With her background in graphic design, illustrator Rebecca Mills is all about geometric shapes and color pops. Her bold, textured artwork celebrates animals and the natural world with quirky twists: you’ll find giraffes whizzing by on bicycles, snakes sporting spiffy new glasses, and koalas resplendent in elaborate hats.
Rebecca spoke with us about the practical fundamentals of freelance illustration, kids as art directors, and how to adapt your creativity to a variety of art briefs.
As an illustrator, what drew you to use Procreate as a part of your workflow?
Absolutely portability. Before Procreate, digital sketching meant I had to work at my computer on my Cintiq. Now I can work anywhere. I often work at the park after school pickup, or on the couch while watching The Office. The freedom is amazing. I’m now more efficient and able to take more on.
What’s your favorite Procreate tool?
QuickShape! Being able to create crisp vector-like shapes in such an easy and intuitive way has been process changing. No other raster software makes it so easy. I’m able to sketch out icons and other “flat" designs in a matter of minutes. Also – perfect circles make me happy.
What’s the one tool you wish Procreate had?
I’d love adjustment layers. Color is hugely important to me and being able to make global changes to colors across all layers (without flattening) is the biggest thing I find myself pining for.
When did you know that being an illustrator was what you wanted to do? Have you always been into drawing and art?
I always loved art and drawing at school. My guidance counsellor steered me towards graphic design as a nice, commercial, easy to understand career that has good employment prospects. I’m glad I listened because a lot of the design fundamentals I was taught at university and in my career as both an in-house and freelance designer are super important for a commercial illustrator. The ability to work a brief, to understand color theory, composition, and print setup, and to grasp the importance of budget and deadline are things that art directors look for.
I designed for 10 years, until I had my second baby and decided to set new goals and rebrand as an illustrator.
What’s your favorite Procreate feature?
QuickShape has enabled me to invent a completely new style for myself, so I think it would be pretty ungrateful not to name that one.
Are you classically trained? Have you always been mostly digital or do you dabble in traditional art as well?
During my design degree we did some courses in traditional media. Freehand perspective drawing, lessons with Copic markers… but I wouldn’t say I am classically trained. I have a bunch of respect for traditional artists. Life without two-finger-tap undo is a wild world!
What do you do when you’re lacking in inspiration?
I try to leave the house and do some exercise. I got a road bike earlier this year to try and burn off some of my work worries and it really helps. I try to take on a variety of projects at one time so that if one isn’t working, I can look to another instead.
Your concepts are always so happy and amusing - how do you come up with your quirky ideas?
Sometimes I ask my kids for ideas - three- and five-year-olds are pretty good creative directors. Most of the time though, there’s a voice in my head that says, “Lets draw a frog playing a guitar,” and then I do. Should I see someone about this?
Favorite thing to draw?
Animals doing silly things. I’m onto my second year of drawing animals doing silly things and I am starting to worry I’ll run out of ideas and need to diversify, but for now it’s giraffes on bicycles or something.
You’ve worked with a wide variety of clients; what’s your favorite sort of job, and why?
I’ve been blessed with some briefs which were really open, like the work for Procreate and Yagan Square, which was essentially, “Here are the tools, draw something in your style.” It’s an amazing compliment and very trusting for a client to give me that level of creative freedom. BUT... I also do a lot of ad agency work which often comes with a prescribed visual language. Sometimes the briefs are a bit more formulaic and good for days when the creative tap isn’t flowing. For me, it’s all been about finding the right balance.
What’s been your most interesting/fun job so far in your career, and why?
Well, obviously Procreate. Being asked to create artwork for the 4.2 release was really the highlight of my last year – especially as it was the introduction of QuickShape. It’s hard to pick a second place as it’s been a crazy and diverse 18 months. I loved working on the cover for the Illustrators Australia annual showcase, Platypi, especially as they were down with animals doing silly things. Working with Yagan Square’s 360 degree screen was also a great challenge. The 75 icons I did for the Perth Zoo map win me some cred with my kids, who are probably my harshest critics. I’m also really excited about the projects I’m currently working on, but they are under NDAs so I’ll have to wait until later this year to share.
Advice for artists looking to become freelancers?
I’ll pick four things that I think are the most important.
1. Set up a good portfolio website that is easy to navigate and showcases your best work. If you don’t have a portfolio website, this should be your priority. There are so many ways to do this professionally for free! I’m surprised so many illustrators try to market via Facebook or Instagram alone.
2. Really take the time to get a deep understanding of how the business of freelance illustration works. Nail scheduling, invoicing and managing your accounts. Being efficient at all this un-fun stuff is what really matters to art directors, and it will win you the repeat work.
3. Just draw a lot. Practice a bunch and try new tools. Create briefs for yourself to try and fill. Art challenges on Twitter or Instagram are great for this - try #colour_collective or @PinchPunchPost.
4. Self care and maintaining a proper work/life balance is the hardest but most important line you will draw. Look after yourself!