Interview by Creative Lives in Progress
Introduction by Siham Ali

Patience, practice and paper: We meet Manchester-based illustrator Hellie Cartledge

Having graduated from Camberwell College of Art’s illustration course during the pandemic, Hellie Cartledge didn’t have the easiest start to her career. But fully embracing ‘slow growth’, Hellie is currently balancing her freelance work with a retail job. Hellie’s client list, too, is slowly but surely growing – all thanks to a persistent attitude that saw her responding to briefs and reaching out to brands and businesses on Instagram. Known for her unique paper-cut illustrations, Hellie weaves a passion for high-end fashion into her illustration work, a style which lends thanks to her ‘endless daydreams’. Here, we talk to Hellie about the importance of self-taught perseverance, building connections with clients, and the realities of graduating in a global pandemic.

Hellie Cartledge

Hellie Cartledge


Job Title

Freelance Illustrator

Based

Manchester

Selected Clients

The Covent Gardener, Aila Magazine, Manon & Rose

Education

BA Illustration, Camberwell College of Arts
(2017–2020)

Social Media

Instagram

What I do

How would you describe what you do?
I am an Illustrator who explores elegant and extraordinary narratives primarily through the art of collage. I strive to create scenes of the everyday that are relatable and yet unlike anything else. My designs are rooted in my endless daydreams. This is driven through a lens of decadence that relates to my relationship with modern femininity which is ‘power and poise’ over ‘prim and proper’. I prolifically sketch from my home studio in Manchester.

As I’m just breaking into the industry, I need to keep moving, emailing, and ticking over ideas for clients and self-led projects. Fashion plays a huge role in my practice, and I often collaborate with clothing brands, as well as taking on broader editorial work.

If you could sum up your job in an image what would it be and why?
My desk space (below) is my hub of creativity. My happy place. It is where all my best ideas are born and I’m always surrounded by inspiring artworks on the wall, a full blooming vase, and sunlight.

Hellie’s desk

What’s your favourite thing on your desk right now, and why?
I’m a bit of a bookworm so I am constantly collecting books. My most recent addition is A Dictionary of Colour Combinations by Sanzo Wada. Not only is it a huge help when an idea is brewing, but each page is beautifully calming. It’s a tiny gem with a huge amount of inspiration.

What are the main influences and inspirations behind your work?
High-end fashion is at the core of my practice. I spend countless hours studying the craft and posture involved in new season drops, runway looks, and fashion photography. Dreaming of the glamour that is so far from my reach, I decided if I can’t live it, I’ll create it. That’s the beauty of Illustration; its possibilities are endless and there are no limits to the stories you want to tell!

At the moment, I am also transfixed by the art movement Art Nouveau. The movement’s mantra that art should decorate life with its beauty was a source of inspiration that kept my creativity alive through each lockdown. I love drawing inspiration from the curvaceous nature-driven works and contemplating how these elements can be twisted into modern-day settings.

“That’s the beauty of Illustration; its possibilities are endless and there are no limits to the stories you want to tell!” 

The Covent Gardener ‘The Psychology of Colour’

What’s been your favourite project to work on, from the past year, and why?
Recently I was commissioned by The Covent Gardener to illustrate a beautifully written article on ‘The Psychology of Colour’ by Lucy Moore. There is no better feeling than words jumping off the page and sparking your imagination. The article revolved around an extract from The Great Gatsby, fuelling a 1920’s inspired figure which brought me so much joy to research and style.

At times, clothing within my art is like a game of dress-up and I thrive in its playfulness. Not only did this project bring me copious amounts of joy to create, but the wonderful editor, Jeaninne Saba, commissioned my first piece in print which is a milestone for any emerging creative. It is a project I will always hold dearly.

How I got here

Would you say you need any specific training for what you do?
All you need is patience, practice, and paper! The only form of training is the self-taught perseverance to keep going which you gain through trial and error.

What was your journey like when you graduated?
Your first year as a post-grad is a year no university course could prepare you for. It’s simultaneously daunting and exciting. I would say it’s taken up until the past few months for me to find my feet – and even now, only one foot is on the floor. That’s the fun of it.

After graduating in a pandemic, I used Instagram to connect with independent businesses and creatives. With a loose grasp of where I was heading, it was important to me to keep creating and sharing online. I put my all into responding to as many competitions, briefs, and weekly prompts shared on the app until I began getting a small selection of paid and unpaid – mostly unpaid – design work. My confidence, practice, and clientele slowly started to grow. With each passing month and each time I picked up a pencil, I learned something new about myself, and I believe that will be the case for some time!

“Your first year as a post-grad is a year no university course could prepare you for. It’s simultaneously daunting and exciting.”

‘Milk’, for Manon and Rose (2021)
Mother Nature, WWF ‘Just Imagine’ Entry, Shortlisted (2021)
Sharks Arent Too Bad, Sway Blog (2021)
New Beginnings, entry for the Northern Illustration Prize

If you could pick three things that you’ve found useful or inspiring to your work or career so far, what would they be and why?
Pinterest – I am an avid pinner and am endlessly inspired each time I scroll through my homepage. My dog-eared copies of Frankie and Oh magazines, and podcasts. I like to listen to people nattering whilst I work. I particularly love The Guilty Feminist and Jessie Ware’s Table Manners.

What would you say has been your biggest challenge so far?
Learning how to cut and stick down teeny tiny pieces of paper without getting angry.

“Social media should be a document of who you are as a whole person and not just your polished finished pieces.”

How important would you say social media and self-promotion are to your work and career?
Instagram as a platform acted, and still acts, as a warm community where I can build friendships and working relationships. It’s important to use an online space to get your portfolio out into the world and show off your unique self. It’s been a huge source of work for me.

My advice would be to stay consistent and don’t be too precious about your posting. Social media should be a document of who you are as a whole person and not just your polished finished pieces. Secondly, say hello! It only takes a second to message an artist or business you admire and it’s an amazing way to stay connected.

What have been your greatest learnings with making money and supporting yourself as a creative?
Don’t be afraid to talk money with clients and other creatives. As an emerging artist, it almost feels like a taboo subject. It’s healthy to chat about your earnings with friends in similar industries to learn your worth and celebrate one another – don’t be shy in starting the conversation.

When it comes to clients, it’s important to be confident in being paid fairly for your work – it’s the bare minimum you would expect for a highly-skilled and specialised job. Currently, I am balancing a job in retail to support myself as I begin establishing my space in the industry. Slow growth comes with the career choice and, I believe, is a truly rewarding aspect of the arts.

Sketchbook pages (2021)

My advice

What’s the best career-related advice you’ve ever received?
Just ask! Whilst sat in a lecture hall, a visiting graphic design collective told the room of bright-eyed hopefuls to ‘Just ask for the opportunities you want, the worst that could happen is they say no!’

Over the past year, I have followed this advice wholeheartedly, and I can only encourage others to try it themselves. You have to make your opportunities in such a fast-paced and tough industry, they won’t just come to you.

What advice would you give someone looking to get into a similar role to you?
Grab a sketchbook and get going. Draw, draw, and draw. With a little faith in yourself and your weird but wonderful imagination, there’s no limit to your abilities!

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We have partnered with community-building platform SAD GRADS to highlight some of their talented network. Set up to support 2020 graduates across the UK, see more from SAD GRADS here.

Interview by Creative Lives in Progress
Introduction by Siham Ali