Tag Archives: artist experience

How to be a successful artist

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We all have different ideas of what makes someone successful.

When I started illustrating professionally, I told myself that I would be successful when:

  • My work would be published by a renowned publishing company
  • My illustrations would be sold on products
  • I would have thousands of followers on my social media (basically when I would be famous)
  • My art would be my sole source of income

Quite quickly I started feeling like a total failure because despite all my hard work none of that seemed to happen.

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Do you know that saying that goes: “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear”?

Well, that’s sort of what happened to me. The universe, seeing that I was ready, threw a bunch of talks, podcasts and articles at me which helped me realise that I had been thinking about it all the wrong way and that I had dismissed every little good thing I had already achieved because it wasn’t ‘enough’ according to my high standards; because it wasn’t the ‘big thing’.

At that point three things happened almost simultaneously:

1) I remembered something that I had read in a few different books: that it is good to celebrate even the smallest successes, and failures too because it means that we tried something that didn’t work on this occasion but we tried, and we learnt.

This was a sort of epiphany and I realised the amount of stuff I had been dismissing up until that point. And I made a contract with myself: from now on I would record everything, successes and failures alike, no matter how big or how small. Keeping track of these turned my world upside down and I realised how much had happened since I had started my illustration career.

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2) I also changed my definition of success, which became “I will be successful as an artist when:

  • I create art consistently
  • I make art that ‘looks and feels’ like me
  • I make genuine connections thanks to my art”

Some of these things I was doing or were happening already!

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3) I accepted the fact that there was no shame in having multiple sources of income and that I wasn’t less of an artist for it.

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I still dream of being published by a renowned publishing company and to see my illustrations on products and I am working on it. But it doesn’t define how successful I am anymore and if that level of external recognition never happens then I will have at least enjoyed the journey and every step of the way.

I am happier with my life and with the person I have become now than I have ever been before. And that, to me is what really matters.

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So how can you become a successful artist then?

Maybe all you have to do is change the way you look at it and go back to the essence of what really matters to you and of what makes you happy. Maybe you are already successful and you just haven’t realised it yet!

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Where To Share Your Artwork

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After last week’s post on Five Benefits of Sharing Your Artwork I got a few people asking what I thought the best places for sharing were so I thought that a new blog post was in order!

When it comes to sharing your artwork, you can take baby steps or jump all in. There is no set rule and it depends on what you are comfortable with. For example you don’t have to show your artwork to art directors or publishers straight away! Although if you feel brave enough to do it, go for it!

  • A good place to start is with people that make you feel good about yourself like family and friends whose opinion you value and who are supportive (these guys are so awesome that they will love you no matter what!).
  • Why not try to find a group of illustrators or creative people in your area who you can meet with regularly? Note: it is important that you feel comfortable with the people you choose to meet with since you will be talking about things that really matter to you and you want to be able to speak openly and feel supported so you might have to try a few different groups before you find the one that’s right for you. You want to find the right balance between support and constructive criticism, not people that put you down constantly in order to make themselves look better (you are not a punching bag!).
  • When you feel confident enough I think that the internet, and especially Instagram and/or a blog, is a good place to be too. If your intention is to become a professional illustrator you will need an online presence anyway so the sooner you start building that online presence the better. Don’t necessarily show absolutely everything and keep in mind that the number of followers that you get – as flattering as it can be – isn’t an indicator of success – or failure (but that’s for another post!).
  • If you hear about any events where art directors and/or illustration agents are happy to review and criticise your work, this is also a good thing to try too. It sure is scary because all of a sudden you are talking to people who could potentially hire you, but I find that it helps to realise that they are people too and not deadly mystical creatures. Plus you can see how potential clients react to your work and ask questions like how you could improve your work to make it more interesting to them.

I hope you found this post helpful! Don’t hesitate to get in touch to share your favourite places to show your artwork, we would all love to hear about your experience!

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My Favourite Art Materials And Tools

Hi everyone!

I often get asked what art materials and tools I use so I thought that I would write a blog post to cover this topic.

Since I use different types of materials at different stages of my work process I decided to split up this post following said process so you can see what I use and when.

Before we dive in I just wanted to add that this post is not sponsored by any of the brands that I am about to mention and the art materials and tools that I talk about are my favourites at this point in time. It took a lot of trying various things to come up with this list. They are what works for me and by no means recommendations so feel free to try some of them too if you want but what matters is that you find the tools and materials that work for you. 😉

Let’s go!


Sketching

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At the sketching stage I am not too fussed about the quality of my tools so I use very simple and cheap materials that everybody has at home.

Pencils

My favourite sketching pencils are a simple HB pencil that one of my illustrator friends gave me as a Christmas present about three years ago, a 2H pencil that I use when I want my lines to be very pale and ‘dry’, and an old BIC MatiC 0.7mm mechanical pencil for smaller details.

For thicker or darker lines I use an old B pencil that I found in my parents’ stuff ages ago (it has ‘Europa 1992’ written on it so might or might not have been made in celebration of the Maastricht treaties which made the EU official, or of the UEFA Europa League of 1992; but anyways, that shows how old it is) and a 2B pencil that, if I remember correctly, was part of my new school materials for my Arts class back when I was 13 years old (I am 30 now).

Paper

I tend to use sketchbooks for drawing for fun and developing personal ideas but when I work on illustrations for a client, or illustrations that I know I will trace on my lightbox or scan, then I sketch on sheets of printer paper instead: they are inexpensive and easier to pop into my scanner than a whole sketchbook!


 

Outlining

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This is where I care a bit more about the quality of the material that I use for one simple reason: better material tends to last longer so it is a better investment in the long run.

At this stage I choose different tools and materials depending on what the next stages of  the work process are going to be and on what the finished piece is going to look like.

Nib pen

I’m not sure what make my dip pen is but I thought it was pretty when I bought it and it makes me happy to draw with such a pretty tool. These days I use a Joseph Gillott 404 nib with it.

Brush

My go-to brush for India ink outlines is a 5/0 Royal Soft-grip SG250 by Royal & Langnickel.

India ink

Over time I have tried a few different brands but at the moment I am using black Pébéo Graphic India ink and I absolutely love it! It dries pretty quickly and it is a pleasure to ink with as it is not too thick and flows very well on paper compared to some other brands I have tried before.

Artist pens

  • Black Faber-Castell artist pens. I got a set and use them all apart from the calligraphy pen. It is a nice range for clean black lines.
  • Equally good, the black Sakura Pigma Micron (size 04) which is great for small details.
  • One of my recent purchases is a black Tombow dual brush pen and I love it! I use it to create ‘irregular’ strokes when I am on the move or when I don’t have time to get my brush and India ink out!

Colouring

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I use various colouring techniques and materials depending on my mood and on the type of work. Here is what I use the most:

Brushes

I have a LOT of different brushes! Some I bought myself, some I had back when I was at school, others I received as gifts.

When it comes to my favourite brushes (as in the ones I use the most for my work) though, you can count them on the fingers of one hand. Literally.

  • For small details I use a 5/0 Royal Soft-grip SG250 by Royal & Langnickel (the same as the brush I use for India ink outlines, just a different brush so I don’t accidentally get my colours dirty with black ink);
  • I use a Royal Majestic 4250 size 1 (still by Royal & Langnickel) for most of my brush lettering and when I work with watercolour inks;
  • Also for watercolour and smaller details I use a Cotman brush series 111 in size 2 by Winsor & Newton (this is an amazing brush!);
  • I use a Royal Majestic 4250 size 6 to paint larger surfaces;
  • And finally, for painting out of the studio I use a Pentel Aquash waterbrush. I own three different sizes of these and the ‘medium’ one is the brush I use the most. They are very easy to use and the water reservoir means that you don’t have to worry about taking a jar or some other water recipient with you. These water brushes are also great for travelling: all you have to do is empty/fill the water reservoir when you need to.

Watercolour

The Winsor & Newton Cotman 12 half-pan sketchers’ pocket box is a good basic set. As well as being quite inexpensive, you can create pretty much any colour you can think of just from this small set.

Inks

  • Pébéo Colorex watercolour inks
  • Dr. Ph. Martin’s Bombay India Ink

The colours of these inks are so vibrant and beautiful! I love looking at the colour swatches that I made and taped in front of my desk, and at the colourful bottles of ink (that’s such a geeky thing to say, I know!).

Ink pencils

I got a box of 24 Derwent Inktense ink pencils as a birthday present this year and they are brilliant for adding texture and extra colour to some of my artwork!

White details

To add some white details I use white Posca pens (0.7mm), which are essentially acrylic paint in the form of a pen. They’re amazing and I can’t get enough of them!

Photoshop

No big surprise here, for digital colouring I simply use Photoshop.


Paper

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The type of paper that I use depends a lot on what I am going to draw or paint on it, and on how the illustration will be used. For example, the paper needs to be thicker for India ink or watercolour, not too textured if I am going to work with my dip pen, and Bristol paper/card is usually better for illustrations that are going to be scanned because it doesn’t leave texture marks which means that it requires less ‘cleaning’ work on the computer.

I have tried (and am still trying) different brands and types of paper but so far the ones I really like are:

  • Great for outlining, brush lettering, scanning: Winsor & Newton Smooth Surface Cartridge Pad (220gsm in A3 to get more drawings on a single page for bigger projects; I can also cut the sheets when I prefer to work on a smaller surface)
  • Great for outlining, dip pen work, watercolour and ink work: Canson Mix Media Imagine (200gsm) and Daler Rowney Aquafine Smooth watercolour paper (Hot Press, 300gsm)

‘Bits of technology’

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Although I love working in traditional mediums, technology can’t be overlooked completely as it offers very helpful solutions in order to meet those tight deadlines (you have to move with the times!). Plus technology can save you a lot of time and you can do really cool stuff with it too!

Graphic tablet

I work on the small Wacom Bamboo CTL-460 that I got six or seven years ago. It still works perfectly and its small size means that I can take it with me if I plan to work out of the studio.

Lightbox

My Huion LED Light Pad has become one of my favourite tools. Before that I was using my window to trace some of my illustrations. As you can imagine, my lightbox is way more comfortable and it means I can work after dark now!

Scanner

After quite a bit of research I settled for the Epson Perfection V550 Photo. I remember being like “wooooooow!” when I scanned my first illustration back then. You see, it was so much better than the scan quality of the all-in-one little printer that I had back in the day!


Voilà!

I hope you enjoyed this post and that you found it helpful!

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Five Benefits of Sharing Your Artwork

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One of my friends who recently graduated and was very shy about showing me her final university project inspired me to write this post. Because I know she is not the only one that feels shy about showing her artwork. Because I’ve been there myself.

Sharing your artwork can be scary for various reasons.

However, instead of keeping your work to yourself I strongly encourage you to be brave and to share your artwork with others.

This is why:

  1. Sharing your artwork frees you from the fear of what people might (or might not) think of it. It helps with learning how to receive and handle criticism which is a great skill to have, especially if your intention is to be a professional artist. The more you hear people comment on your work and the more you get used to receiving criticism, the easier it gets because it is not such a new thing anymore after a while.
  2. Sharing your artwork frees you from what YOU might be thinking of your work, good or bad. It helps to put things into perspective and to detach yourself from your work. I’m sure that your artwork is very personal to you but don’t let it become too precious, don’t let it become sacred, don’t let it stress you. Instead let it free you, let it be fun, let it be exciting!
  3. Sharing your artwork is great for testing ideas. If you wonder how your ideas would be received, whether they would get any attention and interest, and whether they are worth pursuing further show them to people! You can often pick up interesting things from hearing what people have to say and it might lead you onto new ways of treating your subject that you wouldn’t have thought about yourself.
  4. You may notice that you start producing better work as a result of showing your artwork to people (see point 3).
  5. Sharing your artwork may lead to new ideas and leave you feeling inspired and excited (see point 3). What’s not to like about that?

Sharing your artwork can also benefit the people around you. Have you ever heard of the ‘butterfly effect’ (the concept that something small in appearance can have a big impact)? Seeing how brave you are might just inspire a friend or a family member to start something that they felt unsure or scared about.

I hope this post helped and I’d love to hear about your experience. Have you become more relaxed as a result of sharing your artwork or do you still struggle? Have you noticed any other benefits than the ones I pointed out?

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Three of My Top Tips

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As an illustrator I often get asked what my top tips are so I thought I would share some of them here. Obviously they reflect my own experience and if you ask me about my top tips again in a year time I’m sure I will find another thing or two to add to this list!

Distance yourself from your work

I used to be very shy about showing my work to other people (my parents included). I was afraid of what people might think of me as a person when they saw it. At the time, you see, I didn’t differentiate myself from my work and I believed that when my work was being looked at and judged I, as a person, was also on the hot seat.  I am not sure how and when it all ‘clicked’ in my head but somehow I came to realise that I was completely mistaken and that when people see and comment on my work, they are not commenting on me as a person. Them liking or disliking one of my illustrations doesn’t mean that they like or dislike me. This tiny change in the way I perceived my work made a big difference: I stopped seeing my work as something precious and sacred – sure it comes from me and is very personal to me but it is not me – and this in turn enabled me to feel more detached and more relaxed about my work. That was liberating! I am afraid I cannot teach you how to switch that button in your head but understand this: no matter how much of yourself you pour into your work, you are not your work!

Make things happen

I do believe that there is an element of luck in creative careers but luck is not all. There is also hard work (obviously), persistence (it’s not a race, it’s a marathon) and… well, your ability to make things happen. I feel extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to work with some big companies and amazing people so far but I also know that some of the opportunities I’ve had I owe entirely to myself. Sure, it can be super scary to contact people and put yourself out there but it is also so rewarding and you will feel very proud of yourself when you get results! Ask yourself what types of projects you would like to work on and who you would like to work with, and take action today!

Keep learning

Even when you feel that you are finally getting good at your craft, don’t feel like it’s where it ends. I have always been very curious and I love learning (this actually caused some confusion when I had to decide what I wanted to do with my life because I was interested in so many things!), and I can’t praise highly enough the benefits of learning new things and exploring what makes you curious. It doesn’t even have to have anything to do with your craft at all (that’s the beauty of it!). Beside the fact that I find learning new things fun I have noticed that it makes me feel excited, motivated and it often leads to new ideas that I can then use into my work! So try new techniques, experiment, read books, watch tutorials, listen to podcasts, take a class, go to the museum,… But whatever you do, keep learning!

Why I am an illustrator

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Hi everyone,

As per a recent post on my Instagram I wanted to come back on some of the reasons why I became an illustrator in the first place.

I love to draw, that’s a fact.

But loving to draw doesn’t necessarily mean that you want to draw professionally. If it had been just about loving to draw I could have carried on what I was doing before and drawn in my free time like I have been doing – like – forever.

No. I became an illustrator because I love to draw AND because I want to move people with my art.

I want to make you smile, I want to make you laugh, I want to give you a short mental break from your daily life.

And I want to be one of those people who sets an example and inspires you to follow whatever path you choose because everything is possible.

“You can do anything you set your mind to.” (Benjamin Franklin)

So be free! And have a lovely Friday!

8 Lessons I Learnt From Keeping A Travel Sketchbook

Hi everyone!

I just came back from a trip to Austria where I went to visit some friends of mine. It was a great holiday and one of the things that I am super happy about is that I kept a travel sketchbook!

A lot of the time when I travel I take a sketchbook and some pens and pencils with me and I end up not drawing at all.

However, just before I went on holidays I got inspired by the fantastic Christine Nishiyama (also check her Skillshare classes, they’re great!) who had just completed a road trip and had kept a travel sketchbook which she shared on Instagram. Her illustrations were so simple, beautiful and fun at the same time that they made me want to give it a go.

So I decided that I too would draw my adventures!… And the thought totally terrified me!

I mean, there is so much great stuff on Instagram and the likes that I felt very pressured to produce something that looked awesome, even though the whole point of going away for a few days was to relax and have fun.

And then I remembered how Christine’s account of her road trip and experience of drawing in her travel sketchbook made it sound approachable and laid back.

I wasn’t too sure how and where to start but I decided to be brave, forget about the idea of making something perfect and I gave travel sketching a go – my way! And I learnt a lot in the process!

Here are 8 lessons I learnt from this experience:

  1. Drawing when you are away is not like drawing at home: some of the materials I brought with me were different from what I normally use which means that I had to adapt my drawing a little.
  2. Sketching the illustrations in pencil first made it feel too ‘controlled’. I was spending way too long trying to get things perfect so after 30 minutes of not being happy with my drawings on day 1 I erased everything and went ‘freehand’.
  3. Going straight into painting without sketching my illustrations first forced me to think differently about what I was painting/drawing, loosen up and not ‘care so much’ (it brought back memories from the last Inktober challenge!).
  4. I gave up on perfection… and it felt good! At first I was really disappointed with some of my illustrations that looked inferior to what I normally draw at home. As soon as I reminded myself that it was okay for things not to look exactly like my photos, I started to enjoy myself a lot more and funnily enough the illustrations got better!
  5. Drawing complicated stuff (like people kayaking) freehand when you are hungover is very difficult. Actually drawing anything when you are hungover is more difficult!
  6. Wait for the ink to dry! I really should have remembered this one since I work a lot with Indian ink. Except that since I used an artist brush pen instead of my usual brush and bottle of ink I didn’t quite think it through which resulted in small smudges here and there – lesson learnt!
  7. I added some text to my pages but I didn’t have a particular plan when I started writing. Like the rest, I decided not to overthink it and I just wrote whatever came to my mind. I might not win the Pulitzer Prize for it but it worked just fine for me.
  8. As the days passed and I started to let go some interesting things started to happen. I became more confident and it was reflected in every aspect of what I drew (use of space, colour, subject matter, etc.). Sure, it was maybe not the illustration project of the year, but it was mine, and I owned it!

In hindsight there’s a bunch of stuff that I would now do differently.

But you know what? It actually doesn’t matter so much. Yes, there were a few bumps but there were some really cool things too!

As imperfect as they are, not only do those illustrations tell the story of what I did during this trip but they also show how I grew in just 6 days and that, in itself, is amazing!

And I am so proud that I committed to drawing every day and that in addition to the photos I took I also have illustrations of my holiday!