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she is Fierce

How to become a self-made artist – with Charly Clements

Travelling the world with only her iPad, the Beano and pun-loving British illustrator wants to help you launch your dream career

“Ever wondered how awesome it would be if we could all hang out with our iPads, draw pretty portraits while nerding out over illustration and business? Maybe even with a cheeky glass of wine in hand?”

This interview is part of a TOPIA series in partnership with Face This. The Dutch charity brings together street artists with Indonesian school kids to turn children’s drawings into merch to support their education. Read all the interviews.

So asks Charly Clements, the fiercely independent greeting card designer and freelance illustrator known for her quirky designs, bad puns, and living the dream by creating her own products to sell – under her own terms.

Four years ago, Charly made the move to sell all her belongings and travel around the world armed with only her iPad Pro. (Other tablets are available!) Today she runs her creative career full time online, only working on projects that she loves, collaborating with her dream brands and licensing her work out to stores around the world. To date, the British artist has lived in around 20 countries so far, all the while actively turning her passion into profit. Sounds like a digital nomad dream, right?

Seeing creativity as self care, the British illustrator has been moving more and more towards teaching, as she finds it even more rewarding.

This month, Charly joined forces with the Face This Foundation to drop a series of bright and bold ‘T-shirts for good’ – created in collaboration with the drawings of Indonesian school children. Proceeds help fund their education.

We asked the artist what inspired her playfulness and how on earth she got to where she is today. Which is currently Thailand, but that is not we meant.

Q&A: Charly Clements

Hi Charly. Do you consider yourself an ‘art-ivist’?

I suppose I am in a way. I always use my platform for good, and try to be a voice for others who may not have one. 

Let’s go back to the beginning. Did you always like to draw? 

I grew up in a small seaside town in the UK with my mum and younger brother. From a young age I just knew I wanted to be an artist. I was always entering drawing competitions and creating birthday cards for friends and family. And I was obsessed with the Beano comic. When I was eight, I decided to draw all the Beano characters on one A4 piece of paper and as a surprise, my mum sent it into their magazine and it ended up getting featured. I’ll never forget that feeling of joy I got when I opened the comic and saw my work. I feel incredibly lucky that I grew up in a very creative family who always supported my love for art. I know how important that was for me growing up, so I try to be as supportive to my community too.

I always struggled to focus in class, but as soon as it came to art, I could sit quietly for hours and not get distracted. I just became obsessed and eventually turned my obsession into a successful creative business. I love the freedom it’s given me. Being creative every day brings me so much happiness, and I just love sharing that with others.

What sparked your wanting to work so independently?

Seven years ago, I started designing funny greeting cards as a little side hustle in my last year of Uni. I was pretty broke and in desperate need of some extra cash. After putting my work out there I was approached by a greeting card company called Tigerprint. They asked me to do a two-week placement designing cards for Marks & Spencer, an absolute dream come true. They offered me a full time job. I now had a difficult choice to make, I could either take the job and stay in England or move to Berlin and try and make it as an illustrator on my own. I chose the latter.

When did you first know it was the right move?

The first year was tough. I was working late nights and weekends finishing commissions I hated all while juggling three part time jobs. I was still broke and felt so burned out. I kept asking myself if I made the right decision turning down the security of a full time job. But I kept reminding myself that I didn’t want to work for other people, my dream was to create my own products to sell. So I stopped wasting time looking for commissions and I put all my energy into creating greeting cards to sell on Etsy. I made 100 sales in those first few months and knowing someone other than my mum wanted my work filled me with so much joy.

I didn’t want to work for other people, my dream was to create my own products to sell.

When did your work transform into a successful greeting cards business?

In 2014, I was approached by two amazing greeting card companies – Whale & Bird and Brainbox Candy – who licensed my designs. They got my cards stocked in shops like Urban Outfitters, Scribbler and even Sainsburys. Say whattt? After three, years I had my work licensed with several brands. This gave me the financial freedom to leave my part time jobs to pursue my passion full time. So in 2016 I finally made the leap. I invested in an iPad pro, sold my belongings and booked a one way ticket to Asia. I hope this story inspires you to follow your dreams. It may be a struggle in the beginning but making money doing something you love makes it all worthwhile. Promise.

Tell us about your new interactive workshop.

In my latest two-day virtual workshop, ‘Easy-Peasy Portraits’, I teach you how to create a digital portrait (via Zoom). The thought of being able to guide you through drawing your own portraits LIVE literally fills me with so much joy.

Can you tell me about your process – your painterly background versus digital process.

I used to draw everything by hand, scan it into the computer, then colour it in Photoshop. After several years of working like this, I finally decided to ditch my scanner and invest in an iPad Pro. Since then, my workflow has become much more efficient, and the best part is I can now create from anywhere in the world.

Can you pinpoint one of your artworks that means the most to you and what art with a message represents in your journey?

My She is Fierce portrait [pictured in the header]. That’s still one of my most popular portraits to date and I think that’s because I saw how much it empowered other females. I remember receiving a message from one of my followers saying they’d hung it in their daughter’s nursery as a reminder that females are strong. How amazing is that?

What has been the most surprising outcome from your work?

Becoming an educator. Also, when I first started sharing my illustrations on social media, I had no idea that I’d become a teacher along the way. Although it wasn’t in my ‘plan’, I honestly can’t imagine my life without it now.

And biggest challenge?

Avoiding burnout. When your job is also your passion, it can be easy to fall into the trap of over working. I found that having other hobbies and interests that weren’t art related really helped me find that balance between work and play.

You see art as therapy. What is one thing you do regularly, a simple ritual or hack that brings you joy or elicits a sense of self care?

Reading a rom-com on my Kindle in the bath surrounded by candles. This always brings me so much peace and quiet before going to bed.

How important is it to you to bring joy with your work?

It’s So important to me! Ever since I shifted over to teaching, I’ve realised just how fulfilling it is to bring joy not only through my work but through helping others achieve the same. Art can be so healing, it’s helped me through many difficult times in my life, and I hope it can be the light in other artists’ lives too.

What are you most inspired by?

I’m always inspired by my love for travel, whether that’s drawing sushi from Japan or the luscious jungles I’ve visited in Northern Thailand, I always try to infuse my surroundings into my work. 

If you had to look at one artwork only until the end of days, what would it be – and why?

The Starry Night by Van Gogh. That piece of artwork has always been so mesmerising to me.

Pablo Picasso once said: “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” Do you have tips for non-artists to cultivate their inner child?

I try to keep it fun! I know how important it is as an artist to not get bogged down by everything that comes with running your own business or freelancing. So I set myself fun challenges to make sure that I’m always enjoying what I’m doing. If I’m enjoying what I’m doing it always shows in the work I’m creating. Playfulness is incredibly important for not only children, but for adults too. And it’s something you have to actively seek out in later life.

You designed an artwork by using some of the Indonesian kids’ drawings by Face This. Why do you feel so connected to the cause?

I just love what the charity stands for. I lived in Indonesia for a few months in 2017 so I felt even more of a connection. I’ve also worked with children in the past, and I used art and play as a way for them to express themselves, so it felt like the perfect collaboration. When I first saw them. I saw happiness. Art has always been a kind of therapy for me so I just hope these kids never stop drawing, because the possibilities are endless. I used their concepts of mountains and trees, a face and an airplane. I loved the idea of pulling elements from different kids’ drawings and bringing them all together to tell a story. It was an absolute honour working on this project.

What’s next? 

Charly Clement’s Symmetry Class was awarded Staff Pick

One of the most rewarding parts of my job has been teaching. I started teaching digital painting classes on Skillshare around three years ago, and since then I’ve helped thousands of students navigate the world of illustration. I’d love to expand on this and start creating more courses centred around the business side of things. I’m currently working hard behind the scenes on a brand new class on how to make passive income from your art. It’s my most adventurous class yet! Over the last seven years I’ve been able to build an amazing career on my own terms, and I’m SO excited to finally be able to share everything I’ve learned along the way.

Lastly, we are creating a playlist for TOPIA. What is the last song you’d want to hear during your time here on Earth?

‘Where is My Mind?’ by Pixies.

Now enter Charly Clement’s World of Good

The artist’s tips of outrageously good people to follow

1 – The Happy Newspaper by Emily Coxhead
2 – Stacie Swift – an illustrator who promotes positivity
3 – Florence Given – a brilliant bestselling author, podcaster and illustrator

What’s so good about this?

Creativity has a transformative power for children of all cultures. The Face This Foundation works to empower Indonesian schoolchildren to “design their own future”. Charly Clements’ artwork is available on tees, sweaters and tote bags. All pieces are available to buy online. Check out more of the artist’s work at charlyclements.com and @charlyclements.

Meet the writer

Lisa Goldapple is the creative brain behind the world of TOPIA. The magazine’s Editor-in-chief has been creating shows for MTV, BBC, Vice, TVNZ, National Geographic and more since the noughties. Then created social good platform, Atlas of the Future. Today her desk faces the trippy side of Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, which might explain a few things. To understand how TOPIA came out of this rare brain, read ‘Mind Blown’. As she puts it: “If life splinters and you hallucinate triangles, make a kaleidoscope.”

Follow @lisagoldapple on LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram. (Open to freelance collaborations.)

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