Introducing Tracey

January 25, 2012

Illustration link, book link
This week I'm lucky enough to get a massive interview from Tracey Gibbs, a designer located in Perth. I was shocked to stumble upon her work last year... who knew Perth had such good designers here? Her website is well worth a good look as she has such a range of beautiful illustrations. 

1. Tell us a little about your background - what led you in to the creative field?
I was raised by very practical parents. I grew up on a farm that was quite isolated from town (a 40 minute drive) and because of that we learned to improvise. Substitution and improvisation in itself is pretty creative really; seeing materials as what else they could become in addition to their ‘formal’ use. My dad builds everything himself, he is responsible for my inspiring my obsession with DIY. My mum and grandmother are craft nuts, my mum started a very successful sewing and craft shop when I was 5 which of course influenced me. As a kid I was often drawing, it’s a boredom cure, and a good one. I never really expected I would do anything with it. I was hell bent on becoming an actor, then a vet, then an interpreter. I am still fairly dramatic sometimes, still love animals and languages, but design and illustration are a better fit for my life. 

2. What are your top 3 tips for someone wanting to get into book design?
I am not sure you can ‘will’ yourself into this industry. It is quite a niche market and I think that publishers value experience over most else (aside from design). Simply printing a run of books can cost a publisher $30,000 or more. It is a lot of trust that they put in you to get it right. I think that the best approach would be to design well, even if you have quoted poorly and are not making money from the project anymore. If you create quality work, the good jobs will follow. This applies to whichever field you wish to work in. To better answer this question the ‘tips’ would be;
  • Always produce quality work even if it’s just your dad’s mate’s plumbing business stationery. Set the bar high. If you haven’t got the time, say no to the job. 
  • Read books. It is surprising how many people you meet who don’t read books but love the allure and romance of designing covers. You must understand your market.
  • Be patient and persistent, but not relentless (annoying). Try to be clever in how you approach the company and their publisher. I sent out foldable posters where I had designed my work into one image.

3. Do you think that confidence is strongly linked to being successful in the creative industry?
There is confidence and then there is arrogance. I think to succeed in any field of work you have to know you can do it. If you don’t think you can, why would anyone else think you can? Starting out though, there is a lot to learn. I still have a lot to learn and I have the benefit of several mentors in the publishing industry as well as a mum who has a business mind. I taught at uni for a few years and the arrogance of some students was astounding, they were very rarely the crème de la crème and it was the hardworking, quiet achievers that have now gone on to be great successes. Know your strengths and your weaknesses but don’t parade around too much, no one likes a show off.

4. How do you manage to stop your style becoming stagnant when you work alone? Is there ever a fear you'll turn into a reclusive hermit?
I am quite a chatty person, but as mentioned already, I grew up in an isolated area. I like my own company. I also live with my lovely boyfriend and our labrador, Graham. I have great friends that live close by and one of my BFFs is a fabulous designer also who is on google chat with me all day. It is what you make it. I know great designers who could not do what I do because they (in their words) don’t have the discipline to make themselves work. I have always been quite square in regards to homework and time management so it is an easily transferrable skill for me. Ultimately, I freelance for a bevy of reasons which include; work flexibility and creating my own work/life balance, greater creative control over my projects, greater control over who I work with and frankly, more money. Though the scope of additional work freelance involves is also enormous.

In regards to a stagnant ‘style’, the internet I believe is more powerful in exposing you to current trends than any other media. If I were to work in-house, I would be exposed to 3 or 4 designers working on the same (likely corporate) briefs. The rest of the staff would be accountants and receptionists and the like. I think the flexibility to be able to spend my off-time reading blogs and interacting via social media is a far better way to keep your finger on the pulse of what is current. Also, I read, a lot. I buy a lot of books, we have an indie bookshop nearby and I am in there at least once a week, analysing covers and assessing their shelf presence.

5. What do you think the biggest challenges a creative business faces?
Finances and discipline. I am typically a fairly organised person but I still struggle to be completely on top of bank accounts, invoicing and quotes. To a creative mind nothing is more boring than reconciling bank statements but it has to be done. I also think a lot of creative types can be quite abrasive, perhaps from being shy. I think that one of my strengths is that I will happily chat to anyone. When it comes to the crunch, personable service is at the core of any successful business.
The other aspect is not so much a challenge, but a requirement. You must have the support of those around you to make it work. My boyfriend especially is often the one to pep me up when my workload starts to feel out of control. I play a lot of different roles as a busy freelancer and it is important that there is someone who can help me gain perspective when it becomes overwhelming.

6. Did you always know what your "style" was or did you have an a-ha moment where it seemed to suddenly make sense?
For a long time the concept of a style bothered me. I really wanted a recognisable style where people could point it out in shops or galleries. I am aware that I favour some principles and elements over others but I am pretty sure that my work is diverse enough that it doesn’t link together neatly. So I guess I perceive that my work has no discernible ‘style’ as such. And I think it is one of my strengths. It is why I get hired for illustration work of varying types as well as many different design jobs. The diversity of my workload is what I like most about freelance and I would never have achieved that had I pigeon-holed myself in the way I had previously wanted to.

7. Have you ever had to deal with creative burnout? Any tips?
I burned out pretty badly towards the end of uni. After graduation I chose to work in a pub for four months and then go to Europe. I came back and fell into publishing design. I take from that experience that gelati in Florence solves all problems. Travel is my remedy. It exposes me to differing styles, cultures, ideas and I get R&R along the way.

8. What are your top 5 places/people you go to for inspiration?
Mostly it is people. My designer BFF sends me the most awesome and random collection of musings over google chat. They range from the inspired to the deranged, but are always worth the look and definitely expand my creativity. My very stylish wordsmith BFF is also pretty tops. I have known her for more than half my life, she remembers my style disasters; sunflower themed bedroom anyone? She is more passionate about books than anyone else I know and is always tweeting and emailing me interesting pictures and places. Aside from people, traveling anywhere always inspires me. I just got back from Oaxaca Mexico, google it! Oh my! The craft there is amazing. I also often visit bookshops and blogs.
Ultimately, I can’t give you five exact places. I think that to be a successful designer you need to be excited by all creative things. A supermarket for example is an excellent way to see what design methods stand out amongst the competition. I am forever analysing and appreciating my surroundings.

9. What are your favourite medias to work with?
I am really enjoying oil paints right now, though I have produced nothing commercial with it. I do like the tactile, more traditional mediums, though I spend all day using Adobe software which is pretty freaking grand too!
On a personal level, I also love working on our (almost) 100 year old cottage, stripping, painting and renovating. I adore cooking too. There is not many moments in the day where I am not creating something, either physically or imagining new projects. I have more ambition than time.

10. What can we expect to see from you and your blog/work in the future?
My blog hopefully will get a redesign. I just need to make some time to develop those skills that translate a photoshop file/idea into a lovely wordpress template. After that I would be posting regularly. I would like to start a section on my blog of the design process. As far as my work is concerned, I will be designing more books. I have stopped taking on corporate design work to focus wholly on publishing. I hope to illustrate some more too, perhaps another picture book sometime soon.

Thanks again to Tracey for giving this interview, it's great to see how people get to where they are.


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