Nina Cosford is a freelance illustrator from Hastings, she covers a range of areas in illustration.
I first discovered Nina when reading an article about her latest work, ‘Girls Illustrated’.
I admire Nina’s work ascetic, this reason being why I contacted her asking for some advice.
Here are the main points of the email, she reply was really helpful.
1. Self Promotion and Image
Whenever possible, update your website, blog, social media etc to show you are busy. Even if you feel
at a stand-still or if work is sparse, there are a number of ways to make yourself look busy, productive and
prolific, even if that’s not entirely the case. Bear in mind that people will start to have an idea of what you
are like by what you are projecting online. It’s good to try to be positive, pleasant and inquisitive as this will
create a positive and energetic self image. I have learned that you don’t have to be 100% confident in
yourself to give off the impression that you are.
Similar to my point above, confidence builds gradually and it’s only by taking risks and trying things out
that you will gain any. Each project you complete, each job you finish, each piece of good feedback you
get, all goes back into your practice. I personally feel it’s good to maintain a clear style that a) you enjoy
and feel expresses your own unique voice and b) other people can come to recognise as you. Again, this
does come about gradually with job after job but you have to start somewhere. Consider the identity you
project when it comes to your final major project / portfolio etc because this is one of the first glimpses
people in the industry get of you. I struggled with my degree show in choosing what represented me and
my way of illustrating. I decided to do something really simple and showcase all my drawings I liked best,
all together as a set. I love drawing buildings so made a montage of all the ones I’d drawn. This was seen
by art directors and publishers and because of it I was commissioned to do my first book, which entailed
drawing lots of buildings. Kind of obvious but it showed my work in context and was applicable to real life
jobs. With your projects, consider; would someone commission me to make this? Who is my audience,
what is the demographic I am trying to appeal to? How do I set out my projects and structure my time?
You should always take your work seriously and professionally – if you don’t then who will? Whether it’s a
self-initiated project, a sample, a collaboration or a commission, it’s still you and it’s still your work. Taking
your work seriously and professionally is one of the biggest contributors to self-confidence in my opinion.
If you value your work, others will too!
3. Costs of Living
All of this is well and good but you still need to pay the bills and make a living! The best thing I can advise,
is to not pressure yourself too much into living where you think you just should. For a few years I was
telling myself I’ve got to move to London, to the city, because that’s where the work is. In some instances
that can be true but for freelancers, we can often be remote. There’s quite a lot of freedom, so you should
live where you feel happy, within your means and still in touch enough with the things you want to be
in touch with. I’m only a 90 minute train journey from London and still keep in touch with a bunch of London
friends and peers from uni so I still feel connected. One thing to remember though, is that only you are
responsible for your lifestyle and it’s up to you to maintain contact and still get yourself out there. As for
everyone, there are always ups and downs to being self-employed and of course, creative! Like I said before
though, it’s up to you which image of yourself you project. It doesn’t matter where you live, it comes down
to your energy and your image of self-confidence because that is what people pick up on.
4. Professional Practice
Ideally, you want to have a good studio environment to work in. Many people use a spare part of their home
but it can be great to have a workspace which is separate from your living space. I worked in a box room at
the end of my bed for about 2 years before finding a studio to rent which I could afford. It made such a huge
difference moving my studio out of the home – I felt ten times more professional and felt like I was actually a
full-time working illustrator. For ages, I didn’t actually realise I was making a living purely out of my illustration
work, I felt like it was temporary or something I was just having a go at. It wasn’t until I started renting a
studio that I saw how achievable it was, especially if you share with people. Always try your best to network
locally and keep your ear to the ground to see what other creatives around you are up to. It’s great to
cross-over wherever possible and can make a really supportive and inspiring work environment.