Design Assembly recently got the opportunity to chat with Wellington based Secret World of Butterflies illustrator Giselle Clarkson to find out a bit more about her work and what inspires it.
Can you tell us a little bit about who you are, what your background is, and how you first got started in the industry.
I’m based in Wellington and I work freelance doing all types of illustration – whether it’s for print or digital – including editorial stuff, educational material, commercial illustration and kids’ books. I make comics too. I have a BFA in photography from Canterbury, but after graduation I worked in a shop selling tramping gear and was really focused on doing stuff outdoors. I did heaps of conservation volunteering – weeding, tree planting, trapping, that kind of thing. I was completely torn between pursuing a career in art or with the Department of Conservation, so eventually found a way to do both. In 2013 I made a print out of a bunch of fish I’d drawn for fun and started selling that, but it wasn’t really until 2014 when I began drawing birds and posting them on twitter that I started to pick up freelance illustration jobs. One thing led to another after that.
How would you describe your particular style of illustration?
Sometimes it’s very cartoony, sometimes looser or more realistic. I have a few different ways of drawing and I’ll tailor my style to suit whatever brief I’ve got, but the general feel of my work is pretty friendly and approachable, I think, and very local.
What excites you about what you do?
Pretty much everything. From the fact that I can wear leggings and a hoody nearly every day to the buzz I get when I see something I drew out in the world.
I definitely like being the boss of me! Making all the big calls can be pretty stressful at times but ultimately it’s really cool being able to decide how to spend my time and choose jobs that align with my own values. My work’s taken me on some amazing adventures around NZ, on long sea voyages and to hang out with penguins in Milford Sound. I’ve met incredible people all along the way. Also being able to look back and see how my work’s evolved over the years, it’s exciting to know that if I keep pushing myself my best work is probably still to come.
What does your typical working day involve?
I work from home in a cosy wee room without a window. It’s sort of a cupboard but a real estate agent might call it a nook. I wake up at about 7:30 and have breakfast at my desk while reading twitter, trying to clear a few emails and setting a couple of goals for the day. I’m a super bad procrastinator but I’m good with deadlines so having a really clear daily to-do list helps. I try to be generally available during the same business hours as my clients but I still work at night or on weekends if I need/want to.
Some days I barely draw at all. So much time is taken up with invoicing, general business admin, emailing, reading contracts, ordering prints, having meetings, etc!
My favourite days are when I can put on music or a podcast and just go into auto-pilot, plugging away at line-art or colouring for hours at a stretch.
What project, personal or professional, are you most proud of and why?
Last year I wrote and illustrated an 8 page comic about New Zealand’s subantarctic islands for the NZ School Journal.
I travelled down to the subantarctic and came home massively affected by the beauty of the region and also the big environmental issues surrounding the islands – climate change, plastic pollution and fishery management. Being able to create a piece about that, one that is now being used in schools all over the country is so exciting. I get teachers sending me photos of work their students have made in response to my comic and that gives me such a good feeling. Also the fact that comics are being taken seriously as a medium for literacy and education is awesome.
What have you been working on recently?
In June a picture book that I illustrated called Secret World of Butterflies (written by Courtney Sina Meredith) came out. We worked alongside Auckland Museum who have an exhibition by the same name, so that was really cool. I’ve been doing some more illustrations for Ministry of Education publications and keeping up my regular comic about kids’ books on The Sapling (https://www.thesapling.co.nz/the-giselle-clarkson-comic).
Where you do you draw inspiration from?
Getting out and doing stuff, doesn’t really matter what. Spending time around people, watching animals, noticing everyday stuff. Whether it’s around town or out in the hills, although I prefer the hills.
Everything I illustrate, or everything I think I illustrate well, is grounded in my own experiences. Getting the right look in a chicken’s eye or the mood of a cat, trying to show how a frosty morning smells or the gesture someone makes when they’re talking about something in particular.
And finally, where to next for you? What does 2018 hold?
I’ve got some fun unannounced stuff coming up, and a new print that I think people will happy about. The first half of this year was pretty hectic with all the Secret World of Butterflies stuff and an expedition to the Kermadecs so I’m looking forward to just knuckling down and getting things done in my studio. I’m hoping to find a bit of time to make comics about environmental issues…and plankton, I’ve learnt some amazing stuff about plankton that I want to share.