Creative Lives — Pom poms, pencils and Pritt Stick: Enter the playful world of illustrator Ed Cheverton
With a love of all things playful and brightly toned, Ed Cheverton is a Bristol-based illustrator creating comical, far-out characters from ink, collage, recycled materials and everything in between. Since he graduated from Brighton University in 2013, he’s worked with editorial clients including Tate Publishing, Scoop Magazine and Anorak Magazine, but says that self-initiated work forms the majority of his output – which he balances with part-time work. He tells us about what he’s learnt about going freelance straight out of education, self-discipline and why Bristol is a great spot for illustrators.
Tate Publishing, Scoop Magazine, Aquila Magazine, Anorak Magazine
BA Illustration, Brighton University (2010–2013)
How would you describe what you do?
I work as both an artist illustrator doing my own self-initiated projects, as well as some commissioned work. I work across a variety of media (collage, drawing, comics, 3D) and try and be playful as possible.
What does a typical working day look like?
I work from home and I try and discipline myself to stick to a 9–5 work day. I used to enjoy lie-ins and then work late into the evening, but I much prefer being disciplined and giving myself structure.
The morning is usually made up of answering emails and computer bits and then warming up, either in my sketchbook or short drawing or collage exercises. Before lunch and for the rest of the day I work on whatever project I’m doing.
How collaborative is your role?
Not hugely, but I’m trying to do more collaborative stuff at the moment with fellow artists. For the last few years, myself and Nick White have been making a huge collaborative collage project, which has been really fun and rewarding.
“I used to enjoy lie-ins and then work late into the evening, but I much prefer being disciplined and giving myself structure.”
Ed’s zine work, 2019
Ed’s zine work, 2018
What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job?
At the end of the day (or week), looking at what you’ve achieved is always really exciting. Being creative and playing is rewarding in its own right. I often put a lot of emotional investment into what I make and if something I’m working on isn’t quite right or isn’t looking how I want it, that can be thoroughly frustrating and put me in a real bad mood.
What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months?
At the start of this year I started to make a new zine/publication every month. I wanted to do this as both a bit of a challenge and to give myself lots of small platforms to try out new ways of working, methods of making imagery and be a bit more experimental. I’m almost halfway and it’s gone really well, I’m super-excited about some of the zines I’ve put out so far.
Ed’s collage work, 2018
Spread from ‘Meet the Circus’, 2015
Spread from ‘Meet the Circus’, 2015
What do you like about working in the area of the UK you’re based in?
Bristol is fun, constantly changing and really surprises me with what’s going on. It’s absolutely stuffed with artists and creatives, so there’s always plenty of people to meet and friends to make. There always seems to be events and exhibitions popping up – so much so that I often don’t hear about them until it’s too late!
What tools do you use most for your work?
I work a lot with collage, so found material and coloured papers, Pritt Stick as well of course (DO NOT use double sided tape, ever – I learnt this the hard way when I found a lot of older pieces have greasy oil stains where the tape’s glue has seeped through over the years).
I draw with pencil, biro, markers anything that makes a nice mark. For 3D I work in a similar way to my collage – I create characters from found objects that I then arrange and attach together (made with bottle tops, napkin rings, corks, pom poms, sticks, push pins, sponges, etc).
Some of Ed’s toy sculptures
What would you say are the biggest challenges associated with being freelance?
You have to have a lot of discipline to stay focused, set distinct creative goals and still enjoy it. I’ve tried at times to be a bit more loose with my work methodology, and other times it’s highly highly rigid. It’s tricky, as you need to find that balance between creative enjoyment and freedom, but still actually be productive.
How important have you found social media and self-promotion for your work?
I grew up sharing work on DeviantArt and then on Tumblr, so this has always kind of been natural for me. It’s tiring for sure and you have to keep on top of it to make the most of it.
Did you feel it was important to land on a single style as an illustrator?
What have been your biggest learnings with making money as a creative?
As a lot of my work is self-initiated, it’s not always been easy earning money, but over the years I’ve gotten better at finding ways for it to pay – projects ending with zines, prints or other products. I’ve always held a part-time job to help. There’s no shame in this at all!
How I Got Here
What did you want to be growing up?
I always wanted to be an artist of some sort. I contemplated being a musician for a while; I always loved Jazz and I played trumpet in a lot of bands, but I was never that great and didn’t love it the way I did with visual art. My mum was always very creative; she does a lot of textiles work now but she used to draw beautifully, which of course had a big impact.
Wanting to be an illustrator came from drawing comics and creating dense stick-figure battles with my best friend at school. We would do these pretty much every day from the age of nine until about seventeen.
How do you feel your studies have helped?
I studied illustration at Brighton, and I loved it to bits. You can’t generalise on the impact of having a degree, but some people really benefit from the collaborative and solid structure of a university course. Others don’t need it to achieve their creative goals. It can be harder and harder to justify it now, as it’s so expensive.
I think I’d always suggest going to university, as you get as much from the atmosphere and the people you meet, as you do from the course itself. I recognise it’s quite a privilege to be able to do an art course, and I do worry that it will become more and more elitist.
What were your initial steps when you were starting out?
Our tutors really pushed us to be as self-starting as possible, so that when we left and started out we would hit the ground running. I think this was so beneficial and really helped me get going fast. I also couldn’t return home or take the time to figure stuff out, at as my parents had left the country, so I didn’t really have a lot of options!
Would you say you ever experienced a lucky break?
I was really honoured to be selected to exhibit at Pick Me Up exhibition in 2014. That certainly gave me a tonne of exposure and a boost. I don’t think there was one particular project that helped more than others, though. I’m still learning and developing – I hope that never stops.
Some of Ed’s work from university, 2013
Ed’s first 3D experiment at university, 2013
Words of Wisdom
What advice would you give to an emerging creative wanting to get into the same line of work?
Figure out what makes you excited and what you want to make work about. The way it looks is secondary. Be proactive, be disciplined, be aware of what’s going on the creative world at the moment. Make creative friends and meet likeminded people. Make the sort of work you would be interested in seeing; make it for yourself first and others will then see that conviction and therefore buy into it.
Never stop learning and developing, uni is NOT for finding your ‘style’ and then settling with it from there. It’s for experimenting and trying new things, and when you graduate this should not stop. Keep playing, keep having fun and if it’s not enjoyable then it probably won’t be worth it.