Industry Insight: Lesley Barnes

We continue to offer weekly insights into creative work through our Industry Insights series. This gives members exclusive access to motivations, inspirations and work ethic of illustrators (both established and emerging), agents and commissioners.

It is time now to share publicly an interview we did a year ago with Illustrator Lesley Barnes, Winner of the AOI Illustration Professional Advertising Category 2013 (see our archive of winners here).

Playing Cards

Playing Cards

What was your key motivation in becoming an illustrator?

Creating for a living. It’s an enormous privilege to be able to do a job you love even if it can be an extremely rough ride sometimes.
What are the first three things that you will do when a commissioner approaches you for a project?

1. Clarify the brief – get as much information about exactly what the client wants and expects from you.

2. Negotiate a timescale and budget.

3. Research and sketches.

The best briefs for me are those where the client/Art Director has a clear vision of what they need, but also allows the illustrator a little freedom to flex their creativity!



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

I find that many of my commissions come about because of a ‘personal project’ I have previously worked on. One of my first ‘personal projects’ was illustrating a series of playing cards  and I still get emails about it today (I still have not quite finished it either….). Another self initiated project was a ‘catwalk concertina’ that I did for London Fashion Week. The buying team at the V&A saw it and asked me to produce something similar for their upcoming ‘Glamour of Italian Fashion’ exhibition (A dream project!). For me being an illustrator is not just a job, it’s also something that I love to do and I never want to lose that feeling – so my own work will always be of great importance to me.

V&A Italian Fashion

V&A Italian Fashion

When a company for a commission approaches you, what are the first three steps you take?

I’m very lucky as I have a great agent, Handsome Frank, who can negotiate things like rights, licensing, usage and general pricing issues. As an illustrator, I think it’s very difficult to know what your rights are, and what your time and skills are worth. It’s not something I can say that I’m generally comfortable dealing with myself. I’m also very lucky as I’m part of a very supportive group of illustrators known as The Mighty Pencil and they are a great source of knowledge and experience. The financial and legal side of illustration (it is a business after all!) can be one of the most daunting aspects of becoming a freelancer and that’s why having the AOI available to all is extremely important.

V&A Balloons

V&A Balloons

Talk us through your experience of entering the AOI Awards 2014 with your self-initiated piece ‘Thorns’.

To be honest the AOI Awards 2013 was the first competition that I have entered for many many years! I have always felt slightly uncomfortable about how something as subjective as illustration could be judged, but this year I had a few images that I really loved and I thought ‘why not?!’

‘Thorns’ was created as part of a series of three illustrations for ‘The Enchanted Forest‘ exhibition at Foyles Bookshop (curated by my talented friend Emma Block) celebrating 200 years of the Brothers Grimm Tales. I enjoyed doing these pieces so much and I think you can tell that just by looking at them.

Obviously ‘Thorns’ was not shortlisted so I have no idea what the judges thought of it…but I’m glad I entered it as I’m not normally confident enough in my own work to have it openly ‘judged’!



Who and what keeps you inspired?

I could give you a list of designers, artists, books, musicians, dogs and horses that inspire me but I honestly think you can find inspiration everywhere. Just keep your eyes open when you are out and about  – you’ll be surprised what you miss! Sometimes you can just go for a walk and see something inconsequential…. the colour on a door, the pattern on a drain… and it can spark something. It’s always good to have a notebook/sketchbook/iPhone handy so you don’t miss that moment. I can’t wait to move to London and just wander about!

To see more Industry Insights please log in to the members area or join the AOI today.

15th December 2015

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