Hi everybody and welcome back to the blog!
It's been over a year since my last post basically because I made the choice to focus on my work and final year of university and more or less spent every waking moment in the studio!
But now that I'm finished I'm excited to start writing again and passing on what I've learnt to you all!
I figured that the best way to kick things off was to have a little Q&A and I'd like to say thank you to everyone who sent in questions via twitter!
So here goes nothing!
What’s the dream? (And how to I plan on achieving it?)
The dream? Well the end game for me is to become a lecturer at Falmouth university where I’ve just finished my illustration degree! Before that however I have a lot to do, A passion of mine is passing on knowledge (hence this Q&A) and so when I eventually go to teach, I want to have a plethora of skills and practices that I can pass on!
The turning point for me was in second year when I visited the head of illustration because I was entering a competition and I had no idea how to package up and send off my work! Instead of him simply saying how perhaps it would be easiest or expected of all entrants to do it, He told me how he sends off his work to clients and competitions. Advice like this has been invaluable to me because it’s not just what’s on the curriculum and is common knowledge but instead he used his real experiences to guide me and that’s exactly what I want to do!
So I want to get in the game! I want to push out my illustration career in as many ways as possible to see what works, what really doesn’t and what I can learn from first hand experiences! This includes things like joining the AOI and testing out their resources as well as going to the Bologna Children’s Book Fair where I learnt so much about meeting with art directors and the importance of a strong portfolio!
For now, as I’ve only just finished uni I’m just working on getting my name out there and seeing where I best fit into the creative industry and scribbling it all down in my journal so that one day I can help out students with what I’ve learnt!
What’s the biggest misconception you had before starting art school/ your illustration career?
The biggest and scariest thing about starting uni and a career in illustration is the illusion that you absolutely must have a cohesive ‘style’ in the bank!
First can I just say that I seriously dislike the word ‘style’. It makes you feel that you MUST draw all your characters in the same way and all your illustrations must look as if they all come from the same narrative but this simply is not true! I went to an illustration forum a while back now and the whole thing went on for several hours but only one thing sunk in for me and that was someone saying that instead of using the word style, say ‘visual language’ instead.
Visual language is a broader concept, it’s about how you communicate through your work similar to an idiolect! Focus on what you want to communicate rather than if you’re drawing in a style and over time you’ll find what works for you and your work will begin to follow your own unique patterns and rhythm!
Lastly, (and this is very important) ask ANY artist, and they will say that their work is still developing! The toxicity of the word ‘style’ is that in theory once you have one, that’s what you’ll do for the rest of your career which simply is not the case.
Did you feel prepared for University?
When I began I thought I was ready but in retrospect no, I definitely wasn’t. I really put off university as long as I could. After my BTEC I decided to do another year at college in a foundation and then after that a gap year. I was so afraid of moving across the country to study (6 hours on a train, 9 hours on a megabus) but I didn’t want to go to a uni in London, I needed to be independent and the illustration course at Falmouth was too good of an opportunity to miss!
The actual course was amazing! I was taught how to actually survive in the real world and develop my way of thinking, honestly the teaching was second to none but university isn’t just a course but also a lifestyle. When I had spoken to anyone about university all I was told was that I’d make friends for life and that it would be super fun and exciting but what nobody tells you is that (especially if you move out of home) you’re about to step into real life and for that I was nowhere near ready.
I don’t want to harp on about negative experiences but this is something I wish I had known before starting, from the moment you step into university you are an adult and you have to take life as it comes regardless of how hard it may be!
I had made it through first year, and it was not easy. Not only did I have to balance my education and do really well with it, I also had to balance challenges of the real world. Money was always a problem, My loan was about a grand short of my rent so I wasn’t eating properly (I would have a few bourbons a day and dinner was a hot chocolate). I lived alone in a studio apartment so my mental health was deteriorating and for the first time ever I also encountered toxic people who dragged me even further down. Nobody warns you about the stress, nobody tells you how to get support. Just after returning home for summer I was admitted into hospital with both kidneys failing from stress following two lots of PTSD. I know this is a very rare case but nobody said it would be that hard, nobody said that being at university could mean having to fight your way through each day.
Advice to someone starting university
· Focus on you. If your mental health isn’t great, familiarise yourself with what support the uni can offer and get comfortable about being honest about how you feel.
· Find a safe space (for me it’s my favourite coffee shop, where I am right now) where you can be content on your own and take the time to center yourself.
· When you make friends, don’t hold onto them for the sake of having friends. This was a hard one to learn because I really didn’t want to be alone but I had gotten myself mixed up with a fair few people that drained me completely and took advantage of my caring nature to the point where I would be on edge constantly to make sure they were ok while I was falling faster and faster into the point of no return.
· Focus on your work. I mean that’s why you’re at uni anyway, I’m walking out of it now and I may not have a billion best friends who will be my bridesmaids or whatever but I am leaving with a degree to do what I love and that’s the important thing.
· Lastly, Be kind to yourself! Take breaks, take naps and never sacrifice your own wellbeing for the sake of others or an all-nighter in the library! It just isn’t worth it.
What do you feel insecure about drawing?
Something that strikes fear into my tiny little heart is hearing the words “can you draw me?”. Not because they’re probably asking for free work but because I am terrible at drawing likenesses! I tell them that but then they reference all the drawings of myself, but I’ve had 23 years to practice drawing me! It’s difficult to say no when it’s a commission and so I do tend to say yes in those cases but it will take me a number of attempts before my final looks anything like you of your loved ones.
What’s your basic process and favourite features on Procreate?
When it comes to working with procreate it definitely takes some time to get the hang of what you like and what will work best for you! I start all my drawings using the 6B pencil brush to lay down the basic composition and then on a new layer refine it either with the pencil again or the ‘technical pen’ brush for a cleaner composition.
Once I’m happy and after likely having redone the rough multiple times I go in with colour. I absolutely adore screen prints for their bold colours and organic textures but they aren’t always viable for quick turn around work and are a bit of a pain for me personally. Firstly draw out all of your layers, transfer each of them onto a silkscreen frame and then between each layer clean and dry them and once your all done remove the images etc! It’s just such a long process and once the frame is cleaned that composition is lost unless you fancy doing it all over again!
When I figured out that I could recreate the look of screen printing on my ipad I can’t tell you how happy I was! So to do this I basically use three colours and by using a layer mask (multiply) where each layer overlaps you get more colours! For the colour layers I either use the technical pen or a custom one I downloaded called ‘old brush 2’ which has a lovely grain to it similar to print.
This is kinda hard to explain so maybe I’ll do a live stream where I show you guys how I work.
As for my favourite feature, it’s between the recolour tool to fill in multiple shapes quickly and the layer masks which feature on all of my illustrations of late. (If I do make a video I’ll show you how I use them!)
Why choose Etsy over other artist selling sites?
So I put off making an Etsy site for a really long time. The idea of not only producing the work but printing and shipping it all off myself was incredibly daunting. Instead I favoured Redbubble because all I had to do was make the work, stick it on there and then the company did all the rest! Want it on a t-shirt? Done! Want it on a phone case? Easy! Want it on a DUVET COVER?? Simple!
What’s not to love about passing on all the hard work to a professional? It was really cool to use and see my work going out to people without me needing to do anything but the profit margin was T I N Y. Once someone bought an A3 (I think) print of my work and I received less than a pound for it. Now you can up the price so that your profits are bigger but because Redbubble is used by hundreds of artists, upping the price makes you far less likely to sell over the work that’s at its cheapest!
I started my Etsy properly just after finishing my course because I had a bunch of prints that I didn’t really want to take back with me to London and it’s actually gone really well for me! I put three A3 print up on my first day and within 24 hours they were all sold and I’d made £60 not including shipping! Obviously if I’d done this even a year ago I wouldn’t have been anywhere near as successful because I didn’t have an online following like I do now but even though no I can’t print you a duvet cover or even a T-shirt really at this time it’s far more satisfying and cost effective for me to sell prints off my own back! (Also when I go to the post office with all my orders I feel like a business WO-man!)
I haven’t tried using any other print-to-order websites at this point (society6, made by humans etc.) but for now Etsy is working just fine for me and when I have an even bigger following I’ll be able to justify making enamel pins and other nice things for you all!
I really hope that you guys found this useful and hopefully in the future I'll do another one of these!
Jem Venn - Illustrator and business WO-man!