Our Creative Spotlight series showcases some of our favourite creatives. This time we're delighted to introduce the Bristol-based freelance illustrator Ana Jaks.
Ana’s client list includes the likes of Facebook, Vice, Nike, Bombay Sapphire, The Telegraph and John Lewis. Since picking up a New Talent Award in the AOI World Illustration Awards in 2018 Ana’s career has gone from strength-to-strength. We caught up with Ana recently to find out more about her work, and tips for aspiring creatives and artists.
1. Firstly, how have things been for you during these lockdown months of 2020?Honestly, not as I was expecting. At the beginning of the year when we first got put into lockdown, I had huge anxiety around having to work from home, no longer having the usual routine that benefitted me so much. I’m still struggling with this a little bit, but not as badly as I’d initially expected – and worrying massively about actual work (or lack of). From March to around August, I had virtually nothing on but found myself getting super comfortable with working from home and having the time to work on personal things and drawing for fun, which I haven’t dedicated proper time to in years. Work has picked up again now, which I’m incredibly thankful for but I do feel as though I have constant brain fog, my concentration hasn’t been as great and I’ve definitely felt kind of stir crazy most of the year. I make sure I walk daily which has been a saviour! Of course, it’s not been ideal and I’ve had bad days that have felt as though they’ve turned into bad weeks if not months, and I miss my family a huge amount (based on the Isle of Man) but I feel fortunate to say, it’s not been as terrible as I’d imagined at the beginning of the year.
2. What first inspired you to get into illustration?
Hahaha, honestly my route into illustration was odd and slightly unexpected. Like most kids/teens I loved cartoons and drawing and art classes, but I wanted to go to be a doctor or marine biologist or study history, initially. I had an art teacher sit me down at school telling me I had an amazing eye for colour and she didn’t want me to drop art into Sixth Form, so I didn’t.
Partway through Sixth Form, I dropped out and went to college to study a 2-year diploma in Art & Design. But instead of drawing I was into Fashion & Photography – again, always enjoyed drawing but I saw it as an addition to the other things I loved.
I then had a college tutor tell me to apply for illustration at degree level instead of fashion communication, and I listened. I’m usually so stubborn, so in hindsight it’s kind of weird that I allowed two separate figures influence these life choices so much. But I must’ve trusted them on some level!
I then got into Falmouth but hated my first year because I was really in over my head, I genuinely had no understanding of what illustration was because I’d only ever loved drawing as an accompaniment to other things, not as the thing. I wanted to drop out, got told to stay until the second year, and it wasn’t until then when a girl in my class showed me a copy of Anorak & Nobrow that I was like “OH, I GET IT NOW!” And from then I just fell in love with it.
3. You have always worked freelance since graduating, was that always your intention?
Because I got into illustration so late, by the time it was third year I genuinely had no idea what I wanted to do. I was pretty ignorant and didn’t really believe how hard it would be to break into the industry as a freelancer, and I suppose an heir of arrogance came along with that ignorance because I reckoned I could just do it – ha.
I worked two jobs near the end of my degree and then continued working full time in a chip shop for a couple of years after. Obviously, when you work 30-40 hour weeks in hospitality, there isn’t much room for freelancing, or putting time into marketing yourself, which I did do but I wasn’t great at replying to emails right away so I missed some good opportunities because of that.
I applied and interviewed for in-house jobs, but was either told I couldn’t do client work outside of the job (which I didn’t like) or that I couldn’t stick to my style, or I had to cover multiple styles (again, didn’t like that). I stayed at the chip shop until I was getting enough enquiries to go part-time hospitality, part-time freelance. I think the intention was to always be full-time freelance, but it has taken 5 years after graduating.
4. You’ve picked up some amazing clients with the likes of Nike, Vice, John Lewis to name just a few, is there a particular project that you are most proud of in your career?
Thank you! I think the project I’m still most proud of (although my style has developed so much now it’s kind of funny to see) is the Facebook House of Us (2017) event I illustrated the visual identity for. I think because it was the first time I’d been trusted to create for an entire space, I got to see my work on the walls, the palette all over everything, and was invited to hand paint a seesaw. It was just so fun! I also won an AOI World Illustration Award (2018) for it, which felt unbelievable at the time!
5. Facebook’s House of Us was an important event celebrating people standing up to bullying, how did that collaboration come about?
That came about because of a marketing agency called Livity. They came to me and wanted to put me forward to Facebook, and Facebook said YES! I couldn’t believe it at the time. It felt amazing to be a part of an event like that, I got to meet a lot of the anti-bullying ambassadors who were school-age too. So the entire thing felt lovely, I was really well looked after and appreciated by Livity.
6. You are represented by a couple of different illustration agencies (JSR and Closer&Closer), how has being represented helped develop your career?
I know it isn’t the same for everyone, and I’m not going to act as though I have commission enquiries knocking at my door every single day but honestly for me, it’s been incredible. I think having the representation has allowed me to grow & develop & level up. I have people who care about me enough to guide me, critique me, listen to me. Most of the marketing is covered (I still try and do some) and my work is getting in front of people I never felt like I could reach.
Having the US representation has also helped me understand that there’s a side of my work that does better in that market – the highly patterned, abstract stuff as opposed to the character stuff. And of course, I was pretty dire at understanding the value of my work, so even if that isn’t really career development, the representation has helped me understand the money side of things more.
7. What advice would you give for aspiring creatives and artists, and those who are graduating this year?
Cor, it’s quite a tricky one to give advice after this year, isn’t it? Under regular circumstances (although I think this still applies), I would advise not putting the pressure on yourself to do as well as the few that manage to soar right after graduating – or even those who do whilst still studying. This is a long game, and I think the more time you give to yourself & your development, whether that’s over a matter of months or years, will always be valuable.
I had a kind of mentor right after university who said to me (about a year and a half after graduating) I wasn’t the best illustrator, and I didn’t have to be, but I was persistent and that counts for a lot. We don’t have to jump into freelancing full time, or into a creative job right away. I didn’t have the luxury of moving home rent-free, so I stayed in Falmouth and had bills to pay – I had to be realistic, and work full time to live, and I also needed that space away from drawing so I didn’t go slightly mad; obsessing over likes and comparing myself to those “doing well.”
It’s hard for these types of things to apply at the moment, because of the current economic climate. People may not be able to get jobs, or find themselves spending a lot of time on social media because it feels as though there’s not much else to do right now.
A schedule is so beneficial. Even if it’s just: Mondays I draw people, Tuesdays I do an illustrated Map, Wednesdays I send emails out etc. If you have the time and are at home, I’d create a list of the people you would like to work with, look on websites for email addresses (or LinkedIn and work out the email address, lol) and send out a lot of emails, and do it about 3/4 times a year.
An Art Director told our class once that they didn’t even remember the name of some illustrators or take notice until the email was in their inbox multiple times!?
I’d also create personal projects that show clients what kind of work you see yourself getting. It’s good to cover a lot of bases, people, food, maps, cityscapes – most of the time, clients are going to hire you for what they can see directly in your portfolio because it’s easy. I do a lot of leisure type ills or fashion type ills because I like that sort of work.
8. All creatives have different approaches to receiving a brief or starting on a piece of artwork, do you have a typical process for creating your illustrations?FLAP FLAP FLAP, hahaha. Genuinely my initial response to getting any brief through is slight panic, skim reading so I have a vague idea, and then having to pull away for a little bit to digest. I then go back, re-read, write the important bits down and create a mood board on Pinterest – almost like what you’d do in uni with all your print outs that inspired a project. From there, I start initial ideas which are pencil sketches, and afterwards take them into illustrator and neaten them up – this is a new process for me that I started this year, I found that my pencil sketches tend to be a little too loose and sometimes not very legible. Putting them into illustrator makes the transition to final artwork far quicker now!
9. What are you currently working on, any projects in the pipeline?
Oh my god!!! So many things yet to be released!! That’s felt like the most annoying thing this year is having projects put on hold! I have a few more things coming out with Lush next year which I cannot WAIT to share. I also just wrapped up my first book project with a US publisher – again, not out until January – some band merch for a pretty big psychedelic band, a visual identity for a new building local to me, and now I’m currently working on a toilet paper commission (love), a Christmas one (again, love, its the first Christmas commission I’ve had) and fingers crossed about to move onto a packaging project for a client in the US.
10. This series is all about putting the spotlight on different creatives, are there any creatives who you’ve recently come across that you’d recommend?
Love!! I am going to give a shout out to one of my oldest and dearest illustrator friends, ToadStoolCheeks who is also from the Isle of Man, and has been with me on my art journey forever.
Some really great thoughts and advice there. We’re excited to follow those projects in the new year. You can check out more of Ana’s work on her site anajaks.co.uk.
And we’ll be back again in the new year with our next creative spotlight. Keep an eye out!
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