Since graduating from the University of West England’s Illustration course in 2011, Bristol-based Jacob Stead has scored some hefty editorial commissions. 

His wit and grainy, 1950s-style depictions, feature everything from menacing gingerbread men to lab coat-clad chemists, and have won fans including Good Housekeeping, Wired and Anorak magazines, and British Airways.

“I spent the very little spare time I had in the last few weeks before the degree show hunting for art directors’ contact details on the internet,” explains Jacob. From there he nailed two commissions, one paid and one unpaid, and then used them to lure in more commissions – which are now rolling in thick and fast.

“Doing some unpaid work in the beginning really helped me overall, despite what some people say about not working for free. It gave me more exposure on blogs and a chance to work to realistic deadlines, so that I could see where I had to work faster and where I needed to take shortcuts.”


Produced for the New York Times

A growing portfolio and client base meant Jacob was recently able to give up the part-time cafe job he had taken after university to make ends meet. Aside from this major milestone, another recent breakthrough (not least geographically) was a piece for the New York Times Book Review, to accompany a review of Nathaniel Rich’s novel Odds Against Tomorrow.

“I’d always wanted to work on a commission with the paper because of its reputation and the exposure it offers, but it had always seemed unreachable to me. It felt amazing to hit a target like that.”

Jacob’s keen to keep growing his editorial base, but also aims to break into publishing, and would like to start working on book design. Like most recent graduates, his past year has been an intensive slog in getting noticed and putting work out, and he now he would like some time to play. “It’d be great to fit in more personal work and find some time to experiment with print and 3D,” he says.

This interview is part of our Creative Graduate Guide. Click here to discover the best ways to land your first job or set up freelance.