An illustrator once described the AOI as “a little organisation with a big voice”. This is a very true statement, and our big voice is not only possible thanks to all the illustrators and members who contribute to it, but also to the dedication of our passionate staff team.
Get to know them in our new series of interviews! Having previously spoken with Sarah Morris we continue our series with Natasha Knight, who has been part of The AOI team for some time but moved into to the role of Membership Executive, last year. Find out more about her role as well as her interests below.
Hello Natasha! Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do at the AOI
Hello, my name is Natasha Knight and my role is Membership Executive at The AOI. This essentially means if you need advice on being a creative freelancer or have a query about your membership, you may well speak to me! I also write articles and interviews; research and host illustration Events and college Masterclasses for The AOI, as do my AOI Helpdesk colleagues.
You also work as an illustrator and recently graduated (2022) with an MA Illustration from Falmouth University. Can you tell us more about it? How has this experience fed into your role?
I’ve long loved illustration, but when I initially studied for my BA in Design, it didn’t seem like a viable career option for me, unless I specifically wanted to illustrate for children (who I love!) or advertising – neither of which I could confidently see myself doing. A bit of imposter syndrome too, I just didn’t have access to many illustrators who looked like me. Fast forward through a career in arts & heritage, events and policy making (children and housing), I wanted to return more fully to my creative roots, so I took up portraiture – which still love – then some short courses at UAL and City Lit. I decided to return to illustration inspired by my time at House of Illustration (now Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration) where I worked in events and education sessions, which showcased immense diversity and possibilities in illustration, which was awe inspiring. I found out about an occasional role at The AOI through them and the rest is history.
I studied for an MA in Illustration (Falmouth) to expand my understanding and find my own voice – arguably one of the best professional and personal (not including my husband and kids!) decision I’d made. Illustration is such a wide reaching art form which can relate to pretty much anything and it’s a privilege to create and explore. You can utilise your own experiences and visual language to tell a story, create a mood or to challenge.
It’s also enhanced my empathy and understanding of the challenges of being a freelancer. The AOI is a wonderful organisation which provides a wealth of support and Resources to help creative freelancers to develop the tools and confidence to build their own, unique sustainable career.
What does your working week look like?
My week can vary quite a bit. I can start off with advising Members on how to make the most of their membership, various licensing, contract or illustration queries (always negotiate for a fair contract – we’re happy to help advise), then I might be writing up an article or an interview with a fabulously talented creative or commissioner from the illustration world. During term time, as part of the Helpdesk Team we run our virtual College Masterclasses, so it’s a great chance to engage with students, but we also do lots of illustration Events for Members and non-members. I also enjoy researching illustration Events (add link) to share on our website. And working with a genuinely fabulous team is a HUGE bonus.
What’s your favourite thing about your role? And what’s the most challenging?
Apart from working with our team, who all love illustration and advocating for illustrators, but also engaging with creatives, who tend to be some of the loveliest people you’ll meet. Being able to support them with projects, improving their confidence and sharing new work is a joy, especially when you see the wealth of talent and desire to create something which genuinely illuminates an idea, uniquely. Also meeting illustrators who work you love have followed is pure joy.
What’s been your favourite experience at the AOI to date?
I say this each time, but think it has to be meeting our Member’s face-to-face alongside our guest illustrators/speakers, for our events and articles. It’s an excellent reminder of why we do what we do, when talking to them wherever they are on their journey but also seeing the enormous potential to use your own uniquely personal view point to create illustrations, whether via commercial or personal projects.
What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
I’m Mum to two wonderful individuals, so that takes up a good chunk of my time. My very supportive husband and I take them to explore art/exhibitions, travel etc so a lot of our outings revolve around family, food, friends and art. I also do my best to continue my illustration practice with support from my portraiture group, QBCI and Falmouth friends. It’s wonderful having peers who also create in different ways but encourage you to keep moving forward. I work primarily in analog – ink, collage, gouache etc, so I try to remind myself that everything you do creatively is a step forward – mistakes can turn into wonderful opportunities. It’s the same whichever tool you use to create.
Recommend 3 things to watch or listen to :
To listen to – Podcast: The Great Women Artists, by Katy Hessel is a brilliant multi-platform resource illuminating wonderfully varied women creatives, both contemporary and historic such as Lubaina Himid, Frida Kahlo and Ruth Ozeki. Expands beyond the podcast to a website, articles and a recent publication which I am currently mid-read – very inspiring and still shocking how far we’ve come but still a long way to go.
To Read: The Chiffon Trenches, by Andre Leon Talley. We’ve had some great fashion illustration events, which I’ve always found intriguing. This was one of my favourite recent reads about a fascinating man who exceeded his own dreams whilst paving the way for others, but is also so vividly told that you can almost see it. Give people their flowers!
To View: In The Black Fantastic, Hayward Gallery (2022). This is a past show which I kept re-visiting, but it has remained with me, so I’ve included as the online content (and event catalogue) is still worth a look. Afrofuturism, myth and legacy are in abundance, from Rashaad Newsome, Hew Locke to Kara Walker whose shadow puppetry utilises the medium, brilliantly. But sneaking in something that’s on now – A Strange Loop was absolutely mind blowing and not for the faint hearted! This musical is brilliantly narrated and acted with beautifully written, original songs (for proper grown-ups only).
Thanks you Natasha for taking the time to answer all questions!
Continue meeting the rest of the AOI Team:
– Sarah Morris, Membership Manager.
– Emma Morley, Awards Assistant.
– Tsveta Todorova, Finance Manager.
– Helen Ridley, Awards Coordinator.