What did you study and why? How did it helped you achieve your professional goals after graduation?
I studied Graphic Communication at Bath. It was a structured course, yet also offered open and broad briefs with scope for experimentation. A controlled disorder in ways. At the time I couldn’t see myself coping with the endless possibilities of straight up fine art. I needed the structure.
It helped me in a commercial understanding sense. The course was great for the breadth of outputs it offered. I wasn’t just learning how to draw, but also gaining an awareness of design and type, alongside other areas within graphics. This made me appreciate how the type of work I wanted to make could work in a commercial sense. It opened up a lot of potential avenues.
"I don’t think you need any experience or skills to start a collective. Niles started through like minded people wanting to do things together."
Tell us about Niles Collective. What kind of experience and skills are necessary to start and develop a small collective like this?
I don’t think you need any experience or skills to start a collective. Niles started through likeminded people wanting to do things together. And at the most, that's all it takes. Find those you want to hang out with and make things, and just do it. Put on exhibitions, put on gigs, put on shows.
I don’t even think you have to name it. We named ours, did three exhibitions in a year and haven’t done anything else since then. Not that we don't hang out still, Niles has probably just served its purpose. It kept us going in those months after university where everything is a little up in the air.
"Making work for children would be a great job because you just be a child all day. And it kind of is like that, except I’ve also got to chase invoices."
You’ve illustrated a few projects to appeal to a young audience. How do you get into the mindset of drawing for children, and have you always been interested in working on these kind of projects?
I imagine I am writing for my younger self and draw on things from my own childhood. For example, Kick Off was influenced by me drawing football kits and formations out when I was little. Martha’s Moths comes from something my dad used to say whenever moths got into the house at night.
Writing for children has always been something I have wanted to do and I feel very privileged to have the opportunities to do so. I remember being younger and thinking that making work for children would be a great job because you can just be a child all day. And it kind of is like that, except I’ve also got to chase invoices and get too conscious about how much sugar I put on my Weetabix.
Who inspires and influences your work and professional decisions?
I'm inspired by those who create work with no inhibitions. Who just make and make. I try and be like that, but still feel very precious sometimes. Everyone should YouTube 'Tony Tomlin And Me'. People who make work of the things they like and things around them and what’s happening, much like Margaret Kilgallen. I would like to be better at that.
I have very few people whose opinions I completely trust, and who tell me exactly what they think of something I’ve made. That's very important, to have someone who can be honest with you and you can trust them to criticise your work with full knowledge they aren’t just being mean. There is a great shot in that recent Hockney documentary where Henry Geldzahler rips up some of his work and Hockney is smiling in the background. That's the best!
What do you love most (and least!) about illustrating and painting as your profession?
I love making work. Having the freedom to create something I want to do, and to an extent having total control as to when and how I work. The sweet spot is being commissioned by someone who shares a similar mindset to myself. To be paid to do what I would be doing anyway is a joy.
Least is when projects drift so far away from what you actually want to be doing. That's when it most feels like ‘work’ in the truest sense. It is at these times that I miss just fundamentally drawing for myself. I forget how much joy I get out of it.
"Don’t wait for people to tell you what to do. Find yourself a source of income which provides you with the time to make work."
What words of wisdom can you offer to those aspiring to work in this field?
Experiment and risk. And allow yourself time and give yourself belief. Believe in the work you are making and make it. Don’t wait for people to tell you what to do. Find yourself a source of income which provides you with the time to make work. Those who get commissions straight off the back of university are rare. It was about two years before I was getting properly paid for stuff, and I’m still holding down a part-time job to help support what I want to do.
The biggest thing to do is just stick at it. And create as often and wherever you can. And then put it out there. Instagram is a great platform for art. Terrible though for when acquaintances go on holiday.
What projects would you like to take on next, and where do you see your career in the future?
I’d like more and more to make my own work. I want to start working on a bigger scale and move into a proper space away from my bedroom. More exhibitions as well. And when the right kind of commercial work comes along I'll take it, but I'll always be here trying to make stuff regardless.