Widely known for her upbeat, lively and colourful aesthetics, Farida Zaman’s illustrations have appeared in the Latin Grammy Awards, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Time Out London, among many others. From being used in posters, book covers, children’s books, corporate projects, food packaging as well as on giftware and clothing, Farida’s work extends across mediums and areas. She is also working with Bangladesh-based manufacturers to translate her designs on leather goods.
Apparel Resources gets candid with the illustrator to understand the trends driving the illustration market, how one can collaborate with companies and designers, and how freelance artists can negotiate the worth of their work.
AR: Did you always want to get into graphic design? Or was it a shift you experienced during your college years?
FZ: I’ve been doing this ever since I was a very young girl. I was always interested in drawing and painting. My father was a diplomat and his job took us all over the world – from Bangladesh to Pakistan, to England – we have called many countries our home for certain periods of time. I went to boarding school in England and then to art school; I did my undergrad at Wimbledon School of Arts in Illustration and Design, and prior to that, my foundation course in Design and Arts at Chelsea School of Arts.
In those days you didn’t have the computer, so it was a very hands-on experience the foundation course allowed us to experiment with different areas of design – fine arts, sculpture, 3D design, illustration, ceramics, and art history – so it gave us an opportunity to discover our forte and interest and hone it accordingly. When the time to apply came, I already knew I wanted to further my interest in illustration because I like visual storytelling.
AR: What was your journey into the real world like, post art school? What was your first job?
FZ: I worked for a small magazine for a while, but I started my career as a freelance illustrator in England back in 1989. My first client ever was Oxford University Press, followed by Reader’s Digest in London. I also worked with publishing houses, book covers, in education; besides, I have worked with London Underground too. My work has been quite varied and broad.
AR: With the advent of the digital age, what was the biggest challenge or shift that came in for you as an illustrator?
FZ: It was initially very daunting. I started working on the computer by the mid ’90s. It was challenging because I had to start thinking of a different way of presenting my work. Back then, we used to simply hand paint it, scan it and email it. So I got myself a scanner and a printer, and I had a desktop, but I realised that learning Photoshop was really important, so I took some courses for the same.
There was an ebb and flow to illustrations done back in the early 2000s. Everybody wanted things in digital and you would fall out of favour if you didn’t do things digitally and give it that sort of hard-edged look.
In the late ’90s and early 2000s, I was living in New York, and so I was able to shift that gear. But I wasn’t comfortable doing it on the computer. In a couple of years though, it kind of worked in my favour because the trend right now is of very much everything by hand or to make it look like it’s handcrafted, even though it’s been done digitally. So giving it that slightly unpolished look is trending. It’s like the pendulum swung back in my favour, so to speak.
AR: What is the area that you specialise in, in the field of illustration?
FZ: I wear a couple of hats when it comes to the kind of work I had. I’m in the publishing industry, so I do children’s picture books. I also recently finished illustrating and even writing my own very first picture book; generally I illustrate people’s stories, but this time, I wrote it as well. I work with a licensing agent through whom I license my designs to a lot of manufacturers internationally as well. I work with phone case design companies who design laptop sleeves, phone case covers, iPad covers, etc., and I also work with carpet companies, so it’s pretty varied. I am also into fine art and I have shown for that, but that happens so very often. I do a lot of city maps – I’m actually known for the city maps I do.
AR: What are the different mediums that you use to create your designs?
FZ: I typically work by hand and then take some help from Photoshop to clean things up. Recently I started working on my iPad 2 with the Apple Pen. I use the Viacom tablet, and I do some of my work on Procreate as well. By hand, I work with water colours, acrylic paints and the likes.
AR: How can creatives and artists reach out to their dream company to collaborate/freelance with them?
FZ: You can contact companies directly by going on the Contact page on their websites or you can find them on LinkedIn. Also gauge the top trade shows for your field around the world and participate in them. For example, the Atlantic Gift Show, SurTex, and the Wall Art Décor trade show in Las Vegas, etc. – the internet would have a slew of options around the regions of interest as per individuals. It’s a bit of an investment but one learns so much. You can carry your business cards and network with so many companies who you won’t meet otherwise. Researching the kind of industry you want to work with is really important.
AR: What do you think are the current shifts taking place in the market? What according to you are certain future trend projections in the industry?
FZ: There’s a swing towards minimalism. Nowadays people are shopping little less, and are trying to be more sustainable. Sustainability is very important. People have a lesser mentality of buying things just for the heck of it every season, and instead, like buying things that they can keep and use for a while. Quality is really important, and all this translates into design and creatives as well. One thing that is really big now is quotations and sayings – typography is huge – again attributing it to the return of the handmade quality to the fore.
AR: How can artists negotiate their worth with collaborators? How can they demand the right price for their craft?
FZ: It’s very important to not underestimate and short-change yourself. Artists in general are so excited and passionate about their work that they more often than not, undersell themselves. One should know their worth and have the confidence to demand what is the rightful price for their work. Study and research the market thoroughly and see what the current rate per hour or the cost of an entire project is. While starting out, companies might try and negotiate, but it’s important to remember that you are giving this person the entire rights to your work and later they can use it in any way they want and you might end up seeing it everywhere. That can turn out to be poor business management, and of course, it’s not easy.
“Right now the trend is generally quite minimalist but there is a real swing towards the eclectic, a bit more bohemian and exotic. Textures are really big now. Textiles are huge! The market demand for elements such as motifs and print placements is enormous.”
AR: What are some of the ways creatives can hone their skills in order to meet today’s industry demands?
FZ: Definitely, do some courses on how to present your work in collections; stay on top of trending colours and trending demands of the market. Don’t look at just one area because areas such as home décor, fashion, and literature – everything kind of ties together.
I think it’s really, really important to take part in forums on Facebook, join various Facebook groups, talk to other artists in the industry, knock off ideas, talk to experts on pricing and portfolios, and consult with people who set artists up with companies. Learn who’s out there, who can help you and not be taken for a ride. Lilla Rogers’ Make Art That Sells is someone you can look up for an indication on how things are done, and also Jenifer Nelson. Skill Share is also fantastic for building yourself up. Learning should never stop.
This business comes in different forms and shapes. To find what suits you, you have to be really committed to your passion and not give up. Constantly learning as you grow, and keeping up with changing market trends is crucial to success.