Creative Lives — Kent-based illustrator, Becky Glendining: “You and your work don’t have to be perfect”
Atmospheric, interior scenes of bedrooms and workspaces characterise much of Becky Glendining’s work. Based in Kent, the illustrator – a recent graphic design graduate from Canterbury Christ Church University – works from a homemade set-up, using a laptop and tablet to create vibrant, warmly-lit images. Having worked as a freelancer for just under a year, Becky has already worked for the likes of Penguin and grown a healthy following online. But the uncertainty that comes with the role is still every bit as scary as it was post-graduation. Starting out, Becky affirms, was “terrifying”. Now working towards finishing an MA, she discusses with us the challenge of finding and refining your own style, learning to trust yourself, and a vision of a more diverse and inclusive industry.
Penguin, Lion Forge, Polytron, Blazing Griffin, HSBC
MA Research, Media, Art and Design (Research in Graphic Design, UK Women of Colour and Tattoos), Canterbury Christ Church University (2017–2019)
BA Graphic Design, Canterbury Christ Church University (2015–2017)
How would you describe what you do?
I’m a freelance Illustrator who works with a lot of different clients. I’ve worked on more ‘traditional’ projects like book covers and album and single covers, but I’ve also worked on comics, and as a concept artist for games. I like to keep my work opportunities open.
What does a typical working day look like and where does it happen?
I work from home at my little desk, with my laptop and graphics tablet. I’m pretty bad at keeping regular work hours, so usually start at different times depending on projects. I check and respond to emails, catch up with any messages and social media before starting to work on something, whether that’s a client-based project or one of my own. There are lots of tea breaks!
How collaborative is your role?
It depends on the project, but I like to involve the client as much as possible, even though working from home means I generally work alone on the creating side of things.
What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months?
That would have to be one that’s under NDA, but involves concept art for an upcoming game!
Becky's 'Tiny Houses' project
What skills would you say are essential to your job?
Communication, confidence, and kindness. Obviously art and design skills are important, but communication, confidence and kindness go a long way.
What do you like about working in Kent?
In terms of my freelance career, most of my clients have been USA-based, but I’ve had some fun projects through connections in Kent. I’ve studied, lived, and worked in Kent my whole life, I can’t imagine being anywhere else. Being close to the sea helps too, it’s a nice escape when things get heavy.
“I’ve studied, lived, and worked in Kent my whole life, I can’t imagine being anywhere else.”
Are you currently working on any personal projects?
I recently just picked up my ‘Tiny Home’ project again! It’s a project in which I draw a bunch of tiny living spaces. Sometimes they’re fully functional homes in small spaces, and sometimes they’re just small rooms, but I try to make them seem as lived in as possible. It’s a lot of fun.
What tools do you use most for your work?
I mostly use Photoshop and my Wacom Intuos Draw when illustrating; it’s a small tablet but it’s light, easy to use and works perfectly. Sometimes I’ll need to go into InDesign for putting together print-ready documents, like zines and art prints.
I also use sketchbooks and paper on personal projects or exhibitions. Watercolours, inks, pens, sometimes it’s fun to be more hands on than digital work allows me.
Becky's 'Tiny Houses' project
How I Got Here
What did you want to be growing up?
So many things! A vet, a nurse, fine artist, hairdresser, gardener, counsellor… I wanted to do anything and everything, but I always ending up coming back to art.
How do you think your upbringing influenced your choice of career?
My family has always been supportive. No matter what I wanted to be growing up, it was fine; I could express myself and be myself. My mum was really into interior design when I was growing up, even though she was a psychiatric nurse. I think that showed me that I didn’t have to be into one thing; I didn’t have to narrow myself into one box. I went to college for fine art, university for graphic design, and now I study, teach and illustrate, but who knows what the future holds.
“Even though I [studied] graphic design, I tried to put illustration into most of my projects.”
How useful have your studies been in your career?
I didn’t finish secondary school due to personal reasons, and worried that I’d never be able to do anything. Luckily, I got into a local college for a foundation in fine art based on my sketchbook, and was able to get the skills needed (both practical and art related) to move up to my BTEC. I gained confidence in myself and my work through college, as well as illustration and design skills.
I worked hard, always pushing myself and made it to university where I really started to grow into myself. Even though I went to university for graphic design, I tried to put illustration into most of my projects and got a few small local jobs through that. The skills I learnt were invaluable, as well as the connections I made. It’s brought me to where I am now.
Becky's 'Tiny Houses' project
After graduating, what were your initial jobs?
Luckily, I got a well-paying design job through one of my lecturers at university that kept me financially stable after finishing my degree, and allowed me to build up my portfolio and social media following. I went on to do my masters, but it wasn’t until the beginning of 2018 (around six months after graduating) that I started getting illustration jobs outside of commissions. I’m still finding my feet and don’t have a steady income of work, but I’m getting there!
Would you say you ever experienced a lucky break?
I think I got lucky with Twitter. The right person saw and retweeted my work, and from there, I’ve gained a growing audience which has helped me get most of my clients so far. Every project I’ve worked on has helped me grow, and opens up new possibilities and I’m forever grateful for that.
“It’s still hard to trust myself and my work, and believe that I’m doing my best. I think it’ll be a constant challenge.”
What’s been your biggest challenge along the way?
Staying true to myself and doing my best. Starting out is terrifying. It’s difficult to know what to do, where to post your work, who to contact. I started posting my university design work on Behance, but wasn’t getting anywhere and it felt a lot like failing, even though I didn’t think I wanted to be a graphic designer.
I was doing okay on Twitter and working with fanzines, but I wasn’t really progressing and I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. I wasn’t happy with my style and spent a lot of time working on it, and when I finally landed on something that felt right to me, things started picking up. But it’s still hard to trust myself and my work and believe that I’m doing my best. I think it’ll be a constant challenge.
Becky's 'Tiny Houses' project
What would you like to do next?
My main goal is to finish my masters and then sleep forever. In the long term, I’d like to work more on comics, finish some personal projects and keep on working with amazing clients. I try not to restrict myself too much, so we’ll see where life takes me, I’ll keep my fingers crossed that it’s good things. Maybe I’ll build my own tiny home!
“I hope new artists continue to shine, and get to do the job they love.”
Could you do this job forever?
I don’t think so. I think I’d like more stability in the future, and with the industry forever changing, it’s difficult to know where I’ll end up or what kind of jobs will be out there. But I don’t know what else I want to do, hopefully I’ll know by the time I’m 50.
What does future of industry look like in your mind?
Diverse. I hope to see more black and brown artists at the front of companies and illustration and design. I hope to see non-binary artists and disabled artists and trans artists getting the same opportunities as everyone else. I hope the industry continues to grow and new artists continue to shine and get to do the job they love.
Words of Wisdom
What advice would you give to an emerging creative wanting to get into the same line of work?
Don’t be too hard on yourself. Work on personal projects, draw fan art, make friends, take breaks. Post your work on a platform that works for you, work on fanzines and anthologies. Try different things and find something that works for you. You and your work don’t have to be perfect, believe in yourself.