Ten years fly when you're having fun. Ten years ago, in the middle of the 2010 financial crisis, Rob House was just getting started as a freelance illustrator – and even now, Rob knows that was probably the best choice of his life.
Rob has worked under his own name for the past 10 years and has since mastered a plethora of different styles and voices, becoming one of the most adaptable freelance illustrators out there. His illustrations are often dominated by bright layers of colour, a cartoon-ish feel which we can't help but love to the bone. Back in 2010, Rob took a leap and started his own business – a decision which has certainly paid off, even as we are facing a global pandemic.
For this Member Spotlight, we are learning more about Rob and how dreaming hard enough led him to find his own path into the industry.
How did you get into the industry?
I guess I always knew that I wanted to create visually, but it did take me a while to figure out what to do and how to make it happen. As a child, I spent pretty much all of my time drawing and painting – so I had my eyes firmly fixed on art school from a young age. This turned in to wanting to do Fine Art at University, which I studied for two years, before I switched to a degree in graphic design.
Then, I began working at an old school printers in central Birmingham. Here the guys working the print presses were real artists with the skills they had on the Heidelberg’s, and their resistance to change gave me a tough learning curve but a great platform of knowledge to grow from. It was then on to the bright lights of London where I’d always dreamed of living and working in ad agencies or freelancing at places like EMI records.
It was then that I realised I wanted (and could) to be an illustrator… something was just niggling at me deep down to give it a try, and, after winning a commission for a large Land Rover press campaign (which I couldn’t then undertake due to full-time work commitments), it was time to take a leap into the freelance illustration world (right in the middle of the Financial Crisis in 2010!).
Where are you based now and who do you work for?
I work under my own name as I have done for 10 years now (wow where has that time gone!). I moved to Surrey just over a year ago after living along the coast in Kent and Sussex for years. I’m now under an hour from Central London and Brighton which is simply ace!… Well, that was before the pandemic came that none of us saw coming. One day soon we’ll be allowed to roam outdoors again I’m sure and I can’t wait to get back to London as I miss the beautiful place so much.
If you weren’t in your current industry, what would you be doing?
As I mentioned earlier, I’ve always had art and creativity in my mind so I guess if I wasn’t in the illustration industry, I’d hope to still have made a career in some other creative discipline. I’ve always been fascinated by print and love the skills in bookmaking and quirkiness of wind up tin toys.
Can you explain your creative process?
As much as I love working on a Mac, I do always start with a (very) rough sketch on a piece of paper with either a random chewed biro, sharpie or a pencil. Just seeing sparks of ideas on paper and you instantly know if they’ll come to life or not. I initially start with an overall layout idea rather than the details and content… something that is very important in making interesting infographics for example is how a layout works and tells a ‘story’. Even data driven graphics need a story to be told. As I’m sure everyone else will know, there’s that moment, that ‘yay!’ moment, when you know you’ve got something great working, and then it’s on to the Mac.
How would you describe your style?
I’m always aware of how many people say that style is vital to be successful in illustration, but for me, my strength lies in my versatility in working in many styles too. This has really helped me gain many diverse projects over time and allowed me to work with a wide range of clients who know they can come to me with their initial thoughts and style suggestions and I can deliver. I’ve worked on projects as diverse as trends in Future architecture for Arup, to character design for DPD in the US. Each project is very different and exciting to work on.
Which individuals do you gain inspiration from? Do you have any heroes in the industry?
I’m always drawn to a vast array of inspiration and other artists… Maybe this explains my enjoyment of being versatile. I was originally drawn to the potential of Adobe Illustrator in illustration by the work of Jasper Goodall and Emily Forgot when I was looking at venturing out on my own and looking for my ‘focus’. Now I see great artwork and feel inspired by great illustrators from all around and whilst also looking back to 20th century poster design or Pop Art. Books and magazines are a constant draw too… not just the web and instagram.
How has technology affected the way you work?
When I made the choice to go for my dream in illustration, I felt the need to follow a different path to Photoshop, to stand out from the crowd I guess, even though I knew the programme inside out from my ad agency studio days. Adobe Illustrator for me was (and still is) under appreciated for its versatility. Yeah it’s all organised and a clean way to work which many may find clinical, but it also enables me to really create anything I wish in any style…. I simply love it and it’s now a big part of me and my work! I’m now taking all my illustrations into After Effects and finally adding motion to everything which is opening many doors in terms of infographic based animation for example!
What’s your secret to staying inspired and motivated?
Working for yourself can be incredibly difficult at times but it has been so rewarding too, giving me opportunities and meeting people that I am truly proud of. But, then at the same time, working independently can leave you lacking motivation or new ideas. For moments where inspiration escapes me just at that moment you really need it, I have a secret folder full of scribbled ideas, pages ripped out of old magazines with hints to potential ideas and some quotes I’ve noted over years that spark something in my mind. There’s always a spark of an idea in there (with the many books I’ve collected) if I need it that can be the beginnings to a new project to develop. I try not to focus on other peoples illustration work that is on trend too much as that can lead you very easily away from your own ideas, even if it’s currently popular.
What’s the work achievement you’re most proud of?
As much as I’m proud of all I’ve achieved, I’d have to say that the biggest achievement I’m most proud of was taking that initial big risk and in leaving a very lovely full time role at a company I loved to follow my dream in the middle of a Financial crash in 2010! I made it happen from scratch and I’m still here loving everyday I win new work, meeting new people and the whole process that then starts. But, I’m always driven by the idea that I’ve not achieved all I want yet…. There’s still much more I want to do. And you need that.
How do you recharge away from the office?
I have a fantastic life with my lovely family and now a new dog (who is very distracting!). They have really made me see that there is much more to just my work… even though I do find it hard to switch off. My mind is more free to let ideas naturally flow and not force ideas as much (the ‘idea folder’ is being added for rainy days).
What is one tip that you would give to other aspiring creatives looking for work?
To quite simply, believe in yourself as best you can. Your work will naturally grow and develop without forcing it and become more ‘you’ rather than if you try to follow a current trend (which is fleeting). Feel inspired and fascinated by other work all around us… but try not to lose ‘you’.
What’s your one big hope for the future of the industry?
The continuation of the public loving illustrations and animation… it’s everywhere now thanks to mobile technology.
If you could change one thing about the industry, what would that be?
I’m a believer that you make what you wish for in any industry and it’s not what the illustration/creative industry can do for you. You dream hard enough (and it can be hard work and frustrating), there are so many avenues and areas in the creative industry, especially nowadays.
Do you have any websites, books or resources you would recommend?
The AOI is always a great place for information and advice if ever required. Their help on quoting prices to clients for project work was invaluable at first for me. I love sites like Creative Boom and This is Colossal for that ‘hit’ of motivation and inspiration on a day where I’m feeling flat…