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Visiting an illustrator

If you could meet your favourite creative practitioner, what would you ask them? Work-related learning, such as visits to studios, conversations with practitioners, or more involved relationships through live projects and placements, all offer direct ways to help inform your knowledge and understanding of your discipline. Seeing your chosen field up close provides an opportunity to see how established practitioners operate, experience the kinds of spaces they work in, and get a feel of the language they use to talk about their work. OCA Illustration degree student, Abi Pegg decided to do just this and got in touch with working illustrator, Lisa Maltby. I talked to Abi about her experience:
Q: How did you pick this studio and organise your visit?
I came across Lisa Maltby’s work through Sheffield’s ‘Herd of Elephants’ exhibition and followed her on instagram. She often posts about her journey of becoming an independent illustrator, and one day said how she wanted to connect more with like-minded creatives. I decided to take a chance and cheekily commented on the post, asking for the opportunity to meet for a chat. She agreed wholeheartedly. 
Q: What was the visit like, did your questions give you what you were expecting?
I often feel intimidated by career minded people but this was not the case with Lisa. She was welcoming and encouraging. We chatted easily and it was nice to see that this world of a working illustrator isn’t as scary as I had imagined. She was very accommodating in trying to answer all my questions and was happy to show examples of her work, rough and finished. I wasn’t really sure what to expect from my questions, it was just wonderful having somebody so willing to talk about their own experience in a way to encourage me rather than see me as competition.
Q: What did you get from the experience?
It helped me see this career as an obtainable goal. It gave me perspective on the wider view not only on my studies but who I want to be through my work. I came away brimming with confidence and excitement to really get stuck in and find my own voice. Because of this perspective, my further work on the course has been much improved.
Q: How has the visit helped you with your studies?
Seeing how another illustrator works through a project and communicates with a client was very enlightening. The Illustration 1 course has given me many tools to use in development and now I understand that some will work better for different types of clients and projects and I don’t have to necessarily go through every single step to get a good piece of work. It’s shown me that I need to use those tools the OCA have given with my own instincts of who I am to create the work. The biggest help was seeing her examples of client roughs and how these differ from one client to another.
Q: What advice would you give to other students thinking of undertaking a similar visit?
I would say to pluck up the courage and do it. Make a list of questions beforehand that are relevant to you, not just what you think would appear good in a blog post but things that you struggle with. Not only has it helped improve the last part of my studies significantly, I also feel supported by the creative community. I was welcomed, encouraged and understood. It was a big boost, one that has driven me further past my goal of a degree to a happy working practise.

Professional illustrator Lisa Maltby in her studio

You can read more about Abi’s visit on her blog:
Whatever direction you want to take your practice, talking to practitioners offers primary insights that can support your learning. Conversation is the medium through which these encounters take place. This can be a dialogue of finding out about how practitioners work as well as sharing something of your own developing sense of creative voice. Talking face-to-face, over the phone, online or email all provide some form of meaningful contact. While potentially daunting, it is worth remembering that all of these practitioners were students once, and will identify with the experience of starting out. Following Abi’s example, a good starting point is to find out who is operating in your area, thinking about what you want to find out, and getting in touch. The worst that can happen is they say no!

Posted by author: Christian Lloyd
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4 thoughts on “Visiting an illustrator

  • This is a great thing to do. As someone who built several books around visiting illustrators and asking them about their work in their own environment I think it can be recommended as a way of gaining confidence and understanding on many levels. Not least remembering the human aspect of a practise- that working illustrators have to juggle and struggle and live like the rest of us.We rarely get a chance to see artwork and working drawings in the flesh. This can be exciting and enlightening.
    I would endorse the importance of being prepared. As an author I get quite a lot of emails from people asking me questions, and asking for advice and I’m happy to reply except when it’s clear that the sender hasn’t really researched into what I do.
    When someone is busy yet prepared to give some time to support an early career or student it’s just good manners to be prepared so that the time offered is optimised.
    Obviously you might not get an immediate response if you contact someone but the payback if and when you do could be an enriching experience.

  • Thanks Jo! I agree that being prepared is useful. Not that you have to know everything about who you are visiting beforehand, but some background research into their work and questions that are informed by this would be a good starting point. I also agree that the human dimension is worth reflecting on. It’s harder to get a sense of a person from a distance or through a formal, or perhaps written, interview with them.

  • Interesting, I’m just beginning my journey into the 2nd year of my illustration degree and connect with a lot of creatives through social media. I think on the whole other artists/illustrators are more than happy to answer questions, and give an insight into their profession. However, visiting or even working in a shared studio environment is a fantastic experience. It’s always great to meet like minded people, both to see how they juggle their lives and to see the creative processes they use to produce their work. I think it can be a very inspiring experience.

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