"Finding my voice as an illustrator"

  • Published: 9 Sep 2019

Molly McCammon recently graduated in Illustration, and is now studying a prestigious MA in Children’s Book Illustration at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge. In the first of our #DJCADstudentstories series, she tells us about how she found her voice as an illustrator at DJCAD…

“It was amazing to see people’s reaction to my work at the Degree Show. I remember walking into the exhibition space and there were crowds of people looking at my books – that was the first time I realised that people actually liked my work. It’s funny, you’re being critiqued all the time during your final year, and so sometimes you forget that what you’re doing is actually good and you’re there for a reason. To see people’s reactions like that was brilliant. I also found out I’d got into the MA course in Children's Book Illustration at Anglia Ruskin University the same day – in a taxi on the way to the Show! I was on such a high for the whole night.

“My Degree Show work was focused on two children’s books, one called Feathers and the other called My Grandad. The first book, Feathers, teaches kids about bereavement and grief and the second book, My Grandad, is all about a child’s imagination and what the character’s grandad might get up to when he’s at school. The latter is playful and fun and I really loosened up during the creative process – doing lots collage work and crayons and sticking – and through that I developed a unique style. I ended up applying what I’d learned to Feathers. It was still serious and sad, but it has that child-like element to it, that sense of naivety. I loved having the opportunity to write my own stories. Both of them were inspired by personal circumstances, and for me, the writing is where the creativity is.

“I loved having the opportunity to write my own books”

“My work is mainly traditional. I work on massive A2 paper, using mixed media, and I don’t really plan what I’m going to do before I start sketching, I just go for it. Sometimes you just have to trust your instincts! I draw something out on massive piece of paper and then block in colours with acrylic paint. When it’s dry then I get the coloured pencils and collage and have some fun with it – I use anything from pages from newspapers, magazines and books to a piece of wool on my desk! I would then scan the pages and I’d put them into Photoshop, but I don’t play around with them too much because I like the fact that’s it’s quite traditional – it feels like there isn’t too much of that around at the moment. Finally, I draw out my text, scan it in and drop that on top of my images.

“What changed it for me was a project we did on children’s books”

“It was only in the last few months of third and fourth year or so that my illustration style came together. Between second and third year, I didn’t really know what I was doing – I was enjoying the course and I was learning and experimenting, but every project I did looked completely different and you couldn’t tell that it was the same person that had done it. I really worried about that, despite the tutors reassuring me that it was was all part of the process of finding my voice as an illustrator.

“What changed it for me was a project we did at the end of third year on children’s books. A woman from the Association of Illustrators came in and gave us this amazing talk and she said this one thing that really stuck with me, which was, ‘Don’t hold yourself to a brief, hold the brief to you’. Up until that point I’d been trying to make my work look like whatever the brief happened to be, and I just realised that I was going about it the wrong way around. I needed to have my own voice and style, and make that the starting point. It just clicked for me and I realised this is what I wanted to be doing.

“It’s when you start talking about your work that the magic happens”

“When I first started I thought it would end up studying Fine Art, but as soon as I started doing the design modules I knew Illustration was more for me. Saying that, some of my best friends ended up being from Fine Art. We met up every lunchtime for the entire time we were studying at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design, and that was brilliant. We were all focused on our different specialisms but that meant we were all able to offer different perspectives on each other’s work. I think that’s where the magic happens – when you stop working and start talking about your work. We definitely all inspired each other.

“What I’m going to miss the most are the facilities at DJCAD – we’re so lucky to the workshops and the studio spaces that we do. I don’t know what I would have done without that studio atmosphere – you work for four years with the same people, going through all the ups and downs, and there’s a real sense of togetherness; that we’re all in it together. To all be together at the Degree Show was really nice. We were all just really proud of each other, I couldn’t stop smiling.”

Read more about Molly’s work on her website. Like the sound of studying at DJCAD? Find out more about our General Foundation and Illustration courses on our course pages here.

"I don’t know what I would have done without that studio atmosphere – you work for four years with the same people, going through all the ups and downs, and there’s a real sense of togetherness; that we’re all in it together."

Molly McCammon, Illustration graduate