Claire Robertson is an Australian artist and illustrator who is well known for her much loved blog¬†loobylu.com. She is also known for her iconic illustrations for the Truly Tan series, written by Jen Storer for Harper Collins Australia. Claire works digitally but also in traditional media: watercolours, paper-cutting, ceramics and textiles.
What do you do and how did you start?
I have been working from home as a freelance illustrator now for about a year and a half.
I started by taking the plunge and quitting my full time dull design job and starting from scratch. It was extremely scary (like jumping off a precipice) and took a little while to get going but it’s been entirely worth it.
How old were you when you realised you wanted to do what you’re currently doing and how old were you when you actually began.
I have always wanted to be an illustrator, ever since I read picture books as a little girl. It just took me around 25 years to finally listen to my heart. I was 28 and a half when I started illustrating professionally.
What jobs did you have before you went out on your own?
I had been working as a designer and art director for web and print publications for around 5 years. I was never really very happy doing that work, lacking the personal confidence and true ambition that I felt I needed to excel in graphic design. I also worked in lots of book shops ranging from an amazing “how-you-would-imagine-it” second hand book shop, to department store book shops that sold masses of romance novels and cook books.
What steps did you take to create your own business?
I took a deep breath, quit my job and then spent about six months wondering what to do next. Then I discovered The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron and found the guts to get it all really going. After that I got my folio out to publishers, followed up any lead that ever came my way and pestered other illustrators for advice and help. The business is growing really slowly – I try to take advantage of the terrible Australian exchange rate (it hovers around 50 US cents) and foster clients in the UK, Canada and the United States so that even small jobs end up paying me quite well. This gives me time to work on my own projects as well as the paying ones.
What kind of formal education, training or experience do you have that applies to what you do?
I studied design at University for a few years, but apart from learning the very basics like colour theory and composition it wasn’t terribly useful for my present work. After that I worked for magazines and newspapers which was terrific experience in that I now have a good idea about what my clients do, about the printing processes, and what kind of expectations clients might have of me. It was through this work that I also learnt how to use a computer which is the most important tool in what I do.
How did you first begin to sell/market your work?
My web site is probably the most valuable thing for me when it comes to marketing, but to reach publishers and art directors who may not just happen to stumble across my site I also printed up a little folio with samples of my work and I continue to expand my mailing list every three months. The Children’s Writers & Illustrators Market and the Artist’s & Graphic Designer’s Market are two books that have really helped me with my marketing – they are full of listings of people to send your work to as well as really useful articles on self promotion.
What is the most rewarding aspect of what you do? The most frustrating?
Apart from getting to do what I love to do every day, the most rewarding aspect of my job (at the moment) is continuing to build up my client list. It’s like a little reassurance that I am on the right path. This year I hope to write and illustrate my own children’s book which has been a lifetime dream so hopefully that will become the most rewarding aspect of what I do. The most frustrating thing is the daily issue of self motivation. Some days I don’t even have to think about it and breeze through my work, but other days I feel as though I am walking through mud.
Do you have any fears about what you do, and if so, how do you deal with them?
My main fear is that it won’t work out. That there will be no more clients and that I am just kidding myself. But I think anyone who is chasing their dream has those kinds of fears in the back of their heads and actually some days it’s the fear of failing and having to go back to a 9-5 job that keeps me going with the endless task of self promotion.
What kind of work environment do you have?
My work environment is our tiny little spare bedroom in our apartment. It’s a big claustrophobic mess as I have to share it with the laundry and all the other junk that has no other home. I spend hours planning and dreaming about my ideal studio. We are moving soon, so hopefully in our next house I will have a much more ideal work environment. Somewhere with light and brightly coloured walls and bookshelves and a stereo.
Have you encountered any financial obstacles, and if so, how did you overcome them?
The main financial obstacle I have had is getting clients to pay for work in a timely manner. There’s not much you can do except keep sending them statements, sometimes with a hand written plea on them (“please?”). I have never had a client who has flat out refused to pay but the lag between doing the job and getting paid can be frustrating.
What is your definition of success?
Being happy by keeping busy and living from doing exactly what I want to be doing.
Who or what are your inspirations?¬†
A smattering of inspirations: My parent’s house in the country which is surrounded by paddocks and hills and billabongs and dams, books about dolls houses, my Grandparents, illustrators J Otto Seibold, Edward Gorey, Lane Smith and Maurice Sendak, deep red, Japanese crests, vintage fabric, lomo photographs, home decorating magazines, yoga, vegetable gardens and my husband. Julia Cameron and her book The Artist’s Way has made a big difference to the way I see myself and my work in the last year. I am still writing the morning pages which she prescribes and through them I find inspiration which seems to come from thin air.
Words of advice for those pursuing their creative goals.
Be brave and follow your heart! Leap off the precipice and trust that good things will follow. They surprisingly really do!
Apart form that – a good, solid piece of business advice I got when I started out freelancing was about marketing. An older woman who has had a lot of success running her own HR consultancy told me that no matter how busy I am, or how much work I seem to have coming in, spend one day a week marketing. Take Fridays to work on mail outs, update websites, chase up potential clients and make new contacts. She pointed out that every job that comes along takes a little while to actually come to fruition so it’s important to be always fostering new work. Great advice! Now I just need to follow it!