Illustration Master’s!

I’ve been a bit quiet lately on the blogging front because I’ve been working on a few big projects in the background that for one reason or another I’m unable to talk about.

But I can talk about this one now – I’ve just had official confirmation that I have a place on the Illustration MA in Authorial Practice at the world-renowned Falmouth School of Art.

illustration devon book illustrator Selkie

I’ve really enjoyed recent illustration projects & want to delve deeper

Illustration master’s – why?

You can read up about the course description here. Moving to a housing co-op in Devon enabled me to reorganise how I work. It’s a lot cheaper to rent here than to pay a mortgage in Cardiff and this means I don’t have to work full time. And it gives me time to think.

I started to think about how I’m really enjoying illustration but that I don’t think I’m pushing myself as hard as I can go, or exploring all the outer deeper reaches of subjects. I started to think about how I’d like some external supervision, some impartial advice, some signposting around where to go next. I thought about how I love to read theory, how I adore folk tales and their effect on our psyches and my fascination with psychoanalysis and symbols and mythology. And I wondered if there was a master’s in that.

A google of illustration masters’ degrees and Exeter (my nearest university) took me straight to Falmouth which has links to Exeter. Falmouth is where I did my first degree, graduating in June 2000, and I had an uneven time there (most of which wasn’t the fault of the town). I was deeply ambivalent about returning. But after speaking with a friend who’d done her MFA there my curiosity was piqued and I decided to apply.

After applying I was invited for an open day and also an interview. Going back after 16 years was emotional but I fell in love all over again with the location, the ethos and the facilities (not to mention that it’s about 10˚warmer there than everywhere else!) They’ve a huge screen printing room, a litho set-up, courses in metal and wood engraved printing, life drawing, a fabulous library and it’s all set in a tropical garden by the sea.

I was nervous about the interview and had genned up on a lot of theory, spent a day in Exeter University Library stealing an education and generally reminding myself of all the things and more that I’d learned at my undergrad degree all those years ago. But I needn’t have worried. The interviewer was passionate about environmental and animal rights and felt that illustrators had a duty to report what was going on in the world. Suffice it to say we had a lot in common. He offered me a place there and then (but I’ve waited until receiving the emailed official offer to announce it!). So yeah, exciting stuff!


The course starts on September 18th 2016 and is two days a week. I plan on driving the two hours down to Falmouth first thing Tuesday mornings, spending the whole day working on the degree, sleeping in my camper van over night, working all of Wednesday and then driving back that evening. Hopefully I’ll be able to get all of the course work done over those two days, leaving me the rest of the week for paid work (because I’ll still need to pay the rent!), housing co-op work and other stuff.

Financially-speaking hopefully I won’t be out of pocket – this is the first academic year where you can get a student loan for a master’s degree. Over the two years of the course I can borrow £10,000 and this will pay the course fees and also the extra fuel involved in driving to the end of Cornwall and back once a week. Fabulous!

I can’t wait to get started. Who knows where my practice will lead me…

Learning Dept illustrations for Museum exhibition

learning illustrations museumI was asked to design and illustrate two trails related to the National Museum Cardiff’s Treasures archaeology exhibition by the Learning Department – both designed to increase the enjoyment and engagement of young visitors and their families.

illustration of sarcophagus for museum The first trail was to be a full colour 16 page coming-and-going (one side Welsh, the other English) A5 booklet called Treasures. It features photographs of some of the exhibits and drawings of hieroglyphs, roman tombstones and, naturally, Indiana Jones’ hat and whip (the star exhibits, which attracted a lot of media attention upon opening). I created loose and lively hand-inked drawings for children to colour in, add to, or whatever they feel like doing. The biggest piece was a border that ran all the way around the centre spread. I chose a simple colour palette based on the logo created for the exhibition and had fun with it.

museum learning from devon illustrator

And this is what the children did!

Simple illustrations for learning

design and illustration for museumThe second piece was a 4 page A4 coming-and-going which highlighted treasures in the museum that people might otherwise just walk past. There’s a quiz for young visitors to complete. Here once again I used hand drawn and inked illustrations but this time left them black and white.

illustration devon learning museum

This fella is from William Burges’ famous animal wall by Cardiff castle!

The idea behind both trails is to encourage children and their families to look more closely at what’s being shown, to prompt observation, discussion, curiosity and speculation. We compare artefacts from different cultures and ask young visitors what they think they might be for, whether they can crack codes and what they think might be the relics of our civilisation. I wish such guides were available when I was visiting museums as a child. The best thing of all is seeing how children respond to the work I’ve done with excitement and imagination. It’s wonderfully rewarding work and I love doing it!

The exhibition runs until 30th October 2016.

Cycling illustration for the Printhaus, Cardiff

cycling illustration cardiffThe Printhaus in Canton have a regular market where their artist members have stalls and sell their wares. Every market has a theme (this one is bikes), and for the last few markets there has been a zine. Heather at The Printhaus asked me if I’d be interesting in creating a cycling illustration for the next market on Sunday 28th June to go in the zine.

It’ll be single-colour in the zine but here it is in its full acid-drop glory! The feeling I was trying to create was the freedom of being out cycling on your own in strange countryside on a hot day when you’re maybe 12 years old. That’s what was going on in my head, anyway.

It’s pencil-sketched, inked and then coloured up in Photoshop. There’s a cardboard background too, for a little more interest.

3 traits of the worst clients in the whole world

how to not be *that* client and how to work with one if you have one

A lot of people like to laugh at stupid things other people’s clients say, for example, there are oft-shared hilarious experiences like this, this popular website and there is this series of posters created by an Irish graphic design studio.

Although I take a bit of a guilty pleasure in smirking to myself about such things, being that I have been known to exhibit teeny tiny signs of misanthropy, I also think that placing all the blame on the clients for these atrocities is often like blaming a badly-behaved dog for its actions – really, you need to be pointing your Finger Of Judgment at the people who have influenced that dog. Or client.

No one is born knowing how to write a brief or give feedback. Thus, us creative types need to hold our clients’ hands along the dark and twisting forest path of Lovely Design Making so that they end up at the Beautiful Gingerbread House of Successful Project Completion and not the Terrifying Skull-Bedecked Baba Yaga* House On Chicken Legs of Design That Really Doesn’t Work For Anyone At All.

Baba Yaga’s hut taken from

So, here are some problems that I have encountered along the way – mostly in just the one nightmarish client – and what I’d recommend doing to overcome them whether you’re the designer or the customer. I may well be teaching many of my grandmothers to suck eggs here – I prostrate myself at the feet of those who Have Been Through This Curious Hell Already.

1) Refusal to give any kind of coherent brief

“I want a logo with a dancing girl on it and I’m sending you a CD of the music the dancing girl would listen to and no you don’t need to know any more than that” “no, that one’s not right” “no, goddamn it, did you actually listen to the CD?”

Designers: does the client even know how to give a brief? Have you helped them do this? In this situation the graphic designer needs to ask a lot of questions, preferably by email, so that they are all written down and can be referred to later. I like to focus on finding out who the product is aimed at – what car would they drive, what hobbies and interests do they have, etc, and what kind of feeling the client wants to convey – happy, professional, sexy, competent, being chased by a bear etc.

I’m sure most designers do all this already; one thing I have found is that the more everyday you can make these questions the better clients’ imaginations will be fired up. Think those interminable Buzzfeed quizzes that everyone is doing on Facebook at the moment – “which Lord of the Rings character would your target customer be and why” will probably yield more useful information than “would you say that your selected demographic was in the ABC1s”.

(here is a funny youtube video to break up the text. I am not a LOTR fan FYI)

image of cover of my how-to guide for creating graphic design briefs

download this

For clients – well, handily, I have spent some time writing this “how to give briefs to graphic designers” guide which you may download for free. Hooray! Go me! In short, be as specific as you can. Think about the project in as much detail as possible, from the size and shape to the colours you do and do not like.

There might be a brand you see reflecting the things you want to espouse – Mercedes Benz or Innocent Drinks, for example. Give as much info as you can about how you want people to feel about the product.

Designers are usually intuitive lateral thinkers but they generally need more to go on than a CD of music that they have no connection with at all. If the music CD is a really big part of the brief then maybe you need to search around for a designer who’s really into bhangra or dancehall reggae or whatever it is that is on that magical shiny disc.

2) Daydreaming/being divorced from reality/having ambitions way beyond their budget

“I’m starting up this little business where I’ve bought a van and it makes coffee and I’m going to take the van to festivals and sell coffee there so I want a logo for the van and then also a set of business cards that look like tarot cards and I want the interior of my chain of coffee shops to look like a burlesque circus and and and…”

Suffice it to say that this client didn’t even have enough money to pay me for the logo I sweated blood** designing for her.

Newsflash: this shit costs money. Gif from

Newsflash: this shit costs money. Gif from

Designers: I have had the misfortune of working with two clients like this. They give you a list as long as your arm of all the wonderful things they want and then when you tell them the price they either accuse you of taking their dreams away or they pretend not to hear and then mysteriously run out of cash just as you’re finalising the logo.

If I had my time again I probably would have turned and run a mile from the client who told me that she had already been through twelve (TWELVE) graphic designers who just couldn’t get what she wanted and also she had £10,000 of debt and was struggling to pay her mortgage. I’m not entirely stupid – I can read warning signs – I’m just an incurable optimist. Now I’ve learned to look for the signs that a client is lying to themselves. Also, I ask for 50% up front with new clients, or payments in stages, and we don’t progress to the next stage until the previous one is paid for.

Clients: if you’re in this position you’re probably a start up – likely you’ve never briefed a designer before and have no idea how much time websites take to design or about the cost of printing. I really do recommend that start-ups approach several designers and tell them what your carefully considered budget is, and then ask them what you can get for that money, perhaps involving different options.

This isn’t what clients normally do, but it will save you asking for quotes for a bunch of things so extravagant that they would make Liberace blush.

Liberace: rumoured not a fan of careful budgeting. Photo by Alan White.

Liberace: rumoured to not be a fan of careful budgeting. Photo by Alan White.

Here’s an example of how this could work – you might be able to get a logo and website designed and some business cards printed for your budget, and for the same price you could get a logo and a thousand beautifully-printed brochures. Do the research, find out what your competition does, what your own customers expect, and decide that way. Be realistic, and be prepared to cough up at least part of the money upfront to the right creative sort.

3) Clients who won’t give feedback other than “I don’t like it”.

Oh dear baby jesus in the manger with the donkeys designers know that this is perhaps the most frustrating thing of all. First of all you must be really careful to ensure that the client knows they can be frank with you without causing offence. It’s good to let them know that you learn just as much about them from the things they *don’t* like as you do from the things they do; that negative feedback is a very important part of the creative process and that they need to be as clear as possible about how they feel.

However, if you’ve said all this and the client is stubborn and refuses to elaborate, again you need to get canny with your questioning. How does it make them feel? What about it would not connect with their customers? What character out of Lord of the Rings would it be (OMG I asked for Gandalf and you’ve given me Sam Gamgee)? If the client gets all extra stubborn and really won’t tell you why then maybe you have to call it a day. Stabbing in the dark is not in our job description.

Clients: mostly just read the above. And if your designer reacts really badly to frank and fair negative feedback then maybe you need to part ways. Us designers have a bad reputation for having creative temperaments: from what I’ve heard it’s not entirely undeserved, but I genuinely believe that most of us just want our clients to be happy.

Thus it’s a good idea way in advance to get a personal recommendation for a designer, read testimonials and talk to people who’ve worked with them, just to make sure you don’t get landed with the Gordon Ramsay of InDesign.



*no disrespect to Baba Yaga the All Powerful whatsoever

** did you know that you can actually sweat blood? I didn’t actually do that though – I am using hyperbole.

Interrupted service

Well, I promised more blogging more regularly but then something tragic and brutal happened. Some of you know about it; most of you won’t. Suffice it to say I had to take a few weeks off and am only now just easing myself back into work.

Bear with me, you beautiful people x