To the back of the gardens is an art gallery, in the centre is a café (much recommended by me), and at the front, a historic library free to make use of with half an hour access on the internet. This was a totally luxurious day for me: a daytime date with myself. My head space was clear and my ‘inspiration station’ was completely engaged. After drawing, writing poetry and watching people and squirrels, I headed to the library and sat in its silence on the computer. I typed “illustrators in Cape Town” and looked through each of Google’s first few pages of illustrators.
Knowing I had only half an hour’s browsing, I kept it focussed and took note of illustrators who I felt inspired and intrigued by. Through my browsing, I discovered an illustrator who lived very close to me - I sent her an email to see if we could connect. To my absolute joy, she responded and invited me around for tea.
Savyra Meyer-Lippold has an angelic presence and dressed completely in white (oddly, my outfit was entirely white too – not something I often do). She welcomed me into her home. I chained up my bike (Goose) and entered the house. After meeting her husband, son and the lady cleaning for her we set out to the balcony. A peaceful home with people working and studying. I noted to myself how warm and loving the space was – of course, conducive to creativity.
The balcony where we sat and drank early grey looked, from the mountain side, straight down across the beach and over the sea to the other side of the bay to where my house could be seen, nestled on the mountain opposite. It is an incredible view.
Straight away we got to chatting, sharing stories and experiences and talked about our shared love of illustration. As a beginner myself, Savyra was so open to share her vast experience and advice and the tips for success shared with me that day have been absolutely beneficial to saving me a lot of time in projects! If you are someone interested in illustration as a career, or you're already on the path - I highly recommend you read on.
Savyra’s eclectic styles and works can be seen on her website www.savyra.com
She is an illustrator whose experience is vast and style not limited to one voice. This has helped to keep her open to an abundance of projects.
Here is the interview. I hope you enjoy.
Actually no, I think I've attended only one get-together with illustrators as part of the 'Society of Children's Book Writers and illustrators', which must have been fifteen years ago now. SCBWI arranged a seminar at Goudini Spa many years ago which was really great; there were writers as well as illustrators and workshops offering very valuable information. We had the opportunity to show our work to literary agents from Germany, the US and the UK. Although I enjoy working in solitude, it's good to meet up with other people in the field. I've resolved to socialise and communicate much more in 2016 because it's such fun. It's just that the current deadline is always more important. A lot of that is plain old anxiety though. It's good to make time for connection. It can't always happen only on Facebook. I look forward to attending the SCBWI and Animation Society SA meetings more regularly and to joining my fellow creatives at First Thursdays and CCDI events.
Any advice for illustrators starting out?
1 Do contact the local educational publishers in Cape Town, these are: Cambridge University Press; Shuter & Shooter; Via Afrika, Heinemann, Tafelberg, Nasou, Pearsons and Oxford University Press as a first option. They are always open to seeing new illustrators. The money is not wonderful but it's a chance to see your work in print and it builds trust for other prospective clients if you've been published somewhere. They all have different systems of payment, and one or two of them have many hoops to jump through involving a LOT of paperwork, but persevere.
It's not the best time to be looking for educational illustration because the Government is not changing the syllabus probably for another five years so new commissions are on hold. However, the publishers have a few more irons in the fire, and are producing materials for other African countries such as Cameroon, Namibia, Ghana, Nigeria to name a few.
2a Contact the ad agencies. For me, as a fairly shy person, this isn't easy, but to my relief, nobody necessarily wanted a face-to-face meeting; everyone's extremely busy in this industry, so phone up, ask the receptionist for the name of the creative director and their email, once you've established that they wouldn't mind an email with some samples of your work.
In your mail to them, you can then mention that ' (receptionist's name)' felt that they'd be open to looking at a few samples and here they are. Thus, you're not spamming anyone. You also can go back and remember the receptionist's name this way should you need to follow up on anything, which is important.
2b In your mail, having reassured them that you are not a spammer, do add four or five samples of your work (not huge file-size, make it less than 200 Kb each, not more than 1000 pixels along the longest side) so they have something to look at immediately. It'll save even more time if you include the pics in the body of your mail and not make them click on attachments. Then, if they like what they see, they'll go to your website or your page on Elance/Behance or, locally, Freelance Central, ArtSquad, Sparx Illustrators page (you will have that by then of course) where they can see a wider range of work. It is hard to choose just five works, but make them as different from each other as possible, to show your range and tempt them to look further.
3 Keep your portfolio site/page and your blog going and regularly update them. Then, you can forward the 'latest work' link to your contacts to let them know what's new. It is of course a good idea to mention this plan in your first mail by saying that you'd like to keep them updated, but if they preferred you not to, to feel free to say so.
4 All this can be hard work. So a way to keep your ducks in a row in a spreadsheet with all your contacts, their names, the receptionist's name, email addies, outcome of call etc etc and then you can change the colour of the names as you work your way down the list to indicate that they are 'in'.
5 This can take months and even years to have an effect but familiarity breeds trust; continual exposure of your name and work will keep you top of mind when a possibility comes up and gradually you'll get more than a foot in the door. I like to gather my data from the Loerie winners. It's more enjoyable to work with the best. Do always ask for 50% of your fee upfront and the rest when the job is done. They may say that they'll pay when the client pays, but you're not a bank. It's hard to turn your back on what seems to be a great opportunity but save your time for clients that pay quickly. Oh and as for exposure – don't even think about doing work for free, 'for the exposure'. Then rather do work for charities – you'll also usually have more of a free hand creatively. And you'll have something for your all-important portie as well. If exposure is ever mentioned, you can mention the charity work which covers the exposure side very well already.
However, even charities sometimes expect too much. Here's a link on that, with a vast amount of info on selling your work in general as well.'
Check out: http://mariabrophy.com/business-of-art/how-to-turn-a-charity-request-for-free-art-into-a-paid-sale.html
6 Don't forget to approach magazines – many of them still use illustrations, although some use photography exclusively. The latest Writers' and Artists' Yearbook (and even an issue from one or two years ago) has a wealth of information. Don't be shy to approach magazines abroad as well. As for publishers abroad – they tend to ignore unsolicited emails but an English publisher once mentioned that they cannot resist a big fat envelope full of illustration samples from a hopeful illustrator. Never send originals of course. Scan and print something beautiful from your collection and there's no reason why distance should be a problem with the internet being what it is. The only problem might be a cultural one. Just as an English person might not capture all the little nuances of an African township scene, the reverse applies too. But if it comes to fantasy illustration, no planets are barred.
7 Lastly, join a freelancer's association. In South Africa, this would be SAFREA and globally, SCBWI, the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. They offer a wealth of information (and exposure!).
What are your top tips for time saving?
The first thing is to get a drawing tablet. A Wacom Cintiq is nice but it can also be a Wacom Intuous – one gets used to drawing here and seeing there, very very quickly, as I found when I landed in the UK and had forgotten my drawing stylus. I had a job to get out so I quickly organised an overdraft and ordered an Intuos tablet from Wacom which worked perfectly well. Most animation studios use an Intuos. And you still get those lovely Photoshop brushes! It's also worthwhile looking at their second-hand offerings on the Wacom site. The tablet I use now was second-hand and arrived in immaculate condition.
Then, if one is working on educational illustrations, use photos from your own stash or Wikimedia creative commons photos and you don't have to draw the background. You can add some filters to knock them back and make them more illustrative and stylised. Drawing over them here and there to unify the whole thing also helps.
My favourite piece of advice is the overlapping of people, especially a large head and shoulders in the foreground (often seen from the back, even less work) which takes up a lot of the space. The impression is that of a room full of people but one has drawn only pieces of them because they're behind each other. People at the back can be outlined and filled in grey. A bonus is that it makes the drawing far more interesting to have the focus on someone in the foreground. Also – queues from the front, never from the side, otherwise you'll be busy all day.
How did you step into the world of illustration?
There were warning signs very early that this was my destiny. I won a prizebook (do they still have these?) after my first year in school which featured a father going to town with his two children to do some shopping. But the girl's face was too different on one of the pages from the way she looked on the rest of the pages and this bothered me. So – when I draw I remember that children do notice stuff like this.
Of course I lived to draw, and drew on everything I could find, including the outside wall of my parents' house. That ended badly, especially when my siblings joined me in my efforts.
Growing up in the sticks, I often wondered how the black lines were produced in comics. This was a technique not available to me because all we had in the house was blue ballpoint pens and pencils. This remained a mystery until high school when I discovered Indian Ink, because we had a real art class with a real art teacher. Too wonderful...
After marriage and kids and returning to paid employment, a Fine Arts degree became possible as soon as funds allowed. But during a UNISA class when my drawings were deemed too decorative and too whatever, the lecturer said during the crit – why don't you go and become an illustrator? It was meant as an insult. I left and never returned. Which is not to say that UNISA's current offerings in new media aren't tempting – I may resume one day.
But the final push came from a friend who had a dream in which I was working as a successful illustrator. Being mystically inclined, I took this as a Sign, enrolled in distance learning with the Press Art School in London and still use what I learned there as well as the unfinished UNISA studies. The rest of it I learned on my first job in a real design studio, weathering the embarrassment of never having been at Tech like my fellow artists I'd been appointed to manage. I had to be shown how to drive a Magic Markers aka kokis, Sharpies and how to mount artwork to go to clients but I was in my element at last.
A few years in ad agencies later, I went on my own and I've never regretted it. It isn't always easy. If you have a qualification, I suggest you do some freelance lecturing if you can, or give drawing classes for more stability. It's an up and down life, but if your nerves can stand it, do it.
What changes have you noticed within the industry over the years?
The biggest change has been the switch to digital. My first Wacom Cintiq tablet arrived in 2003 after a run of lucrative jobs. Even then I'd been scanning my inked work to the computer and colouring it in Photoshop using a mouse. (And it shows!) Using a tablet and stylus was pure heaven after that. In a serendipitous event, I lost that one in a burglary in 2010, just as it was starting to show its age, and my insurance replaced it with a bigger one which I just love. It makes all the difference. What I appreciate most is the range of Photoshop brushes that comes bundled with it. I've lost count of the times I've drawn hair and grass with the 'grass' brush to mention just one. (See work in progress – Roger). One can also simulate kokis and pencil crayons with Photoshop brushes for a less 'digital' look.
Another godsend is the ability to cut and paste, and use the stamp tool to carry on whacking out trees and shrubbery or areas of shading in seconds. By comparison, it took several days to draw the Robben Island map in 2001 with a Rotring pen and then to colour that with kokis (felt tip pens). The great thing is – there's no loss of quality. So the client and I both win.
Which brings me to the second change – the educational publishing industry has increasingly had to cut costs and by now the budgets are smaller than they were in 2010, if the briefs I'm sent are anything to go by. So for that reason it's no longer sustainable for me to do this work.
The third thing I really enjoy about illustrating now is backing up my work in the cloud. Two years ago, my external hard drive was stolen and just as I was about to lose my mind I remembered that I'd backed up most of my work on Backblaze. Naturally I still save all my work to an external drive but I depend on Backblaze which is always at work in the background. External drives are also better than CDs which I used to use but they can and do corrupt rather badly.
Two that stand out are Centrepeace and Calm Classrooms because of their wonderful impact on people's lives.
Centrepeace was started by Louise Slabbert who involved me from the logo stage to all the course materials to the follow-up newsletters. It is based on the work done by the Kairos Foundation's More To Life programme, with their permission. The difference was that the attendees of the Centrepeace sessions and workshops didn't have English as their home language. We devised materials using boxes to tick and keep writing to a minimum as they went through the processes. The nature and workings of the reactive mind was communicated via a two-person skit for which I wrote the script and sourced/made the props. It seemed simple, but Louise put a great deal of thought into it and this workshop programme had a very profound effect on all who attended.
Monthly newsletters followed to keep people focused on the work they'd done. There were also Whatsapp competitions based on what they had learned. But just as it was really taking off, Louise lost the battle with her cancer and this invaluable work ground to a halt. For me, the ripple effect of the work beyond the participants to their families and communities was what made it so special to be involved in this project.
The other favourite project has been more recent, for Calm Classrooms. This is a very exciting initiative by two enthusiastic young women, one a teacher and the other a yoga teacher. More on their work appears on my site here. It was thrilling to be involved from the beginning and because of the effect it has on children and their teachers, the beneficial effects are felt way beyond the classroom - for the rest of their lives. So to me, this work is as sacred as that of Centrepeace. I also had the chance to try out a brand new style which was really exciting.
Do you have anything exciting planned for future projects?
A huge thrill was to be chosen along with 20 other people to pitch our screenplays at Kidscreen in Miami in February. My screenplays have been lying around since 2001 and 2007 respectively and it's so great to be given this chance to try and push them into the world. I'd retrieved them from the back burner for StoryLab, the recent initiative by Triggerfish. I didn't make it into that final selection, but all that preparation made it easy to submit them quickly this time.
It will be an amazing experience meeting all these people in an industry that's still new to me and attenting four days of workshops to learn how it all works. I absolutely love writing stories and devising characters and their worlds. I hope to hand my babies over to people who animate and produce movies and series all the time.
Other projects involve my paper sculptures under the name Shylight which is being re-launched after a hiatus of five years, and a new story based on a celestial courier company called Little Wingsters, with a tiny planet called Winghaven as its base. There is also a new line of shoes based on an ancient pattern we're calling Xuki Handmade. All these projects began in earnest in 2015 and I look forward to completions for them in 2016.
I like being and working alone but when I've had the chance to work with other designers in the same space, I'm always struck by how much we learn from each other. Now that I'm solitary again, I'm blissfully unaware of how much I'm missing, so it's relatively painless. I do know other illustrators feel isolated but I almost love my solitude too much. So the plan is to socialise more this year.
Do you have a particular daily rhythm that you follow?
Yes, I obey my Inner Nazi a little too scrupulously for my friends' liking. If anything, I'm perhaps too driven or disciplined and this year I want to find more balance again. Last year I was going for a walk most mornings from about 8 – 9h30. Then work would happen from the time I returned, with quick breaks for tea and lunch, until 17h00, when the Sunrise app on my cellphone always announces 'Pink Time' – time to relax, for friends to come round - free time.
But my downfall is Facebook. For all my strict pings from my cell marking the next activity, (I did love boarding school too) I do tend to sneak over to Facebook to chat around the virtual water cooler whenever things take too long to load or save and I have to distract myself to stay sane. Otherwise I follow the advice of Tim Hock:
'Treat your time like Fort Knox. Guard it closely and give it only to those who deserve and respect it.'
However, change is happening. Recently while in a part of the city I seldom go to, I thought of 'dropping in' on a self-employed friend living there. And then remembered how much I hated these sudden visits and how hard it is to fend them off. There was this sudden insight into how my friends feel when they happen (very seldom) to be in the area and are asked whether they can rather make it after four or five o'clock... It's really time to appreciate my friends a whole lot more. In the end, it's those moments one will remember, and my friends are there for me when (especially when) my clients are not. Part of the magic of the freelance life is the flexibility to manage your time, surely. And by now I trust myself. I will meet the deadline and will make the time up. With perhaps less Facebook and more real faces?
A new change in the timetable is to walk in the evening when it's cooler and it's Pink Time anyway; I don't have to put off the walk because a project awaits and I 'can't spare the time'. The morning is the best time creatively; one and a half hours is a long time to 'waste'. So the new arrangement suits me much better. But the very best thing I've done for myself recently is to get help with the housework. This is a recent development and what a pleasure it is. Suddenly there is spare time to get some creative input as well.
Nothing feeds creativity the way fun does. And although there is genius in the last minute, I've now realised that the genius is even greater in the first minute, and the sooner that minute can happen the better. Because then you can have fun. And creativity is playful.
What do you do to keep yourself inspired and open to new ideas?
Being relentlessly and addictively online, that is where most of my inspiration comes from. Although I sit too much as it is... But now and again I get to browse bookshops and second-hand shops – great fun, restful and a fun look into other lives. 'Living museums' like Groot Constantia and other old houses also fire my imagination. When there was a TV, local soap operas were very instructive, in their styling of the living and working spaces the characters moved in. What is in the background and possessions in general, define the person so much. From a breadbin to the clothes... everything says something about one. I loved transferring this information to my illustrations.
Magazines and newspapers meant for people unlike myself are also great for acquiring a different perspective.
Who inspires you?
Piet Grobler; Hokusai and Japanese drawing in general; Bill Watterson; Gavin Aung of Zen Pencils fame; Christofer Strom; Michelangelo – it was a great moment when I stood in front of Michelangelo's massive conte crayon cartoon in the National Gallery in London. I wanted to fall to my knees.
Favourite colour combination: I get teased by a fellow designer about my love for aqua which I love combining with vermilion. Aqua shows up time after time and inevitably is also the colour of my Savyra.com logo and the colour of the sea outside. I also love a certain dusty lavender/grey/brown, which evokes the necks of pigeons. I've used that for my Shylight logo.
Pantone 123 yellow makes my heart sing. I can't stand an insipid yellow, especially the cold lemon yellow. The yellow and lavender grey are used with other colours but I love them for themselves in isolation.
Colour is so perfect for evoking mood. It's an invaluable tool. I don't often use black, unless it's combined with an indigo blue like the Japanese enjoy doing. Inevitably, this also went into a logo, this time for Xuki Handmade.) Also my greys tend to be leaning towards some or other colour; they are seldom just a tint of black.
Favourite medium to use: Photoshop.
Favourite places: Port St Johns and Dwesa on the Wild Coast; the Drakensberg: London; Kalk Bay, Fish Hoek and Danger beach, Kleinplaasdam on Red Hill ( all in S. Peninsula).
Least favourite place: Industrial areas and malls always make me depressed; I'll go to great lengths to avoid them.
Most commonly used tool: pencil and paper to germinate ideas, the Wacom stylus and tablet to complete them.
Place you want to visit: South America, Paris, Mongolia - especially Lake Baikal.
Place you want to re-visit: The UK, especially London, Cambridge and Rye.
What is on your desk: In the sides: Files and a scanner; recycled paper for printing; my secret stash of dark Lindt chocolate. On the top: My laptop and an antique wooden lab-clamp holding my Capitec dongle, the day's to-do list and a pair of WWII US Airforce headphones which I used as reference for the earphones on Planet Winghaven for 'Little Wingsters' and then felt I had to order. Now I want to make this planet as a sculpture.
On the bottom section: my drawing tablet and stylus. Hidden behind that are two crystals, sunglasses, hair comb-clips etc., pens, random bits of vital electronica and an iPod shuttle waiting to have its playlist sorted out. Hidden behind the desk is a box full of admin waiting to be filed.
Favourite experience to date: Visiting the UK and Camden Market in particular, with my friend Eve – she opened a new world for me.
What would you do on a daytime date with yourself: Spend the day in Cape Town visiting the National Gallery and the Iziko Museum (maybe catch a show at the Planetarium), have a float in the flotation tank at the Medispa in Kloof Street, indulge in sushi for lunch, then spend the rest of the afternoon at the Long Street Baths before driving home, playing Leonard Cohen all the way.
Favourite type of tea: Earl Grey from Woolies...
Cake: Lemon meringue
10 words to describe a good illustrator: Empathetic, a good actor, skilled, always open to learning something new.