Creative Lives — Digital painter Freya Betts on merging her love for film, design and illustration

Posted 24 March 2020 Introduction by Siham Ali

Freya Betts’ journey has seen her go straight from school to landing an apprenticeship in design for film, to being signed as an illustrator. Now specialising in film art inspired by realism, the 23-year-old artist has found a niche that has led to some big commissions – including for clients that have nothing to do with film. Working from her bedroom in Hitchin, Hertfordshire, Freya is embracing the changes that working life throws at her. Having met her agency Jelly London at a portfolio review, she shares the importance of putting yourself out there, the benefits of doing an apprenticeship and why university just wasn’t for her.

Freya Betts

Job Title

Freelance Illustrator

Based

Hitchin, Hertfordshire

Selected Clients

Apple TV, The Guardian US, Penguin, KFC, Milka, LNER

Previous Employment

Creative Artworker, Tea Entertain (2017-2018)
Junior Artworker, XYi Design (2016-2017)
Apprentice, XYi Design (2015-2016)

Website
Social Media

Freya

Day-to-Day

How would you describe what you do?
I am a freelance illustrator currently represented by Jelly London. I focus on digital painting, with my tools being either a Wacom tablet, Photoshop or an iPad and Procreate. The kind of jobs I get vary from illustrating out of home advertising, editorial, book covers or social media assets.

For example I was commissioned by LNER trains for their out-of-home campaign, which was used for a Kings Cross London Underground takeover.

What does a typical working day look like and where does it happen?
I normally wake up, make a banana smoothie, meditate and then I’m ready for the day. My rule is that I get out of bed before 8am. I still live at home so my office is in my very small room and with the commute being two steps from my bed to the computer, it could be easy to fall into bad habits.

Generally speaking I try to keep to a 9 to 5 routine – however I guess the beauty of freelancing means this can be flexible depending on the work load. I normally break the day up by walking the dog or making a stew for lunch. And even with the current situation, my days don’t feel too different whilst self-isolating!

Freya's work for LNER

Freya's work for LNER

Freya's work for LNER

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What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job?
I think the most enjoyable aspect can also cross over as my least! Some days I am in absolute awe that I’m getting paid to do what I love and without the four-hour daily commute. But then there are days where I am feeling a little burnt out but I need to make a deadline. It’s been interesting to transition my love for art as something I used to do as a hobby, to creating art for a living, but all in all I wouldn’t change a single thing.

What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months?
Working for Apple TV! I created official artwork for their TV series For All Mankind. Another highlight was flying to New York to speak at a talk at Apple’s Fifth Avenue store. It was such a surreal experience.

Freya's work for Apple 'For All Mankind'

Are you currently working on any personal projects?
Self-initiated projects are hugely important as these are great representation of you and your style, what you want to work on and what you would like to put out there to clients. I feel like they keep you sane and true to yourself whilst working commercially. My portfolio is 90% personal work – I actually include very little commercial work in my portfolio or on Instagram. I work on personal projects when work is quiet and aim to keep the 9 to 5 routine going still. Throughout busy periods I spare an hour or so in the evening or weekends – only if I have the creative energy still!

It’s pretty quiet right now, so I’m trying to get back into fine art. I’ve spent the past five years solely focusing on digital and I’m desperate to get back to my roots. I’ve also been illustrating some Procreate studies from the Vanity Fair afterparty photographs, with the aim to be a little more expressive with my brush strokes.

Vanity Fair afterparty portrait studies

Vanity Fair afterparty portrait studies

Vanity Fair afterparty portrait studies

Vanity Fair afterparty portrait studies

Vanity Fair afterparty portrait studies

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What inspires your work?
I focus mainly on film-based art – I feel this combines my three main loves: illustration, design and film. This is greatly influenced by the alternative movie poster scene, in which I was introduced through Posterspy and Alternative Movie Posters. My style is inspired by realism, with my greatest inspirations being Sam Spratt and Jonathon Yeo. I love how they can so realistically capture a portrait yet in such a painterly style, where it’ll disperse into loose brush strokes. My aim is to make my digital art as close to fine art as possible.

How important do you think it is to land on a particular style as a creative?
Although my portfolio is mainly film based, it has attracted clients and jobs that have nothing to do with film – so focusing on film hasn’t been limiting. Remember, clients hire you for what you do. However I don’t think your style has to be set in stone - it is good to have some mobility, to experiment and be open to any naturally evolving styles along your journey. I would say just stay true to you!

How I Got Here

As someone who didn’t study at university level, how did you find your way after school?
I studied art, history and photography for A-Levels and then very fortunately landed an apprenticeship when I was 18, working for an agency in London called XYi Design, where we artworked and designed film campaigns for Universal and Paramount.

This came about when I managed to get an email address from my other half’s mother’s friend’s partner and asked if I could visit for work experience at the age of 16. I then went up there every half term – whether it was for just a day or a week.

This came at the time when everyone was putting in their university choices and there was a lot of pressure from my school to do so. For some reason I wasn’t into it, I felt like I really fitted into the work environment and, I know this sounds crazy, but I fell in love with the 9-to-5 London work life! I took the chance and asked whether they would consider taking me on and very thankfully they did!

Freya's Little Women piece

Freya's Joker piece

Midsommar piece

Birdbox piece

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After your apprenticeship, what were your initial steps?
I stayed at the company for a year as a junior. During my time there I bought my first Wacom tablet, introducing me to the world of digital art. I didn’t do any illustration at work but any spare time I had I was painting – whether it was lunch breaks, before work, after work.

When I was 20 I landed my next job as a creative art worker at another agency, Tea Entertain, whose clients were Disney, Warner Bros and Fox. Tea Entertain pushed to get me drawing as much as possible and also really encouraged me to freelance outside of work, which pushed my illustration (and I am super grateful for!)

During this time I went to a portfolio review hosted by Jelly London and presented them the illustration portfolio I had built up in my spare time. They followed me on social media and contacted me a year later to say that they had been keeping an eye on my work and asked if I would consider having an agent. It seemed the right time to quit my full-time job, as I was still living at home, so I wasn’t financially tied down to anything, so I did it.

“I didn’t do any illustration at work but any spare time I had I was painting – whether it was lunch breaks, before work, after work!”

What’s been your biggest challenge along the way?
When a client has wanted to change my style of painting quite radically – from realism to being very expressive with broken up, bold brush strokes. I gave it a go, however after the fourth round I had to be truthful and explain I couldn’t push it anymore, in which they understood. The style they proposed did interest me, and I wish I could have mastered it, but I just didn’t have enough time. I have been practising in my spare time though.

Work inspired by Sex Education

How important have you found social media and self-promotion in your work?
Social media plays a huge part in my career. It has given me a following and a platform. It has enabled me to get my work out there to all different people from all sides of the world. I’ve even gotten responses from some of my subjects via Instagram, like my Sex Education-inspired series (I had responses from three of the actors and a post from their Netflix official account, which overnight increased my followers to 2,000). Whilst I try not to get sucked into how many likes and followers I have, it is still positive as it means my artwork reaches more eyes!

However, a struggle can be that sometimes I get a little too sucked in… I catch myself thinking about projects with the sole purpose of what might work well on Instagram, which can add instant and immense pressure. Sometimes I have to remove those thoughts and start artwork with the mindset that this isn’t going anywhere. Then if does go well, then maybe I’ll upload it (I just don’t tell myself that at the start).

Words of Wisdom

What advice would you give to an emerging creative wanting to get into the same line of work?
Be proactive and really go for it! If I hadn’t pushed myself to regularly visit the design studio I wanted to work for and ask for work experience and an apprenticeship then I’d be on a completely different path. Don’t be disheartened if you don’t have any connections in the industry – just be persistent and make those connections.

For those wanting an agent, I’d recommend going to a portfolio review as you never know who you could meet. It’s a good way to avoid the email lull and get face-to-face with some big agents.

Posted 24 March 2020 Introduction by Siham Ali
Introduction: Siham Ali
Collection: Creative Lives
Disciplines: Illustration
Mentions: Freya Betts, LNER, Jelly London, XYi Design

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