While studying on the Middlesex Illustration BA 2013 graduate DANIEL DUNCAN was highly commended for the Macmillan Children’s Picture Book prize. Since finishing university he had been signed by the Bright Agency, worked for clients including Aquila Magazine, Mundail Magazine, Vice’s THUMP, and illustrated a number of picture books including SOUTH which he also wrote.
1. What have you’ve been up to since graduating from Middlesex?
When I left Middlesex, I was working part time at a shoe shop but then started a full time job at a fabric company run by my girlfriend’s Dad. A year or so after graduating I was signed up by the Bright agency who saw saw my work at the AOI awards shortlist exhibition. Now the illustration work is coming in more regularly I have gone down to working 2 days, spending the rest of the week in the studio working on commissions.
2. How do you go about producing your illustrations? Are there any parts of your process you particularly enjoy?
My work has changed since graduating but similar in lots of ways. I used to use pencil on paper and coloured in photoshop. Now most of my process is done digitally on a Cintiq.
I start an illustration by sketching lots of thumbnails in my notebook, I’ll develop 1 or 2 digitally adding in more detail etc. This is the most creative and fun part of my process. Then I’ll fully render the piece using a variety of pencil, paint and paper textures brushes in Photoshop. I find working digitally frees me up and gives me more confidence to try out different things.
3. What does a typical day of illustration work look like? Do you have any tricks to keep yourself motivated?
I’m lucky to have my studio in my house, so typically I’ll be sat at my desk all day if I need to be. One of the good things about working from home is that you can be more flexible with your time. So if I’m not feeling too motivated I can take a break and do other things around the house, or even pop down the road to the gym! If I don’t have any work on I’ll develop portfolio pieces, book ideas or tidy my studio etc.
4. Your portfolio includes a number of self-initiated pieces. What made you choose the projects you did and what do you think is the importance them?
For me self initiated work has always been about adding new things to the portfolio and trying to get more work, as well as developing as an illustrator. When commissions are coming to an end and I have nothing lined up , i’ll work on self initiated pieces or stories to show new and current clients, which will hopefully bring in more commissions.
5. You’re currently signed with the children’s book illustration agency Bright. What’s it like having an agent and in what ways has it helped your career?
I was I initially skeptical about having and agent, as some people prefer going solo. But it’s the best thing to happen to me as an illustrator! I’m able to focus on jobs, portfolio pieces and new stories whilst they take care of invoices, contracts, and networking with publishers/clients. They’ve also been great at giving me tips and suggestions on my portfolio and helping my develop as a children illustrator.
6. 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?
My biggest achievement so far would be writing and illustrating my own published children’s book , South (Abrams 2017) . It felt like a big step towards making illustration an actual career, and has given me the confidence to write more!
7. 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?
When I was at Middlesex I felt like I built up so much momentum. I think its vital to keep it all going when you graduate. The hardest thing when leaving university, is that you have to get a day job, often doing things you don’t really want to do. These take up most of your time so it’s difficult fitting in illustration. I’ve always made time for it though. Wether it’s getting up a couple hours before work, drawing on lunch breaks, staying up late, or staying in all weekend. My advise would be, find time and don’t give up!
8. What are you currently working on? Are there any future projects coming up that you can talk about?
At the moment I’m working on the roughs for a picture book called “Mr. Posey’s New Glasses” written by Ted Kooser, published by Candlewick Press, I’m really pleased with how its turning out so far. I’m also just about to start work on a non fiction project with Macmillan too. In my spare time i’m trying to write another story of my own which I’m hoping to have roughed out and ready to pitch to publishers by the end of the year!
Find more of Dan’s work online;