Ollie Silvester, Illustration Man // An Interview

What is your biggest accomplishment?

Probably a show that I put on in my second year at uni called My Best Friend. The show was to raise money for Cancer Research UK in celebration of my friend and fellow student and his successful battle with cancer during our first year at uni. For the show I produced a publication with illustrations from students and professional illustrators based off of the theme, my best friend. The show raised over £2000 and gave a real sense of achievement and the proof that Illustration and the arts can be extremely beneficial to the world when applied in the right way. (I have some posts about it on my website)

What is the hardest thing about freelance work/working with publications?

The hardest thing is probably keeping the faith and staying true to yourself. It can be really tempting to accept any commission that comes your way as you think ‘hey it’s money and exposure’ but if you don’t think it’s the road that you want to go down or its not something you believe in, don’t be afraid to say no. Its not easy, but I think it’ll pay off in the end because at the end of the day, you are in control, and your image as an illustrator is very important.

What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of your field of work?

Communication with clients by email! Things can often be hard to understand in writing, in comparison to a simple conversation. Something that is also very difficult is worrying about what you are producing and if it will be ‘good enough’. Although it is difficult, have confidence in the work you produce, as it is probably much better than you think. Commissions come because someone likes what you make, so have faith in the fact that they will probably like what you have made them too.

Where were you educated/ qualified?

I spent one year doing a foundation style diploma at Andover College and then I spent three years at Winchester School of Art on the Graphic arts course. Honestly it was the best three years of my life, and I had no idea how much I would miss it when I left, So make the most of every second and every opportunity!!

What would you change about your education?

I would definitely have gone strait to college into an art course rather than doing A levels at a Sixths Form. I also would go back and live at uni if I could do it again, as I lived very close to my uni so I just stayed at home to save money, but I would give up the money for the experience if I had a time machine. Although seeing my dog everyday and having a warm house with home cooked meals was pretty nice (I would still go back and be a proper fresher though)

What does a typical working day involve for you? 
 When I’m working on a commission I’ll usually get up and have some breakfast (it’s important to get your brain working) and then do some warm up sort of stuff, so some rough sketches and things. Then I’ll do some actual roughs to try and make a tangible impression of what I’ve it whirring around in my head and see if my ideas actually work on a page. I’ll stare at them for a bit and then decide what angle I’m going to go for. Then I’ll just jump right in to it. I don’t like to beat around the bush too much, I normally go with my first idea, I think the first idea is the purest and most natural. Then I’ll just keep on going till I’m done. I’ll usually work in black and white to begin with so if I need a draft approval, then I haven’t wasted my time if it needs changing.
How would you describe your working process?
In terms of process, like I’ve mentioned above, I’ll start with a few roughs to get the ball rolling. Then once I’ve decided what I’m gonna do, I go strait in and get to work. I draw everything with pencil by hand and scan it in then colour it and place it in Photoshop. I try to pick a colour palette so I don’t over complicate my images, usually of about 3-4 colours. I draw components as many times as it takes for me to be happy with it. If I feel I have got a character or component right first time, I won’t draw it again, if I like it, I really don’t see the need to try and better it. I’m quite impatient so I don’t take very long on each drawing. I think that probably influences my style of image making quite heavily. I work in separate components as I have a tendency to ‘go too far’ with a single composition and ruin it, so it’s just a safer way to protect me from myself rather than a stylistic choice (I also find it the easiest process for me).

Who is your biggest inspiration?

This is a seriously hard question as so many influences and art heroes. I love Dechamp and Picasso (mostly his sculptures and drawings). I love outsider art too, its insane and obsessive and extremely pure. In terms of illustrators, Jay Cover, Luke Best, Nathaniel Russell, Ed Cheverton and David J McMillan are my faves.

How do you pay the bills? (do you work elsewhere or does your freelance/editorial work support living)

I work at H&M full time at the moment because I’ve had a quiet spell with commissions and I wasn’t making enough money to support myself as a full time illustrator. Its alright as I get a regular paycheck, but I feel un-satisfied and really want to put more effort into my career as an illustrator.

What has been your favourite project to work on?

My favourite commission I have had is definitely the spread I did for Scout Magazine. It was a really smooth and easy commission to do and I was really happy with the imagery that I produced. Although it wasn’t the most dynamic piece of imagery I have made, I think it had good characters, a confident line and pleasing colour palette.

What are your plans for the next few years?

Get my act together and become a proper illustrator man I think. I want to build my portfolio and hopefully join an agency so I can have a more regular flow of commissioned work and become stronger and more confident as a practitioner. I also hope to relocate to somewhere a bit more cultural with a more thriving art scene!

What do you think of agency work?

Its great! People come looking for you, for your work and your visual language and you have someone else to negotiate fees. I don’t belong to an agency of yet, but I do belong to Studio Anorak, a group of illustrators affiliated with Anorak Magazine who Cathy Olmedillas (the main brains and magazine owner) represents and directs commissions towards. She does a great job, but I don’t know if she’d like me calling her my agent!

What do you love most about working in the creative industry?

It’s just so much fun. I love art, illustration and just generally being creative. It’s challenging and it gets your brain working in a completely different way to anything else. It’s hard to explain, but when you get into, what I call, ‘the art zone’ (I think I need to find a better name) everything seems so much more interesting and its so satisfying to be able to make something tangible for other people to enjoy, solving a problem through communication at the same time.

How do you stay motivated?

It might sound a bit soppy and fairytale-esque, but I just imagine myself at some undetermined time in the future, working in a studio, doing commissions and going to shows, taking part in various projects and just doing various illustration stuff. It makes me think about how much I want to be an Illustrator, not just on the side, and it fuels my drive to get there. I think also, I don’t expect anything to happen immediately, so when it does, I know I’ll appreciate it.