Image credit: Marianna Madriz

I was contacted by The Association of Illustrators and asked if I’d like to be a guest speaker at their ‘AOI Discusses: Making More Money’ panel discussion at the Arnolfini in Bristol. The aim of the event was to explore topics around pricing illustration and how to move your career forward financially, giving an insight into best practices and how to conduct yourself not only as an illustrator, but as a business.

Recently I’ve really started to appreciate the value of sharing my knowledge with students and other illustrators at an earlier stage in their career than myself. I’ve learnt many things through trial and error over the years, but it would have been amazing to have someone offer me the advice I needed at the time. If I can provide useful advice for other illustrators now, then I’m more than happy to do so. I wasted no time in replying to the AOI and confirming I would love to be one of the three guest illustrators on the panel.

After a few weeks working on various bits of client work, the night of the discussion arrived. I was a healthy amount of nervous, but the predominant feeling was certainly excitement. These topics are things I’m constantly discussing with my creative friends, so I was really looking forward to sharing and exploring them further with a wider audience.

The Arnolfini is just a short walk from my home studio, but I still made sure I set off with plenty of time. I make a real habit of arriving to meetings and events early. I feel it allows me to settle any nerves that might be bouncing around my head, become familiar with my surroundings and most important of all, locate the nearest exit just in case! On this occasion it provided me with an extra little bit of thinking time to prioritise the things I wanted to discuss, ensuring the audience would get the most value from me being there.

When I arrived I was met by AOI Membership Manager and illustration knowledge oracle Lou Bones, who would be chairing the discussion. Lou introduced me to the two other guest illustrators, amazing paper-craft artist Sam Pierpoint and the brilliantly playful illustrator Dave Bain.

Image credit: UWE Illustration

After chatting amongst ourselves for a little while and waiting for everyone to arrive, Lou started the discussion. The conversation began with Lou introducing everyone and presenting the purpose of the event, highlighting some of the topics we would explore. She then went on to reference real life situations that the AOI had encountered whilst providing support to their members in the past. The other guest illustrators and I were then invited to respond with our own relevant experiences, sharing practical advice on how we had overcome similar challenges.

I really enjoyed sharing my stories from past commissions with everyone and it was brilliant to listen to Sam and Dave talk about similar situations they had encountered in their own work. As creative people I think we can sometimes get a little caught up in the creation of our work, often forgetting to take a moment to reflect with fellow creatives who are in similar circumstances.

It was also great that we explored the sometimes negative aspects of client work without the discussion turning into a rant about how ‘clients are difficult’. I see too many creatives who have this childish ‘us versus them’ attitude when talking about clients and this totally contradicts how I feel about my relationship with clients. It was refreshing for me to hear that there are other illustrators who really appreciate the value of strong client relationships like myself.

As much as I enjoyed the main discussion lead by Lou, I was most excited about the Q&A session at the end. It was the perfect platform for good honest organic conversation and allowed me to drill down, giving more specific advice, tailored to individual audience members. I also personally feel a lot more comfortable with the Q&A format and it comes a lot more naturally to me. In my opinion Q&A is really where the magic happens and I believe it provides the most value to an audience.

The discussion went on for a little longer than planned, allowing for more questions to be answered. I got the sense that a lot of people would have happily stayed longer, but the venue was closing so we had to bring things to a close. However, that wasn’t the end of the evening and Lou invited everyone for a drink to continue the discussion at No.1 Harbourside.

The meeting in the bar afterwards was just as insightful as the initial conversation. It allowed people from the audience to ask any questions they didn’t have a chance to ask previously and gave me the opportunity to expand on some of the points I had raised in the discussion. The conversations were definitely a lot more personal, making the advice more valuable to the individuals I had the chance to speak to. It was also great for me to ask a few of my own questions and find out what advice resonated with people the most.

After a few glasses of Rioja and many great conversations with an eclectic bunch of interesting people, I thanked everyone and said my goodbyes. A common topic of conversation seemed to be that people felt like this kind of meeting should happen on a more regular basis. The sense of camaraderie in the bar was amazing, a group of like minded people all striving for the same goal. So I exchanged details with a few illustrators and agreed I would be happy to get involved in more illustration gatherings in Bristol.

A huge thanks to Lou Bones and the Association of Illustrators for inviting me to be involved in this wonderful discussion. Also, thanks to everyone who attended, with an even bigger thanks to anyone who asked a question and made the conversation as interesting as it was. Knowledge is power!