Paper, Pugs & Passion: We Talk To Gemma Correll

by Mar 13, 2014
Gemma Corell - cat

When TWOP spoke to illustrator Gemma Correll, we learned all about her passion for communicating through ink and paper, her pug-filled home studio, crises of confidence (like every successful female ever), and that she’s an all round good egg.

“I am a cartoonist, writer, illustrator and all-round small person.”

Gemma Corell 2

Have you always been creative? Did you grow up in a creative family?

I didn’t grow up in an arty family. My parents worked in medicine and social care and my extended family are mostly teachers and care workers. But I was always encouraged to draw as a child, and grew up surrounded by an endless stock of half-used spiral bound notepads and a mountain of books which I read voraciously.

My dad owned The Anthology of the Far Side: a big, heavy collection of Gary Larsen cartoons, which became my bible.

Did you always know you wanted to do what you do?

Yes. I knew from a young age that I wanted to draw and write for a living (aside from a brief period when I set my heart on studying musical theatre, but I think that it’s for the good of everyone involved that that never happened).

I had quite a few moments of doubt as I grew older, due to lack of self-confidence (believing that I wasn’t good enough to ‘make it’ as an illustrator) and some misguided beliefs about what did and did not constitute a “real job”. I panicked after I finished my A-levels and decided that I should study something academic in order to get a proper job. I applied to various courses (my indecision should probably have been a clue that I was not on the right path) and was eventually accepted onto an English Literature and Education course at Cambridge University. I lasted about a month before quitting and enrolling on an Art Foundation course back at home!

How did you start out in the industry?

I started out doing mostly small, editorial jobs for magazines and newspapers. I worked part time in a shop and then full time as a special needs teaching assistant for a couple of years, while working on illustration jobs and selling products at craft fairs on the evenings and weekends. Four years after leaving art college, I was in a position, financially, to become a full-time self-employed Illustrator.

Who gave you your first break?

It wasn’t so much a “Who” as a “What”. I got my first illustration job after the D&AD Graduate design show in London – my college had a booth there and the illustration course put up a small exhibition. An art director saw my work and commissioned me for a small Virgin Holidays job.

Also, I really have to thank the Internet. Facebook was pretty new (or, just becoming popular) when I graduated from college. MySpace was still pretty popular. I used both of these sites to promote myself, plus a terrible website I made from a template (better than no website at all!). I also had a T-shirt design chosen by Threadless (a crowd-sourcing T-shirt design site) during my final year of college, which gave me a boost of confidence and some much needed funds.

Gemma Corell - illustrator

Where do you tend to work from? Do you have your own studio?

At the moment, I work from home. My ‘Studio’ is a room that I share with my husband, who is also an illustrator (www.anthonyzinonos.com) and my two pugs.

What does your average day look like?

Nearly every day starts with a pug walk and visit to our favourite coffee shop. Sometimes that’s the only outside social interaction that we have in a day! I spend my mornings packaging and posting any web orders plus answering any urgent emails, then I get on with drawing. I try to warm up by doodling in my sketchbook rather than jumping straight in, because that just leads to wailing and weeping.

How much work I get done in any given day largely depends on my mood. If I’m having a good day, I will work straight through from about 10am until 9 or 10pm, with just a short break for lunch. On other days, I struggle and have to take several walks/magazine reading breaks!

What issues have you come up against in your career and how have you overcome them?

My biggest problems have always been self inflicted – self confidence (or lack thereof) and overthinking. In other words, I am my own worst enemy. It’s something I’m still working on.

How do you promote yourself/go about getting more work?

I’m really very thankful for social media, because I would have struggled to get my work seen without it. I also have a wonderful agent: Anna Goodson, in Canada. They help me out with a lot of international jobs and are just lovely to work with, which helps a lot.

It’s quite clear that you are passionate about your work, but why do you love what you do?

Drawing – and writing – is, for me, a way of processing and attempting to understand the world and also a way of communicating to others. I very much live inside my own head and find it difficult to comprehend and articulate things in a verbal sense, but everything becomes clearer to me once I have filtered it through ink and paper and onto a page.

What/Who inspires and motivates you?

Books, magazines, newspapers, my pugs, my friends, my family, watching Saturday Night Live skits on youtube, poking around in charity shops, drawing in coffee shops, Monty Python, listening to musicals and bad 80s rock music, going for walks in the sun and drinking more than the average amount of coffee. Some of my favourite artists are; Tom Gauld, Linda Barry, and Kate Beaton.

Quite a lot of my work is based on real experiences, but sometimes I’ll embellish those experiences to make them funnier. Although, often I don’t need to – there’s so much humour in the simple exchanges and conversations that I witness every day.

How do you find running your own business?

I don’t particularly enjoy the ‘business’ side of things, like doing my accounts, but I know that I am incredibly lucky to have so much freedom in that I can dictate my own working hours, work from home and travel (more or less) whenever I want to. Also, I don’t really have the necessary logic and social skills to work in a normal job (believe me, I’ve tried).

Gemma Corell - cat 2

What’s next for you Gemma? What do you want to achieve?

I love cartooning and especially combining writing and drawing. I’d love to work on a Graphic novel and I also hope to continue my “Four Eyes” cartoon series for some time. Other than that, I’d be happy with a nice house somewhere warm and for my eyesight to not get any worse (it’s pretty bad already).

What is the most important advice that you could give to a youngster looking to break into the industry right now?

There are a lot of would-be illustrators out there these days, which can seem daunting, but don’t be discouraged. The ones that succeed are those that work really, really hard and know how to market their work. It isn’t easy to begin with, but it does get better as the years go by, so don’t give up too quickly. Persevere!

Do you have any other advice for illustrators looking to follow a similar career path as yourself?

Draw what you love. Don’t follow trends. Get a dog or two.

Gemma Corell - pug

With thanks to Gemma.

Find Gemma’s cards in the UK at Paperchase, Scribbler or WhSmiths. View more of her work on her site here, or follow her on Twitter @gemmacorrell.

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Images © Gemma Correll

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