sort of design that interested me and made appointments to see a lot of people. At the beginning this was all pretty nerve wracking but it was well worth the effort. 

It can be a slow process building up a business. You may be lucky enough to get a high profile job that rockets you to fame and fortune but most people just keep working away at it. Self promotion is important - they can't use you if they don't know you exist. Over time you find what you're comfortable with - what fits your time, budget and personality - then you just have to persevere. I gradually built up quite a few contacts in the record industry and eventually began to work for such artists as Elton John, Joan Armatrading, UB40Duran Duran and the Rolling Stones

Over the years my portfolio has expanded to include a much wider range of work - for publishing, packaging, advertising,editorial, fashion as well as general design. Some briefs can be quite relaxed and open while others have quite specific requirements. This variation is one of the things I like most about freelancing - it keeps it interesting. When you're starting out - tackling new jobs can be pretty daunting. The Association of Illustrators can be of help if you're in the UK, they've published a useful book - The Illustrator's Guide to Law and Business Practice by Simon Stern and if you're still unsure you can ring them up and ask advice. I still do this myself  - sometimes a second opinion is really helpful. Another handy link is the Stockport College blog for illustration graduates with practical advice about how to set up and run a small business. 

Good Luck!