This month's artist is Sussex-based Vicki Gausden, the creator of endearing characters that have proved popular with major publishers and public alike. See her work in the Featured Illustrator Gallery.

I haven’t stopped drawing since I first learned to clutch a crayon. I drew on my schoolbooks, decorating each cover with topical images as I sat in class, and I drew horses. SO MANY HORSES, which today makes me one of those few illustrators who aren’t afraid to tackle anything equine.

Oh look, some horses I drew.

I also read constantly, working my way swiftly through my tiny primary school library and gaining treasured access to the county library in its place.

I did very well academically and was told that studying art would be a waste for someone like me, so I went straight to Edinburgh and signed up for an illustration degree. The art college was a revelation, an entire building packed with people pursuing creative goals and dreams and the freedom to draw as much as I wanted. My time there coincided with the early years of digital illustration and I happily explored the new medium, refining a technique that I still use now.

Coloured using a mouse, in the days before I discovered tablets.

Everything begins with an urge to draw a certain thing (unless it is a client brief) and I pick up a 6 or 8B and begin sketching. I use a very cheap A4 white ring-bound, I’m a big fan of not being precious about your sketchbook. It isn’t an art piece, it is a space to play without fear of being seen or critiqued. I then take a quick photo and pop the rough into Photoshop. I work on a Cintiq and use a standing desk, after over a decade of freelancing full-time my number one top tip for illustrators is do not neglect your physical or mental health. Posture is key!

After college I slipped straight into freelance work, illustrating and lettering book jackets for Random House alongside local clients who mainly seemed to ask me to draw castles.

My very first commission and my desk at the time.

Here’s another seemingly obvious tip: what you show in your portfolio is often what people will look to commission you for. If you want to draw unicorns, give them pride of place. If you don’t want to draw unicorns then don’t include them in your work. It really is that simple. It took me a surprisingly long time (and endless castles) to grasp this…

Five years into my career, I hit a creative low point, working long hours and never turning prospective work down took its toll. I applied for the Master of Design programme at my old art college and received the Andrew Grant Bequest, which covered tuition fees and materials (hooray). I set myself firm studio hours, which I still keep today unless there’s a fierce deadline, and stopped working weekends. I discovered that giving myself permission to explore and play is vital to keeping it fresh and fun. If you don’t love what you’re creating it shows in the work.

Children’s illustration offers a certain freedom from the constraints of reality that I personally relish, but it is a very competitive area of the industry. With that in mind I also work in the gift/greetings field and design logos/packaging/anything a client asks for really. I turn down work that is poorly paid or ethically dubious and I always read the contract. If I have a full schedule, I will suggest to the client a fellow illustrator who might be right for the job. It’s a small world and we should all look out for each other. These days I have a literary agent as I’m developing my writing with an eye to creating my own picture book. My experience with agents has been mainly positive and I only suggest that you pick someone you like and respect, as this person will often be the first point of contact for a client and is someone you’ll be speaking to regularly.

I work from my home studio with my two crotchety old dogs and the radio for company. To prevent myself from becoming an anti-social hermit, I help run an illustration meet-up group for local creatives called Chillustrators (say hello, we’re on Twitter) once a month in Chichester. There’s been a wonderful drive recently to speak more openly about the difficulties of spending long hours in your own company and the importance of connecting with others, be it digitally or in person. Going outside into the wider world is a key part of keeping mentally healthy as a freelance creative.

Actual studio shot taken with very little tidying beforehand.

My previous clients include HarperCollins, Little Tiger Press and Tesco. My latest Star in Your Own Story book with Little Tiger Press is currently available in Marks and Spencer and the foreign editions include the US, Netherlands, Germany, and Poland.


See more of Vicki's work in her Featured Illustrator Gallery.
Vicki is represented by Clare Wallace at Darley Anderson Children’s Book Agency. 
Her website is here. You can also follow her on Twitter and Instagram

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed reading this article and laughed about the castles! (Sorry Vicki - I'm sure you weren't laughiing at the time.) Very inspirational!


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