Below is a awesome Q&A that Kathryn Adebayo (@KATHRYNADEBAYO) conducted with Phil:
Here's a chance to be inspired by SVSLearn student and professional freelance illustrator, Phil Cullen. Whether it be by using art as a tool for the empowerment of young people, by sparking emotion in others, or by striving to pass on the impact that illustration had on him as a young child, it seems like Phil creates with purpose. I was excited to learn more from him, since he is an encouraging and helpful contributor on the SVSLearn forum. Here's what he has to share with us!
Could you tell us a bit about yourself?
Hi, I'm Phil. I grew up in Dublin, Ireland. I'm currently living in Japan with my wife. I've always loved to create characters and tell stories with my artwork. I've loved drawing for as long as I can remember and being an 80's kid I grew up on cartoons such as the Turtles, the Thundercats and Mask.
Could you share three of your illustrations that mean something to you (even if it's because you learned something new while working on the piece)?
Little Red: This piece is one of my favourite that I've created. I started to paint digitally when I moved to Japan, and this was when I felt my process clicked. I've also struggled with colour in the past but I was proud of how this piece turned out.
Floral Burst: This piece was commissioned as a gift for someone who worked at my previous job. I was asked to create a piece that incorporates the work they were apart of. The colour and light exploding out is a representation of the support the organisation provides and the effect it has had on so many lives over the years. Lighting up peoples' lives with love and support even when situations seem so dark and so cold. It's possible that lives can be transformed with the right help and encouragement.
Llama Rock: This is a recent Illustration for a UK Record Club. It was a fun commission and a lot of freedom with the brief. It was a tight deadline but I think that helped with the energy of the piece.
I understand that you recently devoted yourself to pursuing a career as a freelance illustrator and animator after over 10 years of working other jobs. What stepping stones in your career have led you to this point? How did you know that life as a freelancer was calling your name?
I studied classical animation at Ballyfermot College. After graduating in 2002, I found it very difficult to get work in the industry, so I had a lot of non-art related jobs. One job I had, which was art related, was when I had the opportunity to work with a community organisation called Familibase which supports young people. My role was to work with young people as an artist alongside youth workers. My main task was to empower the young people and nurture their creativity. It was an amazing place to work as the work they do is so important. I worked with Familbase for over 10 years. Over the course of my time there, I taught stop motion animation to children, film making to teenagers and did lots of lovely messy and creative arts and crafts with the younger children. Art is so important to young people and we used it as a tool to help them express themselves. I really loved the work I did there and It gave me the opportunity to be creative and inspire others to be creative, too.
In the summer of 2017, I left that position and my wife and I moved to Japan, on the JET programme. It's been a great opportunity and has given me the time to work on my portfolio and pursue freelance work. I had been doing some freelance work over the years; some motion graphics work for agencies and graphic design work. At the moment I'm concentrating my efforts on illustration, specifically the children's illustration market. I've found SVSLearn to be a great resource - not only the classes, which are great, but the forum, too. It's full of great, very supportive people and there's a great wealth of knowledge available.
Do you find that the society you're surrounded by is supportive of your life as an artist? What would you say to someone who is wondering if being a visual storyteller is a valuable career?
I think the people around me are very supportive. I've got my 'go-to people' who I know will give me an honest critique. I think the forum SVS runs is a great support also. I've received some great advice from other members.
In my opinion, visual storytelling is definitely a valuable career. I love the reaction the work can get, especially from children. It brings me so much joy knowing that something I have created has sparked an emotion in someone else. That's part of why I love what I do. Plus, I remember all the children's books and animations from my childhood, and how they've had a huge impact on my life.
Where would you like to see yourself, illustration wise, in five years?
If in five years I will be working on interesting, engaging projects and earning enough to be comfortable, I will be more than happy. I would also like to have some children's books out there in the world.
Do you have hopes for what people will feel or do when they look at your art?
I once made an illustration of a cute but evil little tooth fairy. He had a mischievous grin and was standing over someone sleeping. He also had a pair of pliers in his hands. This illustration made my little cousin cry (not the desired effect!) but I saw that as an achievement. It sparked an emotional reaction. I think it's great when something you create can do that. But I have found with social media it can be problematic to have hopes for what people will feel. I used to feel that if something I posted had little or no engagement or feedback, that my own opinion of my work changed or I felt disappointed. I realised that this was a problem, because my own opinions are swayed by luck or algorithms or just other peoples' opinions in general. So now I try to have little or no expectation when posting. I post an image and leave it at that. If it's received well and people comment, then great, but I no longer let other people dictate my own connection to my work.
Finally, how could the people who read this interview help you along in your journey as an illustrator and animator?
I suppose when it comes to my illustrations I'd love to hear any comments, good and bad. I think it's very valuable to get advice from other professionals, especially from those with more experience than me, who may see more clearly where my style of illustration fits in the industry.
Thanks so much, Phil, for all that you've shared!
If you would be interested in sharing your work for a chance to be featured for May head over to the SVS Forum and post your best work by April 10th.