Creative graduates share their tips for budding entrepreneurs

Creative graduates share their tips for budding entrepreneurs

Laura artwork
Hey Diddle Diddle illustration by Laura-Kate Draws

The talented LJMU graduates: Laura-Kate Chapman, Lisa Robson and Elaine Adams, were among the 200 stallholders at this year's Winter Arts Market. Lisa graduated with a BA Graphic Arts in 2001 and sells illustrations under the name Lost Plots. Laura-Kate, who trades under the name Laura-Kate Draws, graduated with a BA Graphic Arts in 2008. Elaine completed a BA Graphic Design in 1984 and produces textile landscapes.

Can you tell us about your career path since University?

After graduating I realised quite quickly that I lacked the business knowledge needed to branch out into the very competitive world of freelance illustration, so I enrolled on a business programme with the Centre for Entrepreneurship. I was also in the midst of developing my own illustrated giftware range and used the funding available through the business programme to invest in equipment and stock to really push this forward. The business course gave me the confidence to take the reins of my career and steer it in the direction I wanted to take it. I found very early on that networking with other creatives and small businesses in both Liverpool and Manchester was integral to getting my name out there and my work in front of the right people. Similarly, I took part in craft fairs selling my products and exhibitions in order to generate an income and network further afield. Many of my early illustration jobs came directly from meeting people at exhibitions, craft fairs or networking.

Now my time is split between producing and selling my illustrated and printed products, a whole range of freelance illustration commissions, running arts and crafts markets, co-running a screen print studio and I've recently started doing some business mentoring which I really enjoy. My work keeps me incredibly busy but I love the variety of the projects that I'm lucky enough to work on.

Since University I’ve done a mixture of freelance work and work as a full-time graphic designer. I’ve been fully self-employed since 2011.

For 25 years of my career, I have worked in art education as an art teacher and head of art at a visual and performing arts college (11-18) and also as a sessional lecturer and Initial Teacher Training mentor for LJMU. Having left teaching in 2009, I have returned to the development of my own artistic career and now exhibit my work at several galleries around the UK.

Elaine's artwork

Artwork by Elaine Adams

Any tips for our students who are budding entrepreneurs or who would like to pursue a creative career path?


  • My main piece of advice is be determined and don't give up – it's very competitive and you will often get knocked back for jobs but don't let this put you off
  • Think about the direction you want your creative path to take and then research and plan on how to make that happen
  • With regards to illustration or graphic design, it's hugely important to get your work in front of as many people as possible
  • If there's any knowledge or skills you feel you're lacking to push your career forward – go to workshops, take courses or gen up on YouTube tutorials – basically do your research, the more informed you are about the sector you want to work within the more successful you will be as a result
  • Be professional and punctual – there are so many of my clients who have told me about designers and illustrators they will no longer work with who were either unprofessional, unorganised or unable to meet deadlines
  • My final piece of advice is DON'T WORK FOR FREE – unless you think that the benefits of taking the work will be hugely beneficial to your career and may gain you extra paid work in the near future. Don't be taken in by the over used line of "it will be great exposure", but work out first if it actually will be

My tips for any budding creative entrepreneurs would be to make, draw and create work that you really love and are interested in regardless of trends, because I think when you are really into what you're doing it shines through in your work and people pick up on that. Be the band not the bandwagon!

Also I'd say what works for me is having a few different creative disciplines, if my illustration work has gone quiet I can do some photography or graphic design or printing. In terms of cash flow and motivation this has got me out of some tough times.

Being a creative entrepreneur is very hard work but I have never dreaded a Monday since 2011!

I am sure that students now are given a lot of good advice but I would suggest that they:

  • Nurture good organisational skills
  • Be prepared to work hard
  • Manage finances efficiently and take out an artist’s insurance – a-n AIR is a favoured one
  • Accept rejection as part of the learning process, re-evaluate the product/artwork and move on. Be determined to succeed
  • Know your market. Who are you selling to?
  • Test the product/artwork/concept on others rather than your family and friends (as they love you and won’t want to hurt your feelings)
  • Listen to advice with good grace but understand how to differentiate between good and poor advice
  • Choose the right events, galleries, etc
  • Network in the right places

Can you describe the type of artwork you sell?

Lisa's artwork A range of products from illustrated art prints and mugs to screen printed tees and sweatshirts.
Check out Laura-Kate Draws work.

Prints, greeting cards, cushions and other gifts.
Take a look at Lost Plots.

My artwork primarily draws inspiration from the rugged and windswept foreshores and estuaries around Wales and Cornwall, and the untamed landscape of Snowdonia, Cumbria, the Peak District and moorland areas. Within it, I set out to interpret landlines and textures created by changing tides and weather as the land is constantly reshaped and reclaimed. The fleeting effects of light on colour impacts strongly on my work in felt.

Work begins with drawings and colour references on site, and developed back in the studio using British and Norwegian pure wools, flax, linen, hemp and silks. The use of pure natural fibres, using traditional and ancient felt-making methods, connects the artwork to the land it seeks to embody.
Check out Elaine's work.

If you'd like to find out where a career in art and design could take you, discover the courses available within the Liverpool School of Art and Design.


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