F.A.Q. – Emma Block on being an Illustrator

In the first of a new F.A.Q. section, one talented young creative explains how they’ve made it to where they have, sharing tips and advice for making it big in their industry.

First up is Emma Block, a 21-year-old artist who has not been out of work since graduating. Having originally posted the below on her blog, Emma also offered to let us share it on TYC. Read on…

“I can’t tell you how to become a successful freelance illustrator, but I can tell you what I’ve done to get where I am.”

There is no standard career path to becoming a illustrator; to be honest it’s a bit of a weird career. I wake up every morning hugely grateful that drawing is my job; it’s almost too good to be real.

I started my blog when I was 16 and I’m quite proud that it is same blog that I’m writing today.  I had always been drawing, but for the first time outsiders could see my work and comment on it. The positive feedback encouraged me and I continued to produce work and share it online. I do wonder, had I been a normal healthy teenager and not chronically ill, whether I would have stuck with it and stayed so motivated.

I knew art was all I wanted to do, so instead of A levels I did a BTEC National Diploma in Art and Design, and then a BA in Illustration at Middlesex University.  I got my first job as an illustrator for Moo’s pre-designed packs in 2008 just before I started Uni.  Moo contacted me after they saw my artwork on some of their cards. My next job came when Woodmansterne (a client I am still working with today) saw my work on Moo’s website.

As well as my uni work I was busy producing work for myself and for online publications such as Amelia’s Magazine and Cellar Door. I also got thoroughly emerged in the wonderful world of Twitter. Someone I followed on twitter followed someone who worked for Timeout. Through reading a retweet I got in contact with them and ended up doing some work for the magazine.

Not every job offer will turn into actual work, and as an illustrator you have to get used to the words ‘we decided go in another direction’. My personal near-miss jobs include a film poster for Michel Gondrey and a fashion book for Chronicle Books. It was a disappointment not to get the job, but a huge honour just to be asked, and I’d love the opportunity to work with those clients one day in the future.

My next big job, and my biggest to date, was producing 58 illustration for the recipe book Tea and Cake. It was the most wonderful job you can imagine but incredibly hard work as by this time I was in my final year at uni. Hardie Grant, the publisher, contacted me after seeing my work online and they were a joy to work with.

For me my degree show was a bit of a let down, as although most of my business cards were taken I didn’t receive one email or phone call. D&AD was the same. New Designers was a little better as I spoke to a lot of people on the day and was contacted by quite a few afterwards.

Despite this I was been constantly in work since graduating, which worries my mother as I almost never take a day off. This is largely to do with my representation by the fabulous Bright Agency, who I have been with since April this year.

What I’ve learnt so far: have a good online presence, be nice to people, know your industry, don’t just do what’s expected of you – work harder and do more, be patient and love what you do.

TYC’s review of Tea and Cake will be coming soon.


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