Friday, 29 July 2011

Illustration 101 - Degree: Is it worth it? by Jo

This post is about the value of having an illustration degree.
So you're either a student in the middle of your degree or you're about to start in September. Or, like me, a graduate. One minute you're being constantly told what to do by the tutors, working hard on your final major project, preparing for your degree show....and the next minute you find yourself on your graduation day wondering what the heck happened to those years. But more importantly; has your course prepared you to start your career and do you even know where to begin?

Jo: After I did my A-Levels I went on to do an Art and Design Foundation course which I throughly enjoyed. It was mainly because the tutors let us do what we wanted to do and to find our own feet before we picked out the areas we were most interested in. There was a bit more freedom on the course and I felt like I could be as creative as I wanted to be. I remember thinking illustration was the course I was going to study.

With my illustration course there were some parts I enjoyed such as the dissertation. You're probably thinking what the heck going on in my brain I but enjoy writing about subjects I feel passionate about. And plus it's been absolutely ages since I wrote more than 5 A4 pages.
Overall there were a few pitfalls with my course. For instance there were rarely any lectures on the business side of illustration. Yeah it's nice to be draw pictures but in order to make a living out of it we need to know how to write an invoice and a contract. Can I point out that when I had my first commission I told my tutor how happy I was and sure enough she asked me did I register myself as self-employed.  My answer was no and do you know why? Because no one told us! I know we're not supposed to be spoon fed and we're adults, we should take responsibility for our own actions but you'd think we'd be told this rather than leaving us to figure things out for ourselves which happened most of the time.

Another point is that I never felt I could move on with any of my projects because of the many checklists you'd have to go through with your tutor. And if they didn't like your work you'd have to change it so that they can tick you off and you can carry on with your work. It got to the point where I did things I liked, turned up now and again for lectures and now I've turned these images into cards and prints and selling them on Etsy. AND when you have tutors giving you crits and they're so conflicting you're head is swimming around in confusion. Yes that was also me.

With all the hurdles out of the way when I graduated I was relieved (most of my friends felt the same way!) Since then I've learnt loads of things none of my tutors taught me. Now it's all about having the experience and being able to learn from it. All I can say is my degree allowed me to do loads of screen printing (had access to the print room most of the time) and to develop my printed goods to what it is now. Other than that did I learn much? Probably to stick up for myself and not to cry in front of clients when they give me critical feed back!

Illustration 101 - The Graduate by Erica

Jo and I decided to sit down and have a discussion about the usefulness of having a degree as an illustrator, we know it is a topic that comes up a lot and wanted to share our experiences with you.
As many of you know Jo received her graduate degree from the University of Westminster in 2006 after attending Doncaster. While I attended Kansas City Art Institute in 2008 I have not received a degree yet. Since we represent both sides of the issue we thought it would be perfect to give our perspectives on how having a degree affects the business of freelance illustration as well as experiences with attending school for the arts. 

I would be lying if I said I knew I wanted to attend art school when I graduated from high school. I was pretty uncertain of the path I wanted to take as I was equally interested in philosophy and literature. Knowing that there were no schools in my hometown that I would want to attend I decided to spend some time figuring out what to do, and went to a community college in the mean time. After what ended up being a waste of one year, I was completely convinced that I need to go to school for art, and that it was the only thing I really wanted to do. The next semester I was walked into my first class at KCAI. It was a brilliant experience and I completely loved my time there, I would go back if I wasn't attached to Minneapolis in the way that I am. Instead I plan on attending a local school when I can afford it again. 
I think that art school is something that has a place in the world, but that it isn't for everyone. I have seen my fair share of kids that failed out or just didn't make the cut. It can as brutal as it is wonderful. There were a couple of days that I went home crying my eyes out because of something that had happened in studio and the anxiety of having something so personal to me judged by people in such a competitive setting hurt as much as it did propel me towards growth. There are things that you learn at art school that you simply don't learn elsewhere. It requires a lot of dedication, perseverance, love and endurance. I spent many sleepless days and nights in studio, or at home prepping work to take into studio. I learned a lot of discipline that, had I attended a normal university or college, I might have missed out on otherwise. I was immersed 24/7 in art culture which I had never been before. 
I loved the experiences and the knowledge I gained from art school, and if you ever ask me what I think of art school I will have no hesitation is telling you that I wouldn't trade my days there for anything in the world, and that I would spend the rest of my life in a studio or classroom again if I could (but then I'm a sucker for learning anything and everything that I can). 
While my experience as a freelance illustrator could be described as infantile at best, I really enjoy what I do and I love creating personal work. I am not always sure of what I'm doing or where it is going, but I always have art to keep me centered. I've spent the last few months (since launching my website earlier this year and my first show in June) trying to do as much as I can and put myself out there. I applied to a lot of places, spoke to a lot of potential clients, was turned down a lot, and made some awesome friends in the process. When looking for new work it can often be depressing when you encounter something that really excites you and then coming to the "requirements" portion of a job description and seeing that they require a BA or BS or equivalent years experience in the field. Obviously, since I have neither, if I were to apply to the position the likelihood of my getting the job is fairly low unless my portfolio is simply mind blowing. 
On top of the "requirements" portion of finding new work there is the question of competition. For any given opportunity there are hundreds or thousands of illustrators that are gunning for the same job, and many of them are going to have a more impressive CV than you, including degrees. I have worked in administrative type positions for a number of years now. I've been in many interviews and worked closely with those deciding who is going to get hired. That being said, I kind of know what people are looking for from potential workers. Setting aside portfolios and personal traits, having a degree and a good work history helps in landing a gig. People like to see that you know what you are talking about, and while having a great portfolio is always important, it may not mean that you know how to prep for print or how to get projects turned in on time. Your portfolio could be simply amazing but in the end, you don't know what you need to do because you never learned it. Degrees show that you have your ducks in a row, and thus you are a less risky investment. This isn't to say though that lots of art directors or employers won't think your work is brilliant regardless of what your CV says and be jumping at the chance to work with you.
When I was thinking about trying to start a freelance career I tried reaching out to some illustrators that I looked up to and who had established careers. I am incredibly thankful to all the artists, not just illustrators, who responded to my neurotic emails since they gave me a boost of confidence. I was beyond surprised to realize that a lot of them didn't have degrees. Maybe this is silly of me, if I had really done my research (which I didn't, I thought... "hey you are awesome, I'll talk to you") I would have found this out before asking. But they were kind enough to indulge me anyway. So while I'm not living proof that you can be successful as an illustrator without a degree, look around, you'll find tons of people who are. It just took the same passion and drive as everyone else, but maybe a little but more cleverness and work to overcome the lack of two little letters. 
Like all things, if you want it badly enough you will find a way to overcome any obstacles that make their way into your path. Just like anything else, truly loving something makes you better and provides an advantage over the people who do something as a hobby. There are plenty of kids who went to school, have a degree, and are sitting on it. I know plenty of people who went to school, not just for art, that don't use their degree at all. They will tell me all day long that I shouldn't waste my time and money to go back to school. The economy and the workforce right now doesn't allow you to take advantage of it. While I know this is partially true, and I know I can make it as a freelance illustrator without a degree, I want one. It's that simple. If you want a degree, get one, if you dont, then ... hey guess what? Just do what you want NOW. And if you want one, but are can't get into school right now or have something outside of your control holding you back, then find another way.  You don't have to have a degree to be successful or happy. They are in no way mutually exclusive. Just do what you love. Eventually things will work out. 

I invite anyone who wants to pose questions or tell us your own perspective on the topic. 

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Little Constructs FIRST Issue!

Ok everyone, are you ready for this?!
Little Constructs if going to come at you fast. Jo and I are so incredibly excited to be doing this and we are so thankful to everyone who is interested in being a part of this project. So thank you everyone for being so awesome, this is going to be fantastic because of you. 

Without further ado, I would like to present you with everything you need to know to be a part of the maiden voyage of Little Constructs!

For our very first issue we invite you to take the following poem by Ezra Pound and interpret it as you see fit. 
Please feel free to use your creative genius with the entire poem, a section, a line, or show us the general impression or feeling that the poem gave you.

"The tree has entered my hands, 
The sap has ascended my arms, 
The tree has grown in my breast- 
The branches grow out of me, like arms. 

Tree you are, 
Moss you are, 
You are violets with wind above them. 
A child - so high - you are, 
And all this is folly to the world."

In addition to your art submission we request that you please fill out our Artist Interview which can be found here
We want to get to know you as much as we want to show everyone how amazing you are! 

The submission deadline for the very first issue of Little Constructs is August 1st. Please email your submission to by then!
Note: UK submissions should be in by 12PM GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) and US submissions should be in by 12PM EST (Eastern Standard Time).

Sizing for the Little Constructs will be A5 (8.3 x 5.8 in) so please submit artwork that is ready to be printed at that size. 

If you are interested in pre-ordering the first issue please let us know. We will be setting this up soon.

Interview with Little Constructs founding duo Jo and Erica

Interview with Jo Cheung and Erica Williams, creators of Little Constructs.

If you have any other questions you would like to ask us please feel free to ask us in the comments section or by sending us an email to

What couldn’t you live without?
E: My favorite pencil!
J: My Wacom Tablet

Favourite book?
E: Oh gawd… um… Simulacra and Simulation by Jean Baudrillard, Invisible Man by Ralph Ellision, Ulysses by James Joyce, and many many more.
J: So far American God’s by Neil Gaiman

How do you create your images?
E: I make a handful of really awful sketches, then I spend some  time going “ugh” a lot. Once that is all over with I put on some music and go for it.
J: I start off with drawings then they’re all scanned in and Photoshopped.

Do you have a studio?
E: My apartment doubles as my studio, and a kitty haven.
J: Nope work from home. Can’t afford one!

Do you have a shop?
E: I have an Etsy shop, Society 6, and a BigCartel.
J: I have a few shops: an Etsy Shop, Envelop and Society 6.

What’s your typical working day?
E: Well my real day doesn’t start until after my day job. Typically I get home, put on a record or a favorite DVD, cuddle some kitties and then spend my night working till I crash sometime after midnight.
J: Get up and have breakfast. Go through my emails and say hi to everyone on Twitter. Then crack on with work until 5pm.

Twitter or Facebook?
E: I use Facebook and Twitter, but mostly Twitter.

Are you a tea or coffee person?
E: Tea, all the way. Especially Chai!
J: Coffee

Where do you see yourselves in 10 years time?
E: Word domination? Haha. Art full time in some capacity. That would be awesome.
J: To be freelancing like full time and make a living out of it! And have a pug of course.

Any advice for creatives out there?
E: Just do it, don’t spend time being afraid of doing something. After all, you can’t succeed (or fail) if you never did anything!
J: If you’re passionate about what you do you’ll go far no matter how long it takes. Don’t give up!

 You just won the lottery. Now what?
E: Pay off bills, buy a lot of new art supplies, books, and records. Go see the world. Then probably do a lot more work like that of Little Constructs.
J:Buy a nice house in London!

Do you prefer traditional or digital work?
E: I work primarily traditionally, but I love digital and hope to play with it soon.
J: Digital only because it takes me ages to rework images. Plus I find it much easier to send work off to a client especially when it needs changing.

Where do you get inspiration from?
E: I read a lot of philosophy and I am a very emotional person. The way that I experience life with those two things constantly influencing me is where I take the most inspiration from.
J: Everyday life; when I'm out and about, random conversations with friends... living in London you have access to so many different places. I always like to keep my work fresh and so I like to try things out. And if they don't work, well, fair do's it doesn't!

What do you do when creative block strikes?
E: Typically pout, have musical ADD, and do something with a deadline. That way I have no choice but to get over it!
J: Go out to the park! Have an alcoholic drink haha

What is your favorite thing to wear in studio?
E: I always wear a tshirt and my favorite pair of loungepants. They have hearts on them and are super long and comfy. I own two pairs!
J: I try and wear things I would normally go out in otherwise if I wear something too comfy I won't do anything but watch Jeremy kyle all day.

Who is your favorite art discipline? (design, typography, illustration, painting, etc)
E: I love illustration. But I really love design as well because it can unite a lot of other disciplines together.
J: Illustration and photography.

What is your favorite project to date?
E: It’s not really illustration related, but I built a 9ft tall fabric maze. That was pretty sweet. The fire department cut it down though.):
J: It was the Arctic Series for a recent exhibition at Brick Lane. Got to draw lot's of animals which is right up my street.

Why did you become an illustrator?
E: I love narratives. I also love how many styles there are out there. Drawing is such a personal thing and illustration is intrinsically tied to that act. I’m in awe of the stories that people can tell with it, and the people that make them are brilliant. I wanted to do that as well.
J: I knew I wanted to do something in art and design but wasn't too sure what. It was only until when I found out what illustration was I knew that's what I wanted to do. I can apply my work to various mediums from fashion illustration, web banners to graphics on t-shirts. I like how illustration can be so versatile.

What is your favorite thing about Little Constructs?
E: I really love how much excitement it is generating right now. I know Jo and I were both so excited to do this, but seeing so many other people stoked to be a part of it made me feel amazing.
J: Working with creatives from different parts of the world! The reaction has been great so far. It just shows that having an online community brings people together.

If you had to pick one illustrator to be stuck on an island with for the next year, who would it be?
E: I’m going to go with James Jean, he is brilliant. But I also have a bit of a lady crush on an illustrator that might be in Little Constructs, so I’m not going to tell you! You’ll just have to wait till I explode from happiness if she joins!
J: Myself because it would probably drive me nuts having to spend 24 hours with another person!!