[Nine to Five] Illustrator Dan Woodger on what he’s learnt so far
With a characterful style and humour entirely of his own Dan Woodger kindly steps away from his desk to share a typical day in his busy studio.
I begin my day pretty early and aim to be in the studio for between 7am and 7:30am. That way I can get ahead of emails and do some personal work. Usually at around 9am I start my client work. I try to leave the studio by 6pm so that I can get home and have more of a normal evening routine. I try and have a few hours off in the evening to relax and then I’ll spend an hour or so on the laptop before bed to plan out the next day or reply to clients in other time zones.
Cycling in to the studio helps me get into the right mindset! I used to work from home so having my own studio space a ten minute cycle from my house means I can properly wake up, get some fresh air and have some exercise. By the time I get in and put on a coffee I’m ready to go.
Fortunately I’ve never really experienced creative block (touch wood!) but occasionally I’ll get a tricky brief that has narrow options, or an assignment that requires me to work at a small size. If it’s a size issue, I’ll print off the article/layout of whatever it may be at the size it will be running. That way I can sketch directly onto the space and see what level of detail to go into. For an emoji project I’ll often mock up a screenshot of the format/context it will be used in. For instance when designing an emoji that’ll live on Twitter, I’ll screen shot the Twitter timeline as it appears in my browser and then scale my emoji to the size it would need to be to fit into that context. If all this fails then going for a walk and getting fresh air always helps.
When I do have any downtime I like to go cycling, or if it’s the summer I like to play golf. Before I was an illustrator I worked in a golf club for four years, for some reason I thought I wanted be a professional golf teacher!? I’m not sure why… I wasn’t really good enough to do that so I’m glad I got into drawing instead!
Don’t do work for the sake of it. Do something you’ll be proud of. If my work isn’t amusing me, why am I doing it?
No matter how busy or quiet I am, I aim to post at least one thing on Instagram a week so that it stays up to date.
If it’s a bit quiet, something that has worked for me in the past is posting a throwback image of an old project on Instagram and tagging the Art Director. It doesn’t work every time, but occasionally it pays off with an email & a new brief from them. There are so many great illustrators out there so it’s important to give the occasional nudge and remind people that you exist – whether that’s through an email, a social post or sending out a newsletter. I think social media is really important. No matter how busy or quiet I am, I aim to post at least one thing on Instagram a week so that it stays up to date.
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve had was from Mr Bingo. We were doing a talk together in Glasgow earlier this year, his presentation was fantastic. The way he approaches art and design reminded me that it’s supposed to be fun and that I should make work that I actually enjoy creating. I like creating work that makes me laugh/amuses me. Mr.Bingo inspired me to remind myself of that if my work isn’t amusing me, why am I doing it?
I think three of the most significant moments in my career to date would be..
The LINE project was incredibly significant. It was the first big project I worked on and one that paid well enough to stop me worrying about making rent all the time. The project wasn’t without it’s challenges though! I was tasked with creating one thousand emojis in just ten weeks which was far too much work really. My work-life balance was all wrong – I was working about seventeen hours a day, seven days a week and wasn’t eating or sleeping well. It was a learning curve though and the project was really successful. I’m still finding work off the back of it three years later and I’ve been able to work with big companies and travel to places like Toronto and Tokyo.
One of the more negative experiences I have encountered was when I was working on a big ad campaign for a very large company (who’ll remain anonymous in the name of professionalism!) I was really pleased with how the work came out and the project was so successful in the trialed test market that the decision was made to roll it out globally. The company then decided to take the work in-house without telling me and ‘tweaked’ my designs just enough so they could claim them as their own for the worldwide roll out. I only found out they’d done this when I stumbled across it online. It was a hugely disappointing, and equally a significant moment for me but something I have learned from.
My best experience so far has been working with Samsung. I got flown out to Taiwan and treated so well by them. I got to see my work printed on huge boards, turned into cutouts and projected in front of thousands of people. It was an amazing experience and something I would have struggled to imagine doing even six months ago. This project is still very fresh so they’ll be a big update from me about this in the new year!
My studio is a ten minute cycle from home. I’m really fortunate to be able to work in a really bright, well-lit environment with some really nice guys. I’m pretty low-fi in terms of my toolkit. I draw on sheets of A3 printer paper with an HB pencil, sketching out my ideas, then scan it into Photoshop. IA Wacom tablet comes next, along with the pen tool to work up my drawings.
I live in Kingston on the outskirts of London which I love! I can get into central London in twenty minutes in one direction, or be in the countryside in five minutes in the opposite. I’m not really a city person at heart because I grew up in the countryside, but being here is a perfect mix of both worlds. I’m really enjoying the fact that I can cycle along the river each morning and see some beautiful sunrises and sunsets to start and end my day with.
Freelancing means you never really switch off because you’re constantly checking emails and thinking about the next job. So if I had to change careers I would like to do something manual, outdoors, and away from a computer. I always liked the idea of being a greenkeeper at a golf course – being outside and mowing lawns. But, (terrible pun), the grass is always greener isn’t it!
I’m incredibly lucky to be an Illustrator and doing what I would consider my dream job. Although I love what I do, running my own freelance illustration business is very time-consuming and can be incredibly stressful at times. Freelancing means you never really switch off because you’re constantly checking emails and thinking about the next job. So if I had to change I would like to do something manual, outdoors, and away from a computer. I always liked the idea of being a greenkeeper at a golf course – being outside and mowing lawns. But, (terrible pun), the grass is always greener isn’t it!