I first got to know illustrator Anke Weckmann about ten years ago when we were both blogging on Livejournal. Since then she’s become a successful illustrator, having had her work featured in places like The Guardian and Channel 4. Like many of us former Livejournallers, she’s also still blogging.
I wanted to have a chat with Anke about illustrating, how she got started as a freelancer in the UK and how she built her business from scratch. Without further ado here is my interview with Anke about how to become an illustrator in London.
1. When did you move to London and why?
I moved to London in 2001 to study illustration. But I was actually about 12 years old when I first decided that I wanted to live in England one day, I always liked the language and the country. Before I moved I was studying fashion design in Germany and really hated it, which wasn’t a happy time but it helped me in finding out that what I really wanted to do was to become and illustrator! So I thought that if I don’t move to London now, I’ll probably never do it. Best decision ever.
2. How did you start off your career as an illustrator in the city?
After graduating in 2005 I worked part-time in retail while spending all my evenings and weekends illustrating. Some of my first commissions came from contacts made at our degree shows but most of them from reaching out to people online. I think it helped that I had a website, not many graduates had one at the time.
3. What are the main challenges you’ve experienced in your career so far?
The start was really challenging because for six years I worked seven day weeks. First through uni and then for three years afterwards, until I went full-time in autumn 2008. It was pretty exhausting. Whenever I went home for Christmas or had any sort of break I would just sleep, sleep, sleep. It was worth sticking it out though.
Contracts can be challenging as well, especially if negotiations go back and forth for weeks and you’re left with a tiny amount of time to do the actual illustration work. A few years go I also got really awful RSI which sort of started at university but which I ignored until I was in pain every day. Lifting cutlery had become painful. It took about a year of exercising and working a lot less to be pain-free.
4. What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a freelance illustrator
Work as hard as you can at uni and afterwards work twice as hard. Learn everything you can about copyright, contracts, marketing, taxes, etc and of course keep making lots of work to keep improving. Don’t be afraid of rejections.
I also definitely recommend saving up 12 months of living expenses before going full-time. Even if you’re busy with commissions, it’s normal for payments to take a while to be processed. Having a good amount of money in the bank will give you the peace of mind to focus on your work without having to stress about delayed payments or quiet periods of time. You don’t want to quit your day job only to be job-hunting again two months later!
Also, start an exercise routine. Pretty much every illustrator I know who works a lot has or had some form of back pain, migraines or RSI. It’s a lot easier to start working out before you’re in pain. And it definitely doesn’t go away on its own.
5. What advice would you give to someone who wants to move to London
Do it! (I’m not sure I can give a lot of practical advice since I moved here so long ago that all my info will be outdated.)
5. What is the best thing about being in London
It never gets boring, there’s always so much to discover! I love that it’s full of other creative people from all over the world and I’m pretty fond of the amazing museums, parks and lovely coffee places. I always feel inspired when I’m here and whenever I go away I miss it very quickly.
London/UK creatives is a series looking at how different people have started a creative business in the UK and the advice they can offer to others. Are you a UK creative? Do you want to be part of this series? Send me an email at charlottabuxton @ gmail.com.