Freelance Illustrator


NinaCosford (Freelance Illustrator)

Nina Cosford is a freelance illustrator based in Hastings, UK. She was recently named one of the Top 20 Female Illustrators by Stylist Magazine.

She has illustrated over twenty published books and has collaborated with numerous brands including Apple, HBO, WaterAid, TATE, Google, UN Refugee Agency, Radio Times, H&M, Lonely Planet and Netflix.

She loves to travel and draws her way around the world, recording people, places and cultures. Her work is energetic, bright and instantly recognizable by the vigorous use of pencil line and brush markers. She is playful with the tone of her work, often using humour and character to connect to a wide audience.

Hastings, UK • October 20, 2021

What led you into design?

I grew up in a creative family and have been drawing for as long as I can remember. I kind of didn't even question going to art school as it just felt like the right / obvious thing to do. However, I had a crisis of confidence in my first year of uni and seriously questioned whether illustration was the right creative medium / mode of communication for me. I decided to stick it out though (so glad I did!) and from my second year onwards, I learned to loosen up and have more fun with drawing - particularly out on location and developing work in my sketchbook. I realised how much I could enjoy the process if I stopped worrying about the outcome so much. After graduating, I managed to get a run of book illustration contracts which helped to establish my career and get my work out into the world. Over the years, as my confidence grew, my style became more refined and recognisable. I think this attracted certain clients and also allowed me to build my own audience online, mainly through social media.

What does a typical day look like?

Being freelance, each day can be very different from the next. It depends on what projects I have on the go, but typically, I have my morning coffee (out of the house preferably), head to my studio and make a big old list in my sketchbook of current tasks (whether work-based or personal - I like to break my day up most of the time, unless I'm super absorbed in creating something). I stick on a playlist that matches my mood or the weather and make my way through the day's jobs, usually starting with smaller trivial things to warm up. I tend to use my brain more in the first half of the day and then go a little slower in the afternoon, so admin is done first and then the rest of the day can be spent pottering about or getting stuck into drawing something.

What's your workstation setup?

Where do you go to get inspired?

It's always hard to pinpoint an answer to this question. It sounds cheesy, but I try to be inspired by [almost] everything or at least have an interest in most things. The best inspiration can be found in the most unusual or unexpected places. As much as I admire the work of other illustrators / artists, I find it's best not to look too closely or too often as this doesn't always give me confidence - comparison is not a good habit! Instead, I love going to museums, browsing Pinterest where I have dozens of specifically themed boards, listening to film scores, going for walks outside, looking at buildings, rearranging my shelves and making displays, sitting in coffee shops, people-watching, journalling and travelling as much as I can. These habits help to refresh my head and eyeballs and allow me to step outside of myself.

What product have you recently seen that made you think this is great design?

I'm not sure if I'm allowed to mention something of my own but...I recently designed a sketchbook which I am so happy with! Using a sketchbook is a huge part of my creative process and during 2020, I decided to start weekly 'Sketchbook Tours' on my Instagram channel where I explored my archives and shared stories, insights and advice with my audience. This got a great response and opened up a big conversation and community centred around sketchbooks; how to celebrate them, how to keep one, how to start one even. I was constantly asked for sketchbook recommendations, which I struggled giving, as I've never quite found the one that ticked all the boxes for me - so I decided to create my own! I'm really passionate about things that are designed by the people who use them. For me, it feels more authentic to develop a product that I have been searching for and one that I would want to use myself. I love the paper, the size, the cover, the way it opens flat and just how it feels. It makes me want to make work in it.

What pieces of work are you most proud of?

Back in 2019, I went on the most epic adventure on the Trans-Siberian Railway - travelling 5000 miles from Moscow to Beijing. Before setting off, I decided I was going to make a book about the journey and ran a Kickstarter campaign to fund my first foray into self-publishing. It was a huge success and I was so touched and encouraged by the amount of people wanting to support the project. After returning home, I began work on the book - gathering up all of my reference, sketchbook pages and journals which I used to document the whole thing. The first print run sold out pretty quick and this spring, I got a second run printed - it's nice to have it back in stock!

What design challenges do you face at your company?

My job is mostly illustrating but also designing a lot of the time. As with any commissioned project, it works best when there is clear communication between myself and the client and everyone's roles are clearly defined from the offset. Now and then, there can be miscommuncation which can lead to last minute changes to the brief or the overall design which can be frustrating when you feel it's not in your hands. This isn't usually an issue though and most clients are trusting of me and my role in the project and have a clear (ish!) idea of what they want.

What music do you listen to while designing?

Any advice for ambitious designers?

Know your value and your voice. Try to know what your work is worth and what defines your unique style (whether it's the medium, the colours, the feel or the themes). This has been crucial for me in developing a style that is recognisable and hireable.

If you need help or advice just ask for it. It's really important to have peers around that you feel you can talk to about the ups and downs of work. Everyone has to start somewhere and sometimes you have to improvise or make things up as you go along - but that's ok.

Make your sketchbook your best friend! Use it for everything. Don't be too self-conscious with it and use it as an opportunity to play around with ideas.

Anything you want to promote or plug?

My sketchbook! Available now from my online shop. I also sell signed prints, tote bags, cards, pins, stickers and signed copies of my Trans-Siberian Railway book :)