Imogen Oh is an illustrator from Dublin with a degree in Visual Communication. With a list of clients ranging from Guinness to Yogism & Tang, her colourful style can even be found lighting up the cover of Critical Hits, an anthology of original essays from the finest independent video game journalists and developers. Read on to find out about her techniques and inspirations, while stopping to admire her particularly adorable illustrations of dogs.
Did you always want to be an artist?
Like most kids I constantly changed my mind about what I wanted to do; vet, pathologist, writer… But as it turned out, I wasn’t very good at science or English. Drawing is just something I was pretty good at and enjoyed doing, and I have creative parents who encouraged me to nurture those skills and then to eventually make a career in art. I couldn’t see myself doing anything else now.
What drew you to illustration as a career choice?
I did Visual Communication in college, but the rigidity of graphic design drove me crazy. You can pick apart bad design, even good design given your taste. Everyone who has studied graphic design does it – it’s part of the process and you’re taught to be extremely critical. With illustration you work hard to develop your own style that you enjoy, and with any luck other people will like it too – some won’t, but that’s irrelevant. If you can make a career out of it, you’ve succeeded.
When/why did you decide to go freelance? Is it a tough gig?
Freelancing is incredibly difficult. For the most part it’s been a success for me in that I get work, but the hours can be tough, you can get messed around, and you’re underpaid half the time (which can lead to feeling undervalued). There’s pros too; make your own hours, choose the projects you want, and if you enjoy peace you can relish in an empty work-space (may include snoring dog). Ultimately I chose to work for myself because studio/office life just did not work for me, I found it soul-crushing for a lot of reasons. At the moment I’m working expanding my career so I won’t need to rely as much on freelancing, which will hopefully bear fruit over the coming year or two.
Do you think that attending a college course is necessary for being a successful illustrator/designer?
You can definitely succeed without a degree, although you’d need a lot of self-motivation. Most of the skills I learnt in college were essentially self-taught – it’s the projects and how you approach them that make you learn and experiment. College offers resources, guidance and deadlines, and you work out the rest. I’m glad I did it, but I’ve many friends who’ve seen success without. The biggest advantage to college is an extensive network, but if you’re willing to put in time and energy into making that network yourself, it can be done.
Can you talk a bit about the technical aspects of your work?
I used to sketch everything on paper and then create the final artwork in Illustrator/Photoshop with a drawing pad, but I recently started sketching and creating art on the iPad Pro using Procreate. I’m very much a digital artist at this stage, although I still try to sketch on paper when I have the time.
What is your favourite type of commission?
Anything with a lot creative freedom that includes lettering, patterns, and nature. I love doing wall installations, both digital (vinyl) or by hand.
What’s the process like for working on a project for a client?
I always discuss the project in great detail with the client, make sure we understand each other with regards to content, outcome, and deadlines. Then I turn into a hermit and work away for a few days until I have something I’m happy with. I tend to schedule one project at a time, as I have this complete inability to leave something alone until it’s totally finished – having multiple things going on at one time makes me a special kind of crazy.
Can you tell me a bit about designing the cover for Critical Hits: An Indie Gaming Anthology?
Zoë [Jellicoe] came to me at the beginning of 2016 after seeing a poster I made with Shane Kenna for the City of Physics. I’ve been hugely into video games all my life, so I knew I wanted to be involved straight away. The idea is based on immersion you feel in video games, i.e. you play a game set in space – and you’re really in there; a character enveloped in that world, but you’re also just a spaced out person with your eyes glued to a screen. The book was released last month – it’s really fantastic and I’m honoured to have been involved.
Who has been or currently is an influence on your work?
Starting out, I was heavily influenced by animation and directors like Hayao Miyazaki and John Lasseter. Nowadays I’m influenced by near about everyone and everything, there’s so much to take in online and around Dublin now. If I had to name an artist, I really love the work of Grzegorz Domaradzki at the moment.
How would you describe your own style?
I love hand-lettering, patterns, nature, pink, lilac and teal colour palettes. I’m always learning and developing my style, so I think it changes with every passing year. I’m told by friends and clients that my work is pretty girly, so maybe that’s the best way to describe it.
Is social media important to you for getting clients and showcasing your work?
Not at the moment, but I haven’t embraced social media as much as I should. Being introverted and extremely self-critical, I tend to hide myself from exposure – not a great tactic for a freelancer! But I plan to be more active online. I just finished a job with a client overseas due to my online presence, so the rewards are there to be reaped.
Do you think there is enough support out there for up-and-coming artists?
Dublin is a great place for friendly artists, writers and designers to network with each other and get decent exposure. There’s also many grants and programs for up-and-coming artists there for the taking. Unfortunately, the current set up for self-employed artists isn’t what it should be, and I think we get the short end of the stick when it comes to incentives – in that there is none.
What are your long-term goals?
To own a house, be surrounded by dogs, and be able to work exclusively on projects I love. I want to continue freelancing and selling my work, I’d also love to work in concept art for video games and animation one day.