Featured Illustrator

Sophie Cunningham

November 2018

We chat with freelance illustrator and designer, Sophie Cunningham about the big lull she had after graduating, her part-time retail job and spending less time on the things that don't matter and more time on the things that do.

Where did you study and what were some of your first jobs?

I studied Illustration at Edinburgh College of Art from 2009 to 2013. My first professional job was for 3 spot illustrations, for Computer Arts magazine, right after I graduated.

After that I had a few projects that were non-starters and I became really disillusioned with the industry. I didn’t have any confidence in myself, or my work, and I stopped drawing. After a few years of working in retail and becoming increasingly unhappy, I realised that illustration was what I was really wanted to be doing. I started building my portfolio from scratch in 2016. I didn’t get another professional commission until 2017.

What does a typical working day include for you right now?

A typical working day can include anything and everything from packing Etsy orders, designing new products, and personal work in my sketchbook to working on commissions and upcoming deadlines. I supplement my income by working in a shop part time, so I have to make sure that I’m super organised so that I can get everything done.

How did you develop your style as an illustrator and what tips do you have for others?

Be yourself! Try not to compare yourself to others. Just because you love someone else’s drawing style, doesn’t mean that yours has to be like theirs to be as good. I used to avoid looking at other people’s work for a long time; partly because I felt inferior and partly because I was terrified I would subconsciously try to imitate work that I admired. Creating my Instagram account was a big step for me, as it was the first time I had properly “put myself out there” as an illustrator, but it paid off. I’ve received amazing feedback over the last couple of years which has given me much more confidence in my ability and originality. My style has developed naturally as I have become more involved in contemporary illustration online; I get a lot of inspiration from my favourite illustrators and peers, and have found that these influences have grown my style into what it is today. It’s something that has happened organically, but took a very long time. Try not to pressure yourself too much and enjoy making art until you find a way of drawing that feels like yours. There’s no quick fix, just try to enjoy the journey.

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My style has developed naturally as I have become more involved in contemporary illustration online.

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What career advice would you give your 16 year old self?

Don’t panic, you’ve got plenty of time! You don’t need to adhere to anyone else’s timeline or ideas of success. I’ve learned that for me being successful is being happy and enjoying what I do, rather than having an important job title and making a lot of money. Take any opportunities you can, you never know how it might help in the future. Nothing is ever a waste of time! Oh, and spend less time on things that don’t matter, like doing your makeup, and more time drawing! But I guess those are the sort of things you have to work out for yourself!

Whats on the cards professionally and personally in the next 12 months?

I never really know what's round the corner, which is kind of exciting! Hopefully working on as many new projects as possible! I recently worked on designing motifs and surface patterns for kids pyjamas and baby wear, which was great fun. I would love to do more along those lines. Personally, I’m preparing to move to Glasgow in the next couple of months, which I’m really looking forward to.

2018 for you in a sentence.

The most rewarding year so far.

Website: sophiecillustration.com

Instagram: @sophiecillos

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