Illustrator Marja de Sanctis on building a freelance business

Illustrator Marja de Sanctis describes her love for illustration, and the energy she puts into building her business while working part time jobs.

I have collaborated with some independent record labels and I have also done editorial illustrations for magazines and campaigns. Another source of income is coming from my personal / sketchbook work. I usually post them on my Instagram and Facebook and I have been receiving a good number of emails from people contacting me to buy them. This was a good and unexpected surprise. My illustration job does not pay for all my bills though, so besides that I work part time at the UAL and I also do some video editing work and translations to support myself.

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I have always enjoyed drawing and wanted to work in the creative field since an early age. However when I graduated in Fine Arts in Italy I gave up on the idea of making an income out of my artworks. I tried different jobs and kept my sketchbook activity very secretly, doing only drawings on my diaries and as a way to express and dialogue with myself. I settled for a few years as an assistant video editor for feature films and although I enjoyed and learned a lot from that experience, it was during that period that I started thinking again about working in the art field in a more direct way.

So I slowly gave myself a go and I did a one-year animation course. I loved it but I felt that the thousands of frames necessary to make an animation were not exactly my cup of tea. So it was only then that I started feeling that illustration was much more suitable for me because, as I like to joke about it, I only needed to draw one frame to communicate.  I worked on my own for a few years building a portfolio and in 2013 I started an MA in Illustration. The course has given me confidence in my own voice and this allowed me to have more consistent work. As a result, I started to approach potential clients, painted murals, made zines collaborations with my friends and applied for awards and competitions. This is how it all started!

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Humans are my biggest inspiration. My work is based on my love and curiosity for others’ and mine stories, especially the ones where the personal blurs with the societal. I like to see how pivotal matters in society influence our everyday and in turn how the everyday shapes society.

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I usually start thinking about how to translate my idea or a brief into concepts and images. It is then followed by research, sketchbooks and free drawings. Making doodles usually helps me in the process, as some unexpected drawings can be a good starting point for an illustration. Once I am happy wit the concept I do a few pencil roughs to work on the composition and only then I move on, using all the mixed media I am in love with. I sometimes did the final pieces twice because I felt that the first one didn’t have a punch. When I work with clients, between stages I send the work over and we discuss about it before moving to the next step.

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I love experimenting with new materials and right now I am working with acrylic paintings, felt pens, ink and monoprints on paper. My latest crush is charcoal pencil and graphite.

Most of my work is done in sketchbooks and sometimes I assemble sections of them in Photoshop to make a finished piece.

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I work from home, in my tiny flat in Camberwell, South East London. To be honest I am working hard to be more disciplined. Daily routine is not my forte but my ideal day starts with a good cup of coffee and coconut milk, usually in front of my computer checking my emails, news, twitter and instagram. If I don’t have any deadline or commission I just work on my sketchbooks and personal projects. I love this process so much as it allows me to find new perspectives and ways to develop my visual language and to further investigate my interests without strings. If I have a deadline I don’t give myself all that pleasure and I’d just have a quick shower and start working straight away.

I usually work alone but when my boyfriend doesn’t go to his studio we both work from home. I would like to have a studio as soon as my illustration practice will start to pay for it.

I love the freedom and the opportunity to learn something new everyday and to have a work activity built on my greatest passion.

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My long-term ambition is to keep developing my voice using it in different frameworks. I want to work commercially but at the same time keep working on personal projects. I would also love to pass on the experience that I will hopefully have to young persons that cannot afford to pay for their studies. There are so many talented people out there and it would be a shame to miss on them only because of the financial side of education.

Learn more about Marja on her website.