Graduating from the Middlesex Illustration BA in 2014, Illustrator DAWN WILLILIAMS was soon signed to THE ARTWORKS illustration agency and is one of the co-funders of THE LITTLE DOOR COLLECTIVE. Largely inspired by folk art and a nostalgia for times gone by, Dawn’s work is both charming and ominous. She uses rich colour palettes and dramatic compositions to bring stories to life.
1. Can you tell us a little bit about what you’ve been up to since graduating from Middlesex?
I was lucky enough to be picked up by The Artworks illustration agency after they saw my work at the D&AD New Blood show last year. They helped me improve my portfolio by setting me projects and giving me feedback before they started to officially represent me in February. It was like having another tutor for a few months after uni and was totally invaluable. I wouldn’t have got to where I am with my work now without them. Among smaller bits and pieces, I also had the amazing opportunity to design and paint a Mural for Buckland Hospital in Dover which took up a few months of the year.
2. Describe your practice- how do you go about produce your images? Are there any parts of the process you particularly enjoy?
I tend to start with thumbnails before moving onto pencil roughs. I will draw the same image quite a few times before I get it to as close to finished as I can in pencil. I will then trace around every shape individually, scan it in, layer it all back up in photoshop, colouring as I go. The pencil roughs stage can be quite long and a little tedious at times, but once all the shapes are scanned in it is super quick putting it all together. Thats my favourite part – playing with the colours and seeing it all come together really quickly.
3. What is a typical day of working as an illustrator like for you?
I’ll normally catch up on my emails over breakfast, then get properly ready for the day. Once I’m sat at my desk (..or coffee shop table of choice) I will look over what I’ve got coming up, set myself some (realistic) goals for the day and get to it!
4. While working as an illustrator sounds like a dream job, some days can be harder than others. Do you have any tips for keeping on top of everything and motivated?
Go Outside! Nothing swallows my motivation like staring at the same piece of wall all day. Go and find a coffee shop with big tables and decent wifi and work in there, get some exercise in the morning, grab lunch with a friend or go and sit in a park and read for an hour! Anything that rewards your hard work and refreshes you. I also plan out what work I’ll get done each week on Sunday evening so I know what I have to achieve that week, rather than planning hour to hour. I also find this allows for any unexpected work that may come in 😉
5. Recently you were commissioned by Buckland Hospital to create a mural for their children’s ward. Can you tell us a bit about the project? What was it like working on such a large scale image and how did it compare to your usual way of working?
This was a really exciting project to work on! Designing and painting a mural for a brand new hospital building was great. The old building’s children’s ward was a bit of a miss mash in terms of what they had on the walls, so for the new build they wanted something a bit calmer: Something that the parent’s would find soothing but the kids would find fun. I created the designs for the mural in my usual way of working, but when it came to getting them on the walls it was a little out of my comfort zone! For starters the building wasn’t complete when we (my trusted friend and helper Maddy Vian and myself) started meaning we had to go to work complete with hard hat and high-vis jacket each day. The builders all became rather intrigued in what we were doing, a few of them making daily trips to the ward just to check on our progress. Getting the images all drawn up on the walls was a challenge – manoeuvring the space with the projector on a platform was not easy! However once we started painting we really got into the swing of it.
I was super happy with it once we had finished and when I went back to visit once everyone had moved in I couldn’t believe how lovely the whole place looked! they chose furniture and toys to match my colour palette and the whole thing came together in a way I totally didn’t expect. It was so lovely to see! They’ve done such a good job making that ward a lovely place for families to be and I’m really proud to have been a part of it.
6. As well as working as a freelance illustrator you’re also part of The Little Door Collective. Can you tell us a little bit about the group? What do you like about working with others? Are you working on anything at the moment?
Projects such as zines and exhibitions can be expensive, and being an illustration graduate can sometimes feel challenging when not much is happening. By getting this group together we cut the cost and create projects to keep us all busy, and have hopefully made some beautiful things in the process! We started as a mix of graduates and students, but our little door students all graduated this year! *Proud*
We have just finished a project which we are super excited about – A Risograph zine inspired by the Reddit page Shower Thoughts. Its on its way to us now and will be up for sale very soon! We also something on the cards we’re hoping to get out in time to be a stocking filler this christmas…but we’ll keep that under wraps for now!
7. Are there any projects that have felt like milestones for your career as an illustrator?
The Mural. 100%.
8. How did you find the transition from student to practicing illustrator? Do you have any words of advice for any recent graduates who might be in that position right now?
Its a really tough transition to make. Along with it being an emotional end to an era, you are thrusted out into the real world, often without a foot in the illustration door! There are so many things in the year following uni that make it a difficult time, aside from trying to start out as an illustrator. My advice would be to take it in your stride, keep working, and not compare yourself to others too much. Everyone succeeds at different times and in different ways and you can’t let other people’s triumphs get you down. As long as you persevere, your time will come. But don’t beat yourself up if you need to take a step back, you probably have a hell of a lot of other things in life to work out in this one short year and thats okay too!
9. What are you currently working on? Are there any projects coming up that you can talk about?
Currently working on some illustrations for In Watermelon Sugar by Richard Brautigan. This is just a personal project for my portfolio, it has been one of my favourite books for years and I’m super excited to finally get round to illustrating it. Also working on some hush hush things for Little Door’s next project, and of course starting to think about my christmas illustrations now as well!
You can find more of Dawn’s work online at the following: