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Interview: So Young Selects The AUB GradList Illustrators 2024

We are excited to partner with the Arts University Bournemouth for a fifth year and to select and show off some of 2024’s graduates from the Illustration course.

The work chosen ranges from ceramics to children’s books and character design. We caught up with the selected illustrators to get an insight into their work and highlight some of our favourite pieces.

 

Millie Johnson – @mill.ustration

What made you want to become an illustrator?

I’ve always known that I would be a creative of some kind, but I think the turning point for me was discovering that illustration exists everywhere and in so many different forms, particularly in such an increasingly visual world- it’s not just children’s books. I remember seeing the album art for the Yardbird’s Rodger the Engineer and realising ‘Oh, I could get paid to draw silly characters!’.

How do you go about starting a piece of work? Does it start as a pencil drawing? What is your process?

I usually start out in my sketchbook. I like drawing whilst watching archive footage or listening to music associated with the project I am working on as it helps me get into the headspace of what I’m trying to communicate. From there I either get out the iPad and work digitally or get a lump of clay out and see where things lead.

Tell us about your Final Major Project.

My Final Major Project centres around British pub culture, particularly the specific type of hostility that the regulars extend to non-locals. With this project I attempt to satirise the entitlement of these characters and immortalise them through the form of a toby jug. Toby jugs and character jugs are representative of a bygone age of public houses, collecting dust as a permanent, ornamental fixture of the pub environment- not too dissimilar to the locals themselves. 

If you could work with a dream client, who would it be and why?

I’ve always loved the idea of creating the visual identity for a festival so I will have to say Green Man Festival.

What direction would you like to take your work post higher education?

Since I am relatively new to the world of ceramics, I hope to develop my knowledge of the practice further and get even more experimental and ambitious with my sculptures. I also intend to continue working as a freelancer, hopefully within the music industry.

 

 

 

Dominika Leszczynska – @dleszczynskaa

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt being at AUB?

Understanding the value of constructive criticism is crucial for the growth as an artist. I’ve come to understand that criticism is not just about pointing out flaws; it’s about identifying opportunities for improvement. 

What informs your practise? 

Nature, particularly the underwater world. Growing up near the beach, I’ve always felt a strong connection to the sea. The natural forms and organisms inspire me to explore organic shapes and fluid movements in my artwork.

How do you go about starting a piece of work? Does it start as a pencil drawing? What is your process?

I usually start a piece with brainstorming and gathering research. I browse Pinterest and research relevant themes or topics to get an understanding of what I want to create. Once I have a concept in mind, I might sketch out some ideas, but that’s not always the case as I like to go straight to Blender. In Blender, I start my making basic models and compositions of the scene. Once the basic layout is done, I begin modelling more elements and then apply materials and shaders that really bring the scene to life.

How did you develop your personal style? Who are your influences?

My personal style has shifted quite a lot during my time at university. When I first began studying Illustration, I struggled to find my identity as an artist. I initially experimented with creating images on my iPad, but I wasn’t satisfied, as I felt like my work lacked depth and direction. That changed in second year when I discovered Blender. The software allowed me to explore my ideas in a more dynamic and expressive way. I finally felt like I was creating art that I was proud of. My biggest inspiration is Mikaela Stafford, whose vibrant and abstract qualities greatly influence my work, particularly her use of spherical shapes, which significantly impacted my recent projects. I also draw inspiration from other designers, such as Wang & Söderström and Kushagra Gupta. 

Tell us about your Final Major Project.

My Final Major Project explored the beauty of microbial organisms through a series of 3D renders. I was inspired by coral patterns found in marine life and was influenced by Curtis A. Suttle’s influential paper ‘Viruses in the Sea’. My goal was to create pieces that combine natural forms with surrealistic elements, with a touch of science fiction. 

dominikaleszczynska.com

 

 

Erin May Cooper – @erinmaycooper

What made you want to become an illustrator?

I’m one of those really really annoying people that have been drawing since they came out the womb, so ever since I was little, I’ve always wanted to be an artist. I kind of accidentally fell into illustration though, I don’t think I even really knew what it was when I applied for the course!

I had a really difficult time during A-Levels because of my mental health and I left Sixth Form hating and the way it was taught. This was also around the time that lockdown happened, so I ended up taking a year out. I started messing around with my finger on a free art app on my tablet and I think it taught me that art doesn’t need a deeper meaning, and it doesn’t always need to be serious, sometimes it can just be a cowboy farting! And bam, just like that I have a degree in illustration!

Tell us about a typical working day.

I always work best in the morning, so I like to either get into the studio or at my desk early. I love having either a friend to keep me company or a podcast. I’m very into ones about history at the moment. I like to have almost a conveyor-belt-approach if I’m working on a big project but other times I just go with the flow. I do tend to get sucked in by my work! So, I try and take a lot of walks and get some sun and treat myself.

How do you want people to feel when they see your work?

I want people to feel happy! Or maybe say ‘Oh that’s clever!’

How did you develop your personal style? Who are your influences?

I got very lucky and kind of found my personal style in first year, and since then it’s just kind of grown and changed with me as I’ve tried new things. I’m a big fan of simplicity and pattern so that played a big role in my style. But I still have so much growth to do!

My all-time favourite illustrators are Charlotte Ager, Lizzy Stewart and Ruby Wright. I love the way they use traditional mediums, and I am determined to reach their level of illustration greatness.

Nick Sharrett also had a major influence on the way that I draw people!

Tell us about your Final Major Project.

My final major project is a children’s picture book and it’s a retelling of ‘George and the Dragon’. It’s about mother-daughter relationships and the power of knitting! The idea came about during a conversation with my mum about how cool it is that all the generations of women in our family have been knitters or crocheters.

So, I would say that it’s a love letter to the relationship I have with my own mum, and our shared love for crochet (I unfortunately get road rage but for knitting).

erinmaycooper.com

 

 

Heidi Teremetz – @heidi.teremetz

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt being at AUB?

It is so important to take pride in your work and put yourself out there!

Tell us about a typical working day.

To be honest I don’t find it easy to repeat the same routine working at home! I like to switch it up; I will work outside, in the kitchen, in a café – but sometimes I will be in a rut all day and only end up finding a flow at 11pm. I think it’s important to keep trying new angles of looking at a brief if you’re struggling but if it isn’t working honour it!! A break can give a completely new perspective.

How do you want people to feel when they see your work?

Happy and nostalgic and fizzy.

How did you develop your personal style? Who are your influences?

I have gone through a LOT of different eras to get to where I am now, but I really like work that has lots of warm harmonious colours and natural, painterly textures. That’s probably what has consistently inspired me the most.

Tell us about your Final Major Project.

I sat down and I thought ‘okay, what do I want to do more of in my work?’ And the answer was dogs and interiors. So naturally I ended up writing and illustrating a story about a hotel for dogs! 

heiditeremetz.com

 

 

Tom Filer – @thelostoctopus

What informs your practise? 

Initially I was very inspired by other artists that i found on instagram including Sam Drew (aka Lumps) and Alex Gamsu Jenkins, but more recently I’ve incorporated life drawing into my practice which has been a larger source of inspiration, as well as being involved in a community of creatives with a vast range or styles. 

Tell us about a typical working day.

A typical working day for me always starts with lots of strong coffee, followed by a morning dog walk. When I finally sit down to work I begin by looking through art books, zines and art websites to get inspiration. I’ll patiently wait for a concept to present itself in my mind through initial sketches and studies. Once an idea arises I will be locked in and focused with music on and coffee at reach at all times.

How do you go about starting a piece of work? Does it start as a pencil drawing? What is your process?

I start my illustrations with a coloured pencil sketch. Often my ideas will come to me when I’m out and about, so I carry a small sketchbook on me at all times. This also helps encourage me to draw everyday. I usually develop my ideas with a few more sketches to experiment with the composition, then I refine the image digitally using procreate or photoshop.

How did you develop your personal style? Who are your influences?

Over lockdown I came across a community of illustrators who were interested in lowbrow art and dark humour. These were the artists I initially learned to illustrate from. When I began studying at AUB I was exposed to countless new artists who worked in ways I hadn’t considered before, so I ended up trying lots of new ways of working including drawing on an Ipad, risograph printing and stop motion animation. My style is still developing though however, as I continue to try new things and figure out what I enjoy illustrating.

Tell us about your Final Major Project.

My Final Major Project was a mixture of various opportunities I jumped onto, including making promotional art for a tattoo studio, two entries for Pier magazine and the main part of my project was an animated music video I created for my own music. The video is all 2d and experiments with a range of styles, while primarily showing themes of dark humour. 

tomfiler.com

 

 

Freya Relfe-Dacey – @freya.rd.illustration

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt being at AUB?

The importance of pushing yourself and your work. I used to be the kind of person who would cling to an initial idea and resist developing it further or thinking outside the box. This stubbornness was evident in my earlier projects. However, once I let go of the notion that everything must go exactly according to plan and match the idea in my head, I saw my work and outcomes flourish. I created pieces I am genuinely proud of, which I never would have achieved without this change in mind-set. Listening to and incorporating feedback from peers and tutors was a significant part of this transformation. Additionally, having confidence in my creativity and understanding that with hard work, I can create something I am impressed with and proud of.

Tell us about a typical working day.

Honestly it varies. There are days when I wake up feeling super inspired and just want to get on with making, and there are days where it feels like I have no creativity left in me. I’ve found that no good comes from forcing myself into being creative, and so on days like that I will work my way round the hump. I might do more research, go on an inspiration hunt, or even do some doodles to help me get back in the zone. Either way, every day that I’m working, I try and always make a step in the right direction, even if it has not made the biggest dent in the workload.

How did you develop your personal style? Who are your influences?

Developing my personal style has been an up and down journey, but one I hope continues and develops further throughout my practice. When I first started university there was definitely a pressure that i put on myself to establish my style quick, but all that did for me was make me feel like I was making work not for me. I think what really helped me in finding my personal style was just allowing myself to make work that I liked. I would receive and take on feedback from my projects and pick elements that were received well, and ones I enjoyed, to help evolve and progress my illustration style.  

Artist, Clym Evernden has been an inspiration to me, with his perfect balance of spontaneity and sophistication with his style, as well as illustrator, Yuko Shimizu’s richly detailed line work and bright colours. However, I would say my biggest influences on my personal style have been my tutors and peers at AUB, as it was their feedback and advice which really helped in pushing my work and style.

Tell us about your Final Major Project.

My final Major Project is a very personal piece based on the fish and chip shop my dad and his family grew upon in during the late 1960s and 1970s, located on East Street, Bermondsey (still there today!). My piece aims to capture the essence of 1970s London, depicting the era and the sense of community surrounding the shop.  Initially, the aim of my project was to preserve my family’s stories, provide an underlying commentary on the fading Cockney culture, and serve as a dedication to that era. However, as the project progressed, it evolved into a deeply personal journey of appreciating and understanding my family’s roots and upbringing.

If you could work with a dream client, who would it be and why?

My dream client would be Liberty London, more specifically their Christmas advent Callender. I feel as though I would very much enjoy working in high end editorial and packaging, and the Christmas Callender would be such a unique and special project. When I was younger me and my dad would always look round Liberty London round Christmas time, so there is definitely a sentimental element to this dream client.

freyarelfedacey.com

 

 

Denisa Ailenei – @pixi4rt

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt being at AUB?

Before coming to AUB, I felt as though working in the art Industry was out of reach for me. Being a student at AUB, surrounded me with like- minded people, provided me with advice from professional illustrators and has aided my artwork into having a more professional and distinctive look.

What made you want to become an illustrator?

I find it very interesting how much illustration fits into everyday life. It’s constantly surrounding you: from the media you consume, the clothes that you express yourself with and what helps brighten the locations you visit. I simply want to be apart of what brings people joy and selfishly, be apart of peoples lives without them particularly knowing.

How do you go about starting a piece of work? Does it start as a pencil drawing? What is your process?

I enjoy starting my work on paper as it gives me more freedom to experiment with different materials and allows me to not be as precious with my work, knowing I’ll edit it later. I then take my drawings into procreate and trace over it. I enjoy working in narrative so this tends to be a tedious process when you have to make a range of drawings but it has now made me most confident in creating art.

How did you develop your personal style? Who are your influences?

For the longest, I have struggled finding a personal style that I felt confident in creating, I never felt satisfied and even now, I want to continue to grow. However now, I can truly say I enjoy the work I make and I am more confident when selling myself as an illustrator since I enjoy using feedback to improve my work but also have used a wide range of influences such as Animators and Illustrators such as Victoria Vincent and Zilal Feng.

What direction would you like to take your work post higher education?

I want to further delve into the world of animation, creating short films, music videos and advertising media for apps or products. I also want to create young adult graphic novels since I also enjoy the process of creating a book. So in short, depict ideas and stories in every narrative way possible.

denisaailenei.com

 

 

Maisie Barr – @maislecakes

What made you want to become an illustrator?

Throughout school, the only opportunities I had to pursue art were during my GCSEs. I found the Art course to be extremely limiting, as there was an emphasis on drawing realistically that I struggled to enjoy.  I was never allowed to draw digitally during this time, and opportunities for style exploration were next to none. After doing some research, I discovered the world of illustration on social media, which lead me to study at AUB! 

How do you want people to feel when they see your work?

It’s fairly simple – I just want people to feel happy! I’ve seen a lot of online spaces coin the term “dopamine” to describe the trend of bright colours and maximalism, and I’d say that fits my work to a T! There are no hidden meanings in my work – just fun. Modern life is super stressful in a lot of ways, so if I can bring a smile to someone’s face through my illustrations, then I’ve done my job! I want to encourage everyone to get in touch with their inner child, and take some time to do something fun! Who says you need to get rid of “childish” hobbies and interests in adulthood?

How did you develop your personal style? Who are your influences?

Developing my style came as a result of my love for colour and shape language, as well as my interests in childhood nostalgia, food, fashion and pop culture. Charly Clements, Kitty O’Rourke, Robbie Cathro, Elizabeth Olwen and Owen Davey are some of my favourite illustrators! I always get excited when they share new work. Charly in particular has an amazing online class that taught me how to spot trends and refine my style even further.

Tell us about your Final Major Project.

My FMP consists of a collection of work created for various competitions and live briefs, with the intention of putting my work out there and creating quality pieces to add to my portfolio. I entered big competitions such as the Penguin Cover Design Award, as well as smaller, local opportunities – a couple of which I was lucky enough to be selected for! This project allowed me to diversify my portfolio, as it now contains greeting cards, posters and book covers. I’ve had a go at surface design, too! 

What direction would you like to take your work post higher education?

I’d like to diversify the types of ways in which my work can be contextualised. Wallpaper, merchandise, clothing, billboards… there’s so many places I could put my work! I just want to create.

maisiebarr.com

 

 

Martin Samways – @leckuth

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt being at AUB?

One piece of advice that stuck with me the most from our tutors was that they wished students wouldn’t ‘hold back’ so much sometimes. When I started at AUB, I wanted to use the opportunity of an academic space that gave me free reign to find a way to combine the art I had been making for secondary school, that my family and teachers would see, with the art I was making primarily for the internet, which felt like an entire aspect of my life and the culture around me that I hadn’t had the space or time to take seriously in my art.
When you’re no longer being given specific criteria and are allowed to create essentially whatever you want, it’s easier to hold back and play it safe, but I found that listening in to that feeling of a ‘tipping point’ when you begin to make art you feel unsure or embarrassed about, is usually where something interesting happens.

That and take the time you think you’re going to need to meet a deadline and double it.

How do you go about starting a piece of work? Does it start as a pencil drawing? What is your process?

My work almost always starts via looking at some mood boards I’ve made for different loose ideas I’ve had in mind like a certain project or a certain way of drawing faces I’d like to incorporate. After this it’s usually a process of loose pencil sketches in a sketchbook, followed by sketches of  those photos on my tablet that I can manipulate. Sometimes it stops there and I clean off the drawing on the tablet or for more elaborate projects/painting I take it onto my desktop and finish it there.

How do you want people to feel when they see your work?

I’ve hoped that people can feel connected or empathetic towards the ‘lower plane’ my drawings tend to sit on. They are cartoonish but they also to me they feel injected with acknowledgement of the real world that they come from. One of my favourite comments I’ve had on my art is that it feels like it’s from the future and the past at the same time. There is the reality of things and our beliefs sit on top of it, in the same way the future and the past can only exist through the present.

How did you develop your personal style? Who are your influences?

I think where I’m at now has a lot to do with having spent so much time online, but I’m ready to celebrate that while also wanting to celebrate the rest of the world around it and merge the two. I’ve learnt a lot from traditional painting, especially during A-Levels, I looked at Jamie Wyeth and William Blake a lot. The atmosphere of certain filmmakers like Jan Švankmajer and Terry Gilliam, along with Dave McKean’s work for Mirrormask, all had a big impact on me for the way that whimsical artistic touch can still feel very heavily real. As for illustration, Alvin Fai was a big reason I started taking illustration as a discipline more seriously.

What direction would you like to take your work post higher education?

I’m definitely planning to take a step back now that I’m off the railroad of education and delve a bit further into 2D & 3D techniques I’ve been trying to develop. I think that could mean some more videos and more elaborate drawings/paintings now that I’ve got that kind of time and freedom but either way it’s time now to really assess what it is I actually want to make.

leckuth.cargo.site

 

 

Arthur Gnivko – @gnivko_art

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt being at AUB?

I have learnt that personal style doesnt always come naturally. It takes initiative, exploration and experimentation to shape your work into what you envision. After I realised what kind of illustrator I wanted to be, I found my visual language began to truly take shape.

How did you develop your personal style? Who are your influences?

My visual language began to take shape after 2nd year, where I dedicated more time into developing my technical and gestural skills, as well as looking more critically at what artists inspire me and why. What did these artists have in common that drew me to them? Illustrators such as Claire Scully, Will Kirkby, and Bodie H each have such distinctive styles, with a similar monoweighted line quality, attention to hatching and contour lines. Understanding what kind of art I enjoy and why has helped me shape my work in the way I have always wanted.

Tell us about your Final Major Project.

My Final Major Project was a booklet of illustrated Kashubian mythologies, based on Leon Heyke’s Podania Kaszubskie. The concept began during my Pre Major Project, where Kashubian imagery was a significant influence. From there, I began to research Kashubian mythology further, and found very little illustrations on the subject compared to other Slavic myths. Being a quarter Kashubian myself, I felt it was a great oppertunitiy to learn about this part of my heritage and draw interest towards Kashubian culture.

Where do you see yourself in a year’s time?

Currently, I plan on attending a Creative Writing Masters at Brighton University in order to improve my understanding of narrative which I will be combining with my illustrative practice. While I am attending my Masters, I wil also be focusing on increasing my online presence and working as a free lance Illustrator.

What advice would you give students starting the course in September?

You are what you eat. Consume the kind of creative work you hope to produce some day and take an analytical look on some of your biggest inspirations. I highly recommend reading ‘Steal Like An Artist’ by Austin Kleon for any creative.

arthurgnivko.com

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