Incremental improvements


I wanted to write a little just to encourage any creatives out there to keep persevering in doing what you love. Since 2013 I have had the incredible privilege of being able to give a great deal of time to growing and learning in illustration. Up to that time I had been working as a lawyer, but spending what free time I could spare from family and church life drawing.

It mainly started with sketching on the train to and from work after my brother (himself a talented artist) gave me a sketchpad and pens one birthday. From a hobby to kill time on the way to the office it grew into something I wanted to do even when I wasn’t stuck in a train carriage. There’s a handful of my drawings below.

‘Duck on a crowded train’ remains one of my all time favourites

Drawn on the train, but I didn’t actually ride the Hogwarts express to work

Just to reassure you that it wasn’t all gold…

Around 2012 I got interested in illustrating digitally. I bought a Wacom Bamboo tablet, essentially a flat grey surface connected to your computer – you draw on it with the included pen, and the cursor on your pc screen follow the pen’s movements – it also registers how hard you are pressing to try and mimic the feel of drawing by hand. I enjoyed drawing, but my motives were also largely mercenary – various sites offered the opportunity to profit from illustration, and I got particularly into, a t shirt site that sources its designs from artists all over the world, sending in illustrations every week in the hope of being picked and getting some sales commissions back in return.

While I never really saw much success, that motivation gave me a huge push to keep illustrating. I learnt a great deal from other artists there, and submitted over 150 designs across a number of years. Even if you’re not doing formal training, practicing something for hundreds of hours will have a marked effect on your ability. Here’s the first design I ever submitted, titled ‘the adventures of tin tin’. I still maintain it’s a worthwhile pun.

The adventures of tin tin

The quality of illustration however leaves a little to be desired, particularly compared with what some of the other artists are producing there. Here are some of my later illustrations from my time there:

Likewise, in 2013 I was made redundant and left wondering what to do with my career. I applied for a number of jobs as a lawyer, but without success despite some seemingly promising leads. At the same time my wife and I thought that if I was going to try and make anything from illustration, it would be worth setting up a website for a portfolio. To give people a reason to keep coming back, we decided to host a comic on the site as well, and we gave it a memorable name so that it might stick in the mind – one legged kiwi. The first comic I ever posted looked like this (it seems to have gotten lost from the archive at some point):

I then posted 3 comics a week for the better part of a year, dropping to 2 comics a week, then 1, before largely tailing off in 2015. I also started a second comic, Anchor Lines, which updated once a week for some time. Although not updating as often as I would like – other commitments and projects mean I don’t have the same time to spare – those comics, and having a regular deadline forced me to create a significant amount of work. That output, although wearing at times, most definitely brings with it an improvement in quality over time as you learn and practice. The most recent comics on the site were posted almost two years ago:

Jurassic World: the tv series - episode 5

Since that time I’ve been working on a couple of self published books – one you can see here, and the other is still under wraps. I will share one image from it that may not make the final cut:

As I look at what I’m drawing now, it seems a far cry from my first efforts. I can look at other artists and see that they might yet be streets ahead of me in style, composition, ability, but I am very pleased with the work I’m producing. And although I can see a noticeable difference in the end product, it’s not been a tremendous length of time – 5 or so years of consistent practice.

Many won’t have the advantage I have had, in being able to focus on illustration without juggling another career, but the point is the same – if you care about doing something enough to keep practicing, keep learning, keep going for it – improvement will steadily come.

I’d love to see some before/after samples of other people’s creative endeavours – if you’d like to share any examples of your work from early on alongside something more recent, you can find me on twitter at @kiwihopper, or on facebook at – and if you’d like to commission me to draw something for you, get in touch through the contact page!