Zoë Barker is an Illustrator living and working in London (& sometimes Suffolk) with an enviable client list including New Balance, BBC, Penguin, MINI, Liberty of London, Albam Clothing, Brooks England, Harper Collins, Creative Review and the National Trust.
Zoë has just released a beautiful new litho print (which you can win, details below) so we took the opportunity to have a catch up… _
Tell us a bit about yourself, what you do and where you do it?
I usually live and work in London, but have been spending some time in the countryside in Suffolk, where I grew up. I’m actually currently working from my Dad’s old workshop – our family business was clock making, so I’m surrounded by tiny little tools he’s made and lots of cabinets of wooden drawers. It’s quite idyllic. I might ‘borrow’ some of the boxes for my pencils.
I like to work in various mediums and often in different styles. I thought this was bad for a while, and I tried to stick with one style. And I got bored! I work for various clients across editorial, publishing and retail, and also as a graphic facilitator, drawing live at events. I really enjoy having lots of different projects on the go, and the variety that working freelance brings.
You’ve recently released a print of British Wildlife – how important is self-initiated work to you?
Self-initiated work has always been very important to me. Often I find that it’s in my personal work, when there’s no pressure or deadline, that I get to play around the most, try new styles and techniques… and make mistakes. It’s really important to me to play and remember why I love drawing – it would be a shame for it to become just a job.
What sort of work really excites you?
I really enjoy the projects where I feel part of a little team. I like to look at my illustrations and know who commissioned them, and what conversations and interactions led to the work. When I get invited into the earlier stages of a project there’s a bit more opportunity to contribute ideas and create something that’s got a strong concept behind it. I also really like to team up with people I’ve collaborated with/been commissioned by before as I have a better understanding of how they like to approach things.
Lately I’ve been enjoying projects that take me into a new environment, whether this is visiting a person to draw their portrait, a new location to record landscape/architecture, or recording an event in pictures. It feels like a bit of an adventure!
We’ve worked together several times over the years, stretching back to the very first issue of Boat Magazine, and I know you’ve got other well established relationships with individuals and brands. Any advice for illustrators about how to find and keep clients?
I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some really lovely people. And have always been very grateful for clients taking a chance on me, particularly when I was just starting out. I think that it’s important to align with companies that share similar values. That feels exciting and there’s often greater pleasure in the process. I would highly recommend meeting the people who commission you in person too, if you get the chance. Everything is so digital now that it can be a little too email-centric. There’s nothing like having a proper chat over a nice cup of coffee and actually putting a face to an email address!
Freelancing can be a lonely business sometimes. I know at times I’ve found it a challenge, particularly when working hard for clients that have turned out to be slightly ‘difficult.’ So good clients are like gold. My top tip would be, very simply, to treat your clients with a great deal of respect and do the best job you can for them. If the respect isn’t mutual, it may be good to question whether the work is worth it.
Any dream commissions or clients out there?
Ooh many! I’m really enjoying doing a bit more work for books at the moment. I’m a bit of a book hoarder, so Illustrating for my favourite authors and publishers will always be very high on my dream list. I’d love to illustrate a series of guide books. I’d actually particularly like to illustrate a guide book of the UK. I love the history and landscape we have, and would love the opportunity to explore that much more.
Clients? Hmm. Amazing people turn up at the funniest times. I think that’s one of the things I enjoy about being an illustrator – you get to meet a lot of interesting people. And nice people. It’s great to work on fun projects, but it’s even greater when you’re working for really nice people!
To be in with the chance of winning a ‘An Alphabet of British Wildlife‘ print by Zoë, comment on here or tweet us and tell us your favourite British wildlife (plant or animal) and Zoë will pick her favourite response.
A2 Lithographic Print Lynx Rough White 170gsm Signed and Numbered, Edition of 200