Thank you for your interest in my work and my process!
I've compiled a list of the most common questions I receive, and I hope you find the responses helpful ~ Rachel
I've been drawing, painting, crafting my whole life - it was always very natural for me to pick up a pen or brush and find a canvas, any type of canvas, even my beloved Beatrix Potter books were also illustrated by me! Art was my favourite subject in school, and even when I wasn't in school, I would be painting or drawing at home. A career in art is an uncertain one, so I decided to take the academic route and study History of Art and Archaeology at UCD, where I achieved a Masters degree. I loved learning about art history and ancient peoples, however finding a job in this world was not easy with the recession in full force when I graduated. Job application after job application made me lose hope and I found myself drawing again - possibly as a form of comfort in dark times. I decided to explore these new found artistic interests and return to college to study Graphic Design in Ballyfermot College of Further Education. The course was exceptional, and I learned so much about myself as a creative. I fell in love with illustration (which was a separate module) and slowly began to investigate it even further when I graduated. I always loved illustrated books when I was younger (remember my ill-fated Beatrix Potter collection?), but I never realised a career could be made from it. It’s one of those subjects I wish I had known about when filling out my CAO form all those years ago.
I'm pretty much self-taught. I knew however that I lacked skills in digital illustration and this was an area I needed instruction on. There's thousands of online tutorials, which is an amazing resource for any illustrator, but sometimes it can be a bit overwhelming. Taking a course can help determine your creative path, a teachers guidance and knowledge is - I believe - second to none. I studied graphic design to mainly learn about the computer applications, and how to navigate around a digital canvas. I literally draw everyday, and that's the most important thing - you can take many creative courses, but you have to have a passion for illustration, a vivid imagination, and the enthusiasm to discover your illustration 'voice.' There's only so much you can learn on a course. After graduating with a largely graphic design portfolio, I set myself personal illustration projects and consulted some online tutorials if I couldn't figure out how to do something in Photoshop of Illustrator. I wouldn't have any specific tutorials to recommend, I just tend to make a particular search anytime I need to. I'm still learning everyday - it's important to always be learning, developing and experimenting - this is usually when all the 'happy accidents' occur.
I feel I’m still walking uphill and learning along the way. It’s a constant exercise for me. It has been many years and hard work getting to a stage where my style is now somewhat consistent and distinctive. I love developing my technique, learning new mediums and technologies, and so, these influences will allow my style to change and grow even further. One thing that is important to me no matter how my style matures, is to keep a certain handmade look to my illustrations, and to treat my process in a traditional manner of using layers of different mediums and textures, even if they are created on a digital tablet. I would advise any new illustrator to not get too concerned with having a recognisable style early in their career, or sticking with one style. This limitation will stifle any innovation and growth - you will never find your own unique voice if you borrow it from others. Finding a style you're happy with is all part of the creative process, and this is often the most fun and rewarding aspect of being an illustrator.
From various interests, such as a book I may be reading, or a particular historical period I have an interest in. I love collecting old vintage objects, nostalgia and ephemera, so these really inspire me too - and the stories they may carry with them. I also love walking and wandering through forests and mountains - the natural surroundings are probably where I find my greatest inspiration - for example, just staring at the sky and cloud formations can allow my mind to clear and stimulate new ideas.
I’m a list-maker, and I would be lost without either a list sitting next to my computer, or a digital list made on my phone. Any idea that pops into my head, I write it down. Anything with a tight deadline makes its way to the top of the list. Always prioritise your work. This may mean working on several projects during the day, and allowing a couple of hours for each. At least you’re chipping away at each project rather than leaving it all in one block. It can be easy to get bored with a project if you’re working on it for one whole day, so divide your workload and make things more interesting. Add some personal projects in to the mix, and your work day will be varied, more exciting, and productive.
It depends on my working schedule each week. When I have some quiet time in between client projects, I’ll use this opportunity in a positive way and work on the long list of personal projects I hope to one day fully complete. I keep adding to this list constantly, and pick a few that I think would suit best for my portfolio and my online store. It’s best to keep a balance of both client and personal projects on the go, even if you can only manage an hour a day - it all adds up by the end of the week. I love working on personal projects, they allow me to really explore new ideas and techniques, without being restricted by a brief.
I’ll usually begin with visual research first. I have a research brain, so I can’t ignore this part of the process. Next, I’ll work on very rough small pencil sketches. I find it easier to draw thumbnail sketches so it doesn’t feel too daunting at the beginning of the process. I also find working in a sketch book to be a bit limiting, so I just choose a page from a stack of inexpensive paper on my desk. I’ll then pick one idea and develop it a little further on paper, but not too detailed. I tend nowadays to do my final sketching on my Wacom Cintiq. I use Photoshop for this. I like to use just a few digital brushes from a library of 100s! Sometimes limitation helps with the creative process - my work can be quite detailed, so restricting certain parts of the process helps me make better decisions. The brushes I use are often very traditional looking, such as watercolours or pencils, as I prefer a more hand drawn aesthetic to my digital work. I’ll finalise the sketch on one layer, lock it, and then begin adding lots of layers, blocking-in colour and adding line work. I’m quite indecisive with colour choices, so I find working digitally to be more preferable, so I can achieve a good colour harmony through trial and error and plenty of cmd+z!
It’s a small (but cosy) space, and it suits me well, as I mostly illustrate digitally and don’t need too much space. Check out my Instagram for some snapshots of my studio. I have a desk for my computer and drawing tablet - this is where I sit mostly. And I have another desk opposite for packing-up any shop orders, wholesale orders, and when I’m painting, drawing or crafting. My walls are covered (in an organised and neat manner) with a mixture of my own illustrations and those from illustrators who inspire me. I have many drawers filled with lots of art materials for experimentation and any last minute craft projects I need to work on. Some of these materials have been with me since I was about 11 years old - I hate to throw them out, they have such vivid memories for me from my past artistic endeavours!
To create original images all day is what I love to do most. I am a very visual person, and often find it easier to think ‘in pictures,’ and it’s something that's second nature to me. I love to share these images with an audience who appreciates and understands them. I always wanted a career that was fulfilling, creative, challenging and fun - and illustration brings all of these aspects to the table.