Friday Finds - Illustrator Trina Dalziel

Good morning all! Today's interview is a real insight into how it feels to be an illustrator with the wonderful Trina Dalziel who I've been lucky enough to meet. She is a delightful, warm, clever person and clearly very talented too.

© Trina Dalziel

When did you start your business and why? Did you plan how you started meticulously or was it almost accidental?

I studied Illustration at art college in the late 1980s and even though I can recall at five or six saying I’d like to be an illustrator I got a bit waylaid after graduating. I spent several years drifting in a nice way – an au pair in Paris, back home in Scotland working on my parents' tomato farm, a move with a friend to London and a stall selling our hand made goods at Camden Market, a shop job, a postgraduate course at Winchester School of Art, a part time job as a nanny. Then five years out of college – around the stage a lot of my peers were looking for more stable work, I decided to give illustration a go.

I really value the period in time that I was doing this, and that I was able to gradually step into illustration work whilst still being able to survive and support myself in London with a three day a week job. With crazy London rents I’m unsure a recent graduate could do that so easily nowadays. Also though I hugely appreciate the opportunities the internet and email now allow me to work with clients anywhere in the world, I appreciate that in the mid nineties there was a lot of taking your portfolio to design studios and publishers and witnessing first hand reactions to it. For me this was very motivating and also made the whole commissioning world seem less daunting. 

I had no detailed plan - things have just evolved and I’ve meandered a lot – maybe though with quite a strong sense of what I did and didn’t want to do life and career wise.

© Trina Dalziel

Did things take off immediately or has it been a slow burn? you do your business part time or full time?

No it definitely took a good few years – I wouldn’t have been able to do it full time straight away. Since 2005 I have been working solely for myself, with the exception of very occasional days teaching on degree courses - though interestingly (or scarily) some of the years when I was balancing illustration and part time nanny work I was earning more from my illustration than some of the years when I’ve been solely supporting myself from freelance work. I think it is always a tricky decision knowing when to give up other work. And also on reflection I hugely miss the balance having work outside my home gave me. Moving the focus from desk bound often introspective time spent on illustration work to the outward focusing on others that my nanny job gave. I also sometimes miss the commitment to leaving the house to go to work, seeing things in the outside world was a very enriching experience, being part of the seasons and the weather!

Would you say you earn a good living from your work?

I’d say it allows me to lead a mostly nice life with all things considered! What I still find a bit hard is not having the continuity of regular consistent work, so there are busy times and slow times. However since the 2008 recession I’m so aware everyone’s jobs can appear shaky and choosing a freelance career at least allows a selection of clients – so less precarious in a sense than having just one employer. There's no sickness pay, no holiday pay, no pension etc, plus the UK welfare systems aren't set up to provide as effective a safely net for freelancers as for regular employees all of which makes it a precarious life choice… but I do like having a degree of control of how, where and when I work.

© Trina Dalziel

Where do you sell your work?

I work with designers and art directors on commissions in the UK, mostly for books and magazines and through my US agent Lilla Rogers Studio for similar clients, and additionally sometimes on more surface design work such as stationery or fabrics.
I don’t sell direct to the public except with my Etsy shop that desperately needs a dusting and a bit of loving care! I see myself very much as an illustrator who responds to a brief and provides a service to design related companies, and this feels a very different activity from making or designing a product and selling to the public. When I set up my Etsy shop I was really excited and I’ve done a couple of open house events which I really enjoyed but I find the juggling hats between different income streams too tricky, and a year ago I decided to focus mostly on illustration work for now. (Which is why I hugely admire you Gabriella as you seem to spin so many plates and do it all beautifully!)(Oh Trina, that's so kind but I am more the other way around...I make things for people everyday with the rare illustration job along the way and I'd like that to be far more balanced in the future)) 

Which aspect of your work do you enjoy most? Is there anything you would have done differently if you were starting your business today?

I like the ideas stage of an illustration - coming up with ideas and developing the roughs, being challenged to think and find visual solutions for a text or a concept…but I also equally enjoy what my partner and I call “knitting work” - when I’m drawing or working on my computer on a project but it’s quite straightforward – like laying out or colouring in - and there is space in my brain to listen to the radio or think or just be peaceful.

© Trina Dalziel

Are you someone who sets goals regularly or more instinctive? 

I think I’m not quite a type A personality but a bit of a driven Type B, Which is quite frustrating! I do make goals and lists, but I find that self-imposed deadlines for creating speculative/personal work seem to move from one to-do list to the next. Sometimes I find old lists from years back and can see I’ve been carrying an undeveloped idea around for ages! I also realized my “Important but Not Urgent” list - which is supposed to be where all the good opportunities are - is often where most slippage occurs. Trying to change this! 

Have you ever or do you employ people part time to help with any aspect of your business? For example, book keeper, accountant, packers? 

No, but I am constantly aware that an illustrator’s job - unless I am just not effective enough! -is probably a job for one and a half people. Also we need such a wide skill set I sometimes find it hard to swap between creative work and more “businessy” tasks, so whenever possible I try not to mix them.

© Trina Dalziel

Could you describe where you work? Are you alone most of the day or with others? Do you feel that they way it is now is the best fit for you? 

I work in the corner of our living room – I’ve always worked in a room with an additional function or shared my work space. I would really like to have a room just for making art in and separated by a door from the rest of the house! My partner is an animator and he mostly works from home too. It’s nice as we eat lunch together. It also means I have someone to run tricky emails by, or to correct punctuation like he’ll do here!  However occasionally he will go and work in-house at an animation studio for a few weeks or months and I like the structure that brings to the days - there is a much clearer marker to the end of the working day. When we are both working at home our working day often spills over into the evenings.

Do you have a mentor or people who you are able to discuss your business with? If not how do you find you best make decisions about your business?

Twice a year I meet with two of my friends both are artists and educators. We meet and talk art, illustration, creative life stuff, and I love those gallery and lunch days so much I usually start pining for them about three months ahead! The MATS course that you and I met through also made me realise how few other illustrators I knew, and it’s really nice to now be reminded there are other people just like me beavering away around the world with the same passions and doubts. I do sometimes think I waste time trying to make decisions when alone – should I say this or this in the email, is that a fair quote, this layout or this, etc – little stuff that when you are in an office or a team can be resolved really quickly. However with the bigger business type questions – which direction should I take my career, what should I focus my speculative work on etc, I find that though it’s always good to talk things through with other people, the answers are inside me. I think as a freelancer you need to have that sort of independence or inner strength or whatever it is.

© Trina Dalziel

What is a typical day for you in your business as it is now? What would be a dream day for you – business or otherwise?

I usually sit down at my desk around nine with a do to list I’ve made the previous evening. I try to do any businessy type things and also ideas and roughs in the morning and then artwork in the afternoon, but sometimes it all jumbles together. I really like when all the thinking/writing is done for the day and I can work along to Radio 4 or an audio book and really immerse myself in a project. We have an aim of stopping at 6.30 but it doesn’t always happen – need to work at this!

© Trina Dalziel

A non-working dream day is spent either wandering a European city with my camera and stopping at cafes, interesting shops and galleries or going for a long walk in the countryside. I especially love doing this on a week day – it’s silly but thirty years nearly after leaving school it still feels like “skiving”! (Trina I feel just the same!!) The awareness that other people are at work and I have a job that allows me to choose when to relax is very special. I now need to work at taking more advantage of it!

© Trina Dalziel

Anything else you want to add... tips or plans or ambitions or even special offers to my blog readers...

Thank you for asking me these questions, it was a lovely opportunity to reflect on my career!

Also mentioning my dusty old Etsy shop made me determined to “autumn-clean” it a little. I have added my Christmas cards and winter hanging birds. If anyone wishes to buy anything please use the code “FridayFinds2014”. You’ll receive 10% discount plus I will donate 10% of the sale to Sightsavers (valid until 23rd December). 

I feel the shop has been allowed to be inactive lately so it deserves to make a contribution to something worthwhile! 

Finally please tell us where we can buy your work! Links please....

You can see my work here
and here
or follow me here
my Etsy shop is here

Fantastic - thank you so much Trina - I really enjoyed reading your replies and what a great offer in your Etsy shop! Hope you have a flurry of sales x


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