Posted 27 June 2024
Interview by Isabelle Cassidy
Mention Jessica Lee

Manchester-based illustrator Jessica Lee on the power of a positive social media presence

With a degree in Graphic Design from the Manchester School of Art, illustrator Jessica Lee's distinct style involves cheerful, vibrant illustrations inspired by everyday life. Since graduating in 2022, Jessica has worked on collaborative murals, packaging and branding briefs and even a collaborative phone case collection with Skinnydip London London. Here, Jessica highlights exactly how networking, community support, and maintaining a positive social media presence have helped her burgeoning career and found her clients.

Self-portrait illustration by Jessica

Jessica Lee

Job Title

Freelance Illustrator



Place of Study

BA Graphic Design, Manchester School of Art, 2019-2022


Social Media


What I do

How would you describe what you do as an illustrator?
I am a freelance illustrator, recently represented by Making Pictures. The aim of my work is to make people smile by using colourful palettes, fun characters, and light-hearted narratives. My personal work is usually based on my interests, like food, characters, nature, and dogs!

When I’m not drawing for a client, I’m drawing for myself. I’m always coming up with fresh ideas to stay creative, as well as finding new ways to develop my illustration style. Though the majority of my work is digital, I recently experimented with a hand-drawn frame-by-frame technique to create a character stop-motion. I document a lot of personal work and experiments on my Instagram, as well as client work.

What are the main influences and inspirations behind your work?
My work is usually inspired by my imagination or something I see. For example, when I look at an object, let's say a coffee mug. I think about the many narratives I can use to bring this mug to life. Could it be skateboarding, eating, doing a handstand, or having a party with other coffee mugs? The ideas could be endless!

Collaboration is key! At this point, I have collaborated with other creatives like Jade Bern, Mat Voyce, Cody Banks and Oskarwithak. It’s such a cool way to merge styles and learn from each other’s techniques.


Jessica's personal project inspired by 'Nice Things' plant shop in Manchester


More of Jessica's personal illustrations

Jessica lee freelance illustrator creative lives in progress


Would you say you need any specific training for what you do?
Though I attended university, I wouldn’t say it’s completely necessary if you are looking to pursue illustration as a career, as not a single one of my clients have ever asked me if I have a degree, they commission me for the style that I do. Your work should speak for itself.

As someone who works from home, I have started attending networking events, drawing events, and talks around Manchester to meet other local creatives, which I have found to be a massive help in my freelance career. There’s so much insight and advice you can get from these events, as there's usually a wide range of people who attend. A few events I have been to recently are Drawn In, Factory International Creative Social, Pecha Kucha and an Adobe event. Networking has definitely been valuable to my journey.

What’s been your favourite project to work on from the past year, and why?
My favourite project this year would have to be my collaboration with Skinnydip London. I created a collection of three phone case designs. It’s more of a personal win for me as I remember collecting their phone cases when I was younger, so it feels like a full-circle moment for me to have my own collection with them.

How I got here

What was your journey like when you were first starting out?
I have always drawn, but I first experimented with digital illustrations during college around 2018. From then, I started exploring different styles and techniques and just finding my own creative voice. It wasn’t until a month or two before I graduated that I started to post consistently on Instagram. I noticed a growth in engagement at this point, and about two months later, I landed my first exhibition at Bold Street Coffee, Manchester.

“It’s important to remember that everyone’s journey is different and to embrace your own creativity.”

How did you go about landing your first few commissions?
As mentioned, after my exhibition launched, I landed my first client, who found me through that. He was a local artist launching his NFT collection at the time, so I was commissioned to create an illustration for his website landing page.

The commission after that was from Public London, a design studio based in Islington, who I met during a live brief at uni. It was to create a series of packaging illustrations for their client.

The next commission was for Spark&Co, 'A research, training, and coaching collective for organizations that take anti-racism and inclusion seriously.’ I was commissioned to create 25 characters representing people of different ethnicities, genders, and ages.


Jessica's personal illustrations




What has been your biggest challenge along the way?
It took me a long time to post my work on social media. I found myself comparing my work to others who were more successful and just fearing what other people would think of my work. But once I got over this, I feel like I bloomed and started posting daily on Instagram. Whether I liked the piece of work or not, I posted it anyway to document my journey and growth. It’s important to remember that everyone’s journey is different and to embrace your own creativity.

How important are social media and self-promotion to your work?
As long as you use social media for the right reasons, I think it’s very useful. It has been vital to my career — the majority of my clients and other opportunities have come through Instagram. Without it, I definitely would not be where I am today. The biggest advice regarding social media is to keep it positive by following people who inspire you and to make connections with people from around the world; the reach you can get through social media is crazy!


Jessica's personal work




What three things have you found useful to your work or career, and why?
Firstly, networking, whether that’s through people on social media, creative events, industry people, or just people in a different creative sector from you. There's so much to learn from people; we all go through different experiences and challenges.

Secondly, community and surrounding yourself with good, supportive people goes a long way. I remember the feeling of just starting out and finding my feet, but a couple of amazing creatives helped me along the way.

Then, there are podcasts and talks. Just listening to other people’s creative journeys can be inspiring and insightful. A notable podcast to mention is Creative Boom.

“If you're struggling with how to price your work, don’t be afraid to reach out to people for advice.”

Have there been any courses or websites you’ve found helpful or would recommend to get into your sector?
Inky Goodness offers 28-day workshops for illustrators and graphic designers, and the AOI (Association of Illustrators) is also good for any illustrators.

What have been your greatest learnings with making money and supporting yourself as a creative?
There’s definitely more support out there than you think! If you're starting out and struggling with how to price your work or dealing with the legal side of things, don’t be afraid to reach out to anyone for advice. When I started out, I sought out advice from a range of people, including my uni lecturer, other illustrators and even via articles online. Also, freelancing is very unstable and there’s no shame at all in getting a part-time job to support yourself.


Jessica's personal illustrations




My advice

What’s the best career-related advice you’ve ever received?
“If you love what you do, you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” Of course, it doesn't translate as literally never working for me, but I don’t see my work as work because of how much I enjoy it.

What advice would you give to someone looking to get into a similar role?
Start creating! Whether it’s good or bad, just begin. You will never know what your creative voice is until you try. Slowly build up a portfolio, and know that it’s not an overnight thing. It may take months or years before you find your feet, but just remember to not compare yourself to other people. Though someone’s Instagram may look perfectly polished, you don’t see the amount of work that goes into it.

Interview by Isabelle Cassidy
Mention Jessica Lee