CREATIVE ARTS & DESIGN

Q&A with an illustrator

How to make a success of it all, even when you’re told you can’t.

The year was 2011. I’d just completed my first three years at university studying a Bachelor of Design, which mostly involved me looking at all the other designers/illustrators around me, and wondering “How can I ever compete against all these talented people? How can I possibly stand out?” I was bewildered of the talent I was suddenly surrounded with, coming from a small public school, where I was one of the most talented students. It was a bit of a shock not being ‘the best’ at something anymore.

I was constantly doubting my abilities and really had no idea where I wanted to take myself creatively. I came straight out of high school, and directly into uni to study what I loved doing, but I still didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. I didn’t even think of animation as a career at this point.

I had no industry experience, and a bit of a ‘now what?’ Frame of mind. The course had focused on building up and teaching us new skills, but didn’t properly prepare us for what the creative industry was really like. I felt like I had two choices; I could start applying for junior roles at studios or continue to study. I decided I’d apply for jobs, and if I didn’t have any success, I’d enrol in another year at uni. Several months passed, and I’d had no job success, so I enrolled in a Post Graduate Diploma of Visual Art and Design. The course offered a mentor ship program, along with small business management training, on top of regular studio course work, which I thought would be helpful.

I felt I found my way during this course. I especially benefited from the mentor ship program, where we were required to ask people in the industry throughout the year to mentor us.

I had previously done animation as an elective, and wanted to do more of it in my projects, so I asked the teacher who taught me animation to be my mentor. I still felt I had lots to learn from him. He gave me so much helpful advice about how to continue to improve my work, and gave me some crucial industry experience.

While studying, I was employed by my mentor as a ‘clean up artist’ on a music video. Where I worked alongside other animators and learned from them, and saw their processes. I was required to neaten up the animators work, by creating smooth lines and colouring the shots. I worked hard in this role, and soon got to animate background characters, and eventually had a few entire shots to animate myself.

It was exciting getting this taste of experience, after years of not knowing what to do. I focused all my energy on animating and learning new techniques. I purchased books that the other animators recommended to me, and studied animation principals, outside of regular course work.

While I was studying, I entered all my work in student competitions, EVEN if I didn’t think it was any good. My work was shortlisted three times for the AgIdeas NewStar awards, once for The QANTAS Spirit of Youth Awards, and I also received the Melbourne Concept Design Award upon graduating. It’s so important to enter any competitions available. I made some great contacts through these competitions and learned a lot about the industry. Being recognised for my hard work pushed me to strive further.

I graduated from my post graduate diploma with much more focus and determination than I had that time last year. I hired myself a desk at CDW Studios, to freelance outside of home, while working part time in a supermarket. My supermarket job was a stable source of money, which paid the bills, while I built up my portfolio and began to source clients. I worked nights and weekends mostly, so I could spend the days working on my own projects.

It’s important to understand that you can’t have everything all at once. It can be frightening seeing your peers get employed and excel, while at times you feel you might be treading water. You mustn’t let it bring you down too much. Always keep creating work for yourself, even if you have client work. The work that has gotten me noticed by other companies, is the work I create for fun.

I now work as a freelancer in a creative hub in Adelaide called BlankSpace, (which wasn’t named after the new Taylor Swift song, I might add.) I have regular work coming through, and get to work on projects with friends I’ve made along the way, including my mentor from several years ago. Maintaining old and new friendships is vital as a freelancer. Very often work comes from a fellow creative who may have too much work on, or want to collaborate with a colleague they know and trust.

I’ll finish this up with a success story. When I was in second year at Uni, I asked one of my tutors how I’d go about getting work with a company like Hallmark, as an illustrator. She pretty much told me it couldn’t be done, and that I should aim a bit lower. In 2014, after a few years of freelancing on smaller gigs, Hallmark contacted me and asked if I wanted to work with them on a range of eCards for 2015.

Just because someone says you can’t do it, doesn’t make it so. If you seriously believe in yourself, and work hard, you will get there, sooner than you may think.

Check out some of Lisa’s latest work:

 

Q&A with an illustrator
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