Illustrator Egle Zvirblyte talks mastering time management and travelling with work
Somewhere between London and Lithuania, Egle Zvirblyte is redefining what it means to be a travelling artist, making studios of co-working spaces or Airbnb’s abroad. But Egle doesn’t necessarily travel light: her eclectic and ever-growing set of vibrant, shapely and occasionally sassy characters are always close at hand. Her commanding and confident style has appealed her to clients such as Ok Cupid and Dazed & Confused Magazine, and with a background in both film studies and spatial design, it’s no surprise to see her larger-than-life characters on everything from walls and posters to products and paintings. We caught up with her to hear about early influences, learning the value of time as a young creative and the theme park she dreams of building.
Between London and Vilnius, Lithuania
BA Interior and Spatial Design, Chelsea College of Art and Design, (2008–2011)
BA Film Studies, Middlesex University (2005–2008)
OK Cupid, Dazed Magazine, Fortnum&Mason, Sancal, Refinery 29, Etnia Barcelona, Arcus Group, Lane Crawford, Fricote, ZEIT Campus
How would you describe what you do?
I am an illustrator by day, and an artist by night. I do freelance commercial illustration for advertising, editorial, product design, animation and anything else exciting that comes along. As an artist, I draw, paint (paintings and walls), exhibit, self-publish and sell prints.
What does a typical working day look like?
My schedule is very flexible, depending on the projects I have on at that moment. Typically I would start my working day by checking emails, dealing with urgent matters first, then focusing all my productive energy on creative and client work. Later on I’ll finish any merchandise orders, and update my social media. If it’s an intense period, I might work until very late hours – but however busy the day is, I always take time in the morning to charge my creative batteries.
Apart from some exceptionally packed periods, I don’t keep strict office hours. I also make time for exhibitions, dinners, sports and spending time with friends to keep the creative juices flowing. I usually work from my home studio, but I also travel a lot, so might set up base in an Airbnb or a co-working space abroad for various periods.
What do you like about working in London?
London is a huge resource; it’s so easy to access incredible art, culture, music and fashion. I travel a lot and work remotely, but touch base here for inspiration and to get on top of things.
How does your project-based work usually come about?
Social media and my online presence is probably the main way. Also, the more I exhibit and travel with work, the bigger my creative network becomes. Clients reach out if they feel that my style will represent the vision they have in mind.
How collaborative is your work?
I work for clients, so the result is always a collaborative effort. Depending on the project, there might be more or less art direction, I might work with other designers, animators and printers to get where we want to be. On the other hand, a big chunk of work is solitary and in front of computer.
What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months?
It’s actually just about to happen – I am designing a bar space for Moniker Art Fair that will take place in New York this May. I will be customising the bar in the centre of the exhibition space. I met Tina, the festival’s creator in Art Basel Miami, and she invited me to collaborate shortly after. Tina is so enthusiastic and open to ideas – we are going to be doing some very exciting stuff!
What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job?
I love working together with clients when our ideas are in sync. I love the dynamic and rapid growth in my job. I love that I get paid for doing what I love. The most mundane tasks are entering parcel tracking numbers for items shipped. A good life-work balance is entirely up to you in this line of work, and I had to learn to balance mine out the hard way.
“As a freelancer, it’s important to know how to divide your productive energy between projects, and have a life as well.”
What skills are essential to your job?
Besides creativity, good communication, an ability to understand a client’s needs, time-management and discipline, as an illustrator you must have your own unique visual language.
Are you currently working on any self-initiated projects?
A new exhibition.
What tools do you use most for your work?
For illustration work, I’ll use my Macbook, Wacom tablet and Photoshop. I draw with Muji pens and oil pastels, and paint mostly with acrylics and water colours.
How I Got Here
What did you want to be growing up?
When I was a kid, I wanted to be an artist, like my uncle. He is a true creative spirit: a painter, sculptor, illustrator, carpenter. He is always sketching, making, and creating this wholesome artistic sync with his environment. I was fascinated by the cornucopia of his studio, and inspired by his constant improvisation. In my teenage years this idea kind of faded away, but look what I am doing now!
What influence has your upbringing had on your choice of career?
My dad gave me a lot of freedom, but little guidance to follow my own choices, so I had the luxury and the hard task to discover my career path on my own, by exploration.
How (if at all) is the subject you studied useful to your current role?
Film studies and spatial design trained me in storytelling. All creative work is about bringing ideas to life: how will you represent it; how will it materialise; what’s the concept, narrative, visual?
“The more I exhibit and travel with work, the bigger my creative network becomes.”
What were your first jobs?
My first jobs were bar jobs, to support myself through uni. My first creative job was as a visual merchandiser for designer clothing boutique, Studio 8. I was doing their windows, plus taking care of all in-store visuals: graphics, web, label design and so on. I did a set design internship at Rhea Thierstein, which was an amazing introduction to the wild world of set design for fashion and events, which I did until I left London.
What in particular helped you the most at the start of your career?
After living in London for eight years, I decided to leave and start a new life and career. I also met a new boyfriend at the time who was an illustrator, and his support gave me the courage to follow the illustration path.
I wanted to have as much freedom as possible in terms of time and location, while still doing what I love. Once I started travelling, it was a very natural transition from set design to illustrating; I could work anywhere, make my own schedule, and keep drawing – only for clients this time. Over a three year period, I have lived in Melbourne, Bali, Japan and Barcelona, travelling extensively in Southeast Asia during periods in between.
Was there a particular project you worked on that helped your development?
The decision to start releasing my own prints made me push my personal work much further, which as a consequence, expanded the scope of my illustration projects.
What skills have you learnt along the way?
My biggest lessons learnt were in time management. As a freelancer, it’s important to know how to divide your productive energy between simultaneous projects, achieve set goals, and have a life as well.
What’s been your biggest challenge?
Learning the value of my time. At the beginning, you are so excited to get noticed and have projects, that you forget to measure the energy and time you spend on them; you might not charge enough or work for free. Gradually I learned to separate work, my artistic practice, and personal life, and to put an adequate price on each. Time is my most precious resource.
Is your job what you thought it would be?
To be honest, I never had a set image of how my illustration career would look like. I just made it what I wanted it to be on the go!
What would you like to do next?
I want to expand my artistic practice, do more sculpture and immersive 3D work. I also want to paint more large-scale walls. My ultimate artistic goal is to do build a theme park.
Could you do this job forever?
I think I will always be doing something creative.
What do you feel is the natural career progression for someone in your current position?
Well, pretty much any creative fancy! Bigger campaigns, art direction, teaching, opening your own creative studio, launching a product line, creating a TV series, changing the world!
Words of Wisdom
What advice would you give to a young creative wanting to get into the same line of work?
Do internships, ask questions, shop around, find a mentor. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes!
Interview by Marianne Hanoun
Mention Egle Zvirblyte