Rebecca Strickson

Freelance Illustrator.

Full Page Splash from Metroland graphic novel, written by Ricky Miller (Avery Hill Publishing, 2013)

What was your key motivation in becoming an illustrator?

Well, I originally trained as a fine artist, but quickly realised it wasn’t the way I wanted to work; it felt too unstructured for my brain! I longed for briefs and the need to develop a drawing style, which I felt I couldn’t at university. I left, very disillusioned, and drifted about several jobs varying from the life threateningly insane (Probation work) to the most mundane (a government quango) Finally in 2007, I realised I needed to do this else I’d probably go nuts without an outlet and was wasting my time doing anything else. The fear of wondering if I ever could’ve done this, for the rest of my life, was such a huge motivator for me. It was scary leaping into freelance work, quitting a job and just going for it, but it’s the best decision I’ve ever made.

Full Page Splash from Metroland graphic novel, written by Ricky Miller (Avery Hill Publishing, 2013)

What was your first break as an illustrator?

Working on the Department for Transport’s last Stop Look and Listen campaign by Smith and Foulkes for Nexus Productions. I was working for Nexus in the production office, and the producer spotted my drawings I used to spend most of the working day doing instead of my job (sorry Nexus) and said why don’t I give it shot creating the typeface for the ad… ? They loved what I did and that was that.

– Still from ‘Knock for Knock’, Dir: Anthony Crook (Rapha/RSA Films, 2012)

How do you maintain an ongoing stream between your commercial work and your own self-initiated practice?

Sometimes it kind of organically grows together. I have a lot of clients who want something inspired by something they’ve seen of my own work. I think it’s vitally important to never only work in one sphere; I’d actually argue it’s impossible to only do that. Self initiated work is as important as anything you create for a client and as such I am careful to make sure I leave time for exploring my own creative directions as well as anything I am creating for someone else. You don’t grow otherwise, and you don’t gain perspective on what your work means to you. An excellent self initiated piece is sometimes worth far more to your portfolio than a commercial work you’ve produced; its easy sometimes to think that because someone is paying you its more valid.

Self initiated Wicker Man poster 2012

How does your own work influence your commissioned work?

I’ll often be working on something I really enjoy and want a slot that in to a brief to use it as a chance to expand the idea further, or see what limitations it has/adaptability. Of course, it has to work within the brief else you’ll end up with a pretty bemused/annoyed client and a reputation for not doing what anyone wants…

Your client list has varied from Topshop to Kerrang, and of course the acknowledgement of winning first prize for a Health and Safety poster. What are the first three steps you take once you have accepted a commission?

It might sound really obvious and patronising, and even ridiculous, but read the brief. You can get so carried away with a project sometimes, especially if it sounds exciting, new for something really huge or fun, and before you realise you’ve got halfway done and they didn’t want it b/w… or they needed it in a month not three… It sounds daft but it’s scarily easy to do.

Secondly, I invariably get in blind panic and prevaricate endlessly on how I can’t possibly complete the project in time/on budget/ with had left but I have this stage down to a bare minimum now Im apparently professional. A little healthy bit of fear is always good for creativity I feel. Thirdly, I stop being an idiot, get on with it and enjoy the process as much as I can.

Alain Robert – ‘Up At The O2’ changing room doors (O2/pd3, 2012)

As a selected illustrator to be published in the AOI’s Images 36 book in 2012, and to be shortlisted twice for the AOI Illustration Awards 2013, how important do you find competitions to be towards your own practice?

I don’t enter many competitions, as I’m dreadfully competitive and get really annoyed when I don’t win (there, I’m just being honest) But seriously, competitions allow you to really see where your work is progressing, and are a great tool for exposure and feedback. There’s something incredibly rewarding about recognition of your work from an external source, and they are are a great yardstick for measuring how you’re actually doing within the illustration world. Its a lonely business sometimes, you generally sit at your desk, alone, in a studio for hours at a time and can become a bit hermit-y and socially inept (just me?) Putting your work out there for others to see is vital if you want to get a handle on what others are doing and how the industry is progressing.

Self Portrait

Who and what keeps you inspired?

My family are a constant source of amusement and inspiration – as well as my cat Judy Plums and my incredible friends. I’m not one for heroes and heroines really, though there are a few things I constantly refer to and am inspired by – The Pre-Raphaelites, atomic bombs, music (I present a twice monthly internet radio show on NTSLive in Dalston) the 1970’s, hair… it’s pretty varied and odd. Anything I feel I need to understand more is inspirational. I read vociferously and am always finding ideas in books sparking off new pathways to work.

I keep going, I think, as there’s always something new to explore. It’s a never-ending adventure, and I simply can’t ever imagine it not always being the best job in the world.

14th March 2014

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