What was your key motivation in becoming an illustrator?
I guess my motivation came later than a lot of peoples. While trying to find a job as a Product Designer (what I studied at University) some good friends started putting on gigs in London and needed flyers. Being ‘creative’, they asked me if I’d mind creating one for their first show, and I said why not. I guess it went from there. They liked the first flyer, so I said I’d keep doing them in return for free entry and beer! So I guess you could say beer and free gigs was my motivation. That and enjoying illustration more than anything else!
What have been the benefits of becoming a part of an Illustration Agency to you?
I joined Handsome Frank (a wonderful agency if I do say so myself) just over 2 years ago, and have since seen a big change in the clients that I am working for. My clients now include large, international brands. This is partly down to Handsome Frank, who have definitely put my work in front of clients and agencies who would otherwise be very difficult to access. A, because HF are regularly going to meetings to show people my portfolio (something that I never really enjoyed doing) and b, because some clients just aren’t interested in you if you’re not with an agency. Basically I guess it comes down to contacts. When you join an agency you automatically get access to their client database and also their knowledge of the marketplace.
What was your first break as an illustrator?
I’m not sure whether there was one particular job that would count as my ‘big break’, but there was definitely a change in the type of jobs I was receiving. In September 2011 I got two big jobs. One was to design a t-shirt for Oxford University, and the other an app for Toyota. Before these two I had been doing mainly editorial jobs, so these were a big deal for me. At the time I was working part time in a furniture shop, but these two commissions prompted me to quit the shop job and concentrate on my illustration full-time. This is when I first felt that being an illustrator as a career was a possibility for me.
What importance do you put on your own personal body of work and how does this influence your commissioned work?
I try and do personal work whenever possible. I keep a list of ideas that I’d like to explore, but of course commissioned work takes priority most of the time. At the end of last year I set myself a challenge to create a new illustration every day and publish it on my tumblr (http://stephencheetham.tumblr.com). I found this was (and still is when I get the chance to upload something) a nice way to try new styles and create work without a brief or restrictions. It increased my exposure online and led to commissions that may not have happened otherwise.
How important do you feel exhibiting your work as a freelance illustrator is in terms of your freelance work?
The only real experience I have had exhibiting my work is in group shows, usually as a fundraising event for charity. I have also exhibited through my agent a few times, and all have been a success. I think exhibitions are important as it’s all exposure at the end of the day, and you can’t have too much of that!
I guess it also depends on the type of work you create. I have just started a new creative project with my girlfriend, called All The Fruits. We have been building a collection of patterns for various end uses. We are debuting our collection in Venice in a few weeks, and for us exhibiting actual printed material is very important as this is where we want our work to end up. Seeing photos on a computer screen just isn’t the same.
Who and what keeps you motivated?
I love what I do (and feel very lucky because of this), which I guess means I don’t really need much motivation. I am happy to wake up every morning, sit at my desk and work on whatever illustrations I have to do all day and sometimes all night if needs be. That being said, the little brown envelopes that occasionally drop through my letterbox are a motivation, albeit a not very nice one!