Why Did I Want To Be An Illustrator?

From such a young age, nothing interested me more than drawing. Looking back in my pre-school and year reception sketchbooks, my doodle's weren't half bad and even at the age of 4, it was something I just couldn't stop doing. Blank pieces of paper were destined to have a cute drawing on them.

Unfortunately I was never taught as a child that art could be something to be taken seriously and be a potential career choice. Arts and crafts were my favourite lessons at school but at no point do I remember my teachers or parents telling me that I could for real, do art as a full time job. My Dad mentioned a couple of times that people would pay me for my work, but that was about the extent of my creative encouragements. That makes my parents sound like idiots and they're really not, I just don't think at the time and we're talking 15-20 years ago now, that art was something other people could understand you building a life with.


An old piece from my sketch books

Aside from art, my other biggest passion has always been animals and I decided I would try to become a vet. I studied hard and always did my homework, was taking animal science books out of the library whilst my friends were issuing out Tracey Beaker and Goosebumps and I had this clear vision of one day becoming a vet and helping animals as much as I could. That all changed when I got to the upper school, so from the age of around 14/15 I had a huge surge of disbelief that I would ever get there. I didn't feel I was clever enough to get the grades, or that I would get into uni and spend 7 years of my life there studying animal science and medicines. I completely gave up on that dream. My Dad in particular was devastated because throughout my younger years it was always what I wanted to do. I never fluttered between ideas, it was always to be a vet. 

I spent the next few years channeling every ounce of my energy into my artwork. I used to stay up late and work well into the night, spring out of bed the next morning and carry on. My art lessons were my favourite and gave me a small reason to like school and I came out with an A grade art GCSE. I was thrilled to bits as were my parents and I never hesitated with starting Sixth Form after the summer and taking on three art based subjects. I chose fine art, graphics and photography. Initially I had chosen textiles to go alongside these, but my tutor advised me against this as taking on more than one art subject was considered to be a bit mad let alone four, but we settled on three after I assured him the coursework wouldn't swamp me.


An old piece from my Sixth Form sketch books

Sixth Form was two of the best years of my life and I enjoyed literally every minute. It's also where I met James! Some days of course were stressful, especially project deadlines and such but overall, there was no where else I would have rather been. I spent my entire days in the art department, had my lunch there, socialised with the other art students and made some cracking friends. Again, I was working super hard every day and night, never getting tired because I was having the time of my life. Through my work I discovered I was interested in graphics more than art, so I plugged time into learning about graphic design, using computers with my art and exploring a whole new world. I loved design and it gave me energy. Exams came and with my three art subjects, I tackled 45 hours worth of exam time, 15 hours for each subject. Then out popped three A Level grades, two A's for graphics and photography and one B for fine art. I cried with happiness and couldn't believe it. Even more so when I got accepted into what is considered to be one of the best art and design university's in the country. The first in my family to go to university, everyone made such a big deal out of it.


My bay at uni which held 10 students (I'm at the back!)

During the summer, I carried on working on my own little projects, determined to improve my skills before starting uni. I have an entire post about my experience at uni here, but to cut a long one short, uni nearly destroyed me. It wasn't what I was expecting and within just a couple of months I wanted to leave. I didn't feel like I was being taught anything, I didn't make the 'life long' friends you're practically promised with the university package, it was a cold and lonely environment that slowly started eating away at me mentally. I chose to study graphic design further and feel this was a huge mistake. By the end of the year, I had made my mind up that I wasn't coming back after the summer. In a depressed rage, I burnt most of the work I'd done at uni because I couldn't bare to look at it. I only have a couple of drawings and painting's from my time there that I kept.


One of the only pieces of artwork I have from uni

I returned to my ridiculously shitty weekend job at a children's theme park, asked them for full time hours and stayed there another year before walking out after realising my self worth and ventured back into the animal world. This is the job I left back in May this year, but in the beginning it rebuilt me, gave me confidence and I was as you can imagine, living the dream working with dogs all day. After 5 years and moving from contractor to permanent member of staff, things evolved at my workplace and I fell out of love with it. Whilst I was working part time as a contractor with the animals, I was introduced to a lady who lived up the road from my Mum's house who owned a tea room. Her name was Anna and she had seen my work from a friend of the family and asked to meet me. I was absolutely bricking myself, but collected together some of my work and went to meet her. It was an instant connection and we have been friends ever since. During this time we have been on many outings together, exploring, charity shop hauling and since Anna is a graphic designer herself as well as Tea Lady, she took me on many adventures to design conventions to meet other artists and creators. I started my own business after realising that all this time, my heart truly lay with the silly little doodles I had done all my life and my Etsy shop was born. I finally understood that there was a name for this kind of work and it was 'illustration'. I also started to fall in love with makeup and would spend many of my days off creating character looks and getting covered in spirit gum and scar putty.


My Hades makeup look

The thing with art, is there is no wrong way to do it. And with illustration, there are so many different styles that there is and always will be room for more people to join the industry. Two years into having a side business that I was doing with every spare second I got from my animal job, I was developing further, mostly self taught with the help of YouTube tutorials and books but I eventually built it up so I could make a liveable amount of money from it, and I left the corporate world behind this year. I don't regret spending five years of my life working with animals one bit, because there were days where I was doing a lot of vet nursing type work and I loved it. I loved the puppies, the relationships I built with my dogs and I miss the old feeling I got in the early days where I was deeply in love with my role. I loved learning about dogs and their behaviours, their medical requirements, how to recognise good and bad health in an animal, along with what to do in an emergency. This is all extremely valuable knowledge and experience to me, after all I homed Custard and Vespa and it gives me great relief that I would know how to handle pretty much anything that is thrown at us.

Part of me feels like I kind of took the long way around as I spent more time working full time than I would have spent at university; I would have had a degree by the age of 23, but no doubt struggling with where to find work, a hefty amount of debt and still having no idea what to do with my life. I wouldn't have been able to save for a house, I probably wouldn't have reconnected with James after we both left school and I wouldn't have my dogs. Thing's would be a lot different!

Illustration has become my life, I collect children's books containing illustrations that inspire me, I love to create and I adore meeting other illustrators through social media and supporting what they do. In my spare time, I'm still self teaching more of the Adobe programmes and trying new techniques with materials. Of course, the 'silly little doodles' have evolved too and I try to learn something new everyday, but I'm happy. So so happy and extremely lucky to understand what I want out of life career wise. This is it.

Thanks for reading,


2 comments

  1. I think this is my favourite post of yours I've ever read.
    I think it shows that what is meant to be, will be - as you say, if you'd forced yourself to stay at uni, life would have been so different, and all your experiences have brought you to where you are today. You are so incredibly talented, I love the photos of your work over the years, you have such a beautiful and unique style to your talent, I love seeing all the work you create. I think it's good how much (in the beginning) working with dogs built you back up, and as you say, now you can apply those skills with your own gorgeous dogs (I really, really want to meet them!) and sometimes taking the long way round gets you where you need to be, appreciating where you are even more.
    Hels xx

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    1. Thankyou! I couldn't agree more, things would be very different right now. Hopefully one day you'll meet the dogs, the little rascals have been naughty last night so they're in the dog house (literally) haha x x

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