The surprising journey of a talented collage illustrator - #MemberSpotlight

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Barbara Gibson is a collage illustrator. You don't see many of those around, and it's certainly a quirky style the one she has. All her graphic designs feel quite unique, and the more you look at them, the more you love them. It works kind of like an acquired taste. You can't go wrong.

Barbara also has a pretty unusual story to tell, and we recommend savouring every word of hers from the interview below. Starting out her career as an accountant, she realised that wasn't the right path for her and she moved onto illustration and collage, now being commissioned directly by clients and advertising agencies across Europe. Her life was quite a journey; her career could not be anything less than a beautiful adventure.

For this Member Spotlight, we are learning more about the life, dreams, ambitions and interests of a talented illustrator with an incredibly unique approach to her craft.


How did you get into the industry?

As far as I remember, the creative side has been always with me and I kept releasing it in many different ways up until I found what really makes me feel happy about my creations; and I only discovered it in 2017!

I become an accountant straight after graduation and worked within that industry for 25 years from junior to senior to Head of Department. I guess it was an obvious or rather wise choice back in the 90s, when the Internet wasn’t even that popular and accessible. I am not that old though ;)

It allowed me to become an independent woman who was able to finance passion projects and equipment needed to develop my skills. I am self-taught when it comes to design, but I cover my knowledge with a lot of research and reading.

I moved to England in 2014 where I opened a photography studio with my wife, who at this time was established in that field already. We decided to work together and joining forces became an obvious decision.


It all started with me taking photographs of architecture in Warsaw and then in the city I moved in to; a city that was totally new and so much different from the capitol of Poland where I was born and raised. Birmingham became my new home and also a place where I was about to start a new career after quitting accountancy. Perhaps it was a risky step forward, but I would regret not making it. Not knowing a single person here business-wise I supported my wife in the business of advertising photography and often went for a walk with my camera to explore the city. I started taking photographs and then played around with photoshop. 

I started with simple things like adding layers and converting colours. I then extended my experimentations with adding typography, cutting elements and exercising my eyes with composition. This opened me to the whole new world of collage making and illustration. I never stopped since. I can say I converted passion into a new career path; which I now develop daily.

I worked countless hours obsessed with the new medium and abilities I was able to achieve with not only the software but also the imagination I was finally allowed to explore limitlessly and creatively. It truly is a fascinating journey. 

The more I work the more attention I receive. The better my portfolio is the better commissions I started receiving. I started selling prints, I then stared being commissioned by clients directly and I am now being commissioned by advertising agencies and magazines to work on bespoke artworks and creative briefs. 


Where are you based now and who do you work for?

I am Birmingham based but I work internationally, it is easy these days as the majority of commissions and briefs are being discussed online.

I work for Advertising and Marketing Agencies as well as for Clients directly.


If you weren’t in your current industry, what would you be doing?

I guess I would still be doing accountancy.


Can you explain your creative process?

When it comes to my personal creations, it depends on the materials I am working on, magazines I flicker, archives I look into or topic I am reflecting on at that time. It can also be an interesting colour or shape I saw or made; it can be an article I read. I often just cut and scan materials to create my own digital archive. If I see anything interesting, I start playing around, to then create a piece or a series.

It’s a little bit different with commercial work as I work against brief and look into more specific materials to a create mood board, colour pallet and drafts. 

My creative process equals a lot of research, experimentation, composition study, looking into symbolism and colour theory.


How would you describe your style?

It is spontaneous and humorous; however, it is well thought through.

Which individuals do you gain inspiration from? Do you have any heroes in the industry?

David Carson and Michelle Thompson were amongst my first discoveries. I also follow a few communities I find inspiring to include SwissPosters. 


How has technology affected the way you work?

Yes, definitely. Access to apps and the whole range of available software makes it all possible especially when deadlines are tight. I also believe that we become more and more creative as we are being challenged by the technology that develops fast. I started from analogue collage, I then moved onto 50% analogue and 50% digital. Majority of work I do now is 85% digital and will most definitely be 95% soon.

I love learning new things and push myself forward. I guess it’s because it brings satisfaction levels up high!


What’s your secret to staying inspired and motivated?

There is no secret J it is a new chapter in my life fulfilled with passion, new energy and hunger. Being thankful and grateful for this to happen in my life is my daily motivation source. 


What’s the work achievement you’re most proud of?

I think seeing my work on a 48-sheet billboard was equally extreme as it was emotional. Same was with magazine publications as I did not prepare myself for this J It really made me feel proud but also made me realised I made a good choice when quitting accountancy. Hard work paid off and I am thankful. 


How do you recharge away from the office?

Family time it is! Dates, movie nights and walks with my wife and our dog. I also enjoy gardening!


What is one tip that you would give to other aspiring creatives looking for work?

I would advise to invest time into creating a portfolio. I would advise to never stop working even if the mood is not right as each mistake or temporary lack of creativity brings opportunity to discover or learn something new. There are days I am unhappy with whatever I created – but then as I look from a perspective, I realise I used different tool or made something unusual. So, even if I don’t end up with a piece, I am happy with, I know at least I used the time I had to try, learn or investigate. Don’t be hard on you, just keep your chin up as tomorrow brings new opportunities. Just use the time you have and be thankful. Smile be creative and collaborate!

Above all, believe in yourself as you can become whoever you want regardless of your age.


What’s your one big hope for the future of the industry?

With the current global pandemic in mind I only wish we all go back to normal; we keep getting commissions and briefs, so we continue investing in self-development and so projects that makes us creative and happy. 


If you could change one thing about the industry, what would that be?

More room for women in the industry equally paid for the talent and creativity :)

Do you have any websites, books or resources you would recommend?

David Carson – New Collage 001
Wojciech Zamecznik – Photo-Graphics

Slow Publishing:
The Best Polish Posters Illustrators
The Best Polish Press Illustrators
The Best Polish Concept Art Illustrators
Phaidon Publishing– A Smile in the Mind
Michael Bierut – How To…
Women in Graphic Design 1890 - 2012



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