Saturday, 10 March 2012

A Freelance Career in Illustration and Animation - Karen Cheung

The aims of Karen's lecture was; to tell her background story, and to explain how she ended up where she is.

Karen didn't have the most conventional start as a designer, she started as an scientist, studying Natural Sciences at Cambridge. She started again, with illustration this time. During her second year, she made an animation called 'Headache Hotel', which she entered into the BBC New Animator competition, which she was eventually shortlisted for.
To see the various animations, and Karen's showreel click here.

In her final year, Karen created a children's picture book named 'Shleepless', which is about a little boy who can't get to sleep. One night, he sneezes and an animal flies out of his nose and tells him that he must go inside his own body to find out why he can't sleep, because he has been counting so many sheep that they are starting to take over his body. Karen went on to win the MacMillan Prize of Children's Book Illustration.

Even though winning this prize led to meetings with many publishers etc, Karen was very shy, and so has admitted herself that she didn't follow these contacts up enough. Because of her shyness, Karen eventually went to work with the agent Jelly, with their mission statement being "jelly services the global market with intelligent content across all platforms." The reason she gave for having an agent was: she was shy, so didn't like asking for money, and with an agent you don't have to talk to the client. The agency will take a cut of the money but will sort everything out the client (almost being the middle man). Karen stressed during this lecture the importance of having a good relationship with your agent, as after all, it is them that are bringing you your work and living in. If you haven't got a good relationship, then you won't get the most out of this opportunity.
I think I am a lot like Karen in the fact that I'm shy, and wouldn't like asking the client for money etc, and because of this I can see the benefits of having an agent. Not only that, they would bring in work that you couldn't ever imagine getting, and so I look forward to (hopefully) working with an agent in the future.

When looking at Karen's work, you can instantly tell that her inspiration is taken from, in her own words, "weird" continental children's books, and her science background.

Karen gave some advice on portfolios and agents. On the topic of portfolios, she said that every agent is different, so they are after different things in portfolios. Portfolios need to be concise, so don't include everything you've ever done. For children book illustrator's portfolios, a couple of dummy books would be a good idea. The advice she gave for choosing agents was to look at their roster of artists, and see who is on their, and if an are doing similar work as you. You can't be doing the same style as someone else there, as you will be fighting for the jobs etc. Also, think about the question, do you want to work for a big company or a small company? Each is different, and each have their own pros and cons. The last piece of advice Karen gave for when choosing agents was that you have to almost target them, e.g. look at the way you work and see if your style fits into their company, and if you could fit into the company.

After graduating from uni, Karen was added to the books of Jelly, and then went to work with 12foot6, with clients such as Paramount Comedy, Virgin Central, Virgin Media and Bookstart. However, she left here in 2009, when deciding to go on her own. While by herself, she got her first real big job with the company Investec, which is a specialist banking, wealth and investment and asset manager. Some of her clients now include:

  • Skoda
  • Honda
  • Smart Car
  • Fiat
  • Ikea
  • Tesco
  • Dorling Kindersley
  • ITV
  • ASDA
  • Proctor and Gambel
  • Vodafone
  • Umbro
  • And her latest client, Oxford University.
Karen ended the lecture with some general advice and tips and some advice on getting work and self-promotion.
During Uni:
  • Don't push yourself to do things you don't want/don't like to do as you wont feel motivated to do it. For me, I believe this is important, as I went through this phase in my first year, where we were set an animation brief. Animation just didn't suit me, and so I wasn't motivated at all to get the brief finished.
  • Work hard
  • Listen to your tutors - they know what they're talking about
  • Have fun
  • Keep playing around
  • And most importantly, TRUST YOURSELF.
After Uni:
  • Don't sit around waiting for someone to come to you, you have to go out to them!
  • You have to learn to take rejection, and have a thick skin; don't give up, just keep going
  • Be brave
  • Work even harder
  • Persevere
  • Don't take rejection personally, you're just not right for them at that time.
  • Websites and blogs - get your work out there and seen
  • Sell your work, websites such as Etsy, Spoonflower and Envelop are good places to start
  • Take part
  • Don't forget your tax return.
  • Keep people around you who keep you inspired
The Future:
  • Keep learning
  • Keep pushing yourself
  • Most importantly, HAVE FUN!
Overall, Karen Cheung has made herself a versatile illustrator, who's reliable and meets deadlines. She admits that a lot of her chances have come through luck, and she had a lot of help from family and tutors etc. I think a lot of the illustration/design industry is a lot to do with chance, and luck, and being in the right place at the right time, and if you recognise this, then you are on the right track. Karen is the first to admit that she is no role model by any means. I think because she thinks this, then she may just be one of the best role models. Her work is designed for a range of viewers, from children to adults, and she is so versatile, that she gains a very wide client list, all of which she completes to her highest standard. I admire the fact that she is so versatile, and can design to any brief or client. I think this is because my style is such a simple, child-like style that it seems quite stuck in children's book illustrations at the moment. I think this may be something that I could do with working on in the near-future; developing my style so that it can speak to various audiences, not just children. Ok, she's shy and doesn't like dealing with clients, but she gets around this and deals with it, and I think this is to be admired. So, yes, I believe that Karen Cheung is a great role model, and has done extremely well in this tough industry.

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