This month, ‘Ellie Asks’ guest interviewer, Layla Pacha, talked to Jay Cover, a freelance illustrator and Director at Nous Vous, on how he got to where he is and what it takes to make it in the industry.
What’s your job title and how would you describe your role?
Freelance Illustrator – I’m also Director of Nous Vous Ltd and an Associate Lecturer at Camberwell College of Art on BA Illustration.
As a freelancer you’re pretty much running a small company on your own, doing all the marketing, administration and the actual work. Most of the time I’m drawing, making images to brief for various different types of projects. Recently I’ve designed beer bottles, t-shirts, illustrated a kids book, illustrated a book of art theory, created characters for an animation and produced a little bit of editorial work for a magazine. So quite a nice mix of things.
With Nous Vous – again I kind of manage and produce work for a slightly larger company. Working on lots of different projects – that tend to be a bit more holistic and multi-facetted than my personal freelance work. This varies a lot and it would be hard to give an accurate, conclusive description, but a current project is designing an interactive installation and publication for Mudam in Luxembourg to accompany an exhibition they have coming up. To help make the exhibition accessible, to interpret and break down some of the theory related to the art and the artist.
My teaching job I do one day a week. Which requires lesson planning, marking, running grits and doing tutorials (all the things you would imagine a teacher to do). The thing I find myself most doing in the role is thinking on my feet, working quite intuitively. Trying to help solve and guide students who’re all doing and thinking very differently and individually. It’s a very satisfying job in this way – I think and work quite differently.
Between these three jobs I think I probably have too much going on sometimes and I’m always trying to find the perfect balance between them. But they all have different challenges that satisfy me in different ways and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
What is a typical day for you?
There’s no such thing. I wish there was most of the time. One thing I tend to do most days is do my e-mails at the start of the day, whilst I’m at home over breakfast – then I go to my studio and start doing the practical work I need to do – drawing, scanning, colouring, making plans, researching, thinking of ideas, sketching, more drawing throughout the day. Then come back to my e-mails later on. Most days I would say I’m drawing or I’m planning something (vague I know but I have to plan and research all sort of different things in different ways). This week for example I’ve been sorting out my studio, re-arranging and making plans for how Nous Vous Press is going to function in the future. Very boring structural planning that you might imagine people doing in an office – think spreadsheets, to do lists and organisational systems.
What skills/qualifications/experience do you need to do your job?
I have a BA in Visual Communication. My main asset is my enthusiasm for what I do. I love it. Enthusiasm makes work easier, more leisurely, something you don’t feel is a chore. Plus you invest more in it because you gain more from it and this cycle perpetuates itself. Because I’ve always been inquisitive and wanted to try new things, and taken the trying of those new things quite seriously, I’ve accidentally gained lots and lots of experience. Managing projects, dealing with other people in one way or another, designing things, through necessity having to be organised to make things work and benefitting greatly from this, learning on the job mostly and learning from mistakes (not being afraid to make them).
When I graduated, I started a monthly zine fair and exhibition in the cafe I was working part time in. This was a stepping stone to curating larger shows, making connections and having an outlet for the work I was making. It was a fairly safe and friendly environment but I learnt a lot from this. Then things just called up after this, you do something you meet someone – they like what you do – they ask you to do something for or with them. That trend continue and turns into a career.
I don’t actually have a qualification in teaching either – just lots of experience. It started when I was invited to give a workshop at a local university, because the teachers had come to one of my exhibitions and enjoyed it. Soon after that I was giving a few lectures a year accompanied by one-day workshops around the country on University courses. These one day workshops became one-week workshops where I was planning projects and delivering them and eventually I got to plan a whole term in a university and deliver it. That went really well and eventually I was offered a job based on my experience.
How did you get to where you are at the moment?
I’m still trying to figure that out, but may have already explained in previous answer – the last ten years seem like a muddled haze of one-thing-after-another. I guess I would say that I just get involved in things. I’m not afraid of making mistakes. I’m not afraid to ask people for help. Or to reach out and make new relationships.
All that and hard work. My first five years were really intensive, but also really fun. I’m a lot more easy going now. I find work a lot easier because I have experience behind me. I’m happy with that.
A big part of this was the collaboration I formed with Nicolas Burrows and William Luz. We’ve always supported one another and worked collaboratively all of our working lives. We shared costs and did things together, which makes the world a whole let less scary. When you share a similar aspiration with someone it can be a great motivator for getting things done together. Plus having a couple of friends around always makes it more fun, interesting and rewarding.
What kind of person do you need to be to do be successful in your industry?
For me you just have to genuinely, on a deep emotional level like and care what you do. To respect what you do as part of a community – we’re all connected to society on one way or another and it’s really important that you feel you contribute.
Who is your creative inspiration and why?
I get asked this a lot and I don’t have an answer. It’s a mix of hundreds of really wonderful inventive, curious people who all do and think in very different ways. I feel it’s good not to get to know your heroes too well, I like to leave them in that place where you romanticise about what their life must have been like and you fill in the gaps and paint your own picture of them and their work in your imagination. My cop-out answer is my grandfather. He was a fisherman and well respected by a very small community, he provided and fitted into that community and really played a role in it. Not just as someone who brought fish back to sell, but someone who invested in the town, worked hard and never grumbled, provided jobs for people, told stories, shared memories in the local pub. He is respected a lot, there’s a small scale model of his fishing boat in the museum in the town – that fills me with endless admiration and really makes me feel inspired to follow making that sort of impact on people’s lives.
What advice would you give a student looking to get work in your field?
Try to actually meet people rather than message them vicariously through social media or e-mail. I used to say ‘hi I like what you do, I don’t want anything but would like to learn more about what you do and meet you – let me know if I can pop over for a cup of tea and a chat’ – something like that anyway – probably more eloquent. People work with other people, and people they can trust and develop a relationship with. Just being a nice person that is interested in others helps a lot.
Check out Jay’s work on his website HERE
Have a browse through Nous Vous’ website HERE