AMBER COOPER-DAVIES graduated from Middlesex’s Illustration BA in 2013. Since then she has worked on a wide variety of projects including designing patterns for SOAS, illustrating a children’s book and creating a stop motion animation for ICAN. She has just finished a series of illustrations for a new book from ET-AL DESIGN.
1. What have you’ve been up to since graduating from Middlesex?
Since I graduated from Middlesex I’ve been freelancing as an illustrator! It’s great fun but also very hard work- most of the jobs I’ve had recently have been longer projects, which I love because you really get to delve into the subject, but they do take a lot of dedication so it can be easy to spend whole weeks chained to my desk. It really helps that I love what I do!
2. Describe your practice- how do you go about produce your images? Are there any parts of the process you particularly enjoy?
I mostly work in collage, so once I’ve completed a rough, I trace each component onto coloured, textured or patterned paper, then assemble into the final image. I tend not to stick anything down until the very end, just in case I change my mind about something- which actually happens very often, because colours or textures can look completely different to what I had anticipated once they’re cut to size. Occasionally I do alter papers, but I try to keep this to a minimum, because it’s very easy to get distracted by creating tiny details that way when really all the composition in my images is in the lines the edges create. Most of the paper processing I’ve done recently has been applying monoprinting ink to tracing paper, so that I can incorporate transparent coloured layers into my work.
I do also create stop-motion animation, on a similar principle to my collages with flat paper puppets, but that’s another story altogether!
3. What does a typical day of working freelancing look like? While working as an illustrator sounds like a dream job the truth is some days are more of a grind than others. How do you keep yourself motivated?
For a typical day of freelancing, I tend to just sit down and get on with it- I’ll be at my desk at about 9:30am, stop for lunch, then back to my desk, stop for dinner, and then back to my desk until (depending on how close the deadline is) up to about midnight. I try not to work any longer than that though unless I absolutely need to, because you need to be able to work effectively the next day. I listen to a lot of podcasts while I work, which certainly helps me keep focussed when I’m doing something fiddly or working on a very long project. Recently I’ve also been trying to make sure that even when there’s a lot to do I at least go outside for a little while, working in the back yard if I can or getting a walk in before dinner.
4. As well as being an illustrator you’ve also produced several animations. Can you tell us about how you put your films together and how working with moving imagery differs from creating a single static image? Is there anything you enjoy about the process?
My animations have really progressed recently, as my last major project was the longest animation I’ve done- about 8 minutes in all. I actually tend to be less precise with my planning of animation compared to collage- I tend to find the best results come from just trying things out whereas with collage I absolutely can’t get anything done until I have an exact rough planned. This probably wouldn’t work out well with drawn animation, but because I use stop-motion with paper puppets, it’s all about finding out what the puppet can do. I usually work with my black paper puppets on top of a lightbox which backlights them, eliminating any need to worry about shadows, or concealing their joints. I like working this way because it means that I have to use fairly simple compositions, although it does mean that I can mostly only work in black and white, and it would be nice to try out some colour- maybe that’s my next challenge! I find the flow of animation work very enjoyable- it’s easy to lose track of time completely watching the puppets come to life, and it’s a much more immediate process than people think, especially with programs like dragonframe.
5. Are there any projects that have felt like milestones in your career so far? What made them stand out and why do you feel they’ve been important?
Last year I worked on my first picture book, which was a very interesting experience. The publisher (KioGlobal) found me through the Drawn Chorus Collective, and asked my to do a sample page to see if my style would fit their story. It was quite intimidating to take on such a large project, especially with a fairly tight deadline, but it has certianly given me the confidence that I’m capable of pulling something like that off! Another turning point for me was earlier this year when I was working on the set of animations for Hibakusha Stories in New York, which has now beenpicked up by ICAN (International Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons). The animations were originally made to punctuate a live event in May, and after working on them in isolation for so long it was quite amazing (and scary!) to meet all the people whose lives I had been representing, and to see my work as a more collaborative component of a larger thing. I think that like many illustrators I tend to think of my work as an independant problem solving exercise, leaving it behind once I’ve finished, but this has helped me realise that even though I usually work alone, good collaboration with clients is important and that my work is alwas part of a larger whole.
6. How did you find the transition from student to practicing illustrator? Do you have any words of advice for students who may be in that position right now?
It’s definitely not easy transitioning from student to freelance illustrator. I decided to stay living in London, which has been helpful, as there have been times when clients have wanted me to work in their offices (which is in itself a bizarre experience!) and it is convenient for when clients want to meet. It has meant however that I have had to rely on a part time job to make sure the rent is always paid! My advice to students graduating now would be that it will take time to build up enough business to be an illustrator full time, especially if you live away from home, so don’t worry about having to be a barista etc for a while so long as you keep dedicating time to creativity and looking for illustration work and don’t lose sight of your goal.
7. What are you currently working on? Are there any future projects coming up that you can talk about?
Currently I’m working on a spread for DRAWN CHORUS COLLECTIVE‘s ‘Easy As…’ alphabet book, which has been a lot of fun! I would say that it’s definately worth working on projects together with friends as it’s a refeshing break to have a lot of creative freedom between more restrictive professional projects.
Find more of Amber’s work online;