Alice Bowsher shares her journey to becoming an illustrator, and how to overcome the challenges of being a freelance creative.

Could you describe what you do, and what a typical working day looks like?

I am an illustrator and, I suppose, an artist, working on commercial projects and self initiated work.

As I am freelance, I more or less get to decide how to shape my day. A good day would be getting up and doing some exercise, either a run or yoga, then heading up to the studio. I normally start with emails and then, depending on what I have to do, crack on with sketching, painting or planning.

I’m not always in the studio — sometimes I'm working on-site, sometimes out doing research or meetings, and sometimes if it’s all a bit much I work from home. It’s very varied.

What did you study at university, and how has this impacted your work?

I started studying Fine Art and then switched to Graphic Communication three months into the first year. I wasn’t ready for the immediate freedom of the Fine Art course and enjoyed the structure of Graphic Communication, even though I really struggled with the design elements. 

In our second year we got to choose what to specialise in, and I chose image-based pathways. It was never my goal to go to university and become an illustrator, but I’m glad it happened. 

"I got a few small freelance jobs from our degree show, but it was very sporadic – so it was important that I did a lot of personal work and tried to keep my online presence up"

Alice Bowsher for Sourced Market: Barbican site mural

After graduating and turning freelance, what steps did you take to get your name out there?

I graduated five years ago but have been freelance for two. It felt like a slow slog — I moved home after uni and went back to work in a shoe shop, which felt like a world away from the fun of third year! 

I got a few small freelance jobs from our degree show, but it was very sporadic — so it was important that I did a lot of personal work and tried to keep my online presence up, and kept emailing different studios and companies that used illustration for either internships or commission opportunities. 

I applied for a ‘resident illustrator’ position at YCN and moved to London for a month. That really helped me see what the world of illustration was like. From then on, I started to get more and more freelance jobs but I still had a lot of different part time jobs to give me a steady income. 

After two and a half years of freelance jobs and working part-time, the balance shifted and I had more illustration work than I could fit in with other jobs, so took the plunge and went fully freelance!

Alice Bowsher at The Jam Factory exhibition: 'America'

What's the most significant project in your career to date? 

I think the most significant project for me has been working for The Guardian at Glastonbury. To see my work all around the festival was amazing. I have done a few personal projects based around music festivals, so to have that realised was very surreal. 

What skills are essential to your job?

I think you have to be very self motivated. It’s very easy to get distracted with no-one immediately watching over you. And having confidence in your work. 

"I think creating a routine for yourself helps to stay self-motivated, as it forces you to stick to a plan."

Alice Bowsher for The Guardian: Glastonbury Festival

How do you motivate yourself when you do get distracted? 

I still don’t think I have mastered this! Creating a routine for yourself helps to stay motivated, as it forces you to stick to a plan. Writing lists is also helpful so you can visualise what you have to do. 

It can be hard when it’s a little quieter, but I think I’m getting better at seeing that time as an opportunity to work on my own stuff rather than worrying about getting more work in.

You mentioned the need for confidence in your work — what advice do you have for anyone that might be lacking that confidence? 

I find it very easy to lose confidence in work, especially with social media. There are so many amazingly talented people sharing their work that it's impossible not to compare yourself. 

I find it helps to remove yourself completely from your work space and go for a walk or a run or to a gallery. But when I have a deadline and no choice but to work, I just try and push through. Sometimes it feels like all the drawings you do are rubbish, but it’s good to get all the bad work out to make space for the decent stuff. 

Do you have any other advice for young aspiring illustrators?

Keep trying and pushing your work in different directions!  

Alice Bowsher at Tokyo Bike London: 'A Response To Moving House And Buying A Bird Feeder'


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