First Hand — “When we choose an artistic job we know it won’t be easy” – how Cécile Dormeau became an illustrator
With a brilliantly distinct style, extensive fan base and a client list that includes Google, WeTransfer and ASOS, it’s hard to imagine a time that Cécile Dormeau suffered rejection or self-doubt with her work. But just a few short years ago things looked very different for the Parisian illustrator. After graduating from The École Estienne school in 2011, she spent years working money jobs at design agencies – assuming she wasn’t good enough to take her passion full-time. Here she describes the bumpy ride that led her from unemployment to a flourishing career.
Starting out: putting illustration on hold
I always loved illustrating, but I had to wait some years before having it as a full-time job. I was rejected from the illustration course in my college because I wasn’t good enough. I never tried for a freelance illustration career before because, even though it was the only thing I was passionate about, I was more focused on having a job that brought in enough money to pay the rent every month.
I was also aware of not being at the right level of illustration to do a job, even if I was always drawing during my free time to get better, without showing anyone. Even finding an internship in graphic design or a job in advertising was tough, even though I had received a distinction of “excellence” for my diploma in design and strategy.
If it wasn’t for an advertising agency I worked for saying goodbye after my third temporary contract, and other agencies answering negatively to my applications, I’m really not sure if I would have tried illustration. Even I wasn’t happy in these previous jobs, the only thing that mattered was financial security.
Taking the leap
I tried illustration because I had nothing to lose, as I already had nothing! I was unemployed and all my job applications were rejected. In previous jobs, I had to deal with a lot of illustration, creating different styles for each project. Now I was able to make illustrations in my own style, and not for a brand. My style has changed again since then – it took time to find a look I was comfortable with, to finally express all the ideas I had in my mind.
I don’t regret starting later in my illustration career because I know that these different experiences opened my mind and brought me where I am today. There are always a lot of external circumstances that we can’t control, and I think it’s important to bear that in mind. You can work hard, have great talent, go to the best schools, have a great grade on your diploma, but still be struggling to find a job. Don’t feel guilty if you’re trying your best and don’t succeed right away.
“I tried illustration because I had nothing to lose, as I already had nothing! I was unemployed and all my job applications were rejected.”
One of the many brilliant female characters Cécile has featured in her work
Being brave as a freelancer
In most artistic jobs, money is often the problem that can make us give up. Freelancing takes a lot of courage, patience and perseverance. It’s about accepting that some of us will need more time than others to make money from it. Many times I wanted to give up because I earned €300 in one month, or the French paperwork was pissing me off, or I didn’t have any clients, or they were paying me too late or too little for a huge amount of work. I had no time to see people, or the work I was doing was not good enough and very stressful.
I think getting jobs has a lot to do with being in the right place at the right time. When I created a series featuring girls, I shared it on Instagram. If it had been five years earlier, or even today, it would not have the same impact. A lot of blogs and websites shared it and this is what helped me get my first clients. That’s why I think it’s important to ask yourself, “what do I want to say in my work?”, because the story is as important as the expression you’re using to tell it. Once you’ve found it, share it as much as possible.
Growth can be terrifying
Challenging yourself and going where you’re not used to going is very important. When creative agency Anyways contacted me for the first project with Google I said yes, even though it was scary. I wasn’t really sure I’d be able to animate 24 stickers as I’d never studied animation, so it took me a bit more time. When Pictoplasma asked me to do a talk in Berlin I was terrified. And now, even after doing more talks, I’m still terrified every time I go on stage. But I knew it would help my career, and I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it.
There will be hard moments and you might miss out on jobs. Each time you fail you’ll need to reconsider what you need to do to improve, and it’s not easy. But when we choose an artistic job, we know that it won’t be easy. So, take the risk, give it a try, and give it your best to build what you want.
This is an edit of an interview originally published on It’s Nice That as part of an advice piece on creative CVs, by Lucy Bourton.