Interview with Minkee

Minkee has to be one of the brightest Illustrators you will ever come across, not just for her colorful creations, but also for her cheery outlook on life, her career and living with a “furry and expanding family”. Learn more about Minkee and her Illustrations after the jump.

QHi Minkee, could you tell us a little about yourself, and your background in illustration? Do you have any formal training or education, or is it something you’ve been working on over time?

Like most illustrators, I’ve always loved drawing, but my path to illustration started when I decided to go do Graphic Design at college. After that I went on to do Graphic Design with Illustration for a degree. It turned out that I was one of the only people there that really had any interest in illustration, so it was something I really had to push on my own. That wasn’t too hard, however, as my brain naturally tends to think in pictures, so my work output tends to be illustrative no matter the brief!

QHow long did it take to become an established illustrator? Do you have any experience working in studios before becoming a freelancer, or did you jump straight in?

In the last year of my course I had a brief from a local design company to design characters for a strange children’s book / TV / jackanory / cooking hybrid show. It only got as far as a pilot (somewhat unsurprisingly!) but the company liked what I did, and hired me to work part time while I finished up my course, and then full time for five years after that. We did all kinds of things, a lot of children’s puzzle books, activity packs, paper engineering, branding, brochures and websites. Over time websites became the core focus of the company, and so last year I took the plunge and officially became a Freelance Illustrator. It was pretty scary to start with, and it’s a lot of hard work to keep all the balls in the air, but it’s very exciting and very rewarding.

QI see on your Flickr that you’ve done some life drawing. Do you feel that life drawing classes have helped you become a better illustrator? You also work digitally, how important is it to have an understanding of traditional techniques?

Life drawing is brilliant, and I can’t recommend it enough. It’s so much fun and you learn so much about how to draw people; I think that probably comes just with experience anyway, but life drawing lets you know it for sure, and measure your development. I’m constantly amazed at what bodies actually look like, it can be so different to what you think they should look like! I think observational drawing is really essential for illustration. I love stylized images, but I think it’s important to understand how something really looks and then bend that knowledge into your stylized form. I think it gives the image a sense of authenticity, of heart.

Likewise I think an understanding of art techniques, of light, of color, of dynamic scenes and so on is very important. These fundamentals are what help me make better illustrations. Whether you work with sculpture, oil painting, Photoshop or Illustrator, they’re all just mediums there to be mastered. Knowledge of one will inform another, but it’s the fundamentals that will always apply.

QYour illustrated biography suggests you love printmaking, cats, birthday cake (for 100 year olds?), photography and a bunch of other things, can you elaborate for us?

The birthday cake has only 26 candles thank-you-very-much! Which will need to be updated with one more before too long. Also in need of updating is the little location map, I have hopped around the country a fair amount in those 26 years and am now in Scarborough, loving being by the sea, and I have a couple more cats and a puppy now too. A small, furry and expanding family. That page is an example of how my brain works, I sat for days on and off trying to put all these facts into a neat page of flowing words, but drawing them instead just makes so much more sense to me!

QOn the subject of print making, how did you get started with Gocco? What’s the process of making a Gocco print?

I saw a feature on a blog about what Gocco printers are, and what people make with them, and I was sold. They’re brilliant! Sadly discontinued, they’re like miniature screenprinters. They remind me of the toy sewing machine I used to have when I was little, perfectly functional but small and cute to boot! The process involves making printout of the image you want to use, using Gocco magic (mini flash bulbs) to burn the image into a Gocco magic (light sensitive) screen, and then using the Gocco, the screen, and a bunch of your favorite ink to press out your pictures. It’s very simple but it makes me feel like a wizard every time.

QYou have quite a bit of work in your portfolio, do you ever suffer from creative blocks? If so, do you have any advice on how to overcome them?

To combat creative block I started my daily illustration blog, where I would draw something to post every day, without fail. This meant that I had to create something new every day. If it was lame, then it was all the more reason to try harder to make something great the next day, and it really worked. My current blog is a continuation of that one – four years later, and updated less frequently, but still going.

What also helps is that I work best when working to a brief. If I have a clear purpose then my mind can attack it and, with the help of lots of thumbnailing, hopefully come up with something awesome. So it helped me a lot to be able say to my friends ‘What shall I draw?’ and have them say ‘A mouse with a saxophone!’. Once I have purpose, it’s a hell of a lot easier. Now I have clients to give me purpose, a wealth of inspiration around me, and experience to draw from. I don’t find it to be a problem any more.

Can you tell us more about your work “The Vixen”? Were you immediately inspired to make the piece or did you plan it over time? The colors work perfectly, how did you choose them? What do you like most about this style of illustration?

One of my friends bought a whole heap of my prints, and I felt that I ought to add something special in for them, so Vicky (aka Vixen) got a special print made for her. This was one of those times that once I have a purpose, the rest just flows naturally. I think that all the influences around me, things that I see and think ‘Ooh, I like that,’ get stored away in the back of my mind, and something like ‘Okay I’m going to make a fox print now!’ triggers them and I suddenly know exactly what to do. A few thumbnail sketches later and I know that it’s going to work. From there I just have to do it.

I come up with a color scheme after I’ve laid all the groundwork out in illustrator. I’ll draw a box and pick a color I’ll draw another box and pick another color I’ll draw a few more and switch them around until I have a palette that I like and think will print nicely. It’s all by eye, and again, I think it’s one of those inspiration things that have been festering at the back of my mind. All the information is back there I just need to get it out onto the screen. Then it’s simply a case of filling in all the foxy shapes almost at random from that palette until it looks just right.

It took about 3 hours from conception to completion, but as any good artist will tell you, it also took my entire lifetime.

I think there are two contrasting sides to this style of illustration, and the two combined just make for a fun mental workout when drawing it. On one hand, the self imposed rule of using only straight lines is very restrictive. However restriction breeds creativity which gives us the second side: abstraction. You can really go to town and give that fox two little tails and one great big pink and orange one because why the hell not? And ‘Why not?’ is a really fun brief to work to!

Q That’s a really interesting way to pick out colors, do you have any other tips or tricks to share with the Vectortuts+ readers?

I think my absolute best tip for using Illustrator is this: Use the help file! If you want to do something specific, 99% of the time it’s possible, and the other 1% there’s a work-around. You just need to find out how, and it’ll be in that help file somewhere. Plus, if others are anything like me, it’s always really nice to be able to share your knowledge and help people out, so try asking!

QWhat’s the five greatest things about being an illustrator?

Hmm lets see. In no particular order:

1. My peers. Illustrators are amazing! Most fields tend to be highly competitive, but illustration is so personal and varied that it means everyone can — and is — very supportive and positive. There’s a real nice vibe to the community, and it’s something I’m proud to be a part of.

2. It means that I can work from my sofa, with my feet up, a sea view, and a puppy asleep on my arm. And I can also work from the other end of the country, or another country altogether so long as I have internet, pencil, scanner and tablet, and no one would be any the wiser.

3. As well as where I want, I can also work when I want. 9 to 5 always drove me mad. If I get the urge to go out to a museum and draw stuffed birds, or to walk up the road and get a cake from the deli then I can. And if inspiration hits me as I wake up at 6am, then I can get up and work right there and then. It doesn’t happen often but I like that the option is there!

4. I get to color in all day.

4b. No really, how cool is that? That’s my job – coloring in all day!

5. People like what I create. That’s got to be the best thing. People look at the things I draw and say ‘That’s great!’ They like it so much that they even want to pay me for the privilege of owning it. That’s just about the nicest thing anyone could do for me.

Q I agree, the Illustration community is quite unique and supportive. What websites/networks would you recommend to people who might want to meet like-minded illustrators?

Twitter is absolutely chock-full of people who love illustration. If you find some of your favorite illustrators on there it soon snowballs, we love telling everyone else on there about who we love and what they’re doing. I also use flickr to keep up to date with people’s work, leave comments and appreciation, and receive some too. It’s always nice to hear that people like what I do.

QWhile I was Twitter-stalking you, I read that you’ve written a kids story. Can you tell us more?

I’m not sure! I have written it, but it’s all just laid out in my head. I think it’s hilarious too, but we’ll see whether anyone else agrees! It’s totally inspired by the latest addition to my family – my naughty little puppy, and her waggily tail. I plan to start putting illustrations together for it sometime next month so watch out on my blog and flickr for developments!

QThank-you for the interview Minkee, do you have any final advice for people wanting to start a freelance career in illustration?

My advice would be this: Prepare yourself! Learn about accounting, marketing, sales, about pricing and possibilities and who you can work for, about who you want to work for, about how to get in touch with all these people. About how to find leads, follow them up, chase up payment and a million other things besides! A lot less of this job is about drawing pretty pictures than I’d like, but if you can find your feet and do it well, then it’s the most enjoyable job in the world.

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