Dot Design

Creative Agency

Illustrator Interview 15: Clare Elsom

By Gareth Coxon, August 30, 2010


1. How long have you been an illustrator/artist?
I sincerely wish I could say I was one of those people who were born with a pencil in their hand, drawing from before they could talk… but in all honesty I’m really not!! I’m a creative person, and art has always been a huge interest and a passion of mine – but it’s definitely a career I have sought out and worked towards, rather than the inevitable path for me.

I now feel like I’ve been absorbed by the illustration industry for as long as I can remember… but realistically I have only been illustrating professionally for about 3 years. I graduated from University College Falmouth in 2007 and managed to fall on my feet with some great clients right away.

2. What inspires your work?
Stories. Colour. Wallpaper. Fancy dress. Books. Photos. Otters. People’s expressions. Symmetry. Robots. Phrases I overhear. Jewellery. Other artists. Text. Eyes. Machinery. Fabric. Aged signs.  Mannerisms. Clutter. Cakes. Autumn. Interior design. Stationery. Sweet wrappers. Pattern. Human interaction. Meerkats. Towns. Children. Collage. Dancers. Awkward moments. Toys.

3. What media/software do you work in and why?
I always draw by hand, I couldn’t imagine starting an artwork any other way. I will sketch and plan and doodle until I get the linework right, then I usually scan my drawings into Photoshop and complete them there. It’s such a wonderful tool for me. It enables me to play around with the composition of the whole image and add digital colour and textures. I have loads of texture files that I use – scanned in fabrics, old wallpapers, pages of pencil scribbles – Photoshop lets me to experiment with these so easily in a way that I would find limiting if working on a physical artwork.

4. How would you describe your style of artwork?
Such a difficult question!! Um… colourful-charismatic-character based-quirky-cartooning?! Will that do?!

5. Do you do any initial sketching or planning before starting a new piece?
Absolutely, but the extent of my planning stage depends entirely on the project I’m working on. If it’s a personal project (such as the Meerkats artwork or Science Rocks) I do much less planning. These tend to be ideas that spring out of my sketchbook work, and I think keeping things spontaneous and fresh sometimes creates a much better piece of work.

However, if you’re an illustrator working on commissioned projects, I think planning and sketching is just built into the way you approach a job – clients will always want to see ‘roughs’ or a working progress to make sure everything is heading in the right direction.

When I do children’s books (like George the Knight or Daisy Lane) I spend a lot of time on character development – the expressions, the poses, the clothes, the entire feel of the character has to be clear in my mind before I actually start on the artworks. Then I map out the whole book in thumbnails, sometimes many times over, to experiment with different ideas and see the pace and flow of the book as a whole.

However, if the project is something like an editorial that requires just one image, I will often think about the artwork for a long time before I start it – I do a lot of visualising in my mind! Then when I come to draw I have a clearer idea of how to answer the brief. I have already mentally rejected ideas and explored other ones, and have a plan of how I want things to look, what colours I might use, etc.

And sometimes, just sometimes, there is no time for planning… I have had insane deadlines before, the shortest being 45 minutes for a national newspaper about to go to print… good job I draw quickly!!

6. Which illustrator/designer/artist most inspires you?

There is so much talent out there. I find so many people inspiring and I seem to come across more on an almost daily basis!! But to name a few… Russell Ayto, Korky Paul, David Roberts, Ross Collins, Anna Laura Cantone, Lauren Child… and although it’s the obvious answer – no-one more than Quentin Blake. I don’t think I’d be doing what I do if it weren’t for him. I find the extent to which people cherish his work truly inspiring and he has done so much for commercial illustrators.

7. How do you deal with the business inside of being an illustrator?
I’m in quite a fortunate position in the fact that I also work as an Illustration Agent. While I was studying at Falmouth I became very interested in the industry as a whole – I love to know the inside details!! I applied for work experience at NB Illustration Agency, and have been working there part-time since I graduated.

My work at NB has given me so much knowledge and confidence in the business side of my own freelance work – from how to approach clients, to negotiating fees, to agreeing decent contracts, to advertising myself and how to deal with ‘tricky’ customers! The business side of things can seem like a bore when all you want to do is draw… a reason why a lot of illustrators seek out representation by an agency. If you work for yourself, realistically you have to place a huge emphasis on being professional and organised, or you’ll never be successful.

8. What words of advice would you give to any aspiring artists out there?

If you want to make your career out of being an illustrator, I think you have to be aware of the industry and the way that it works – it’s a rare and fortunate person that has chances fall at their feet. You have to work at creating a position for yourself – whether that be by approaching galleries, or sending work to magazines and publishers, or getting an agent… if you have the talent and the drive then get out there and share it! It can be hard work and dispiriting sometimes, but don’t take rejection or criticism to heart. Keep creating your artwork in a way that you love and don’t ever let it become a chore, because as far as I’m concerned, it’s the best job in the world ☺

You can see more of Clare Elsom’s illustration work over at her website > www.elsomillustration.co.uk



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1 Comment
  1. Amanda Vlahakis

    Some really good advise there about the business side of things.

    Unfortunately it’s an area most creatives find it difficult to find information on when starting out. Whenever I am approached for advice, it’s always about how to get clients etc etc.

    Whenever I have a work experience person in my office (just waved off my most recent girl today on her last day!) I’m always sure to teach them bits about the marketing and client interaction side of things and not just about design/illustration only.

    After all, you won’t be doing much in the way of design and illustration if you can’t get clients in the door in the first place, eh!?

    Lovely work! :)
    .-= Amanda Vlahakis´s last blog ..Look At This Funny Poster =-.

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