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What advice would you give to your younger self?

A blog by London Fashion Illustrator Elyse Blackshaw

London Fashion Illustrator Elyse Blackshaw
London Fashion Illustrator Elyse Blackshaw

I return to Graduate Fashion Week this year on the judging panel for the Fashion Illustration Award, alongside esteemed illustrators Sue Dray, Jess Rose Bird and Samuel Harrison. With that in mind, I have been reflecting on my own experiences since graduating from Manchester School of Art in 2013.

Time has flown, time has dragged and it has certainly been unpredictable. I definitely imagined being further along in my career by now, but then again I also didn't leave university thinking I would be a fashion illustrator. Some creative paths are quite straight forward - in most cases for example, if you study graphic design, it's likely you will be a graphic designer.

From my experience, Fashion and Textiles doesn't seem to work in the same way. There are so many different avenues, and creatives in these fields must be multi-skilled. An even greater challenge is deciding you want to be independent and not employed directly by a single company. For me, I always knew that I wanted to be an artist of some sort, independent and the star of the show. My way of working, the artwork I produced and my interests were never and are never singular. They are free flowing and ever adapting.

The last 10+ years have been like trying to balance on parallel lines that want to go in different directions. The balance between dreams, reality, financial stability and even fertility have been one big juggling act. If I could sit down and have a good chat with my younger self, here are my top three pieces of advice I would give.

  1. Do not stop trying. If your heart is still in it, if you have tried other jobs and avenues, if your love for your practice has been challenged and you still want to do it, do not stop trying. This is not coming from someone who is middle class with rich parents. I have an automatic advantage being White British which I fully acknowledge, but my parents are working class and have never been able to support me financially. I say this as going to university, especially going to study an MA at RCA aged 27, I felt like most people around me were financially fortunate. It is said that only 16% of the creative industry are said to be from working class backgrounds. And it's clear why, work experience is unpaid, building a career is slow, so a lot of the time only those who can afford it survive. I trained to be a teacher to get a somewhat higher paid job so that I could move to London and complete a masters degree. It took me until I was 27 to achieve that. Anyway, back to do not stop trying! At 18 years old, a boy from my hometown once said to me, 'there's more chance of a cow with no legs running up a hill than you making it'. Most likely a thoughtless remark, but I never forgot. Yet my dreams of moving out of that small town, living in London, attending fashion shows, meeting and chatting with my favourite designers... the list goes on. That list makes me feel pretty accomplished. I guess that cow made it up the hill.

  2. Always ask. Sometimes people say yes. In 2018, I'd been balancing a double life of Secondary School textiles teacher with being a fashion illustrator. I was asked to draw live for Etre Cécil at one of their new store openings, but I was too afraid to ask my boss if I could go. How could I miss a day of work for another day of dream work?! They wouldn't understand or accept it. A colleague told me to just ask. I did and my boss said yes. He said "I can't always say yes, but sometimes I can. You might as well ask. Next time don't leave it until the day before though."

  3. Create your own opportunities. Most of my work has come from opportunities I created for myself. Going out of my way to be at an event and draw for free, even when I really don't feel like it. Pushing myself out of social anxiety to just send an email and start a conversation. Sometimes the benefit of the opportunities you create for yourself are not instantaneous, but reward you a few months later.

  4. Take time off. This is going to be a long road. Take time to be a human being. Take time to be young. Have adventures and holidays. Experiences enrich you and your mind, and this resonates in the work you produce. Without outside experiences and influences, you and your work become stagnant. Take time off and just enjoy yourself.

Next up - Applying to Graduate Fashion Week Fashion Illustration Award 2025? Here's what you should know.


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