I discovered Hilary’s illustration work through Instagram and fell in love, firstly with the Party Ducks, and secondly (after a visit to her blog) with how gorgeously she decorated her first market stall!
I couldn’t wait to chat to her about how she got started and how she’s finding the illustration business so far.
Tell us a bit about you and how you came to start an illustration business?
I’ve always been interested in drawing and making things. My mum is a textile artist, so while growing up in Cornwall there were always plenty of opportunities to draw, colour or create something, and I didn’t need much encouragement! Both my parents are also self-employed, and because of this I have always had a strong drive to run my own business; I thrive on an independent work ethic.
Being outdoors was my other love as a child, and I spent many happy days at the local stables and farm with my friends, being enthralled by the many animals we encountered, and captivated by the majesty of the Cornish countryside. This fascination with the countryside and the animals within it has maintained, and are a driving force behind the content of my illustrative work.
Despite choosing an eight year career in the equine and events industries rather than an education in the arts, I haven’t been able to resist the ongoing pull of creativity. Whilst studying and working full time I frequently drew the pets of friends and family, and sketched any animals or interesting scenes I encountered on my travels.
I really wanted to make more of my favourite thing to do, and following encouragement from friends and family I decided to set up a small side-line business initially selling cards and prints of my work with a view to producing a collection of want-able illustrated gifts in the future. I decided to use just my first two names (Hilary Clea) to build the brand – although I am proud to have a unique surname, I am conscious it is not the easiest to spell!
I started with a series of British Birds, as to me they are the best known icons of the British outdoors! I started to sell the cards at my workplace, and they were an instant hit – since then I have been inspired to do all sorts of designs mainly involving British wildlife (and a variety of poultry!) and have had enjoyed a terrific response at the few shows and fairs that I have done. I’m really excited about all my plans for the future.
Tell us a bit about your creative process, from idea, to design, to finished product?
I have the classic creatives’ problem – too many ideas and not enough time to explore each one!
I started out thinking I would have a range of illustrated products with a number of different designs ready to bring to market in a few months, but in actual fact it has taken me a lot longer to get anywhere close to having a collection of products.
I still work full time as well as running Hilary Clea, so I am limited in how quickly I can get things done. On the other hand, this allows me to plan much more carefully and I always try to keep the bigger picture in mind when a idea hits. Instead of running headlong into the implementation of an idea only to realise it doesn’t really work for my target market, I can now think about the development of a product or illustration as part of a wider collection based on who it is aimed at and how and when it would be best to launch.
My creative process usually starts with an idea about creating a particular illustration, or using a particular colour, or creating something for a specific reason, like a celebratory card.
Like most people, I get my inspiration from all over the place, such as a scene I’ve been struck by while driving home, or an interesting thread in an idle conversation with a friend. To develop the idea I then might seek out other images, photographs and colours and sketch out some ideas of what an illustration might look like.
For example when depicting a specific animal I try different versions based on what should it be doing, whether there should there be action, what kind of expression it should have, etc. There may be many different versions!
Up to now I have been mainly focused on creating illustrations that will work well on cards or as prints, but now I am starting to think more about how versatile an image might be displayed on other media, like fabric or ceramics. All of my illustrations start off being pencil sketches and then I use watercolours for the main part and ink to finish off.
I am constantly having ideas about products, either how an existing illustration would be ideal to use on a particular item, or how I could create a new illustration to perfectly compliment a product that I’d really like to sell.
I’m still learning about the process of creating a collection of products, but for me it involves a lot of sketches of different ideas and working out the perfect size, shape, packaging, how each item compliments the others and which illustrations would work best on each product. I love this process as it really helps to bring my illustrations to life. It is so lovely to imagine someone treasuring something I have created!
I have spent a lot of time seeking out suppliers and asking for samples, which I have found really helps to make my ideas more realistic – not only cost-wise, but also in terms of quality of materials and time. Often seeing samples in the flesh can give me new ideas about other products to think about in the future.
What are your future plans for your business?
I have heaps of future plans, but I have been careful not to implement too much up to now based on the fact that I work full time and don’t want to compromise on quality or service to clients.
To me, it is more important to under-promise and over-deliver than to have a huge choice but a poor experience for those who wish to buy from me. That’s why at the moment my product choice is limited, but I have a variety of different designs within the two or three products I provide. This is giving me a chance to get a feel of what kinds of designs people like, rather than their choice being influenced by the product. That stage will come later!
That said, since enjoying an excellent response at the few craft markets I have done this Summer I am keen to keep the momentum going. I am in the process of producing an exciting collection of gift items using some of my most popular illustrations. I plan to launch them in time for the Christmas gift buying season, and I will sell direct to the public through my website and at Christmas events and fairs. I hope that from the response to this I can then glean some ideas for signature pieces that I can develop and that Hilary Clea will become known for, inspiring people to keep coming back based on the high quality of the offering.
I’ve been a little apprehensive to approach potential stockists so far (a mixture of lack of knowledge about selling wholesale and fear of rejection!) but this is definitely something I’m planning to do in time for the spring/summer season next year. I’ve been mentally building up a list of those I’d like to approach, and I’d love to showcase my work at a few tradeshows too. I’d be interested (and slightly nervous) to hear the response from potential buyers, but I’m just not ready for that stage yet.
I’m conscious that I have a lot to learn, and have been so grateful for the constant support and guidance from the online creative community. I get a lot out of studying other creative’s experiences and blogs as well as reading articles from organisations set up to help and support small creative businesses like The Design Trust and Red Lemon Club. I’m really keen to do a lot more networking and discover more about all the fabulous makers out there, as it is the inspiration I glean from these people that has really spurred me on to do more, and be better. Watch this space!
Absolutely brilliant advice from a natural entrepreneur, thank you Hilary! I can’t wait to see how her collection develops.
You can keep up with Hilary online in the following places:
Twitter – @hilaryclea
Instagram – @hilaryclea
Facebook – Hilary Clea
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