How did you land your current role at Culture Trip?
I had been freelancing full-time for around three years, represented by George Grace Illustration Agency. I had a desk space at Whirled Studios in Loughborough Junction in London for about two years. I needed an extra challenge to really find my voice within the creative industry. I found myself getting a bit complacent and felt like I needed an extra push to start creating more complex work and having a higher output.
I came across an in-house Editorial Illustrator role at Culture Trip and thought it could be a great opportunity to use what I’ve learnt over the years and work within a team. I actually didn’t think I would go down the path of working a full-time position in-house at a company; it’s pretty rare to see a position like this offered, so I was really curious to go and check it out. From the first interview with the Senior Illustrator (Alex Mellon) and the Art Director (Michaela Pointon) I was really blown away by how complimentary of my work they were, and was really impressed with their perspective on the creative industry.
I instantly knew this was a company I wanted to be a part of. I did a test illustration, then had the second interview, and I was really fortunate and very humbled to be offered the job back in November 2017. It took me a long time to find my voice within the creative industry, and I’ve definitely had to work hard on refining my style and learning from my successes and, more importantly, failures, so being offered the job really felt like this was the end of a long journey, and the beginning of the next.
"It took me a long time to find my voice within the creative industry. I’ve definitely had to work hard on refining my style and learning from my successes and, more importantly, failures."
What would you say are the biggest challenges of working on an internal creative team?
At the moment, I haven’t really come across any! I work with some really talented illustrators and animators, and they are extremely encouraging. We all feed off each other and share ideas and discuss projects, so it’s a really inspiring place to work. It has pushed my work in a positive direction, and we have the freedom to really explore themes and creative concepts. They celebrate individual style, and allow room to breathe when working on more complex briefs or bigger projects.
I think it took a while to acclimatise to the new work environment (and get used to lots of meetings!), but this has only enriched my experience and it’s made me feel right at home. The team is great and we all have varying styles and skill sets with a great output. It’s really inspiring to be amongst creatives with passion and drive to produce the best work possible. We feed off each other, it’s like a mini studio within a rapidly growing company — it’s great to be a part of.
"We have the freedom to really explore themes and creative concepts. [Culture Trip] celebrate individual style, and allow room to breathe."
How important is personal work for you?
Personal work is extremely important. It informs my professional work and, by exploring personal projects and themes, it allows me to really work on how I want to communicate visually. Having personal projects you can dip into is a great way to let off some creative steam. In between commissions and my full-time role, I’m working on concepts for potential personal projects. I write lists in my sketchbook of different ideas for themes, exhibition concepts, and even just sentences that I think sound cool, so I have a backlog of ideas for illustrations just for me, to try some new things out when I have a spare moment. In the creative industry, having a strong visual style is key, and to get there you really need to put the work in. The only way to get there is by developing your visual language by doing personal work.
"Having a strong visual style is key. The only way to get there is by developing your visual language through doing personal work."
How would you describe your creative process and how do you approach commissioned illustrations where there are specific themes and content to reflect?
I like to think, even though my work is vector illustration, that the way I work is pretty organic. I plan out pieces by doing roughs, then working directly into Illustrator I recreate my sketches. I always end up refining a piece for a while, moving things about until I’m happy with a composition. With commissioned work, I usually produce more consolidated roughs, sometimes with colour, and supply a few options or creative routes for the client. If the theme is complex, I start off with finding a visual cliché.
Finding a visual metaphor and using this as a foundation helps to produce a direct final illustration that communicates the content successfully. Sometimes I’ll work on producing a rough for a long time, get the composition working, trial colour options, and sometimes if I have an idea in my head, I’ll sketch as I work and fit the work around the initial shape or character to make a more complex piece. I recently worked on a massive commission that’s still ongoing, which is by far the largest piece of work I’ve ever done. Unfortunately I can’t really say anything about it, but it’s an over 50 character illustration with scenery.
Generally when I work on a piece with multiple characters, I sketch out a general composition, then when the first character is done, I can see where the next character can go. I try and make the characters in my work tell a story, with extra expressions and mannerisms that add a bit more dialogue. I’m really bad at leaving a piece alone, so I do find myself adding in lots of extra elements to reinforce the message it’s trying to portray. I think I do have a bit of realism in my work, and I try and establish rules that the characters adhere by, that translate into the real world, while still being situated in their own. Something I’ve learnt working at Culture Trip is to strip back my work sometimes, and really work on getting a cohesive composition and giving the characters more room to breathe.
What is one thing you wish you had known as a student?
That you need to work really, really hard! Also that it can take time to get where you want to be, so prepare as much as possible before you leave university. Most of my creative hard-knocks happened after university, so being able to gain as much industry knowledge and experience and having a strong body of consistent work is key to having a good head start on getting to where you want to be in the industry.
However, having bad experiences with my work, getting rejected, or just finding it difficult to find my voice in the creative industry made me want to become an illustrator more. It’s tough out there sometimes, but keeping motivated to better my work is what drove me to make as much work as possible, doing less exciting commissions to get a client on the website, and working unrelated jobs to pay the rent while gaining as much industry experience as possible. I think as a student, this prospect was really daunting, but it’s all part of doing anything creative, and in the end (even if it took what seemed like forever to get where I am) it’s all completely worth it.
What projects are you currently excited about?
I love big projects that include multiple character illustrations and scenery — anything where I can have multiple characters interacting and telling a story. I’m happy to work on pretty much anything though. I actually enjoy getting less interesting copy to illustrate and doing something creative from it as it is a challenge — it’s quite a rewarding process. Just being able to make work in your style for clients or exhibitions is a real privilege, and even when I’m really busy and have to work day and night on meeting deadlines, I wouldn’t change it.
At the moment though, I’m really enjoying working on animated projects at Culture Trip. I’ve worked on a few animated projects where I produce the illustration and the in-house animators Joe Brooks and Alex Hellebaut bring them to life. This collaboration is something I always wanted to do in my professional career, and having the freedom to do it at Culture Trip, along with having creative freedom with the illustration I produce, has made working there a really special experience.
I’ve collaborated on various projects with the animation team, but a particular highlight was working a series of animated portraits of women for an article titled Strong Women Who Are Risking It All to Change the World for International Women’s Day back in March. I’ve also collaborated with animator Joe Brooks on a new web video series from the Culture Trip video team called Hungerlust. I worked on the episode Hungerlust: Everything You Need to Know About Icelandic Sheep’s Head. I think any project where I can learn new skills and develop as a creative are the most valuable projects to work on.