The cost-of-living crisis has hit the UK hard, in particular impacting the careers of young people. Being an illustrator suddenly meant being a graphic designer, UI/UX designer and all-round creative as companies prioritised getting the most bang for their buck to stay afloat.
Leaving university at the start of what would be an unprecedented global event, I was optimistic about my first steps as a professional illustrator and after being accepted into Voice, I was sure my path ahead was clear.
At Voice I grew industry skills that a university education hadn’t informed me I’d need to find success. No longer was I just illustrating, I was editing, designing, and even presenting. I thought all of this made me a desirable candidate as an illustrator. I had made sure I could transition into other areas of a creative business model but, often, life never turns out how you expect.
Life after Voice was filled with small jobs and a growing sense that, even with my newfound skills, I’d just missed the boat. Job listings went from Illustrator to Graphic Designer to Creative Lead to what seemed like running a whole creative department as an intern with seven years’ experience. In the meantime, freelance work was a little too expensive for a more money conscious Britain. So, what do you do when your skill doesn’t have the same appeal it used to? You diversify your portfolio!
While learning completely new and completely baffling programs to increase my employability, the boom of Etsy art shops at the peak of lockdown piqued my interest in an idea that had been formulating for years in the back of my mind. Would people buy my art if they could stick it to their devices? It was worth a shot. Thus, with the help of my business partner who just happened to be my sister, Paper Stars Art was born.
Etsy is a breeding ground of creativity, which makes standing out a daunting task, requiring some trial and error on our parts. Finding our audience, people who would buy into our style and personalities would be difficult, especially for two people with no formal marketing training. We were determined to make it work. We tried stickers as it was a low-cost toe-dip into the platform. We sold to friends and family for a while with the thought that you start off local and then go global but with our connections running out and no fresh leads coming in it got harder and harder to think of the next viral sticker to get us off the ground and unfortunately, like many artists would find at the time, we missed the boat. Again.
With one misstep after another, I was convinced my road to a creative career was crumbling ahead of me, which is when I received the message that would reignite my passion to make it as a creative. It was from Voice, an opportunity to become a junior board member at Upstart. I was immediately intrigued as ‘board member’ was never the path I expected to take but giving back to people looking to break into the creative business, just like me, sounded like the perfect use of my ever-expanding free time.
That free time, however, was short lived. Through my time at Upstart I was made aware of creative apprenticeships. I’d never thought of going for an apprenticeship because I’d been out of education for so long but when I read the words ‘creative content producer’ I knew I could see a future for myself in the realm of content production. During my short time at Voice, I loved the idea of coming up with new strategies for their social media. It suddenly seemed so obvious; this was the right next step. Yes, it wasn’t illustration and yes, I’d be stepping into a world that was completely foreign to me, but the notion of an apprenticeship is that you are there to learn. So, off I went into the world of ‘content production’.
I’m still finding my footing as a content producer but the skills I’ve learned through my apprenticeship have shown me how valuable the skills I learned as an illustrator will be in my future. An apprenticeship wage is not the most ‘liveable’ in a cost-of-living crisis, but I can see a brighter and more financially viable future ahead.
It's easy to come out of university and not fully realise the options you have if you take the time to look for them; illustration is one of those skills that can narrow your view of what’s possible to achieve. Skills you learn as a freelancer like personal branding, social media management and so much more can seem like things you just have to learn to survive, but they’re invaluable to a company looking for that creative worldview that comes so naturally to an artist. So, don’t sell yourself short, in this post pandemic world there are still spaces for artists.