Against the typical grain of thinking.
In the second part of the Jeremy Ley interview, we explore more tangible “where-to-from-here” steps with Jeremy sharing his workplace set-up, how he got his name out in the public domain and also his view on his top three ‘must-do’ action steps for any illustrator…
What would be your top three tips that you could bestow on a budding illustrator like myself?
I never studied illustration. I mean, I’ve always studied it in terms of reading books but I’ve never formally studied it.
I think the way I learnt was to get the illustrators/artists that I liked, print out their work and put it up on the wall and go, “okay, this is what’s good”.
So pick an artist or artists that you like and try to deconstruct their work. That can be quite hard. For a lot of people they’ll look at work and think, “oh that’s really good” but to understand why it’s really good – that’s going along the path of understanding how to do that drawing or how to make that picture.
So yeah, what I’ve done and what I still do is get all the images that kind of immediately attract me. That means there’s something in there that’s working. And then try to figure out what is it that’s working in that picture and try to use those skills to my advantage.
It’s not copying the drawing but going through a process to understand what’s working in the drawing and taking that element out.
For example, it might be as simple as a lot of the Disney stuff. They tend to have really nice flowing line work. They’re not straight and rigid.
Pretty much with all the Disney characters they’ve got a sense of movement. Even in a still frame it looks like its alive. That’s what I love about it. Look at the classics, The Jungle Book, for example. All the characters look like they’re alive even though it might be a still image.
Then with the single image, I always try to look for a story. I’ve seen a lot of other illustrators’ folios when they’re coming out of uni and, I guess they want to try to get work, so they just draw what a commercial drawing is but it ends up being quite bland.
Make the drawings interesting. Commercial drawings can always be a bit bland, to an extent, but for s portfolio piece you want to try and make it as good as you can.
A big tip is to practice, practice and practice. Pretty soon it’ll all become second nature. It’s good if you can draw a picture but if it takes you ages then it’s not going to be worthwhile. That would be the big thing – being able to draw really fast.
It’s good to keep the ideas flowing and keep it quick. Don’t get into the detail too much. A lot of artists just focus on the detail. I guess there’s something that as an artist you always focus on the detail but it’s always good to keep the overall picture in mind and then try to keep the detail for later as much as you can.
I find a lot of people just focus on one small aspect and forget the whole picture.
The last tip, which is kind of hard for a lot of artists as well, is to not be too precious about your work. I’m not attached to any of the work I’ve done, apart from some of the things I’ve actually painted or drawn because I haven’t got many of those. Being able to do a drawing and do another one and make it better that’s what’s important.
Can you tell me about your set-up and what sort of tools and software you use?
I’ve got a computer, which I’ve made myself. It runs fast on all the 3D programmes. Then I’ve got a Cintiq, which is about five years old and is still working. It’s one of the massive ones – they’re about $3,000 but its definitely worth investing.
I started on just a tablet for $100 and that’s fine. You’ve got to get money first so work with that as much as you can.
When I upgraded to the Cintiq, I must say, it was one of the best investments ever.
Then I’ve also got three screens. The screens aren’t that much. They’re about $100 each and they make a massive difference.
It’s a bit of a geeky set up but in terms of images, reference photos and applications I want to open up, it can all be opened at the same time rather than going back and forth.
The screens are all different so I can see what an image looks like on a low-resolution screen to seeing what it looks like on a really good screen.
Ideally I’d have a film suite, which has a film screen, which is about $1,500 each. That’s a bit of an expensive set-up for an illustrator. So as long as you have two screens, that would be fine.
I’ve got to say when I went over to Japan and had a look at the animation studios; they were working on 15” screens and tablets, which is tiny. They were all drawing on tablets. None of them had the expensive things and their artwork has been way above the skill level of everyone else I’ve seen.
It sounds like the workshop of a mad scientist.
I think it’s always good to know how a programme works and look at other programmes and work in that and be interested in that. I’m always tinkering so that’s why I ended up making my own computer. I’m always thinking about how I can upgrade it.
Most designers, I think 95% of them, run on Mac, which is fair enough. It works but I’ve always been a bit of a computer guy.
I guess the only thing left to ask is how do I start? How do I make myself known and get work?
If you can objectively compare your work to others who are getting work out there then you can go, “okay, mine’s not as good but not far off.
For the first four or five years I used to print out little flyers and send them to all the agencies. That sort of self-promotion for any freelancer is a definite.
There is a list called AdNews, which has all the advertising agencies listed. I’d write these agencies on a spreadsheet then I’d call them up and ask them for their Art Director. If they were too busy I’d just get their name so when I’d send my flyer, I’d send it directly to the Art Director.
That’s worthwhile because when you send it directly to the Advertising Agency with no name on it, it’ll just end up on a massive pile. They get so much of that stuff.
What did your self-promo look like? Was it almost a mini portfolio?
It was just a little one-page A4 flyer done up in a nice package. The nicer you can make it, the better. The idea is to get your stuff on an A4 flyer so they can get a sense of your work. Add a link to a website and that should be enough.
On another point, the more projects you can do outside of work the better. I did these drawings for Vice Magazine because a friend of mine worked there. It wasn’t much money but they gave me free range. That got a lot of traction and I ended up doing a big campaign for Vic Roads, which was about $15,000 for the job.
It’s always good to do your own projects so when someone goes to you looking for a freelance illustrator, they can see that you’ve been doing your own projects.
It may almost be worthwhile making your own stickers – freebies, massive posters, and stuff like that. If you can put together an interesting campaign to promote yourself, that will be the type of stuff that will stick in people’s minds.