Pizza? Julian Glander? Illustrator/animator Sofia Johnston's been there, done that

For this instalment of Youngerworld: Born Digi  – our series profiling rising artists who were born as digital natives and yet to don a graduate cap  – we interview Sofia Johnston, a UK illustration student who's already collaborated with Julian Glander and branded for a major pizza chain. Bon appétit!

Yo Sofia! What do you study?

I am currently in my 3rd year studying BA (Hons) Illustration at Leeds Arts University.

Why did you decide to do a course instead of teaching yourself?

I knew that an illustration degree would give me the time, resources and motivation I needed to figure out my creative practice. Studying has also given me access to critical feedback from my tutors which has been crucial to my progression as an artist.

I am glad I chose the course and university that I did. The structure of the modules has pushed me to explore a wide range of subject matter, processes and applications of illustration, without which I don’t think I would be where I am now.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I've recently been working on my final major project (FMP), so most days are mine to organise and decide what I want to work on. I get plenty of time to create each day, usually working in my sketchbook or animating.

Most of the work I am doing at the moment is for my course as I’m really getting my teeth stuck into my FMP, but I look forward to working on some more personal work and hopefully some commissions once I have finished.

Do you post course work on social? Or do you prefer to keep things separate?

Yes, but more so the final outcomes of course work rather than all of the development, as this keeps my social media feed looking professional and coherent. However, I find the story function on Instagram is great for documenting process/sketchbook work, giving my followers an insight into how I work. (Follow Sofia's Instagram here.)

Do your peers 'hustle' a lot on social too?

Definitely, we all know the importance of having a social media presence as a creative today.

Is it hard to balance studies with social media?

I often feel pressure to post more frequently than I do, but I find with my university work I don’t like to document absolutely everything I do on social media as this can be distracting. 

How does it feel to have already branded a Franco Manca restaurant and worked with Julian Glander before you've even graduated?

Great! It’s reassuring to know that there are people/clients out there who are interested in what I do and enjoy the often silly tone of voice within my work. Collaborating with Julian was a great experience, it taught me not to be so intimidated by my creative heroes. Working with him I realised that we’re all just people!

I hope to have a career as a freelance illustrator and animator, and my work with Franco Manca and Julian/It’s Nice That has given me some really valuable experience that I’m sure will come in useful as a freelancer. Hopefully it will also help to show future clients that I am reliable and can collaborate with others.

(Read our controversial interview with Julian Glander from 2019.)

How has your style changed since starting your studies?

My style has evolved quite a lot since the start of my studies. I arrived at university thinking I was going to be a children’s book illustrator. I think it was at the beginning of my second year when I realised my love for nonsense and world building; alongside this my interest in animation has also really developed.

I am always keen to keep learning, which has led me to push my digital skills through 2D animation and more recently 3D modelling/animation. I would say that character creation has become an integral part of my practice. Nothing brings me more joy than taking a strange character from a rough in my sketchbook, then bringing it to life with colour, movement and sound.

What business aspects do you feel you need more practice for the future in e.g. client negotiation?

All of the business aspects relating to working freelance to be honest! But I think these are things you learn through experience. I know that there is also advice available from places like the AOI, which freelancers can access when they are unsure on contracts/invoices, etc.

Would you like to join an agency soon? Or freelance more to discover yourself? 

I would be interested in being represented by an agency in the future, but I think I would like to work freelance myself first to experience what that is like and learn as much as I can.

Does your course ever put an emphasis on self-promotion online? 

Yes, we have a module each year titled ‘Professional Practice’, which requires us to interact with the industry and work on our social presence as an artist. This has been really useful throughout the degree to help us see ourselves as practising illustrators rather than just illustration students. Many of my tutors are freelance illustrators themselves, so they are always great at giving advice on that subject.

What do you want to try next?

A recent area of interest for me has been creating more interactivity and immersion within my work, such as the Virtual Reality/360 animation I produced back in December, Roaming.

I would definitely like to delve into this more in my projects to come; I am keen to work with augmented reality and explore that space in-between the real and the virtual world.

What advice have you taken onboard to gear you up for your final project?

To trust my gut! I think by the third year of the degree in illustration you have a much stronger idea of what your practice is becoming, and our tutors have really encouraged us to be confident in that, work hard and do what we enjoy.

Are you scared of Life after Uni?

Of course! I think anyone about to graduate is unsure of what lies ahead, and that’s completely normal, but I try to keep in mind that change is also exciting.

Check out more in our Youngerworld: Born Digi seriesWe'll be casting our net far and wide for these features, so those studying in and out of the UK can drop us an email if interested.

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