How I started my illustration career.

I wasn’t always a middling/average doodler doing my thing in desperate, sporadic bursts, whenever the crushing stress of financial oblivion hanging over my head clears just long enough to allow me to think.

I was once far less successful than that, let me tell you!

Back when I was young and slightly more optimistic, I went to Uni in Sunderland. Though I didn’t fully realise it, I was a complete wreck as a student and as a general human being. Professionally speaking, I wasn’t anywhere near to being a professional. I had no artistic style to call my own. I didn’t know what subject matter I should be drawing about. Even if I did, I didn’t know how to find people to pay me to do such things.

Added to all that, I couldn’t engage with the course material, which lurched from the banal (Here’s a colouring pencil and this is what happens when it is used on paper) to insipid and bereft of all basic humanity. (Your next project is a mural design for the lobby of a financial institution in London that is basically the source of all evil in the universe) That project in particular, marked a low point in my feelings towards illustration as a viable career path. It asked a room full of mostly young, bright & thoughtful aspiring illustrators, the people who are hoping to one day use their brains to grapple with visual ideas in a clever and engaging ways, to answer the question of how to present the publicly stated aims of KPMG.

I remember seeing in the design brief, terms being thrown around like “unlimited growth” and “endless happiness” that is supposed to come as a result of the activities of a bunch of cunts in suits.

“KPMG”. I only had vague feelings of unease about who they were and what they were all about. I remember googling them at the time but only finding all the nice things they said about themselves. I was never convinced by it. In the years since, It turns out that the company looks to have had a hand in helping the U.K government put it’s tax laws together, and then gone on to have offered it’s intimate knowledge and expertise in such matters to the richest companies in the world in order to help them best avoid having to contribute to our system, while the rest of us increasingly wonder how long it’ll be till we get to see a doctor the next time we’re Ill. Today, if you google “kpmg” and a negative word, like “corruption”, “fined” or  “evil”, you’ll find loads of stories about what they’ve been up to. Lovely bunch they are.

Though i didnt know all that at the time, it still made me question what I was being asked to do in a big way. Some sort of financial crash was unfolding, summat to do with the markets and all that shit. Though it was still early days and none of us really knew how big an event it was or how wide reaching it’s consequences would be, there was a clear sense that bankers, and financial services generally were populated by utter scum. So, Make KPMG look really good you say? Why? Do I have a choice? Can I use my own, admittedly limited mind and say what I want about stuff? I thought that’s what being an artist was all about? Isn’t there a different project I can choose to do instead? Nope. There was nothing for it. The message was clear to us all: to be a professional artist in this day and age means you have to find the most creative way to make the worst people in the world look better. Fuck your personal sensibilities.


I just couldn’t do it. I fluffed the module and had to pay to do it again the following year through gritted teeth. In hindsight, I realise I should have just quit university. I kind of knew I wasn’t getting what I needed out of the experience, but I was too cowardly to make such a bold step into something else, whatever that might have been. I still wanted to be an illustrator and so I ended up drifting listlessly through the course, my hope gradually fading that there’d be something in it that would grab me at some point, but it never did.

My attitude towards the course material and my shoddy work ethic meant that my tutor, no doubt in a state of constant despair at my poor showing, couldn’t see a single solitary reason why I was there at all, & she never encouraged me to take it further in life.

So, after much thought, upon leaving the loving bosom of University life and venturing into the real world, I quit illustration.
Well, everybody’s got to start somewhere.