• Molly Jones

A bit about why I became an Illustrator

Updated: Apr 27, 2018

Let's just get it out of the way. I LOVEEEE drawing.

So now I've got that off of my chest we can talk about the less obvious.

Where to begin?

From the age of about 7, I use to sit with a video case propped up in front of me and draw the characters on the front. Like, ALL OF THE TIME. I thought I was pretty damn good at it and dreamt of designing my own characters for disney. Until I was told 'no one drew anymore, it was all done digitally. My dream was crushed. I didn't stop drawing but I felt that it would always be a hobby and there wouldn't ever be a need for people to draw if everything was done digitally.

I still studied Art & Design at every opportunity because I enjoyed it so much and when applying for Sheffield Hallam I decided that I just wanted to draw, I wanted to spend my time doing what I loved and not stuck in a job that I would resent early on.

I kinda expected that if you went to uni you would come out a pro and get hire straight away. A bit naive? but I really wanted my own distinctive style. The kind where people point at it and say 'Molly did that'.

So what made me think I could do this professionally?

I chose the course Graphic Design with the prospect of specialising in illustration in the 3rd year. Me and Graphic Design never really clicked. I didn't feel passionate about it and my work reflected that. (Don't get me wrong I enjoy working digitally and have a strong appreciation for it, but I can recognise a good graphic designer from me) I didn't want to give up and applied for an internship in the summer of 2nd year. It went, REALLY, REALLY BADLY! I was asked questions I didn't know the answer to about my own work.

Look at this. WHAT IS THIS!?

When I got home, I knew I couldn't blame the interviewer for the way it went so I sat down and had a long hard think about wanted I wanted from the course. The interview made it clear I wasn't interested in what I was doing and that I picked projects and made decisions based on getting a good grade rather than making designs that matter and I felt stuck in the mud.

That was it! I wanted to be an illustrator so why wasn't I doing that? I went into uni with the mindset that I was going to work on projects that mattered to me and draw but not with the intention of ticking boxes. The university tutors were a massive help and guided me towards experimenting in different ways and pushed me to research projects from archives in the local library where I came across recordings from the Sheffield miners' strike.

At this point, I was half way through my final year. My style was still all over the place and I didn't know what I wanted to achieve with the project. I spent New Years sketching the miners strike from photos that I found online of the protesters and their placards.

Some of the sketches were a bit rough around the edges. A few wonky eyes and weirdly shaped mouths. But I liked it. It felt right and I enjoyed it.

This went down well in group crits and I got some good feedback from course mates.

After speaking with the course tutors, we decided this would work well as a narrative. Telling the story of the miners strike from the beginning of the strike from when Heath was in power in 1972 through to Thatcher when she brought the strike to an end in 1984. 

My initial sketch...

Which evolved into...

It was then screenprinted onto placards to echo the original form of protest.

This project got me working in the studio beside course mates, so I got more feedback and began to build my confidence in myself and my work. I knew that if I was interviewed about this project that I could talk about it confidently because I believed in it and could back up my decisions.

The more I worked in the studio, the more people would approach me and talk about what I was drawing. I caught a few looking over my shoulder and watching me. I'm not gunna lie, it felt good. I finally felt that I was getting somewhere.

We often had guest speakers come in and talk to us, which I avoided like the plague. I dreaded that they would ask me about my work and I'd have to show them it. This changed and I was finally happy to put myself out there which led to a designer complimenting a drawing I was working on in the studio and offering to work with me in the future. In that moment I realised It would be more than just a hobby, that thought from when I was younger and being told that 'no one drew anymore, it was all done digitally' faded from my mind.

I graduated from Uni with a portfolio of work that was small but I was happy with.

Moved home and got a job in retail. I was applying for creative jobs and had no luck. My family and friends often asked 'What's the plan?'. This drove me crazy. I was now a graduate and everyone thought I'd finish uni and have a job in illustration or go travelling for a year. I was 7 months into working in retail, I had saved up to maybe travel with (which I wasn't too interested in) or use to move back to sheffield with a get a job there (I really wanted to). Then the store manager announced she was leaving, she had got her dream job and was off. This was the kick I needed. I would work for 1 more month, organise myself and plan to move and resign. So I did.

I had no idea how to go about being a freelance illustrator, but I thought I never would unless I just did it and knew I had the support of my family and Hallam. I met with a uni tutor and showed them a creative CV I wanted to print and post to creative agencies, newspapers and magazines to get my work seen and hoped it would lead to commissions. Then I employed a graphic designer to bring it to life and posted them out.

I began to attend networking events which I was most afraid of. Turns out, everyone is lovely! I met with local illustrators such a Lisa Maltby. She gave me lots of advice and makes really good cups of tea! but she helped me realise the pressure of starting up your own business is no different to want anyone else has gone through and just mentioned that positivity is key because it takes time to build a client based and start to get commissions.

Now, I'm starting to find my place as an illustrator and work with local businesses to design original artwork for and get it seen on a bigger scale. It's a really exciting time for me and I want to make it work.