Tell us about your time at ECA
Initially, I was discouraged from applying to ECA by a tutor at my art foundation course who told me not to bother as I wouldn't get in! Fortunately, I didn't take her words to heart and I did apply. I spent a while researching the best way to create a portfolio (put your strongest piece at the very start) and all went well. I moved from Brighton to Edinburgh and began at ECA in September 2005.
I chose ECA because the city was beautiful and it was a relatively technical course which included life drawing. I loved it right from the start. I will say that practically every day at ECA was fun. Jonathon Gibbs, the Head of Illustration during my time there, was a kindly and open-minded individual who genuinely enjoyed getting to know us on a one-to-one level. I definitely needed the time at ECA to hone my drawing style and figure out technical skills - I'd never used Photoshop before I started my degree and having learned it, it is something I have continued to use since.
My time in Edinburgh was a heady mix of independence, creativity and freedom. I probably spent too much time gadding about and loving life (which is important - but possibly to the detriment of my illustrative output). I was also in a band at the time which showed me another side to life in Edinburgh and meant I really got to know the city. I had a part-time job in a cafe in town on Saturdays, and I was also gigging and doing tours with the band. In the end, towards the Degree Show, everything pulled focus. Right at the tail end of my course I discovered the printmaking studio (which had been under renovation for a year or two prior to that) and got deeply into screenprinting. I focussed on getting a body of work together that I was pleased with. I knew I wasn't messing around - I wanted to be an illustrator. Some of my course mates were already incredibly accomplished and professional by the time we graduated, but it took me a little longer to get there.
Tell us about your experiences since leaving ECA
After graduation, I unexpectedly won an award at D&AD for the screenprinted books I'd made at the end of my course. I remained in Edinburgh for a year and then moved down to London - I wanted to see more of the world.
I didn't start working as an illustrator straight away; I worked a few office jobs but, during the downtime, I worked on self-initiated projects and adding things to my early website. London was a feast for the eyes and very inspirational in terms of getting to know people, what they look like, how they move, all of which has been useful in my career ever since. It was also difficult, though; money was tight and I lived in some extremely sub-par flats. I was a bit lost and worried about when, and if, I would ever make a living from illustration. I made a few posters for friends back in Edinburgh, but that was about it in terms of paid commissions.
After a few years of this, I was at a low ebb, and when I went home for Christmas my mum suggested I find an agent. This turned out to be the right advice at the right time. I searched for some that night, and a few days later I'd had a couple of responses including one from the agency who would end up taking me on. I went to some meetings and showed them a variety of my work including illustrations of food, portraits and crowd scenes and was taken on by Handsome Frank, who signed me in 2014, the day before my 27th birthday. This allowed me to quit the job I was doing at the time and become a full-time illustrator. At first, it was a struggle financially, and quite scary to let go of a steady income, but it was the office job, or being an illustrator - I knew which one I had to choose.