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Q&A with Jacob Stead

Freelance illustrator from UK

My name is Jacob and I’m a freelance illustrator from the UK. I live in Amsterdam, where I am lucky enough to spend my time drawing for a living. I mostly work on editorial commissions for a wide range of international clients.

How did you get started in illustration, what is your background?

I’ve always loved drawing, so it felt like a natural thing to do from a young age, but it wasn’t until started studying at college that I began to figure out what illustration was all about. Up until that point I hadn’t seen it as a viable career path, but I began to discover that it might be possible to get paid to have fun.

Where did you study? Looking back, would you recommend your path for beginners?

I studied on the Foundation course at Leeds College of Art & Design in 2007-8, which was a really great exercise in exposure to new ideas and methods in drawing as well as print. It was a rush of quick assignments, which blew apart my conception of what illustration is and allowed me the freedom to experiment whilst introducing me to the restrictions of deadlines at the same time.

I then moved to Bristol where I studied Illustration at UWE between 2008-11. I continued focusing on exploring my work, and refining a style (although that didn’t really begin to take shape until the last year).

I would definitely recommend studying illustration, as a course provides a place to explore the subject in the company of other enthusiastic people and inspiring visiting lecturers.

What is a turning point in your professional career?

I’m not sure that there has been a single turning point in my work to date. So far, it’s been a slow and steady progression of building relationships with clients, but I don’t think there have been any particular milestones.

What is your ideal work environment? Do you prefer to work at studio all day long or mix a few activities? 

I was working from a studio with a few other illustrator friends in Bristol until I moved abroad. That was a great environment to work in. I think it’s really important to have people around you who you can bounce ideas around with, and also just for the company. It’s also inspiring to have people around you who are working hard and producing some amazing work, it definitely helped me to keep pushing myself.

I now work from home in my apartment in Amsterdam, which isn’t ideal to be honest. It’s definitely healthier to get out of the house and socialize a bit!

Where are your favorite places in Amsterdam or outside?

I’m lucky to live in such a great city, and it still feels new to me, so I’ve got a lot to explore. There’s a forest called Amsterdamse Bos which I like to cycle round for a change from the city.

Who are the designers and illustrators, colleagues you admire most?

My ex-studio pals Joe Waldron, Liam Barrett and Kyle Smart all make awesome work. I also admire the skills of Jonny Hannah and Bjorn Lie. Hockney has been a favourite since I was younger, being a fellow Bradfordian.