Tom Jay

Freelance Illustrator.

U.S shutdown, for The Independent image
US Shutdown – The Independent

What was your key motivation in becoming an illustrator?

Fame and fortune obviously! Nah I quite liked drawing and thought that it would be good to keep on doing it. I also like the freedom of working for yourself, and the challenges that come with it. My Mum was an illustrator too, so it was all around me when I was growing up, I’m sure it left an impression. To quote the designer David Carson, “(If you’re not enjoying your job), what the heck are you doing? You’re going to be dead a real long time.” In other words, I enjoy it.

How do you maintain an ongoing stream of work?

I create a lot of promotional work that I show to people via newsletters and twitter etc. I’m not represented by anyone, so it’s been essential to my survival to find new work. I’ve been lucky enough to pick up a few fairly regular jobs, but other than that, I’m self promoting all the time by finding out names, phoning, meeting, chatting, posting and emailing.

Gone Fishing, self promotion image
Gone Fishing – Self Promotion

What importance do you put on your own personal body of work and how does this influence your commissioned work?

I really like doing landscapes and travel based work for myself. Sometimes I use this as the basis for promotional work but is also allows me some freedom to try new techniques out and draw different things to commissioned work. I’ll be honest here and say that sometimes after doing loads of real work, the last thing I want to do is do more drawing, kind of like a “busman’s holiday”. I think this is healthy though, people who say they love drawing all the time are lying, you can’t love stuff all the time, it’s not possible!

However when you do want to do work on your own stuff, it’s great and definitely important. I’m going to get back to doing some painting soon, I haven’t done that for years, so it’ll be interesting to see what influence that has my commissioned work. I also keep a sketchbook for noting down ideas and drawing things I like the look of, buildings and people mostly.

Your editorial client list is vast, but what was it about Editorial illustration that you favoured?

Not sure about “vast” there, but I like the challenges of Editorial work. It’s quick so you don’t have time to sit about mulling things over, you have to go with your instincts and trust your ideas. I really enjoy coming up with conceptual ideas, I think that’s one of the best things about illustration. It’s great to come up with something that really adds to an article, or makes it far more interesting than it actually is! I’m still at the early stages of my career, and I hope to have used Editorial work as a proving ground for my work.

Daniel Pelka, for The Independent image
Daniel Pelka – The Independent

How did university guide you with your illustration work?

I went to Falmouth, the course there was really good, hard going, but good. By the third year everyone on the course had developed their own style and they had done quite a good job at preparing you for life as a graduate. There were many professional practice lectures, and we had talks from lots of fantastic illustrators. Falmouth was also very much geared to you leaving with a portfolio that would be ready for prospective clients to look at.

However I don’t think any institution prepares you for all the stuff that comes with being an illustrator, like waiting for money/feedback/phone calls, dealing with professional people etc. These were all things that I have learnt since. Like I said earlier I don’t have an agent, so it’s been good learning how to run my own business.

Laos, for The Ride Journal image
Laos – The Ride Journal

Who and what keeps you inspired?

I get inspiration from the usual places, galleries, friends, the news, living in London, people in my studio and other illustrators. I think it’s very easy as an illustrator to spend all your days at a desk, but personally I get more inspired by having a good ol’ look around outside too. I chose to pursue illustration as it allows me some flexibility in my time. I like to be as active as possible when I’m not at the studio, be it cycling, swimming, surfing, running, drinking, seeing stuff and seeing friends. Thinking about the next surf trip or where I’m going to cycle at the weekend is really motivating.


7th March 2014
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