A graphic designer in illustrator land

The past few months I’ve been busy setting up as a freelance graphic designer in Bristol. Before I decided to start my own business, I had booked myself onto this 10 week Professional Illustration evening class at Bath College. I truly value continued professional development as a creative, but I did find it a bit of a challenge doing the course while getting used to managing my own business!

Designer insecurities

I mentioned in this blog about creative side projects that I like to do different projects and classes to develop my creative skills and ideas, but I had another reason for wanting to do this particular course. I have suffered in the past from what is known as imposter syndrome when it comes to illustration work, probably because there wasn’t an ‘official’ illustration module in my degree course. So, as well as addressing those irrational thoughts, I had hoped that this course would provide a good overview about what it involves to be a professional illustrator, while helping me to develop my illustration skills, and it did.

Insights into the illustration industry

The tutor gave regular insights into the working life and practices of a full time illustrator, and it was interesting to hear how the industry has changed over the years. From times when you just had to leave your portfolio at an ad agency or publishing house (full of original artwork!), and come back later to collect it, to being smart about how you present and post your work online.

Illustration concepts

We were given a choice of illustration briefs, so I chose to create some spot illustrations for a poem I love: The Walrus and the Carpenter, by Lewis Carroll. 

Having worked as a designer in agencies and publishing companies for more than 15 years has meant that I’ve become very used to working to tight deadlines and budgets, where’s there’s not always time to sketch or develop ideas as much as I’d like to. So I really enjoyed taking time away from the screen to develop my ideas for this brief using a good old pencil and paper.

I wanted to create some sweet little characters, and to make the walrus look cute, round and fat!

Some of my illustration concept sketches.

Some of my illustration concept sketches.

Brushing up in photoshop

I like to think I have expert-level skills in Adobe Photoshop, but it’s been a little while since I used it to develop my own artwork or illustrations (some of the recent items in my illustration portfolio were created using Adobe Illustrator, or traditional methods such as ink drawing, printing or painting). The range of brushes available in Photoshop has massively improved with recent versions, and, combined with my pressure-sensitive Wacom tablet, I took time to explore all of the different textures available for my illustrations. I wanted to use a grainy, sandy texture, so I eventually settled for this airbrush effect.

Detail of the textured effect I eventually chose.

Detail of the textured effect I eventually chose.

Finished illustration

At one point towards the end of the course, I thought I wasn’t going to have the time to finish my project, due to having a heavy work load and a lot of other personal commitments. Travelling to Bath for the class after a busy day was tiring, but I was determined to have some good work to show the rest of the students in the final class, and to make sure that I felt happy with myself by knowing that I’d made a decent effort with the course that I’d chosen to do (and paid for!). I am really happy that I now have some lovely illustrations to show in return for my efforts.

My finished illustrations. Cute, sunny, sandy and sad!

My finished illustrations. Cute, sunny, sandy and sad!


The final class was a really lovely end to the course. Everyone showed their work, from initial sketches, through their developments, to the finished illustrations, and they were all amazing! I feel lucky to have shared the class and seen the processes of so many talented people. And the feedback I received for my work was so encouraging and inspiring, that it may just have cured the imposter syndrome. I left the course feeling warm and fuzzy and happy with myself for making it happen. 

I added the finishing touches to my work and prepared my presentation after a lovely lunch in Mokoko Coffee & Bakery at Wapping Wharf in Bristol :)

I added the finishing touches to my work and prepared my presentation after a lovely lunch in Mokoko Coffee & Bakery at Wapping Wharf in Bristol :)

A month in the life of a freelance designer

In my previous blog post, I ‘fessed my new year’s intention to start blogging.  I had expected January to be a slow month for design or illustration commissions, giving me time to get into the habit of writing, but I was wrong! It was mega busy, it’s February already and I haven’t written a single thing. With a long list of ideas but no time to research any of them, I decided instead to take a look back at some of the things I’ve been up to lately. Friends, family and clients often ask what I’ve been working on, so this is a round-up of some of the freelance graphic design projects I’ve been involved with in the past month, working in Bristol, Bath and Edinburgh:

Point of sale design (POS)

In the first half of January I was working in-house with the agency DC Activ in Bath. They’re a friendly bunch, it was interesting learning how they work and fun immersing myself in the world of POS. Their client has gained a huge amount of insight into how customers behave in-store and how they react to certain shapes, colours and POS displays. Designing items based on UX and CX research is so much more effective than guessing.

Logo design and brand identity

I love designing logos so it was nice to be asked by ContentPro, a Bristol-based content marketing & SEO consultant, to help create a new brand identity and colour palette (pictured below). I worked up three different logos and a range of colours for the client to choose from, which he is now applying to his site along with the chosen logo. You can see a selection of other logos I’ve worked on here.

Content Pro_logo.jpg

Charity rebrand  

I’ve also been working to roll out a new brand look and feel across loads of materials for a not-yet-to-be-named charity. I’ll hopefully be able to share more info once it’s launched. It makes sense that charities need to produce a lot of marketing materials to help them raise awareness and funds, so that’s been keeping me pretty busy.

Book design

In between all of that I’ve designed a book for a marketing company, including the front cover, contents page, section pages and typesetting 92 pages of text. I’m sure I will also share that one soon!

One of the best things about being a freelance graphic designer is that projects can be so varied – it’s really exciting not knowing what the next design opportunity will be. I’ve had a few enquiries recently and have some work lined up with SIM7 for this week. Maybe I’ll pop down and work with them in the Tobacco Factory in Bristol too. It’s always nice to check out south of the river…

Please get in touch if you have any design projects you’d like to discuss with me.