Jonny was kind enough to speak to us about what drives him, why he chose to be an illustrator in the first place and where he wants to go next…
So Jonny, why do you feel illustration is best suited to you as an art form? What excites you about it?
For me, it all came together in the final year of my course at University.
People were making decisions as to what to specialise in, some people went into advertising, others into graphic design and others into art direction.
It was a tricky time, as I knew the discipline we chose would determine the kind of portfolio and direction we would head into post graduation. I asked myself a lot of questions before coming to a conclusion, I kind of screened myself to determine the right path.
I knew that ultimately my first love was drawing, I love mark making and creating images. A lot of it was also gut feeling, I’d been exposed to a lot of graphic design, typography and art direction throughout my time on the course. While I loved seeing that kind of work, I was more passionate about and enjoyed creating illustration more.
Being an illustrator also suited the way I worked, I love to create work that’s a bit rough and ready, not made to be measured. Illustration ticked all the boxes.
The exciting thing about illustration is that it can be applied to such a wide variety of projects.
All it takes is the right art director who has the vision to utilise your work.
Aside from print, I’ve seen my work venture into product design via laser etching, projected on stage screens, applied to ceramics and clothing.
The next step would be animation, I’d love to see my work coming to life at some point!
I think the buzz of seeing your work out there excites me the most.
Give us an idea of your average day, how do you get your creative ideas done?
Being self employed my days can often be pretty loose. I stick to a solid routine that runs alongside the normal working day.
I usually divide my working time into three blocks that is made up of:
- Sketchbook time for generating ideas either for clients or personal work.
- ‘Digital’ time where I usually bring the sketches onto the computer to work up and experiment further with and of course…
- Client work.
Its never an even split between the three taking into account overseas clients etc. Usually client work will make up most of the day but I try and get some sketching and developing done late at night or at weekends.
How do you attract new work?
When I started out it was just all about being active and giving my work the most exposure I could.
There are numerous showcase websites that allow you to upload and create a portfolio. Usually with a community of fellow illustrators that you can interact and connect with.
The next thing I’d do to secure actual work is research the names of art directors and agencies that I thought my work would fit well with. Or that I wanted to work with and reach out to them either via email or if I had the money, post out a good promotional mailer.
It all takes time for that first commission
As even though people may like the work, they might not have a suitable project for you right now, just hang in there and keep shouting!
Nowadays I have agents based across the world that bring in new projects and enquiries. I can take a little step back from promoting and really focus on building connections with local agencies and individuals that I find inspiring, as well as putting more of a focus on my work.
That’s not to say I don’t promote myself anymore. I still produce a mailer that I send out twice a year to new and existing clients to let them know I’m still around for work.
It’s all about getting and staying on their radar, especially for those clients overseas.
How long have you been an illustrator and would you say it’s your career?
I graduated in 2008 and spent the next two years crafting out a portfolio that I was happy with and comfortable with showing off.
My first commission as an illustrator was an editorial job for Wired magazine back in 2010 and I’ve been lucky enough to be working as an illustrator since then.
It’s been my sole income since around that time too so I’m around 5 years deep into my career.
What advice would you give to someone starting out in illustration?
firstly, have commitment and secondly be patient, very patient.
Being an illustrator can be a very up and down career, where one month can bring a flurry of jobs in and the next one can be dead. It’s important to remain committed and to not forget why you chose illustration in the first place.
Busy yourself with personal work or just take some time out to catch up with friends. Constantly re-evaluate how your work is developing.
Remember that ultimately you are running a business and that business has to profit.
During the slow weeks, take some time to strengthen your connections with existing clients. Let them know what projects you’ve been working on lately or create a source of passive income, like selling prints and other merchandise.
The illustrator Adrian Johnson gave me some great advice once and that was to “keep moving”. Meaning to keep progressing, keep developing your work and remain passionate about what it is you crafting.
I know it’s definitely easier said then done, and at times can be a struggle when there’s so much great work out there. Just remain focused on yourself and have faith that things will eventually work out.
I can’t stress the importance of being patient.
Illustration is a very fast moving industry where style and fashion can change swiftly. It’s important to not be to fazed by this. Concentrate on the things that make you tick visually.
With time comes a greater understanding of why you should be focusing on your own self development instead of what the latest fad is.
Overnight success is a rarity and shouldn’t be something to aim for.
Even those that seem like they have ‘it’, will probably tell you that they’ve been working on their style for years. And suddenly the aesthetic has become ‘in vogue’, hence the success.
It can take years to develop a way of working that represents your unique voice. It’s important that you revel in the process. Take stock of what did and didn’t work and appreciate it.
I think that success is a cumulative effort of everything you’ve been doing. It’s the ownership of your own process and work that will make you successful in time.