Meet Georgie Stewart: A Freelance Illustrator Artist

Georgie Stewart is a freelance illustrator artist from London, UK. She is known for her style of electrifying the ordinary moments of everyday life, conveying a sense of wonder and joy for the world around us.

“… Research, practice, and trial and error!

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Artwork by Georgie Stewart

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Can you please tell us a bit about your background? Please add at least one random interesting fact about you.

I’ve been drawing since I was tiny – I was always writing and illustrating my own stories as a child and today my illustrations are still very narrative-driven.

When you think about it, everyone’s an illustrator when they’re little – it’s just that a lot of people stop when they grow up.

I’ve been working as a freelance illustrator for just over three years now, and earlier this year I was signed by my wonderful agents at IllustrationX who work tirelessly to land me incredible projects.

My illustrations are about optimism, and experimenting with colour, which plays a huge role in that. I identify as an illustrator artist, so a mixture of drawing, painting, and digital elements are all integral to my practice.

At the moment I’m getting ready to move out of London where I’ve lived for the last four years, as my boyfriend and I are about to embark on a big trip around Europe in our orange camper van Jaffa! It’s so exciting to think of all the beautiful, unspoiled places I’ll get to paint on the road.

What inspired you to make art?

I take inspiration from everywhere: my daily life, my friends, London, travels, old films…increasingly I’m finding that reading is informing my work more and more.

I spend a lot of time in art galleries. I love the Pre Raphaelites, and I’m a self-confessed Hockney fanatic – his use of colour really informs my own drawings.

My favourite gallery is probably the National Portrait Gallery – all those faces… I like to go to exhibitions by myself and take all the time I need to get everything down in my sketchbook.

I get a lot of inspiration online too – Instagram is great for old nostalgia accounts, and I love following interiors ones too for colour palette ideas.

Among the artists that inspire me the most, the first names I’m thinking of are Bonnard, Hockney, Matisse (any of the Fauvists!), and Rose Wylie. I love Martin Parr’s photographs. And Quentin Blake of course! I’m interested in people who make work for the pure joy of making alone. For me, it’s this core value of creativity that can shine through an artist’s practice.

Did you study at art school(s) or are you self-taught?

I was illustrating for myself as a side hustle for a couple of years during my art history studies before I had any formal training.

In my free time I did a heap of short courses, and applied unsuccessfully to so many MA programmes – because I didn’t have a fine art undergraduate or foundation under my belt it was so tricky! But I was super persistent and finally got onto the MA Illustration programme at Camberwell College of Arts (part of the University of Arts in London). After this I went on to study at the Royal Drawing School.

I would say that the MA gave me a vast amount of time and space to reflect on my practice – the course was pretty much entirely self-directed, and it was here that I really discovered and settled into my style.

However, in terms of learning my time at the Royal Drawing School definitely had the most impact on my skills and perspective – the way I think about colour and the energy I want to convey in artwork in particular. It was here that I fell back in love with drawing all over again.

(c)Georgie-Stewart-2
Artwork by Georgie Stewart

How did you develop your own art style? Where do you go for inspiration? How do you keep your creativity flowing?

Research, practice, and trial and error!

I wish I could give a step-by-step on how my style came about, but there aren’t really any straightforward steps to the process…you just have to trust your instincts.

For me it was about one year ago, one day something just clicked! But I’m constantly learning and developing as I go. It’s funny because I look back to my early stuff from three years ago and think a lot of them are terrible technically speaking – there’s no proper use of perspective; I would never plan out a colour palette or consider how to balance the image before I started drawing. Yet they are driven by character and emotion and I think that’s the most important thing – that passion comes through in the drawing, and from there you can build on the more technical and stylistic aspects of your practice.

In terms of creative block, it can be so difficult sometimes, but I think for me I try to have low expectations, choose a fun process and not focus too much on what the outcomes are. I tend to balance out my workdays so that I’ll often do two days of solid drawing, followed by a day of admin and research so that I’m refreshed and hankering to get back to the art-making side of things the next day. Also, little breaks from social media really help! So does reading, walking, going outside, and doing/being.

How did you start making a living as an artist? What was your first paid art job?

I took a sketchbook travelling with me after university, which I think is where I got the inkling it’s really what I’d like to do.

When I got home I set up a website and art account, deleted my personal Instagram account, and started doing little commissions for people. I was charging next to nothing, but you have to start somewhere!

Soon after that, I started selling at lots of markets and fairs – I had a stall on Portobello Road Market selling prints and greetings cards in the early days. I felt so lucky to be a tiny part of such an iconic part of London – walking down the market felt like hopping in a time warp, transported right back to London in the swinging 60s.

There’s so much I’ve loved about living in London, and one of the most exciting things for me was treading the same streets as my heroes. I could wander through the very same parks that the Pre Raphaelites strolled through, or loiter in the pubs that were Hockney’s locals when he was living in Notting Hill in the sixties.

However, I have felt recently that I’m craving a retreat from city life – I’d love to live in a new country for a little while, or perhaps by the sea somewhere with a little garden shed studio.

What do you live from as an artist now? What are your main income streams and what is the approximate % split of each?

(c)Georgie-Stewart-Piechart
Georgie’s Income Streams

This month I handed in my notice at my part-time nanny job to go freelance full time which is exciting! I’m looking forward to being able to dedicate myself fully to my practice and art-making.

However I do think there are so many benefits from having a part-time job as an artist – besides the extra income, I think it can be brilliant mentally too. It gives you a reason to leave the house, get outside and see/do things that should absolutely be part of your work as an artist. I found being around children a lot really helped with my ideas! Listening to their funny little conversations and seeing life through their eyes is super inspiring.

Having a part-time job can also help you to work SMARTER as a freelancer – knowing I had to pick the kids up from school at three o’clock meant that I was giving myself a deadline, and so I got heaps more commission work done in the morning and over lunch. Sometimes when you’re working freelance the day can stretch out before you, and you end up procrastinating if you don’t have a deadline or strict time frame to work within!

What are you currently working on?

I’ve just finished the artwork for my first children’s book project, which will be published next spring. It’s such a thrill to think I’ll be able to walk into Waterstones and see my work on the shelves!

More recently I’ve started putting together the material and ideas for my first solo exhibition, which will hopefully be happening early next year, and I’m also currently working on this year’s Christmas cards. Last year I did a series of illustrations in a palette of soft pastel blues and pinks, so I’m trying out something a little different this time – watch this space!

What do you think are the most important characteristics of an artist?

Curiosity!

It’s really important for me to keep my eyes open all the time, noticing all the little quirks and interesting details of life. I write everything down in my journal and sketchbook – it’s full of things people have said and things I’ve seen.

As an illustrator, you have to be open to and interested in the world. There’s a poem by Mary Oliver that I use as my illustration mantra, ‘Pay Attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.’

(c)Georgie-Stewart-3
Artwork by Georgie Stewart

What are the art tools and other products and services you can’t live without?

Caran d’Ache Neocolor wax pastels and Luminance colour pencils. Sennelier soft pastels are wonderful too!

I love the looseness of the mark-making – a mere smudge can suggest a figure who’s entirely alive. I like the directness between the charcoal stick, crayon or pastel in my hand and the paper that you don’t get from the brush when painting. Also Tombow brush pens, and my sketchbook of course!!

My iPad and Apple pencil for working digitally. Artists like Hockney have done wonders for my confidence working in this medium. His iPad drawings have elevated the status of digital illustration within the fine art world, promoting the message that the medium of drawing remains the same, it’s just the delivery that has been adapted.

What are your favorite art and other books (fiction, non-fiction)?

Fiction has to be my favourite – so hard to narrow it down but I love The Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank, The Rachel Papers by Martin Amis, Heartburn by Nora Ephron and Zadie Smith’s On Beauty (anything by Zadie Smith!).

Wendy Cope is a literary goddess – her poetry makes me feel seen and alive. I also have a huge soft spot for listening to Harry Potter and Jacqueline Wilson audiobooks while I’m working or relaxing before bed.

What advice would you give yourself as a beginner artist? Or alternatively please include your favorite quote and the author.

Never stop learning.

I’d also encourage my younger self to apply for any artist opportunities I can find.

The trick is to apply for as many as possible without emotionally attaching yourself to one, and the rejection aspect simply has to become water off a duck’s back. That way, it’s a much happier surprise when something exciting does come along. Exhibitions, publications, residencies, collectives – research what’s happening, build your portfolio, and share your work – you never know whose hands it might fall into!

Get in touch with Georgie

Thank you, Georgie, for joining us today!

All artworks by Georgie Stewart, used with permission.

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