5th May 2017 

I Can Be... an Illustrator 

I Can Be meets nicola pontin, a children's illustrator from south london

Have you always wanted to be an illustrator?

I’ve always wanted to do art, but it wasn’t until I was in sixth form that I realised that drawing could be an actual job. My tutor told me I could go and study for an art degree so I thought I would go and do that. Since then I have always wanted to draw.

What advice would you give to a girl who wanted to be an illustrator?

Always draw. Draw all of the time and draw everything. That’s really about it. You just need to really love drawing and then you can be an illustrator!

It must be really nice to have such a creative job?

Yes definitely. As long as you love drawing and you draw what you like to draw you will have fun doing it. That is always when people do their best work, when they’re having fun.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

The best bit is always when the publisher sends you all of your books in a big box. They come to your door and you have twenty copies of these lovely books with all of your pictures in them and then you get to give them to all of your friends. That’s the best bit, when all of the work is done. That’s the most rewarding thing.

You’re a freelance illustrator, are there any drawbacks to being freelance?

Yes, there are because you don’t have work all of the time and you don’t get paid monthly or have a constant salary. The work can be very up and down but, on the other side, you are your own boss which is really nice. It’s good, unless you’re a very relaxed boss and give yourself too much time off! It took me quite a few years to learn to be strict with my time and how to manage my time.

Do you have a studio or do you work at home?

At the moment I work at home. I have had a studio in the past ,which was really nice but at the moment it works for me to work at home just because my house is really nice and I enjoy it. I have a nice big space to work in at home. It is nice to have a studio though because it can be a bit lonely working by yourself, as an illustrator. It can be nice to work in a studio alongside other people, even if you are not actually working together. I miss having that shared creative space.

How do you go about finding work?

I have an agent now. I didn’t used to and I had to find all of the work myself but I’ve had an agent for two years now. They find me work and they deal with all of the things I am really bad at like money and invoices and contracts. That saves me a lot of time because I am awful at that! It’s nice to have an agent because it’s a bit like having a tutor or a teacher. They can tell you what you’re doing right and what’s not so good.

What’s your chosen medium?

I’m quite traditional. I don’t just stick to using the computer, which a lot of people do now. I start off with paint and I normally paint the base and then I will use different oils and crayons. Then I use Photoshop or Illustrator at the end to fix things. I’m quite hands on though, glue, mess, loads of cutting out. My work is lots of collages and it’s quite playful, which I really like.

What do you have for lunch when you are working?

I normally have a sandwich or my leftovers from the night before. Because I work from home I have access to my fridge so I can make myself quite a nice lunch. Sometimes I have my main meal at lunchtime, a big bowl of pasta or something and lots of coffee. Sometimes I take too long over my lunchtime and have to work late into the evening. The one downside of working at home is that I can get distracted!

Has being a woman affected your career at all? What is the gender balance like in illustration?

I think it is pretty equal. It's the illustrations that are important and get seen not the person, usually I don't know whether the work is done by a girl or a boy.  It’s quite interesting when you do meet the illustrator because it’s so varied. You’ll meet boys who have made the pretties images. I have friends who are female illustrators and their work is definitely aimed at girls. They too are very feminine and have a real passion for what they do and they do very well. That’s one of the good things about being an illustrator is that you can draw what you like.

And there is probably a market for everything?

Yes exactly so if you are very girly and you love drawing princesses, that is great because there is such a market for those drawings. If you’re a tomboy and you want to draw rockets there is also a market for that. You can be whoever you want which is great!

If you weren’t an illustrator, what would your plan B have been?

When I was really little I always wanted to be an archaeologist. I loved the idea of brushing the sand off dinosaur bones! Also I would have liked to have worked in the theatre and done set design. That is something I might want to get into one day. When I was little and had careers lessons at school, I would say I liked art and my careers advisor told me to be an art teacher. That was presented as the only option! Now I've learned that if you like being creative, there's a whole world of jobs out there.