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The big betty careers Q&A: we chat to illustrator Becca Thorne

The end of school is nigh, and all of a sudden you feel like you’ve got 100 decisions to make. What do I want to do with my life? Do I want to go to college, or uni, or do I want to get stuck straight into work? It’s easy to feel lost when you don’t know what you want to do, or how to get there.

But while you have literally your whole life to make up your mind, a little bit of good advice can go a long way. So with that in mind, in a series of interviews, we’re speaking to women who’ve ‘made it’, and asking their advice on how to follow in their footsteps.

First up: Becca Thorne, a freelance illustrator and printmaker.

Describe your typical day

I work from home, but I like to make sure my head knows I’m at work, so I always get washed and dressed and have a decent breakfast. I start the day with toast and an egg and a glass of orange juice and read a chapter of my book, then go back upstairs to my studio where I check my emails and then get on with whatever project is top of the list that day. I know I do my best work between 2pm-7pm, so I’ll quite often have an early lunch (sometimes around 11:30am) and watch an episode of something on Netflix to get my brain ready, then get on it properly after that.

What’s the coolest part of your job?

Watching Netflix at work is great but also, because I’m my own boss, I get to set my working hours – I go to a yoga class every other day, and on Wednesdays I have tea with my friends afterwards, so I won’t start work until midday. I often have to balance that out by working later that day, but that’s fine, because it’s a job I love.

What are the bad parts?

Being your own boss means there’s no-one to tell you off for being lazy, and I’m an incredibly lazy person, so sometimes it’s hard to get motivated. There can also be long periods where I don’t get any commissions, which means there’s no money coming in. There are some companies who try to take advantage of illustrators by offering very low fees and bad contracts and when you haven’t been paid in a while, you can find yourself in the position of having to accept a bad job or reject it on principle. That can be quite demoralising.

The Big Question: uni, or no uni? 

I went to Falmouth University and did BA Illustration followed by MA Illustration: Authorial Practice. I wouldn’t say uni is absolutely necessary to be an illustrator, but it really helps to have three years where you can learn from professionals (tutors almost always work as illustrators themselves), experience a studio environment and develop friendships and contacts that will be very important in your later career.

I’d say the most important thing is an art foundation course, which is a year of general arty study before you choose your degree. There are a lot of art-based degrees to choose from – fine art, graphics, illustration, fashion design, textiles, ceramics, photography – and the foundation course gives you a taste of them all, so you can make an informed choice. University is so much different to school and a foundation course really prepares you for that – and, best of all, it’s free!

And what about A levels? 

I took A Level Fine Art and A Level Product Design – two great options for an illustrator, but other visual or craft subjects like pottery, graphics or photography would be great too. I wish I’d done a third subject that interested me, like history or English Literature, but I was sick of writing essays by that point! I actually took maths as my third subject, but dropped it after Christmas because I’m really not very good at it!

Is there anything you would do differently in hindsight?

I’d have made more of an effort in the first two years of my degree, experimented a lot more, sooner, and taken advantage of all the advice my tutors were offering, rather than spending my first year hungover!

If you were to give one piece of advice to your 14-year-old self, what would it be?

I’d tell myself to be confident in who I am and what I enjoy and to not worry so much what other people think, because, one day, I’ll be making a living from doing the things I love.

See more of Becca’s work here.

@EllieCostigan

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