The Great North Museum (Hancock) Christmas Story Illustrations

Earlier in the year I was asked to illustrate the Hancock Musuem's Christmas story for their 'Magic at the Museum' event that happened on the 5th of December. 

Here are some of my favourite illustrations. It was so much fun to draw all the different bits of the museum collection coming to life :) 

2013: A Year In Pictures

A tentative start to the year. After the end of 2012 I didn't feel like pushing myself to do anything out of my comfort zone. Just happily went to work at Lush, drew for fun and spent the entire month talking to the cat and tending to my aloe vera plants. Highlight of the month = buying a nest of tables in a charity shop. A sign of the times.

Michael Lee and I organised a Newcastle sketch crawl. It was slushy, freezing and there were about 5 of us including Michael and I, but it was great to get out and draw and meet new people. If you haven't heard of Sketch Crawls, they're basically a group of people wandering around drawing/Urban Sketching. Working in a group is fun, and it takes away the self-consciousness of sitting by yourself drawing buildings. Nosy bonus: you can look at each others' sketchbooks at the end.

Work started trickling back in - this fluffy Pooki lookalike (Pookalike, if you will) was the first cat of many. I hereby declare 2013 the year of the cat portrait. This was also the first time i've been commissioned because of someone seeing my work on Instagram. Social media! All hail!

In April I designed a poster for a music festival happening in my home town, Berwick upon Tweed. During this time I was also slaving away with Chris Folwell on an animation to celebrate the Angel of the North's 15th birthday. SLAVING. That rusty angel became my life in April. 

We finally finished the Angel of the North animation and I celebrated by having a little sit down with a nice cup of tea. There was plenty of news coverage, and the animation was featured on Google +. I also turned 24 and went to the Lake District for a break.

In June I got involved with an exhibition of flip books. Scribbling all over books has never been more fun. In the aftermath of the exhibition I did some animation workshops for kids in partnership with local libraries. Highlights include trundling around Gateshead in a mobile library van, in a fashion not dissimilar to Postman Pat. 

Another first for me - a wedding commission. Possibly the most romantic thing i've ever heard; the groom asked for illustrations of the pub the couple got engaged in, the wedding venue, and a map of their honeymoon. These 3 framed original illustrations were given alongside a set of mugs for the wedding guests. In the future i'd like to offer more personalised mugs - they're great fun to design and make!

"Drawings an' That", my first ever solo exhibition went on display at Newcastle City Library. 

One quick building portrait for Cheryl Fitzgerald Photography (pictured), and then I sold all my stuff, quit my job, put my furniture into storage and broke up with my boyfriend of nearly-3-years. On the 21st of September I moved to Florence Italy to work for Family Nation.

October involved Urban Sketching alone around Florence, attending Couch Surfing events, going on a hike in the Tuscan hills, starting Italian classes, meeting other nannies and doing some graphic design for Family Nation.

Month 3 of living in Italy. I started working for Megan Claire cards, doing some art working in preparation for the Christmas rush. I got some more work from a PR company in Newcastle and a few pet portraits for Christmas commissions.  Also WINE.

Designing thank you cards and Christmas cards for Family Nation, artworking for Megan Claire cards, December was a card-orama.

Much as I love Tuscany and my current job to bits, I've decided to move to Berlin in March to teach English.  If I stay a while I'll be able to speak better German, save up for my MA and get some more inspiration from seeing new cultures and meeting new people.

Here's to adventures and quitting everything to go and eat pasta.

My Thoughts on Working For Free

Since graduating I've heard this countless times. It also comes in other guises such as:

"we can't pay, but it'll be a wonderful portfolio piece for you!"

"this is going to be really huge down the line - it'll be great for you to be a part of it."

"we'll pay you a small percentage when the book is published" (IF it gets published...)

"we haven't got a budget for this particular project, but we will DEFINITELY be in touch in the future with lots of paid work for you"

**bullshit alarm activated**

Exposure doesn't pay the bills

It's part of graduate life and i'm gradually accepting it as one of the perils of being a designer/illustrator. Learning to spot early on whether or not a client wants a freebie is a skill just as important as drawing every day, doing self-promotion and keeping up to date with the creative industry. For every 10 nice clients who give me a tasty brief to chew on and then give me some money to feed myself, there is 1 who pops out of nowhere and tries to pay me in exposure and/or empty promises. Make sure you suss out in the first few emails/phone calls/meetings whether there is any money involved. Otherwise it can be a bit of a waste of time for everyone involved. Here are some things you can do to weed out the scroungers from the genuinely nice clients who value your work and would like you to do some quality work for them...
  • Get it out in the open. Either state your fee, or you can always ask "What's your budget for this project" or "Who should I send the invoice to" (before starting work, by the way) This is usually enough to put off anyone who isn't planning to pay you.
  • Get an acceptance of commission form* written up, then get it signed by you and your prospective client once fees have been agreed.
  • Ask for a percentage of the fee before starting and a percentage on completion. 50/50 is always a good one. Sometimes clients will even pay 100% upfront before you've even started, but they are like hen's teeth. Rare.
  • If they try and seduce you with promise of exposure, a great portfolio piece, paying-you-a-percentage-later-on, or the ol' "no money now, but definitely some paid work in the future!", then politely decline and carry on with your day.

*For any more details on contracts and your rights as an illustrator, the Association of Illustrators has a wealth of information and some basic contract templates which have been invaluable to me over the past few years. See links at the bottom of this post.


In the past few years I've seen a handful of friends end up working as interns. AKA, working in design & fashion/journalist places, doing work for paying clients, but just getting pocket money to cover expenses. If they're lucky. More recently i've seen some North East design studios actually charging graduates and students to work for free. It's one thing to have an army of nearly-free workers, but disguising it as an "internship programme", giving it "modules" and plastering university-related icons all over it is taking something useful, and kicking the arse out of it (in my humble and open-to-debate opinion). I like to think romantically of internships as an exchange. You get to experience working in a studio, they get some very low cost labour. You get to beef up your creative CV and perhaps even your portfolio, they get some fresh meat in the studio and can pick your young creative brain for ideas. Do it for a set amount of time. Plump up your CV, get some good portfolio stuff, then GET OUT OF THERE. Apply for real jobs, go freelance, even move to a different place to intern (for a short, set amount of time of course) if there are no jobs or freelance things going. If a studio asks you to fork out some cash for the privilege of doing work for them for free then run away. Run far, far away. You also have my permission to tell them to fuck off.

So in summary, working for free has it's place in this economic climate but is best avoided. If you're a student or a struggling fresh graduate then perhaps do a little intern-ing to tide you over. When your Mum wants you to design a Christmas card for free, that's ok. She's your Mum. Be nice. 

If your Mum asks you to pay £500 for the privilege, it's time to find a new Mum. 

Jessica Hische has an excellent infographic/flow chart here that should clear up any doubts around working for free. 

The Association of Illustrators. Like a big helpful uncle for all illustrators. I highly recommend taking out a subscription with them, especially if you are an illustration student or a recent graduate who is unsure of anything at all. That being said, they have information for anyone at any stage in their career. Contracts, licensing, copyright, finances, etc etc etc. The £150 subscription fee may seem a bit pricey, but honestly if you have any questions they are really helpful, and you get a shiny magazine in the post every once in a while.