The idea of making a living from creating art remains a curious concept to many. To artists and non-artists alike, the idea of turning creative passion into a profession may sound a daunting one.
The image of the 'starving artist' is internationally familiar and with the term 'working artist' comes a great many questions, doubts and conflicts of value. As an aspiring artist myself, I confess that I know these feelings all too well. Knowing this, however, allows me to also know the optimism and clarity that the words of a real world working artist can bring.
Over the last year, it has been my privilege to have known and worked with Stuart Morris' in-house designer illustrator, Diz Andrews. Diz has kindly agreed to a Q & A on the subject of herself and her work. It's my hope that her words will satisfy the curious, as well as bring hope and encouragement to artists in training- or starving artists for that matter!
How did you become a designer at Stuart Morris Textiles?
I started working here 25 years ago. I always remember how long because my daughter had just started primary school- she's 30 now! I'd been building up a portfolio of work and I came across Stuart's advertisement for an illustrator in the local paper. He'd been living just one village over from me for years and we'd never crossed paths!
He interviewed me at my home and we sat at the kitchen table with my two children whilst he looked through my portfolio work. After he'd finished, my son said 'Are you going to look at my stuff now?'! It was very informal!
I was freelance at first, creating designs for various people but Stuart had so much for me to work on that he eventually asked me to work in-house.
What materials do you like to use in your designs?
Mostly a black ink fine liner pen and gouache (she motions towards some paper palettes, blotched with a rainbow of colours). I prefer gouache because it's more versatile than watercolour or acrylics. It's not as quick drying so I can play around with it more and easily correct mistakes. Full colour prints are the most popular, so I do a lot of painting. I love it but sometimes it's nice to have a change- I love to experiment so it's great when I get asked for an ink drawing or a piece in coloured pencil.
Bespoke designs can be tricky especially if communication between the customer and designer aren't clear. How do you get started with a design?
Best-case scenario is when a customer has a selection of images or items that they want me to work from. A sort of mood board, I suppose. It can be tricky if I'm just getting verbal explanations of what a customer wants, as I work visually. This can mean the initial design drafts are rarely what they expected!
How can customers get the results they want?
Do your research! Think about how you want your brand or organisation represented, go online, or to shops and galleries. Find out what you like. I do my own research too so if, for example, we're commissioned by a heritage organisation, I'll find images of architecture and local areas, as well as any pieces of history that leap out at me!
What do you do once you've done your research and received your customer's research?
First I get all my materials together and sketch out little thumbnail compositions in pencil. I take the roughs that I think look best and I draw a corner, or two to scale, then I add colour. It gives the customer an idea of what it will look like full scale and full colour, without spending a lot of time on a full painting they might not be happy with!
What are your inspirations and how did you form your style?
I have a lot of artists that I really like but I wouldn't say they've had a great deal of influence on my style of art. I work in a lot of different styles really, simply because of the variation in customer requests. Particularly when it comes to heritage organisations, I have to work in styles from all points in history: from Victorian to Medieval to Renaissance. I have to be very versatile, but I like that! I really like to draw flowers and botanicals and also- food! Cakes especially (she says with a smile). I love painting cakes!
For some designs it can be a long process trying to fit in with the customer's vision. When you're having to make a lot of revisions, how do you stay motivated?
I find it helpful to have two or even three projects going on at once, that way I can move around between them and if one isn't going the way I want I can get a fresh pair or eyes on it after a break on another project. A change of environment can be immensely helpful too! Sometimes, I just go home and I'll look at the designs in a whole different light.
When I sit on the sofa and turn my TV on, I get my designs out and look at them. I start to notice things I never noticed before when I was in the work studio.
One of my secret weapons, as it were, is a photocopier! I mess around with the settings, blow one bit up or shrink the whole thing down. I change the colours to monochrome, to see how it looks in one colour. And sometimes, I make several copies and cut them up so I can arrange them on a page. It can really freshen up the design to the see how the images look in a different composition.
What advice do you have for budding artists, designers and illustrators?
Spend some time building up a portfolio. A diploma isn't necessary to be qualified for a job in the art industry or to present well to a potential employer. They get a lot of applications and see the same bog standard qualifications over and over.
My son doesn't have any formal art qualifications, he just built up his portfolio whilst working in a non-artistic job. Now he works as a concept artist for video games and he couldn't be happier! I wonder if Stuart could have known that when my son asked him to look at his work 25 years ago!
Really, my advice would be to spend time figuring out what you like. Be sure to show continuation and progression in your portfolio rather than just a variety of experiments. Employers like to see how you've progressed and how you reached the point your at now and developed your style.