Bonnie Brown On How To Succeed As An Illustrator

The artist and founder of Studio Bon reflects on the many ways she hones her craft — and her business

Bonnie Brown founded Studio Bon. Photo / Supplied

Bonnie Brown’s illustrations are vividly cast across the country, from Cadbury’s chocolate Roses to Blunt umbrellas to collaborations with Tom Ford, each with a signature, warming glow that has come to define the New Zealand artist. Below, she shares what she’s learnt, from her formative years until now at the helm of her practice, Studio Bon.

A large part of what I do is managing client relationships and interpreting both the brief and the needs of the client in general when it comes to the actual design/illustration process
“Especially when dealing with people who aren’t from a creative background, it can be tricky to navigate subjective feedback and convert that to an actual design language. For example, if a client says they want a piece to be more ‘fun’, it’s about figuring out the tangible steps I need to take in order to implement that feedback into something real.”

I’ve found honing my presentation skills to be essential
“If I can’t convey the direction I picture the work going, then there’s no way a client is going to be on the same page. I studied architecture at university and a huge component of the degree was design presentations and critiques, which definitely helped me build these skills initially.”

I always try to think beyond the brief or specific illustration piece and look at how I can align my business with that of the client in a holistic way
“This begins from the first point of contact where I’m deciding whether the project is a good fit for Studio Bon as a business, and goes all the way through to final sign off. If I’m working on a packaging concept for a new product then I will try to engage with the release of said product, that could be by attending the launch event or collaborating on a giveaway. I think this approach is good for both parties and hopefully means more opportunity for repeat work in the future.”

Take the time to think about how you want your career and your business to grow
“It can be easy to get caught up in the day to day swing of things when working on lots of project deadlines (which usually overlap to some degree) and not take the time to think about the bigger picture of what I’m working toward and whether I’m heading in the right direction.”

The biggest learning curve has to do with running a business in general, and navigating the complex world of usage, rights and distribution for art and illustration
“Luckily there are so many great online resources to help guide the way and dedicated software for managing all the business admin.”

Be wary of working for exposure
“Very rarely does exposure lead to paid opportunities.”

It helps to have friends
“I’ve built up a network over the years of other creatives and business owners who I can turn to for advice. We're all navigating this complicated world and it changes so quickly, so it’s nice to have people around me who understand the challenges and try to overcome them together. I’ve honestly found Instagram hugely beneficial for building this network.”

Invest time, energy and even money into learning helpful software or using financial tools
“I work with an accountant and use Xero to manage my finances, and I use tools like Notion to keep track of my deadlines and projects. My advice would be to understand your limits and gaps in your own knowledge. Don’t be afraid to delegate, ask questions and work with people smarter than you.”

Learn how to charge for your work
“It’s one of those things you can’t just ‘know’, as you’ll only ever get to a place that feels comfortable through trial, error and experience. It would be nice if there was a hard and fast rule but unfortunately you kind of just have to figure it out over time.”

Continue to develop your own style
“While nothing is truly original, it’s important to experiment with personal projects to help with this. Don’t be afraid of inspiration; the key is finding a way to make it your own. I’ve found that when I’m creating work just for the fun of it leads to the best work, and opportunities follow this.”

Take your time jumping into making illustration your full-time gig
“I worked part-time for a few years while also running Studio Bon, mostly for financial security, but it also gave me the time to evaluate if I wanted to turn what started as my hobby into a career.”

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New Zealand Herald

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