During my involvement as a guest speaker at the AOI Discusses: Making More Money event, I met fellow illustrator Dave Bain. We shared similar views on a range of topics and following on from the discussion, he invited me to present a talk to a group of Falmouth University 2nd year Illustration students. The subject Dave asked me to explore was one very close to my heart,

‘Working outside of the studio and going big with your work’.

I arrived at Hamilton House on the day of the talk and Dave introduced me to the tutors from Falmouth University. I’ve always been fascinated to find out about the different ways universities are teaching their Illustration courses, so I spoke to the tutors and a handful of students to get a good sense of their course structure. I felt like knowing this beforehand would help me tailor certain parts of my talk, ensuring the students got the most value from my words.

Once everyone had arrived, we moved upstairs into event space. There were a total of five talks scheduled for the day, from a diverse bunch of talented illustrators.

Harriet Lee-Merrion was the first illustrator to take the floor, giving a wonderfully structured insight into how the world of editorial illustration operates. I particularly enjoyed Harriet’s story about when she was commissioned by a German mattress company, who alongside her payment also offered to give her a free mattress. It was a wonderful example of one of those obscure yet beautiful moments you encounter as a freelance illustrator.

Anna Higgie and Sarah Dennis spoke as a duo and delivered a high energy presentation about the power of social media, offering the students some practical tips on how to get the most from it. Anna also referenced a project where she had successfully turned around 30 portrait illustrations in just two weeks, which certainly impressed the entire room! I’m a big advocate of the importance of a strong work ethic and Anna’s story was a beautiful example of that.

Hana Sunny Whaler
 covered the same topic as myself – ‘Working outside of the studio and going big with your work’. Hana spoke about her love for lettering, creating the work you want to be known for and not being afraid to try new things with your work. She also touched on the more practical aspects of painting on-site for clients and some of the problems you encounter as a result. As a muralist myself, I could definitely relate to her chilling tales of painting outside in the winter months!

Following on from Hana, it was time for me to present my talk. I was very excited to get started and to share my ideas with both the students and the other guest speakers.

I started by talking about the sense of escapism and separation from my desk that working outside of the studio has provided for me over the years. I then spoke about how working on a large scale can open up new avenues for learning, opportunities for being commissioned and also allow for an organic approach to collaboration between artists. I went on to stress the huge importance of personal projects, referencing some of my own experiences where my own self-initiated work had subsequently resulted in client commissions. My favourite of which was the time I painted a self-initiated mural in a Leeds sewer. Through pure chance an art director saw the painting from a photography studio window above the sewer, contacted me and commissioned me for my Elmwood Studios – Yorkshire Welcomes Le Tour project. This gave the students an important insight into how commissions really can come from anywhere and highlighted why it is useful to apply your illustration to a larger format.

Dave Bain also explored the same topic as Hana and I. Dave referenced his recent project for the Bristol Royal Hospital for Children, concisely guiding the students through the entire project process. It was a truly brilliant project and his talk gave the students a great sense of the steps required when taking an idea from initial concept to final execution for a client.

Once the individual talks were over, there was a Q&A session for the students. The focus of the Q&A was to try and demystify the often overwhelming subject of transitioning between university life and the professional industry after graduating. The best advice I gave to the students was to not get worried about the fact they don’t yet have any ‘real client work’ in their portfolios. I told them to instead focus their time and energy on producing high quality personal projects which showcase their style. I remember when I graduated I had a huge misconception that I needed proven client work in my portfolio in order to be commissioned, but it’s simply not the case. I also touched on my theory of a sliding scale when pricing commissions. This involves considering both budget attached to a project and your own personal interest in taking on the project.

My main aim that day was to hopefully inspire the students and make them feel more confident about their futures in the industry. This was realised when one of the students approached us and said:

“Thank you all for your advice, I feel a lot better about graduating now…”