Interview: Chloe Cook Draws
Chloe Cook is an illustrator and artist teacher. She is also is a maker of a Bipolar and positive mental health zine. I was luck enough to interview Chloe Cook Draws about their work and zine.
Hello! Thank you so much for letting me interview you. How are you?
Very well thank you! I'm really happy to be here for this interview, thank you for having me.
Tell us a little bit about your background.
My Mum is very arty and crafty so I've grown up always having been a maker. I was the kid who always had a box of toilet rolls, PVA glue and newspaper and did every Art Attack project I ever saw! My Mum also taught me how to draw and how to use a sewing machine, and they're still the two main things I do today in my career as an illustrator.
I'm originally from Loughborough and then grew up in a little village near Leicester. I got really sick of the sleepy village growing up so went to university in Birmingham, where I studied Visual Communication. After about 10 years living in different places - Birmingham, Oxford, London - my partner and I decided recently to move back home to Leicester. It's really changed whilst we've been away and now is a lovely city. We're very much city people so we now live half an hour's walk from the centre, but can still get to quiet, leafy places for nice relaxing walks if we like. There are a few galleries and inspiring places to walk or cycle around so it's perfect for me.
I have Bipolar Disorder too so this is where I get a lot of inspiration for some of the work I do around positive mental health. I can't remember life without Bipolar Disorder and it's a part of my personality really, so I am really proud to fly the flag for BD and to help break down the stigma around mental illness.
I adore your business. What made you decide to set up Chloe Cook Draws?
Thank you! I used to go by the name "Start Today Illustrations" but decided I didn't like it. It's too faceless, rather than showing I'm a real person! So I decided to keep it simple and use my name. I've had loads of jobs since uni as I've never been able to decide what I want to do, but the consistent thread has been drawing - I LOVE drawing. It's the way I communicate best as I'm a very visual person.
A tutor at uni said "You're an illustrator! You're a visual sponge!" and that's really stuck with me! So with my skills and thinking about what makes me tick, I just had to be an illustrator. I feel so privileged to be able to build a business around it. Don't get me wrong it takes loads of hard work on my part and it's definitely not luck, but I am so grateful to anyone who sees the value in my work and hires me or buys something from my online shop.
How has your creative process changed since the start?
Wow, it's changed MASSIVELY. As with anyone that draws a lot, my drawing skills are infinitely better than they were when I started 10 years ago. Technology has developed so much in that time and now rather than drawing and scanning ink and watercolour paintings like I used to, I usually use an iPad and Apple Pencil to draw, particularly for online content and client briefs because it's quicker. I LOVE colour and usually decide my palette very early on in the process, thinking about the feel I want the final piece to have.
Usually I'll go through the brief and highlight key details and then start some research. This might be research around an article I'm illustrating or visual research about something I need to draw. I'll start drawing composition ideas in my sketchbook (or more likely on loose paper that I inevitably lose, but I'm really trying to be more organised!) and then move onto Adobe Draw on the iPad to start drawing the final work. I might go through a few different drawings until the final piece emerges and I start to feel that I've answered the brief. For the finishing touches I move my work onto Illustrator on my computer so that I can prepare it for the final use - print or online content usually.
In terms of my own self motivated work I love to use screen print. I make my image and prepare it for printing using Photoshop or by cutting out stencils from newsprint or black card. I'll expose my screens or use my newsprint stencils and then move onto printing. Again in this process colour is very important as the overlapping of colours creates new colours, adding interest in the pieces. Some of my most popular work is screen printed. I love the unexpected outcomes that pop up whilst you work. It's absolutely magical!
How did you manage to learn and hone your craft?
I went to a university which had a large print room, and this is where I learnt to screen print. I worked at the university for a while managing the print room and this is when I got really good at screen printing. I have always been drawing ever since I can remember and this constant practice is the way I learn and hone my skills. I'm always learning and improving. As soon as I don't draw for a week or so I really notice that it's not as easy as normal. Going to university and having critiques of my work really helped too because other people can see and suggest ideas that you might not have, which improves your work no end.
I also like life drawing, which I think is the single most effective way to improve your drawing skills, whoever you are or whatever level you're at. Bodies are so beautifully organic and individual that you can't just learn the shapes that you should draw, you really need to look carefully and translate that to paper in a different way for each person you draw.
Have you always been into craft and design?
Absolutely, I have always loved beautiful objects and images and along with my Mum being crafty and showing me how to develop those skills, it's become the centre of my life. Our flat is filled with interesting art and objects. I love to support independent artists and go to craft fairs and open studios whenever I find out about them. I can't imagine my life without art, craft and design.
If there were no resource restraints, what would be your dream project?
Great question! I would love to create some huge murals somewhere out in public. I'd like to make them with the sole purpose of making locals smile! I'd also love to take my Bipolar Zine further and create more work to support people in looking after their mental health, perhaps with talks or a book even. Watch this space!
What equipment do you use for your work?
Pencil, paper, collage materials and glue, camera, sketchbook, iPad, Apple pencil, computer, Adobe Draw & Adobe Illustrator. I use whatever I have to hand that suits what I'm aiming to do at that moment. When I'm making wedding invitations for example I will use luxurious heavy card stock in order to make sure that the final product is really beautiful. But if I'm just doodling ideas down a napkin and biro is fine!
What tools or materials could you not live without?
Pencils! Pencils are so amazing. They can be delicate, can be hard, can be rubbed out, can be used on no end of surfaces, and are designed perfectly. I am a HUGE pencil geek. There is a really cool short video about how pencils are a perfect invention: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IBf9pXOmpFw
I've not had it for very long but my iPad is invaluable. I can work up an illustration to record an idea when I'm out and about, and sometimes even finish the piece on the go. Adobe Draw is my favourite software so far.
Why has social media been an important platform for you to use?
Social media is incredible - you can reach people right around the world with your images and really find your target market quickly. I have found it to be really helpful in finding jobs. I really love the social aspect too - through Facebook and Instagram I help manage a local meet up group for creative people who work at home and have found lots of work and friendships through this community.
The beauty of having an Instagram page that people follow means I feel compelled to share work - this means I keep organised and on top of everything. It's important for me to make sure that I take regular breaks from social media, because it can take too much of my time with the constant notifications and you can get sucked into your phone if you're not careful.
Who inspires your work?
I LOVE so many big hitters like David Hockney and Frida Kahlo. Illustration wise Clare Rojas is brilliant, and she also makes acoustic music under the name Peggy Honeywell which is really beautiful. I really love Hannah McIntyre's illustrations, her use of line is really confident and I love the 'bouncy' feeling you get with her work. Maggie Stewart is one of the most amazing painters I've ever seen and her use of colour is incredibly intuitive and inspiring. I love to see her draw too.
Do you have any favourite pieces of work that you adore at the moment from your shop?
I love the cushions I've made recently (image attached). I screen printed the design by hand in two colours, then ironed it on to fix the dye, and then made the cushions with some fun pom pom details! They're fully handmade and I'm really proud of the quality of them, they've turned out really well.
What do we hope to see in this up and coming year for your Instagram and your work?
I now have a part time job in the creative department at Leicester College, so have a little less time to work on my illustration. There is so much amazing work at the college that I feel really inspired when I leave, so it's still of benefit to my illustration work. The other benefit is that I have to plan my illustration time a little more carefully so I am more productive if anything. This year I'm going to be making more zines and hope to do some collaborative work. I have just launched my Patreon page and you can pre-order my Bipolar Zine through there, which is my big release for spring 2019.
What are you currently working on?
My big piece at the moment is the 'Bipolar Zine' I'm working on. I have Bipolar Disorder and have really struggled to find positive and helpful literature to help me, and those close to me, understand it. So I decided to create my own! It's taking me quite a while to write the zine because I want it to be very fact based and positive, but I'm really pleased with it so far. I'm looking for it to be printed in March.
What’s your typical working day?
To be honest I don't have one! I get really bored with routines - which isn't great when you have a mental illness! I'm not naturally an early bird but I do try and get up and do yoga every morning because it centres me and sets a calm tone for the day. I am best at admin tasks in the morning - emails, ordering prints, arranging work etc, so try and do this then. I'm much more creative when I'm properly awake in the afternoons or evenings.
I make sure that I don't work after 6pm or mostly on weekends (although some weekends are unavoidable) because I have to put my wellbeing first and my career second. There's no point in having a great career if you're not happy and healthy enough to enjoy it!
What’s been the biggest struggle in getting your business off the ground?
The one thing that's been really tricky for me is battling with Bipolar Disorder. Now I understand it better I'm much less about battling it and more about living with it, knowing it's part of my personality and acknowledging that I have 'off periods' and that's ok. With my Bipolar Zine coming out over the next couple of months, I'm even using my creative process as a way to manage it. It's been really hard to get to this point where it doesn't affect my business so much but I'm pleased with where I am.
Do you have any exciting plans for this year?
I hope to get back into screen printing which I have neglected for a few years, due to regular house moves and not really feeling settled. I also have set up a Patreon page, but am battling with 'imposter syndrome' - thinking that I'm kidding myself that people would want to subscribe to what I do. I think it will be so useful to connect with people who would like to see more of what I'm up to though. https://www.patreon.com/chloecookdraws
What are your career plans with your online shop?
I really don't enjoy having an online shop actually. The stock clutters up my home and promoting the shop takes a LOT of time. There are people on Etsy who unlist and relist items every day so that they come up at the top of search results and I just don't have the time or the energy to do that. I think I will look to selling more in real life stores. As a customer I would much rather buy something in a physical shop, where you can touch and feel and get to know the item.
What advice would you give to people looking to define their own style?
PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE!! Don't aim for anything in particular, just draw in whatever way feels natural to you. And when you've done some drawing, analyse it. What do you like about it? What do you dislike about it? What is interesting about your mark making? What aspect detracts from the intended message of your work? Make sure you know your work inside out and are confident with how to create work that looks like yours every time, so that when someone sees it they recognise instantly that you have made it. That's your style.
Do you have any advice for anyone starting their own online shop?
If you are very organised and able to promote it regularly, then go for it! I'd advise researching your competition and making sure that you know what the target market and feel of your shop is before you set it up.
What’s next for Chloe Cook Draws?
Early this year I'll release the Bipolar Zine... and this interview has inspired me to stop worrying and just promote my Patreon! https://www.patreon.com/chloecookdraws
What's the best piece of creative advice you've ever been given?
At school we spent several lessons making really detailed realistic drawings of skulls... and then we had to destroy the drawings. It showed me that the learning doesn't disappear when the work does, it's still in your head. I've learnt to be much more critical of my work and the things I make - it's not the 'final piece' but it represents your learning so far.