Creative Lives — Darren Shaddick proves you don’t have to live in the city to become an illustrator
The idyllic lands of Devon are where illustrator Darren Shaddick finds his inspiration. The downside is that he’s found it slightly difficult to meet any like-minded creatives in the area. “Honestly, living in Devon is secluded,” he says. “It’s rare to come across illustrators here and there isn’t really a scene for illustration.” Combined with a lack of studio space, this has been Darren’s great disadvantage, but also living proof that you can make it as an illustrator even if you’re not based in London. With commissions flooding in from the likes of Ralph Lauren, giffgaff, Thread, The Creative Independent and SCOOP magazine, Darren has found his artistic voice and is getting the hang of freelancing. Discussing looking after his mental health and keeping a part-time job on the go for added security, here he shares his journey.
South Molton, North Devon
Ralph Lauren, giffgaff, Thread, The Creative Independent, SCOOP magazine
BA Illustration, Plymouth University (2013-2016)
How would you describe what you do?
I am a freelance Illustrator and I create illustrative works for clients. Recently, I have been working on more editorial illustration projects for companies such as Thread, The Creative Independent and Scoop Magazine – these projects are great fun and give me the opportunity to portray the narrative of the text how I see fit, which I love. Especially with the aforementioned clients, which give me a lot of freedom to play.
How collaborative is your role?
My role isn’t very collaborative, as I work freelance and the job requires a lot of self-initiation – especially when it comes to approaching potential clients, updating websites and social media, as well as administration. On the other hand, it can be collaborative, particularly when working with clients that I have a good rapport with; it feels like you’re working together, passing ideas and sketches until you achieve the end result you were both looking for.
Also, it’s fun to work with other creatives on personal projects – one of my favourite things to do if I get the chance. Last year, my fellow illustrator friend George [Ratcliffe] and I created a quick zine which reflected on the claustrophobic feeling of growing up in a small town, something we experienced together. It was a very loose and fast-paced project, which to me is very aesthetically pleasing.
“It’s rare to come across illustrators here – it’s tough to find a studio space, let alone one full of young, like-minded creatives.”
What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job?
I find it really enjoyable to work in a field where there is a lot of great talent – I’m a big fan of illustration and it’s nice to be a part of a world that feels like its own living organism, separate from the normal idea of a working life.
But honestly, living in Devon is secluded from all of this in some respects. It does enable me to travel to art fairs and exhibitions, as well as chat to other illustrators I admire and sell my wares – which is a lot of fun – but the least enjoyable aspect, again, would be the seclusion. It’s rare to come across illustrators here and there isn’t really a scene for illustration. It’s tough to find a studio space, let alone one full of young, like-minded creatives.
What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months?
A really exciting project that came to me at the end of last year was the opportunity to create works for giffgaff’s social media accounts. I was approached by the great creative team at YRS TRULY [creative studio based in London] to create three illustrations based on the themes, ‘freedom’, ‘control’ and ‘flexibility’. During this project, I had learnt a great deal about brand guidelines and tone of voice, plus how to create works that adhered to these instructions. It breathed new life into my illustration practice, both in terms of learning about client expectations as well as the fact that I’d just gotten my first drawing tablet – enabling me to work quicker and learn new techniques.
I was excited to see my work presented to a new audience of non-illustrators and the general public through social media. It was also great to see what people had to say about my work. “Stay off the acid, Darren,” was a personal highlight.
Darren’s project for giffgaff
Darren’s project for giffgaff
Darren’s project for giffgaff
What skills would you say are essential to your job?
I’d say it’s essential for me to have my own voice within my illustration work and to be confident enough to know that, sometimes, it can be tricky to put your ideas ‘out there’. It’s essential to not get bogged down by negative thoughts and self-consciousness, and obviously being able to draw your ideas to the standard you’d like is very essential.
What do you like about working in Devon?
It’s very calm here – a lot of greenery to look at and inspirational outfits from the older generations that definitely informs my drawing. It’s always going to be home for me, which is working out fine while I decide my next move.
What tools do you use most for your work?
Mostly, I have been working from my six-year-old Macbook, which I am constantly tinkering with to keep it alive as long as I can. Along with this, I draw a lot on a Wacom tablet through Photoshop, and I draw with black Uni-Ball eye pens in any old cheap sketchbook or scraps of paper I can find. I also have an old Epson scanner to scan these drawings into Photoshop for colouring.
What inspires your work? And how important do you think it is to land on a particular style as an illustrator?
I’m often inspired by film and how the colours of a particular scene can convey moods and atmosphere. Along with this, I have been taking a lot of influence from my surroundings, such as nature and greenery, plus a sprinkle of people watching.
I think it’s quite important to land on a particular style, which can be difficult. But I think it’s necessary to find what separates you from the rest, work on what makes you distinctive, secure your own personal voice and be comfortable with it.
Is there a resource that has particularly helped you? And which you would recommend to someone else?
I would recommend getting in touch with other people who work in a similar field to you if you need advice or any help – but be mindful of being polite and thankful when doing so. I found that this helped me a lot with my first commissions. I got in touch with a former lecturer who I knew was a practicing illustrator and he helped me out with fees and how to navigate through negotiations.
Also, having stalls at Illustration fairs was very useful for me in terms of building confidence in my work, as well as seeing first-hand how people react to what you’re making. Great examples are Shake Bristol and Brighton Illustration Fair – I always have a lot of fun at these events, it’s definitely worth doing.
Darren’s editorial work for Creative Independent
Darren’s editorial work for Creative Independent
How I Got Here
What did you want to be growing up?
I always wanted to skateboard, and nobody could tell me otherwise. So I hope that illustration will lead me back into that world one day.
How do you think your upbringing influenced your choice of career?
My upbringing was a little tricky. I’ve never had the option to ask anyone for financial support, so I’ve always been inclined to do things off of my own back and rely only on myself. I guess this has led me to pursue a freelance career, working for myself.
Did you study at degree level and if so, do you feel you need a formal education for what you do?
I studied at a degree level, and I feel that it’s not entirely necessary for what I do. But it is an invaluable experience to be away from home, working in a studio environment with deadlines along with great professional advice. I think it can set you up well for a freelance career.
“I’ve always been inclined to do things off of my own back and rely only on myself – I guess this has led me to pursue a freelance career.”
After graduating, what were your initial steps?
I went back to my old retail job and focused mainly on drawing and my practice. I started posting my work online more frequently, developing my portfolio, and I would send out emails to potential clients I wanted to work with as well as creatives I wanted to collaborate with. It did take me a while to find my feet and commissions, and I am still in the early stages of finding recurring work.
Would you say you ever experienced a lucky break? Or has there been a project that particularly helped your development?
My lucky break was the opportunity to work with Ralph Lauren, which came after an unsuccessful job application I had emailed to Vice – where I wasn’t quite right for the role. It turned out that they really liked what I was doing, so they added me to their books and I was being put forward for new projects. Unfortunately I wasn’t quite suitable for any at that time.
Then, totally out of the blue, I had been approached by the marketing team at Ralph Lauren and they had mentioned that they were looking for an artist for a big project and that Vice had suggested me. That was my first ever commission and one I always talk about. It was very daunting and nerve-wracking but it taught me an awful lot, and is still quite unbelievable.
Darren’s work for Ralph Lauren
Darren’s old personal work
What’s been your biggest challenge along the way?
There have been a couple of occasions where I attempted to solely work for myself before I was ready, which can have a real impact on finances and cause unnecessary stress – especially if the work coming in is so fickle. I’ve learnt to embrace the usefulness of a part-time job alongside freelancing, which I will utilise until I feel like I am in a secure enough place to make the leap again – with confidence.
What would you say are the biggest challenges associated with being freelance, and how do you deal with these?
I still find it challenging knowing what to work on at times, and sometimes it can be tough on the mental side of things. I think the biggest challenge is imposter syndrome. I can definitely get caught up in thinking that what I’m making is rubbish, but I try to work more without thinking too much.
What have been your biggest learnings with making money as a creative?
For the most part, I have relied on part-time work outside of making money as a creative – it’s just that added security knowing that you can put some food in the fridge.
I’m still learning about the taxes and making sure to put money aside for this. I’m also learning more about investing money into my illustration, which I should’ve done a lot more of before – I’ve seen the potential of merchandising my artworks.
How important have you found social media and self-promotion in your work?
Social media seems to be very important. I’m always reluctant to toot my own horn and promote myself, but it has to be done to get your work seen and attract clients. I believe the majority of my clients have seen my work online or on Instagram, and I do struggle to stay prolific with these platforms. I’m working on getting better at this and posting things without overthinking.
Darren’s new personal work
What would you like to do next?
I would like to be in a position to work as a full-time illustrator, especially working within editorial. I have always been into clothing and would love to collaborate with more brands in that world, along with placing my illustration into a potential clothing line in the future.
Could you do this job forever?
I think I could. I love to draw, I’m observant of the world around me and I really enjoy documenting it how I see fit. I can’t imagine having a career without any creative input.
Words of Wisdom
What advice would you give to an emerging creative wanting to get into the same line of work?
I still feel as if I’m emerging myself. Just keep doing what you enjoy doing, and don’t stop. Get in touch with the people you want to work with, because you never know what’s around the corner and you just have to keep telling yourself that something good is on the way – just be persistent. Shout about yourself and show your face wherever possible, and be your own biggest fan. Make sure you work out how much you want to be getting paid, know your worth and never work for free if you can help it.