We caught up with Octavia Bromell of TINK Outside the Box illustration to talk about life as a freelance illustrator, her mental health advocacy through her work and being the only person from the UK awarded a place on the Adobe Creative Residency programme this year.
How did you start out as an illustrator?
I started illustration as a coping mechanism when I came home from London with severe depression and anxiety a few years ago. I actually studied music and journalism at university in London, and was partway through a masters degree when my long time struggle with mental health came to a head, and I moved back to Dorset, where I grew up. When I first came home I was so unwell that I couldn’t get enjoyment out of anything. I don’t just mean I was miserable – I was – but I had actually lost the ability to enjoy myself. It wasn’t until I picked up a paintbrush that I slowly felt more human again. I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to turn what is essentially therapy into a career!
What has been the biggest challenge so far?
The toughest thing has been learning where my new boundaries are, stretching my ability to do things. I really feel like I’ve had to learn how to live right from scratch, so when things picked up work-wise it was hard knowing whether to take things on, how much I could cope with. It was almost impossible to know whether I could handle the work when I wasn’t sure I could get out of bed on any given day. Like recovery from anything, sometimes I pushed myself too far and things got stressful, but I feel I filled in a little section of self knowledge each time. Thankfully, I think I’ve filled in most of the gaps now, so it’s much easier to plan my working month.
Download the Culture+ Goal Planner illustrated by Octavia here
You have achieved a huge amount in such a short space of time – tell us a bit about how you managed it this past year.
I’ve always been a productive person, once I get my teeth into something. Also, in an odd way, being so ill actually gave me the time I needed to work on my craft. Something that I’ve realised over the past six months or so is that there’s a part of me that’s grateful for having mental health issues – if I had just woken up aged 22 wanting to be an illustrator, it would have been very difficult. Realistically I would have had to freelance alongside a full time job, as so many people do, which can be incredibly hard work, whereas because I was so unwell I had a lot of spare time!
I think having that space has been hugely valuable; I spent so long resenting the time I had lost, all the things I could have been doing, all the friendships that dissolved because I couldn’t stay in touch with people. So it’s nice to have that pretty major positive from a life altering negative.
You are also somewhat of a social media guru… do you have any quick tips on reaching a wider audience online?
I get asked this question a lot, although I definitely wouldn’t say guru! I guess I would say that for me, consistency is key. Make sure that whether you’re posting once a day or once a month, you stick with it (although once a day will give MUCH quicker results). Also, not everything has to be your best work. Sometimes it’s more important to get something out there than it is to create a masterpiece for each new Instagram post. Most importantly though, it is work. People skim over the amount of time, effort, and willpower it takes to grow an audience, it’s far from an overnight thing for most. As long as you’re interacting with people, and being yourself consistently, you will pick up momentum.
To hear more from Octavia on how to make the most of your Instagram, Pinterest and Etsy accounts join our free Culture+ workshop on 25 June in Dorchester – sign up here
You mostly work from your own Shepherds Hut studio in Sherborne – do you have any tips for working alone?
I’m fortunate enough to have a wonderful studio, and I think having a dedicated space has helped so much with my focus. I only get lonely very occasionally – my 13 year old cocker spaniel, Biggles, comes in with me everyday, and my parents work right next door, so mum’s always popping round for a cup of tea! I’m also definitely an introverted person, I recharge when I’m by myself. I like the peace.
You have the most exciting news too – tell us a bit about the Adobe Creative Residency.
So for the past five years the tech giant Adobe (who make software like Photoshop) have run a year-long career incubation program that supports young creatives.
Last year was the first time it was available to the UK, and this year there are four from the US, two from Germany, two from Japan, and me from the UK! Practically speaking, you continue living and working where you are, and they pay you a salary to work on an artistic passion project, find you mentors, and generally just open doors you didn’t even know where there!
My year will be spent working on the Joyful Everyday, which is the idea that you can find happiness in the often overlooked, tiny little things that when combined make up the foundation of our lives. I’ve just started a 100 day drawing challenge to begin the year, and I’m so excited to explore this theme as it’s very close to my heart!
See more of Octavia’s 100 day drawing challenge on her Instagram here.
As part of the residency we also travel approximately 25% of the time – last month I went to San Francisco, and I’ve just come back from New York. If you’re a creative at the start of the year, or if you want to change track and don’t think it’s possible, then please apply for the residency when applications open in January 2020!
You are a great advocate for a number of social issues including equality and mental health awareness as well as the environment within your
work. Do you intentionally create new work with these themes in mind?
I’ve always tried to be advocate for others, but creatively it isn’t always planned out. A lot of my work to date has been reactional – to something I read in the news, or feelings I’ve been dealing with recently – and especially as drawing started as therapy for me, it was pretty natural to me to illustrate my frustrations and disappointments. From a more positive perspective, I’ve been on a real journey of self discovery over the past few years, and a big part of that has been building up my self esteem. So when I found something empowering, or wanted to express support for people, that came easily too.
It’s always been important to me to lift others up. One of my favourite sayings is that ‘a rising tide lifts all ships’, and I think that’s so true.
The whole #communityovercompetition movement which is about sharing and promoting each other online is so great. If I could prevent just one person from feeling like that, if by speaking out about it I open someone’s eyes to what’s going on in their life, and they can do something about it, then I would call that a job well done. And if I can achieve that with bright colours, even better!
Do you have any final bits of advice for emerging artists or freelance illustrators?
Generally speaking, as long as what you’re making is true to yourself, and it fulfills you, and you are proud of it, there will be an audience out there that appreciates it. The old myth that you can’t make money from art is just that, a myth. I think a big part of proving that wrong is to discover your audience, and learn everything you can about them. Other than that, practice makes perfect. And of course, take advantage of wonderful things like Culture+ while you still can!
Image credit: Adobe Creative