One Year On: Emmeline Pidgen

We’ve featured a lot of you on the site over the last year and four months (I know. I can’t believe TYC’s been going for that long either!), and so we thought it would be rather nice to start a new feature, where we can have a catch-up, find out what you’ve been up to and so on. If you were featured on the site a year or so ago and would be interested in doing one of these posts, just give us a shout via email on Twitter – we’d love to hear from you. 

We first spoke to the lovely Emmeline Pidgen in February last year. Since then, she’s been a very busy bee – but luckily for us, she’s found the time to fill TYC in with what she’s been up to.

So what’s been happening over the last 12 months?

For me the last year has been incredibly busy and full of surprises and adventures. In that time I’ve lived in three different houses, finished two published children’s books, raised over £1000 for charity, won a few competitions and worked with some dream clients. I think my illustration style has really developed too, it’s constantly pushing forwards and changing for the better; I feel more experienced and confident with it and myself as an illustrator.

What have you learnt?

I’ve learnt that I can work harder than I ever thought I could. Both of the books I’ve worked on have had incredibly tight deadlines; but I’ve powered through them (sure, there were a few 13 hour work days and no time off in a few months…) and come out of the other side feeling more motivated than ever. I’ve learnt to deal with the fact that not everyone will support your work; a few weeks ago I was in a situation where someone was impersonating me (using my name & website link) online to post really offensive comments about other people’s work, basically trying to sabotage my career and reputation. You just have to deal with it and put it down to experience.

I’ve also learnt how important it is to keep connected with your creative peers. Freelancing is a lonely career choice and it’s useful to keep perspective on yourself and work by connecting with creative friends through social media and local groups (I’ve joined Draw North West, a fantastic Manchester based illustration group).

If you could hop in a time machine, go back 12 months and give yourself a piece of advice concerning your career, what would it be?

Don’t do work for free, don’t undervalue yourself.

It’s become quite a mantra for illustrators not to do any work for free, but when times are hard and you don’t really have anything else to do it can be difficult to resist. The offer of ‘great promotion’ can seem glimmering but often the client can actually afford to pay you but is so used to finding illustrators desperately searching for opportunity that they simply don’t have to.

What has been the highlight? What have you found difficult, career-wise?

Of course, seeing my first children’s book, The Flyaway Blanket, published was a major highlight. I felt incredibly proud of myself as I’d never expected to have my first one finished within a year of graduating from uni.

Another highlight (well, I’m assuming I’m allowed more than one!) was definitely the whirlwind of sensation around the illustration I created in support of the riot clean-up efforts last summer. Just posting it on Twitter to show my friends snowballed into over 19,000 views in two days – which gave me the idea to contact Riot Clean Up Manchester and get the illo made into a screenprint to be auctioned off for charity. With a lot of organisation and media hype (I even got up the guts to do a radio interview!), we ended up raising over £1,000 for the Leap Confronting Conflict and Reclaim charities. One of the prints was also donated to the Manchester and Salford Illustrated exhibition and raised some more money for the Friends of Wood Street charity. It did a lot of good – I feel so proud of it.

In terms of difficulty career-wise, it’s got to be the ebb and flow of commissions. It’s a very daunting feeling to have everything go quiet and no word of commission for a while – it’s not only a strain financially but also emotionally and on the ol’ confidence front. You just have to keep strong and use the time to develop your portfolio and refine your style.

What’s been your favourite piece of work you’ve produced?

I can never, ever answer this question properly. My mind always changes, and to be honest, a lot of the time it flits to not liking any of it! I will say though that I’m really excited about the new book I’ve just finished. I can’t show anyone any of the work at the moment, it’s all under wraps until later this year – but it’s just much more in line with the direction I want my work to head in.

I also recently finished a commission of a painting for the Stars singer Amy Millan’s daughter’s first birthday. This one was a full gouache painting, not a hint of digital (which is quite unusual for me these days). It felt so rewarding to take (and have) the time to use just the paint and create something beautiful for one of my favourite singers in the world. When she saw the painting she loved it so much she cried, I couldn’t ask for a better response!

What advice would you give to artists who are just starting out?

Take your time, choose carefully who you do work for (as I said before, try to avoid working for free if you can – judge well if it really will be good promotion or not). Don’t expect things to fall into place right from the get-go, it takes a lot of work and a lot of portfolio refinement to even get started – but saying that, stay hopeful.

Also, don’t let yourself feel the need to draw like other people, spend time finding your own style and your own aesthetic voice – trends are fickle.

Sum up the last 12 months in five words.

Surprising. Evolving. Adventure. Connecting. Dinosaur.

Have a browse of Emmeline’s work: visit her website Emmeline Illustration; visit her blogs here and here; and Tweet her: @EmmelineDraws.

All images © Emmeline Pidgen. To view the images in clearer detail, click on them.

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