Picture Books, Published by Flying Eye Books, Self-Authored & Illustrated by Owen Davey
I graduated from Falmouth with a body of work I was proud of and a determination to make illustration my career. The week before graduation I had worked on my first professional commission with Bruno Haward at The Guardian. A week later, I had organised meetings with various publishers about my first book, Foxly’s Feast. Many of the larger companies seemed to respond well to the illustrations in the book, but dismissed it due to its wordless nature. Undeterred, I eventually met with Mike Jolley from Templar Publishing in a coffee shop in Brighton. His enthusiasm for the project took it through to contract and eventually into the shops.
‘Smart About Sharks’ Picture Book, Published by Flying Eye Books, Self-Authored & Illustrated by Owen Davey
With a single editorial commission and a book deal in the bag, I got to work on contacting other Art Directors in the hope of finding new opportunities. Many politely replied but sent no work my way; most completely ignored me. I diligently kept my website up-to-date with any new pieces, and made sure to keep sending the créme de la créme to these potential clients. Meanwhile, I began promoting my work on booming social media channels and started to gain a little fan base. My friendships with creative people led to some unexpected commissions for an LP artwork for The Leisure Society and posters, pub signs and merchandise for End of the Road Music Festival. Work gradually started to pick up pace in the editorial sector too.
I decided to interview illustration agencies to help secure some larger clients in different areas. Impressed by the professionalism, credentials, candid feedback and copious offerings of cake that were found at Folio, I made my choice with ease. I found a very happy home with Nick Dawe and his team there and to this day we have a wonderful working relationship.
Slowly, but steadily, with the help of Folio and the internet, I have built up a large and loyal client base in a wide variety of sectors, from editorials and publishing, to apps and advertising. I have learned never to underestimate the power of editorial work; it provided the foundation blocks of my career. Editorials are regular, create repeat business, and give me a surprising amount of creative freedom. Some of my favourite pieces have been done for obscure trade magazines I had never heard of (and which incidentally usually pay better than their larger counterparts).
I have learnt that publishing is hard work and a long process, but immensely rewarding. Over the years I have worked as the illustrator for many titles and am currently working on my own 7th book. This is my 3rd in the About series, a foray into the world of non-fiction with Flying Eye Books. I contacted them many years ago when they were just Nobrow, and continued to send them my work, discussing ideas for potential projects. When they started their children’s imprint, we finally had an opportunity to work together on what became Mad About Monkeys. The reception of the book has been amazing, and it was even nominated for the CILIP Kate Greenaway Award. What’s more, many illustrators, parents and even Primatologists have felt compelled to contact me to share their love of the book.
‘Two Dots App’ Illustrated by Owen Davey
Similarly, apps have been a surprisingly fun and fruitful area for me over the last few years. Most notably, I have been the primary illustrator for TwoDots for nearly 3 years now. After initially turning them down due to my workload, they extended their deadline and asked me to work on some test pieces for them. As the game has grown, so has the demand for illustration content, and TwoDots have brought me along for the ride. The app crossed the one million download mark in 36 hours, has been the Number One free app in 40 countries, and has won numerous awards including the Webby Winner of Best Visual Design App.
I am now at a point in my career where I no longer have to contact potential clients. Instead, I have the enviable luxury of having to learn how to say “no” to many of the offers that fill my inbox. It’s a weirdly difficult concept to get your head around; turning possibly interesting or exciting job opportunities down (and the money that comes with them). But it’s important to know my own limitations.
In Collaboration With ‘Maison Tangible’. One of a Series of Promotional Illustrations from a Residency at The Royal Salt Works at Arc-et-Senans in France, Illustrated by Owen Davey
I have done many all-nighters over the years (including one extreme of a three day stint with no sleep), I have given up countless weekends to meet the needs of clients, and I once spent 3 months working at least 12 hour shifts, 7 days a week to meet the demands I had put upon myself. I have worked hard for the successes I have had. My most valuable attributes have been a stubborn persistence and a strong work ethic. I would be lying if I said that I enjoy every moment of it, but I can’t imagine doing anything else with my life. I hope I can spend many more years nestled within this creative world. Illustration is a constant source of inspiration for me and brings me a tremendous amount of joy.
I love the career I chose.