image by Karen Cheung, taken from her home page 6/3/12


Karen started out studying zoology at Cambridge, but found that she enjoyed drawing animals and doodling instead (bet her parents were pleased about that!! lol) she then decided to do a second degree, this time in illustration (bet this pleased them even more!!) but the results of her studying was that she got a first class honours in illustration at bristol UWE, do ity must have been the right decision hey?

She made a film whilst at uni called ‘headache hotel’ which she showed us, it was created from simple lines, but i often find these the most appealing, rather than the digitally coloured ones – this can be seen on her website, as well as other anomations that she has done.

This film enabled her to send it off to the BBC to the animators of the year award, where she got short listed, and it was then played at animation festivals all over the world.

In her final year at uni she said she started panicking about what she was going to do and started drawing lots of weird things like dead things, she mentioned that you shouldn’t do what you don’t want to do if you aren’t passionate about it, and concentrate on what you do want to do.

She wrote a book for children whilst at uni called ‘sheepless’ which she entered for macmillan and she won. The book was made using mixed media, she said she used pencil, ink,acrylic, watercolours and crayons – anything she could get to hand really. Her book however didnt get published as they thought it was too gory, which really makes me question what the Macmillan Picture book competiton is all about as i have seen a few that have won it and not been published…is this not part of the criteria for judging it, are they not supposed to look at how it appeals to children? Because if they dont then what exactly is the point i wonder?

Karen did say that she wasnt a very confident person (as she stood in front of a couple of hundred students in the lecture hall) and that she did go to London to knock on the doors of design agencies to try and get work, but she admitted that she didnt push it.

She made a short film in her final year ‘welcome to the zoo’, and after graduation she had a degree show in London in a gallery, where her agent ‘Jelly’ were next door at the time and they saw her work and contacted her a few days later offering to put her on their books. This was in 2006 and at the time they were quite a new agency. She did say that this agency is not appropriate for children’s illustration though and mentioned one called plum pudding.Karen said that to get work as a children’s illustraot you really need to be able to show mock books you have already done.

She recommended that when you put your portfolio together you make it concise, and that you don’t put everything in there, as it then looks like you dont know what you do and what your strengths are.Whens he finished uni her tutors told her to go to studios, and so she went to 10 and showed her show reel.She made sure she had her website up and ready for them to look at.One of the studios sat and watched it with her and they were called ’12 foot 6′, they then rang her and asked her if she would do charcters for paramount comedy channel, of which of course she agreed.They wanted her to do animation but she didnt know how to do flash, so they actually sat with her for an hour and taught her – amazing!

Karen has worked for quite a list of clients, which are listed on her website but they include Paramount, Virgin Central, Virgin Media, Bookstart and a lot of car companies for some reason. I am wondering if this is what happens when you have an agent and let them find the work for you? Karen said she pays an amazing 30% to her agent, but she thinks this is worth is as she then doesn’t have to deal with money and fiances, she doesn’t have to speak to the clients, or go out and get the work, and she thought this was good as she wasn’t very confident. I really wanted to say to her though, don’t you think if you did deal with these people ou would become more confident?

At the end of the talk, which was very interesting, Karen spoke to us about getting work after uni.She said that when you are at uni you get advise from the tutors, but to take it with a pinch of salt as this is only their opinion, and it is also important to listen to other people about your work.Keep playing at your work, don’t get too tight, allow yourself to have happy accidents as they can take you down a new path! Be critical of yourself , and keep asking yourself if this is the best way to do something.

She talked about self promotion saying that you should be brave and approach people (this surely was meant to be tongue in cheek after she had said how un confident she was earlier?) turn up on doorsteps, and don’t take it personally when you get turned down as it happens a lot.

She also has a store on etsy, which she makes soft toys, but doesn’t earn much from it, she also does xmas cards, and she is on twitter and uses companies like spoon flower and envelop to make cushions.She also does Helfa Gelf as well. She keeps her hand in and does Life Drawing, and does a print making course at Yale College, and she says she tries to do a drawing every day!