1. When did you realise you wanted to be a designer?
There’s a few key moments I think! I have little glimmers of golden moments all through childhood, the crayon pirate scene, the Ghostbusters logo in biro, seeing Lichtenstein’s ‘Whaam!’ at the Tate (now Tate Britain) in the late 80s and then discovering commercial illustration, graphic design and animation through the early 90s before finding myself studying at Central St.Martins in 1995.
I think I was always on a fairly direct cruise to being someone who wanted to create colourful visual work for people to enjoy.
2. How did you get started and what was the biggest hurdle you overcame?
Starting out was perhaps my biggest hurdle. I became self-employed the summer I graduated, starting off working on animated music videos. This of course meant that I was trying to build a career pretty much alone, with no money, no job, no mentors and no peers, I just stubbornly set off to make it on my own.
I had to learn for myself how to find clients, build a portfolio and run a business. It wasn’t easy. This was pre-mass internet too, so it was tricky to find the communities out there! I tell people all the time not to do what I did, I perhaps would have had a better start if I’d found a job as a junior designer in a studio and learnt from those who know.
3. What’s been your most successful way of getting clients?
It’s pretty simple, make things and show people. I just keep producing work and putting it out there, on social media, various online portfolios, I do regular emails to a list of contacts I’ve brought together myself. This has sustained my career so far.
4. How do you get clients to stay with you and use you for more work?
I enjoy working with clients, and I aim for them to enjoy working with me, to understand their needs, compromise and do a good job, always keep efficient and make everything as easy as possible for them.
If they enjoy working with you, or even if you’re exciting to work with, then they’ll want to work with you again. And likewise, if I enjoy working with a client, then I’ll make an effort to keep in touch and hope to work with them again.
5. Do you ever have issues with clients paying late? How do you manage that?
Yes I do, it happens to everyone I’m sure. I’m pretty persistent, I’ll email when they’re 45 days late, you can re-invoice at this point adding on late-payment and debt recovery fees (in accordance with UK law).
I won’t hit them with a new invoice on the 45th day, but I might mention it if it feels like the cheque really isn’t in the post. I’m lucky to have 3 good agents (in different regions) and agents are always good at chasing a late payer. Finally, if someone pays extra late, don’t work with them again, they don’t deserve you.
6. What does your typical work day look like?
I work from my home studio, based in a creative little town in Somerset. Working from home it’s important to leave the house routinely, I take my son to school every morning, then a dog walk if there’s time.
I’ll usually be at my desk by 9am with coffee and a (if I’m lucky) a bagel. I like to jump straight into an illustration if I can, the earlier I start illustrating the better my day usually is.
Then mid-late morning I’ll take a break to check my emails, and get a few little tasks ticked off, then I’m usually back into illustration/creative work. By lunchtime I’ll either pop out for air or have some lunch, hang out with the dog for a while (he’s pretty much always at my side, in the studio, I don’t think he’s missed a day’s work since he was a puppy 8 years ago). In the afternoon I find that it’s good to do other things, not illustrating for the first hour or so, so I’ll catch up on emails, or post, or tidy the studio.
Then I’ll usually fill most of the afternoon with more illustrating. Then usually towards the end of the day I’ll have a moment of shock at what time it is then I compact all the boring stuff into the last 30 mins, then I usually tidy my desk, check my ‘to do’ list for the next day and head out of the studio.
The studio is the top floor of our house, which means once I go downstairs I am then ‘out of work’ which has always been good for me, to feel a separation from work and home, even if it’s just a small flight of stairs.
7. Any piece of advice/wisdom that you’d like to give the readers at This Design Life?
Make things and show people! I also think everyone should mix it up a little, don’t do the same thing over and over again. I like to paint, I make funny little animations on Instagram, I design surface patterns, none of these things are big parts of my illustration career, but they keep me happy and feeling creative. They exercise all different parts of my creative brain, to keep everything healthy and (I believe) prevent burning out or feeling creative block.