I’m often asked questions about my career as an animator, illustrator and creative business owner so here are answers to commonly asked questions. Thank you for your interest and I hope this is useful!
How I work as an Illustrator and Animator
Where do you work?
I live and work in Derby in the East Midlands of England. I have a home office and some rent office space from a design agency in the city centre. Some days I prefer working from home, other days I need to escape the distractions of home to work. On occasion I’ll work in cafes or trains on my laptop or iPad.
My company is registered in England and Wales but I do business with clients all over the world. The majority of projects I work on are done remotely with meetings over the phone or Skype.
What software do you use?
- Adobe Photoshop
- Adobe Illustrator
- Adobe InDesign
- iPad app Procreate
- iPad app Adobe Draw
- iPad app Adobe Sketch
- Adobe After Effects (For animation)
- Adobe Premiere (For editing and mixing sound)
- Adobe Media Encoder (For exporting)
- Adobe Audition (For recording and editing voiceovers)
- Adobe Illustrator (For polished storyboards and creating animation assets)
- Adobe Photoshop (For sketching storyboards, creating animation assets and doing frame by frame or cel animation)
- Boords for presenting storyboards and collecting client feedback
- iPad App Rough Animator (For the frame by frame or cel animation)
- Cinema 4D Lite (For basic 3D elements in After Effects animation)
I’m currently learning Cinema 4D Studio (as of summer 2018). I have a student licence and once I’m comfortable in it, I’ll purchase a professional license to begin incorporating more 3D into my animation work.
What computers do you use and what are the specs?
New PC – Custom build
- Intel® Core™ i7 7820X CPU (8 Core, 3.6GHz – 4.3GHz, 11MB Cache)
- Corsair Hydro Series™ H100i v2 Extreme Performance Liquid CPU Cooler
- Corsair Vengeance® LPX 32GB (2x16GB) DDR4 DRAM 3000MHz C15
- NVIDIA GeForce® GTX 1070 8GB Graphics Card
- Motherboard Asus TUF X299 Mark 2 (Socket-2066, 8x DDR4, ATX)
Older PC – Custom build
- Intel® Core™ i7 2700 CPU CPU @ 3.50GHz
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780
- 16 GB RAM
- 14″ MSI GS40 6QE 027UK Phantom Gaming Laptop,
- Intel Skylake i7-6700HQ 2.6GHz,
- 8GB DDR4 RAM,
- 128GB SSD, 1TB HDD
- NVIDIA GTX 970
- Wacom Cintiq 22 Inch
- Wacom Intuos A4
- Intuos Draw small graphics tablet (For when I’m travelling with my laptop)
- iPad Pro and Apple Pencil
What do you use for character rigging in After Effects?
I use the following After Effects scripts / plugins to rig characters.
To learn how to rig characters, I recommend watching the tutorials and reading the instructions that accompany the plugins. That’s how I learned how to use them.
What do you charge / what are your rates?
My prices vary depending on the project as each one has different requirements. A minimal motion graphics video with just text is going to cost a lot less than an animation full of characters walking around detailed environments. A simple black and white drawing is going to cost a lot less than an epic hyper real painting depicting something akin to a battle scene from Lord of the Rings: The Towers.
I give a quote for each project based on how much time it will take to create plus any additional costs such as music and voiceover artist hire.
I talk with each potential new client to scope out the project and give an estimate of time and costs. Then if the project goes ahead, we establish a brief together, agree on costs, write a schedule then we begin work!
If you’d like a quote, drop me an email at email@example.com or contact me here.
You can also do a search for “Freelance rate calculator” to work out how much you should charge as a business to cover your annual salary, business expenses and tax. This will vary by country and region which is why I recommend searching for one so you can find one relevant to you.
Do you employee people or have any job positions available?
The short answers is sorry, no. I’m the only employee in my company and I don’t intend to expand to hire people. I’ve considered expanding before but I reached the decision I am happier remaining an independent, small creative business rather than growing a studio team of employees. My career interests, personality type and skills lie in the doing creative work and I would rather not take on a management role.
If an animation project requires it, I’ll hire freelancers to help out on projects. This is usually for script writing, voice acting, sound design and music production. When deadlines have been tight, I’ve occasionally hired other After Effects animators to assist on animation projects.
Do you hire voiceover artists?
Not directly but my go to music producer, Ben Haynes of Haynes Music Productions, handles all voiceovers for my animation projects.
He has a voiceover artist library that I share with animation clients to select an artist from. So if you’re interested in being added to the sample list we send to clients, please contact Ben. He’s a great guy!
Do you offer work experience placements or internships?
Sorry, I do not. I don’t have the time in a normal work day to plan for and teach someone on a placement or the facilities to offer a placement. I usually recommend that students find a larger organisation with multiple employees as they may have the time and facilities. Or offer to volunteer creative skills to a local charity. My first professional design experience was at my local RSPCA where I coordinated and designed their quarterly newsletter. That experience on my CV then led to me being hired for a paid summer temp job as a junior graphic designer.
I’m happy to have students pop by my office for an hour or so to have a chat about their career plans and show what I do. If you’d like to arrange a time to visit and have a chat, feel free to email me.
How I became a professional Illustrator and Animator
How did you start your own business and find clients?
I started freelancing in 2010 whilst I was doing my Masters degree and working some part time jobs. One of my part time roles was a graphic designer in the University’s Students’ Union. I had a website and shared my work on social media and people in my immediate network (friends, coworkers, friends of friends) asked if I could design or illustrate something. So that’s how I started to get freelance work.
As I did more jobs, more people approached me for work like a snowball effect. At the same time I also built up my online portfolio and made it more available for people out of my immediate network to find. So I started to being approached with work offers from clients who found me online.
When I finished my Masters degree, I went on a business start up course called “Making Creativity Pay” run by David James Ross. This gave me enough knowledge and confidence to go freelance full time. So in late 2011 I did. Then in 2012, I set up a limited company. Business has been going ever since!
There are plenty of books and online resources about freelancing, self-employment and running a creative business with better advice than I could offer. Here are some of my favourites.
- The Futur
- Motion Hatch
- The Freelance Manifesto
- Red Lemon Club
- The AOI
- Design is a Job Book by Mike Monteiro
Did you take out any loans to start your business?
No, I saved up money whilst working, planned my finances and budgeted before going full time self employed. Each time I’ve bought new equipment, software or paid for learning, I used earnings from jobs as a way to invest back into my business. As my business is service based and starting up has low overheads, I was fortunate in that I needed little financing to start up. Most other small creative business owners I know started in a similar way.
Who is your web designer?
The brilliant Joke De Winter. She has been designing my websites since 2011. She custom designed and coded it and built a custom, easy, fast to use WordPress CMS for me. I’m very happy with Joke so will politely decline any offers of web design services.
Learning Animation and Illustration
Should I get a Wacom Cintiq or iPad Pro?
I’m asked this often and it depends on whether you need power or portability.
I use my Wacom Cintiq more as I often need to work at a PC to do my work. The screen is large and tilts so I can rest my arm on it more ergonomically. I use it even when I’m not drawing on the PC as it’s more comfortable and faster than a mouse.
However the iPad is great for carrying around and enabling me to do concept sketches or some illustration work while away from my desk. Or just for doodling on whilst sat on the sofa watching Netflix.
I do a lot of digital drawing and illustration by hand so the Wacom Cintiq was a good investment for me. It made working faster and more comfortable. Both the iPad Pro and Wacom are important for my workflows but if I had to just chose one, it would be the Wacom Cintiq.
I’d say unless you’re drawing for a few hours most days on the computer, you wouldn’t need a Wacom Cintiq and a standard, screenless drawing tablet would do just fine.
Some artists use Astropad to turn their iPad into a Cintiq. I haven’t tried this but I’ve heard many say they don’t need a Cintiq because of this.
I haven’t tried a Surface Pro or Wacom Pen computers so can’t comment on those but those are other alternatives I’ve heard artists praise.
How did you learn to draw?
The short answer is practice, study and time. I’ve enjoyed drawing since I could hold a pencil so I’ve spent nearly three decades practicing drawing and there’s still so much I want to learn and improve on. These quotes from the artist Hokusai Katsushika capture the life long learning journey of a creative perfectly.
“I have drawn things since I was six. All that I made before the age of sixty-five is not worth counting. At seventy-three I began to understand the true construction of animals, plants, trees, birds, fishes, and insects. At ninety I will enter into the secret of things. At a hundred and ten, everything–every dot, every dash–will live”
― Hokusai Katsushika
I started to take drawing more seriously when I was about 12 when I became interested in anime and video game art. So I’d copy artwork my favourite shows and games onto paper with pencils and paints. Then when my family bought a home PC with an internet connection in 2001, I discovered the world of fan art! So I was more motivated to create original drawings of my favourite fictional characters and share them with online communities such as DeviantART. At this point I also taught myself digital painting in Photoshop with the help of online written tutorials and digital art magazines.
In school I studied art at GCSE and A Level then I did a BTEC foundation course in art and design. The teachers set exercises, projects and showed us some techniques but the majority of drawing skill comes from regular practice. Learning design fundamentals such as colour theory, composition and value is important too. I often compare drawing to learning an instrument or a language, it’s something that develops with regular practice.
Many people take up a daily drawing challenge or attend life drawing classes to improve their skills. There’s also heaps of drawing tutorial videos online nowadays. I’ve also hoarded art books over the years which are a great source of reference and inspiration. Public libraries can be a great resource too.
How did you learn animation?
There are two aspects to learning animation. Firstly is understanding how to create the illusion of life through motion and how to tell a story or convey a message through moving image. Secondly is getting comfortable enough with the tools of animation so you can execute the first aspect. These tools could be a pencil, paper and light box or the latest, fanciest piece of 3D animation software. It’s easy to focus on learning the tools while over looking the fundamental first aspect.
My first introduction to animation was some software tutorial sessions in my first term at the University of Derby in Autumn 2006. We learned Macromedia Flash and were tasked with creating an animation project that term. My results were pretty awful but it got me comfortable with the software and working with timelines. The next term, we had some sessions in After Effects. This was in 2007 and at the time there weren’t enough computers at the University with After Effects licenses on so we sat in a room while our lecturer projected his laptop screen and taught us the basics of After Effects over 6 weeks. Each session I took notes then we were tasked with creating an experimental piece of animation to share with the class the following week. So I learned by listening, watching the software demonstrations and taking notes on how the software worked, then going to the studio and applying the new knowledge. After those sessions, I learned by exploring the software, pressing random buttons, reading the Adobe help section, reading user manuals and watching other animator’s work.
For the rest of the three years at University, my class mates and I were set several animation projects to create independently. So that’s how I started developing a production process from concept to final animation. I loved After Effects for the synergy and similarities with Photoshop. I learned and practiced more of After Effects as I tackled each project. While I studied my Masters degree, I took a few classes in Autodesk Maya but didn’t create anything I was pleased with so stuck with After Effects.
Practical books on animation such as the “Animator’s Survival Kit” and “The Illusion of Life” are incredibly helpful and highly recommended. As are animation design theory books by Mark Wigan, Jonny Hardstaff and Paul Wells.
Between 2011 and 2015, I was using After Effects as a professional animator and learning new things from continued practice and video tutorials. Then in 2015, I stumbled upon School of Motion which is an online learning resource with paid courses. Since then I’ve done a few of their courses along side my day job to learn more specific skills such as character animation and rigging in After Effects. Or more general things like improved workflows and applying principles of animation to motion graphics.
Animation has been harder for me to learn than drawing as you can spend hours on a piece of work then realise you’ve just created two seconds of rubbish! It took me a long time to feel confident in creating a passable piece of animation. Even now there’s so much more I wish to learn and improve on, its a constant practice.
What do you do when you feel insecure about your work or not good enough?
I understand this is something that troubles many aspiring and professional artists. It can trouble me too. Though it helps to accept that I will never be “the best” or “perfect” and that these are subjective ideas anyway. Art is so subjective and many preferences are down to personal taste. To improve practice is needed and failure is an important part of practice and learning. Almost any image I create will start with some rough sketches that I don’t use in the final image. They’re part of the “failure” but I just build on those and don’t make those same mistakes in the next one. The “failure” is a vital part of the creative process.
Especially as a teenager I would compare my artwork to other artists and feel insecure or inadequate about my own work. To the point where I was tempted to quit. However with effort, I shifted my mentality so that instead of envying, I just enjoy and appreciate their work. I try to let their work inspire me and feel joy that the artist has managed to create something so amazing. Of course negative thoughts still pop up but I try not to let them take over or have any impact. Just focus on creating and learning!
I am confident in my work as I have spent a lot of time practicing both as a student and professional and am able to complete work that clients are happy with. However I understand I will always have more to learn and improve on. It would be pretty boring if one day an artist could just reach a point where there was nothing left to learn!
Can you teach me?
Although I occasionally teach as an associate lecturer at the University of Derby and on Creative Studios Derby’s one day introduction to After Effects course, currently I do not offer one to one teaching or make tutorials. I might look into it if my career interests change but for now I am focusing my working hours on running my business, doing client projects or personal projects.
I share a lot of work in progress and behind the scenes content on my social media channels and often answer questions there too so feel free to follow me on there.
Sometimes I do talks or presentations about animation. I wrote a blog about this talk I gave on the 12 Principles of Animation.
There’s plenty of books, online courses, University and college courses and free video tutorials for learning animation or illustration.
Here’s some learning resources I recommend:
- The Animator’s Survival Kit Book by Richard Williams
- Animated Storytelling: Simple Steps For Creating Animation and Motion Graphics Book by Liz Blazer
How many cats do you have?
My husband, Callum, and I live with four cats! Their names are Leela, Mendi, Bandon and Smokey. Here’s a drawing of us all together plus our previous cats, Jack and Blossom. They’re all rescue cats.