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Interview: Lucy Sherston, Illustrator

Interview with illustrator Lucy Sherston about her newspaper portfolio

"I always told myself I wasn't 'ready' to approach people," says illustrator Lucy Sherston about her wariness to send out a portfolio. "Eventually I realised I could work at this for 30 years and still convince myself that I'm not ready!" Recently the Brighton-based artist — whose clients include Quartz, Herman Miller, Etsy and Bombay Sapphire — used a digital tabloid newspaper to finally start sharing her bright, playful designs in print.

Below, Lucy talks about overcoming self-doubt, how her practice has changed under lockdown and why a newspaper portfolio "ticks all the boxes" for her.

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Lucy Sherston in her studio in Brighton.

GETTING STARTED

I studied Visual Communication at Leeds College of Art. After I graduated I spent a couple of years just making for myself, trying to figure out how I make images and what I want to convey.

I was sharing this work online and was asked to do some posters for Common, a bar in Manchester. They were one of my first illustration jobs and I made posters for them pretty regularly for a few years. By building a portfolio of personal projects, plus my work for Common, I slowly gained more commissions and was featured on some great design blogs, which then led to more work.

Interior spread from illustrator Lucy Sherston's newsprint portfolio, printed by Newspaper Club

Lucy Sherston's portfolio, printed as a digital tabloid.

Most of my work tends to start off as a drawing in my sketchbook or a list of words and rough ideas on themes and colours. From there I use paints or ink to create certain elements and textures. Then I scan these images and collage the pieces together in Photoshop. Recently I’ve really enjoyed bouncing back and forth between Procreate and Photoshop to tweak final things.

"By building a portfolio of personal projects, I slowly gained more commissions."

I tend not to carry my sketchbook around with me, but I do take photos on my phone of things I like or that inspire me. Then I draw from the photos, collaging together sketches from the different photos.

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Lucy Sherston with her sketchbook.

READY TO PRINT

Sending out a portfolio is something I've been wanting to do for years, but I've always told myself I wasn't quite "ready" to approach people. Eventually, I realised I could work at this for 30 years and still convince myself that I'm not ready! It felt important for me to just put the work out there.

"I've always told myself I wasn't 'ready' to approach people. It felt important for me to just put the work out there."

I wanted to make a little taster portfolio to send out to people I'd like to work with. I've been slowly building up a list of art directors, but tracking people down is another job in itself!

Lucy Sherston's illustration portfolio printed as a newspaper by Newspaper Club

Lucy Sherston's portfolio, printed as a digital tabloid.

The newspaper shows a small selection of work from the past year. I wanted to send something physical and tactile but also had to consider price and practicality. A newspaper ticks all the boxes. I’d seen examples of other papers on the Newspaper Club blog and the colours looked great. I was so impressed by all the different ways people have used the format.

Details from I Can Cook Vegan by Isa Chandra Moskowitz, illustrated by Lucy Sherston

Details from I Can Cook Vegan by Isa Chandra Moskowitz, illustrated by Lucy Sherston.

One highlight is the work I was commissioned to do for I Can Cook Vegan (pictured above), a collection of recipes by Isa Chandra Moskowitz. For this project I was given the chapter titles like 'Pasta & Noodles' or 'Sandwiches' and began making small thumbnail sketches from there. Most of the original thumbnail sketches are pretty true to how the final images came out! 

"I was so pleased when I opened the newspapers. And they arrived so quickly!" 

My favourite part of the process was building up a library of textures for all the different foods. Unfortunately I didn’t get to try any of the dishes I was drawing at the time, but I’ve made a number of Isa's recipes since and been so impressed! I also really enjoyed focusing more on editorial work last year. My favourite piece was an illustration for Quartz (pictured below), which I used on the back page of my newspaper.

Illustration by Lucy Sherston for Quartz

Illustrations for Quartz by Lucy Sherston. "This image accompanied an article on the lucrative transformation economy, the move away from consumers buying products and instead investing in experiences in the attempt to 'better' themselves."

It took me about a week and a half to put my newspaper together. I drew a flat plan of what I thought should go where and what I wanted to include. I felt quite out of my depth trying to arrange images  that are all different sizes and colours and was struggled at first to figure out how to make them sit together. My first instinct was to show as much as possible, but in the end leaving white space and being picky about what I included produced a better result.

I was so pleased when I opened up the package of newspapers and they arrived so quickly! I’ve had a couple of really nice responses already which has been so lovely to hear.

Interior spread from illustrator Lucy Sherston's newsprint portfolio, printed by Newspaper Club

Lucy Sherston's portfolio, printed as a digital tabloid.

LIFE UNDER LOCKDOWN

I think I've found my rhythm under lockdown now, but initially I really struggled to get any work done. I've always been someone who spends a lot of time thinking about food and during lockdown it's given me routine and structure. The day revolves around meal times and I've gotten a lot of joy out of cooking.

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Lucy Sherston in her studio in Brighton.

Alongside my own illustration practice, I normally work part-time for a small, family-run textiles studio here in Brighton — unfortunately that work came to a (hopefully temporary) halt when lockdown began. I'm very thankful to have had one longer term project to work on. That's given me real focus and I've been trying to use the rest of my time to develop personal work. I've also started journaling more which I'm finding really helpful.

"It's been great to see the honesty that's emerged from this experience. Opening up these conversations in difficult times helps us all."

Last month I took part in A South London Makers Market, which turned into a virtual event. I was absolutely overwhelmed by the response. I've had so many more people buying my prints than ever before! I know it's a direct response to the virus — I think people are aware how it's affected artist's incomes and are keen to support us. It's made a huge difference and I feel really touched by all the prints that are going out to live in people's homes.

It's been really great to see the honesty that's emerged from this experience. I've seen more artists talk openly about how they're dealing with everything and I think opening up these conversations in difficult times helps us all.


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