ILLUSTRATION FEATURE Stuck! Rediscovering the Creative Beast


The pandemic and lockdowns have had a stifling effect on creativity. Olivia Villet describes how she found her roar again!

It has to be said that I had been feeling very stuck and unmotivated before Covid reared it’s ugly head. I thought I could manage. I took myself off to galleries. I visited bookshops and whiled away hours in my local independent book store’s children’s section. I spent more time playing and just drawing but I somehow couldn’t shift that feeling of getting no-where and of just not being good enough. That weight of not being happy with my progress, that feeling of being oh so very bored with everything I drew and somehow not having the will to try harder. I just didn’t know what to change! I thought it may be time to throw in the towel and accept that I had made a bad career choice.

Then along came Covid, the debilitating state of the world meant that instead of doing anything constructive I could only keep scrolling and watching and being traumatised along with everyone else. Drawing animals frolicking around just seemed ridiculous. Feeling stuck with my work just seemed self-absorbed!


 Going back to basics, starting with tone.

So, like most people, trying to adjust to everyone being at home and having two anxious teens in the mix, I went into survival mode and just stopped trying to be creative. For weeks I simply sat frozen at my desk staring out the window. It was in this fog of anxiety that somewhere in my head, a little ‘voice’, the one that NEEDS creativity, went from a whisper into a shout. All my self-doubt, months of it, all came to a head, and I knew, I really KNEW that I actually didn’t want to throw away my pencils, I didn’t want to pack it all in and get a ‘normal’ job. I knew that I wanted to be an illustrator and I knew that I needed to find a way to figure out how! All this seems very trivial in the context of where we were all at, but it seemed like a good idea to spend the time where we were forced to stay home to at least achieve something constructive.

My first thought was maybe it was time to do my masters degree. I had been toying with the idea on and off for years, so I did some research and after being brutally honest with myself I realised that it wasn’t the route that I wanted to take. Don’t get me wrong, I would have loved to have spent two years immersing myself in illustration and getting the support and feedback that I so desperately wanted. But with a husband who travelled (when we weren’t all stuck at home) and two boys that still need support, it just wasn’t the right route for now.

I then realized that thanks to Covid there were SO many online courses. I had after all done a few ‘Make Art That Sells’ courses and thoroughly enjoyed them pre-covid but I also knew that I needed more support than a self guided course gave. I didn’t need to be in a group of many hoping to get noticed, I needed practical, constructive and focused help!

I signed up to a small group course, it wasn’t expensive, and I thought that at the very least it would get me on the right path. I dropped out after a couple of weeks. It was too soon in the first lockdown and I just couldn’t focus.

Using the internet to draw animals moving.


A couple of weeks later I came across The Good Ship Illustration. The Good Ship Illustration runs over 8 weeks and is packed with artist interviews, brilliant and inspiring assignments and very practical advice. And oh my goodness, was it wonderful! It was supportive and nurturing and just what I needed at the right time. The course deals with very real issues like imposter syndrome and is very firmly rooted in getting you to draw from life. So that’s what I did, I got back to drawing. Not drawing to show anyone, not drawing for an end purpose but just drawing from life. And things started to get better.

Besides the practical advice, brilliant interviews and a very real and active community, the Good Ship also had very experienced and accomplished illustrators on board who like me, were also struggling.  It really helped me to know that the struggle wasn’t just mine. It is a great course and you have access to the content for life so it doesn’t just disappear, leaving you feeling ‘all at sea’…. last pun I promise!

I completed the course and although I felt as if I was in a much better space creatively, I still didn’t feel like I was where I needed to be. I still felt like I just wasn’t getting there and I realised that that was because I didn’t know where ‘there’ was.


Playing more with colour.

I decided that my last and final option would be to try Orange Beak. I had planned on going on their summer retreat but obviously that wasn’t going to happen. They also do one-on-one tutorials and I felt that if that didn’t help then it really was time to throw away my pencils. I decided to book six sessions with the view that I would do one a month for six months and that should be more than enough to get me back on the right path. Orange Beak asked me to put together a Pinterest board filled with everything that inspired me and that I loved visually. This springboard was the start of a process of not just looking but actually seeing what fed into my creative psyche.

It has been a revelation. Firstly, it has been amazing to get focused and constructive help. And I really do mean constructive. I needed and wanted to know what I was doing ‘wrong’. I wanted the truth and I got it but in a very positive way. It has been amazing to be allowed to take the pressure off myself and take the time I need to develop into the illustrator I want to be. Something I don’t think I even did at uni. Six months has turned into year. A year of growth and play. It has been daunting, frustrating and wonderful all at the same time. 

Using a different approach to drawing than I'm used to.
Embracing the internet for reference.


When I first agreed to write this article, I gave myself a long lead time with the view that this article would see me back in front of editors and working hard on a new, exciting project. The reality is I am only now moving towards roughs for my renewed and revived portfolio. I feel confident in what I’m producing for the first time in a long time. I’m still having to work hard to quieten the negative voice in my head, but we all have that ‘voice’ and we all have to work at that. It has been a privilege to take this time under the guidance of Maisie Paradise Shearling and Ness Wood. I can’t thank them enough, especially Maisie who has kindly reassured me so many times that I do actually know what I’m doing!

This is of course a very personal journey and one that I’m sure has many solutions. This is the one that worked for me. I also have to say a very, very big thank you to my agent, Elizabeth Roy who has patiently allowed me the time to become a better illustrator. Hopefully the new year brings exciting projects!

All images © Olivia Villet


Olivia Villet is a children's book illustrator who has embraced being stuck! She lives in Buckinghamshire with her husband, children and hounds.

Her website is

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