We talk illustration, house plants and scrapbooking with Illustrator and Pattern Designer Jacqueline Colley.
Our conversation with Jacqueline Colley starts on the subject of job titles, specifically the challenge of 'owning' one. ‘It's funny but I struggled for ages with calling myself an illustrator,’ Jacqueline says. ‘It’s only really recently that I’ve started to feel really confident and happy about using it as my job title.'
Considering a recent illustration project for high street fashion brand Oasis and a Best Illustrator Award from Mollie Makes Magazine, her reluctance to describe herself as an illustrator seems surprising - why the reticence?
‘I think it stems from choosing Graphic Design as my degree. I chose it because I thought it was the most vocational option. But I responded to all the briefs with illustration - essentially I was doing illustration from day one, even though I was technically studying graphic design. So, for a while I didn’t feel justified using the term.’
‘Then, earlier this year I won Best Illustrator at the Mollie Makes Awards, which was awesome and a massive confidence boost - I thought, right I'm definitely going to own that job title now!’
Jacqueline’s focus on illustration meant finding a job was initially difficult. ‘After I graduated I found myself going for graphic design jobs which I had little chance of getting because I’d sort of sidestepped the foundations of graphic design like typography and layout to concentrate on my drawing. It was a tough six months.’
Her luck changed when a friend, who was on traineeship at H&M, showed Jacqueline’s work to her boss, who loved it and took her on. There followed a year and a half working in H&M's textile design department, specialising in textile design for the kids range, working in both London and Stockholm.
A couple of years later, and a job at Oasis saw the beginning of the development of her distinctive style. ‘We were so lucky to have access to the Design Library - going there, and working from a such a range of design and pattern was an amazing education and really inspiring.’
Time spent at the Design Library helped Jacqueline to begin to shape her own style, which proved to be a ‘massively evolutionary process’.
‘My own personal style took a while to develop,’ she continues. ‘It only started to crystallise after a trip to the Jardin Majorelle in Morocco. I was so inspired by the colours, the plants and foliage - I basically filled an entire sketchbook in one visit. It sort of helped me set the tone for my work.’
One of those sketches of a cactus and palm leaf became one of her first designs and started a distinctive collection of work, which celebrates botanicals, plants and the natural world.
Setting up as a freelancer three years ago, Jacqueline now works from her home studio. ‘I’m slightly concerned I’m becoming a bit of a hermit,’ she laughs, ‘but I love working alone - I like the freedom to play around with ideas without feeling self-conscious.’
What does a typical day look like? ‘I definitely have work rituals,’ she says. ‘I always have to get ‘properly’ dressed - like I’m heading into the office. Once I’m ready I like to grind my own coffee, so I’ll do that. Once I’m caffeinated I’m ready to focus,’ she laughs, ‘I do the difficult stuff I don’t like - admin, invoices etc in the morning and more creative work in the afternoon. I love a podcast while I’m creating - I enjoy having someone talk at me.’
Each project - large or small - starts with a digital moodboard. ‘I’ll put images on there, scan in stuff from my scrapbooks and refer back to it constantly for inspiration. I always have it open on the computer when I’m working - that’s something of a ritual as well!’
Jacqueline’s time is divided between her own design work and client commissions. She continues to work on projects for Oasis - the most recent a perfect fit for her aesthetic - a collaboration between the company and London Zoo. ‘It was a brilliant project to work on. I got to spend a couple of days at the Zoo taking photographs and having access to their archive. It’s always exciting to see my work ‘walking around’ too - I recently spotted someone on a train platform wearing a one of my designs for Oasis. That was a very special moment - I was dying to say something but managed to keep quiet - I didn’t want to freak her out!’
The range of her work suggests someone for whom ideas just flow - does inspiration come easily? No - I definitely get blocked, but I’ve tried to develop ways around that. If I get stuck I go to my collection of collage scrapbooks. I’ve always collected paper ephemera and have five or six sketchbooks which I’ve filled over time, so they represent different stages of my life and contain a really broad range of designs and styles.'
‘In a way, I've created my own reference books. I’ll get a few of them out and just scan in anything which catches my eye, and start to build a mood board from that. The end design might be completely unrelated to that, but it’s a great way to just try and get the process going.’
Botanicals feature heavily in her work - and are also having something of a moment in interior styling - how much does she follow trends? ‘It’s part of the job to be aware of trends. I try not to be influenced - chasing trends is a quick way to lose your own particular style. Plants have always featured in my work, even before they became a big trend - so I like to think I got in slightly ahead of the wave!’
Jacqueline has just finished working on a limited edition screenprint for The Wallace Collection - due to go on sale in November. Is building up the collaboration side of her work a priority? ‘It’s always good to try and grow the number of clients, but I also want to do more screenprinting and to expand my own collection of illustrations and products.’
Three years into life as a freelance illustrator, what are the best and most challenging parts of the work? ‘Managing the business side has been hard. Somehow you have to find a way to pay the bills, but always keep your own visual voice clear. But it’s worth it for the best bit; the freedom and time to create work I’m proud of. ’
Describe your work in three words: Maximalist, Colourful and Explorable
What are your making rituals? Lots of research and a mood board is essential
Tea or Coffee? Coffee!
Mountains or Sea? Seaside as I grew up on a tiny island
Night Owl or Early Bird? Neither, I love to sleep but if I had to choose early bird!
I wish someone had told me… That creative jobs are many and varied, especially in the UK, don't be scared of going to art school!
Photography: Jacqueline Colley