Michelle Thompson

Freelance Illustrator.

Gender - Plot magazine image
Gender – Plot Magazine

What was your key motivation in becoming an illustrator?

Honestly, just to earn a living doing something I enjoy. Being paid has always been the best bit and my motivation for being an illustrator.

What was your first break as an illustrator?

As soon as I had graduated from the RCA in 1996, I started taking my portfolio around all the book publishers. I have to thank Suzanne Dean at Random House for my first job, once someone had taken a risk to use me I then got regular covers. My second commission, again with Suzanne was Ulysses, with a two-day deadline! (No, I never read the book.)

Also Vaughan Oliver used one of my RCA show images on a CD cover for Aeroplane.

Maze - personal work, will be exhibited at the Affordable Art Fair, Battersea in October image
Maze – Personal Work – Exhibitied at the Affordable Art Fair, Battersea, October 2013

How do you maintain an ongoing stream of work?

I have regular work with The Globe & Mail in Toronto and High Life in London. I have two agents and my own mailing list, so it’s very rare that I don’t have any work on. But when I am, I have now learnt not to panic but to update my website and send out some more samples.

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

The recession took a while to hit me but once it did I found myself going back to working on collages and my own work. Before that I had been so busy that there was never any time for my own work, plus I had two children!

In a way the down turn was good for me. It made me think about what I wanted to do. I now split my time between personal work, which I exhibit and illustration commissions. I find that the collage work often gets put into my digital work and the ideas generated from commissions get developed into collage work.

Books - a selection of past book jackets image
Books – A selection of past book jackets

Your latest front cover illustration for, How to Create a Portfolio & Get Hired, 2010, is a relevant title that many illustrators would relate to. What is your best piece of advice on getting hired?

My best piece of advice is to try to not to be a diva, be nice! Sometimes I have to remind myself that it’s a job and my aim is to answer the brief and make the client happy, even when sometimes I’m not happy with the outcome.

Also I totally recommend that illustrators become members of the AOI. As you know I’m always emailing for pricing advice!

The majority of your illustrations consist of found imagery, from Royal photographs to newspaper cuttings. How do you go about avoiding copyright issues?

A lot of the time I’m given images to work with. Recently I did a brochure for the Museum of London, I was allowed to use anything from their stock library, which was amazing.

Most of the images I have, I’ve been collecting since the mid 90’s. I have boxes of the stuff! I tend to use old 50’s/60’s magazines and books. Other times I have to take my own photographs, pictures of children, partner and myself are often used. Also recently someone gave me a box of their great aunts family photos, which are perfect to use.

Children - Image from The Museum of London, including a Henry Grant image from their imagestock image
Children – Museum of London – Including a Henry Grant images from their Image Library

How the relationship between hand drawn and collage?

The one thing I regret from college was never persevering with my drawing. I wasn’t any good at it, so avoided life drawing like the plague! As well as adding something else to my work, drawing would have saved me a lot of time. It’s a lot quicker to draw an element than spend a day trawling through my boxes looking for a certain picture….

Plus - personal collage work image
Plus – Personal Work – Collage

Who and what keeps you inspired?

I really do get excited by old books, papers and photos. The starting point for most of my collages generally comes from a found piece of card or paper. It will also be no surprise that I love Robert Rauschenberg’s work too.

14th March 2014

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