Success in Soho | Daniela Attard

Maltese illustrator Daniela Attard has recently scored a job at Cartoon Network Europe in Soho, London. In what reads like a typical rags-to-‘riches’ success story, she speaks to us about her journey from Malta to the UK, and how a combination of traditional education, a self-taught drive and a savvy approach to crowdfunding helped the young artist establish an international career, which will hopefully continue apace in 2015.

Daniela Attard (self portrait)
Daniela Attard (self portrait)
Over the Garden wall (fan art) by Daniela Attard
Over the Garden wall (fan art) by Daniela Attard
'Undead Dragon' by Daniela Attard
'Undead Dragon' by Daniela Attard
Character design sheet by Daniela Attard
Character design sheet by Daniela Attard
Fenek by Daniela Attard
Fenek by Daniela Attard

How would you say your style has developed over the years? What were some of the most important things you’ve learnt and implemented?

I have a very geeky ‘origin story’ – gaming. I remember picking up drawing at the age of 12-13 specifically because of an online game called Neopets which eventually led me to creating a Deviantart account and posting pictures of these fantasy pets. The game allowed us to create identities and pages for these pets, and I often think that this is where my love for character design came from. I started keeping sketchbooks at 15 and literally began filling them in with monsters and creatures – so many that I started developing a kind of personal visual style by default.

It was only during my 18th year that I quit half way through my University science course to pursue something more art-oriented. I went into Art history and started going to life drawing. Life drawing is where I was introduced to the exciting possibilities of being an illustrator while being taught a traditional disciplined approach to drawing the figure and playing with line weight.

I’ve also kept a roughly equal mix of time spent drawing in traditional media and digital media. People often think that drawing or painting on a computer makes things easier or is a shortcut – the reality is far from that. Anyone without a solid basis in traditional media will struggle.

Drawing from life was the most important thing when it came to learning. I have had a very bumpy road education wise but my sheer stubbornness managed to keep me going. I’ve also been visually influenced by various things – Anime and Manga, Studio Ghibli movies, a fascination with monsters and cryptozoology, to name but a few.

Moving out of the country also helped – I became independent and spent a year studying for an MA. Exposure to the different opportunities and communities have shaped the way I handle things – I wanted to become a professional and I had to keep working hard for it.

How did you go about ‘exporting’ your art abroad? What were some of the most important steps you took in this regard?

I’ve known that I would eventually leave the country half way through my ride at the University of Malta. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the financial ability to do so until it came to my MA degree (I’ve just recently started paying my student loan). I’m guessing that that MA degree was also an excuse to leave and stay abroad although I left the country without knowing what would happen towards the end of the course.

I started attending geeky/art events like the various comic conventions and meet up groups in the London area and began trying to network (despite the social awkwardness). I’m still working on this network today and will continue to do so for as much as I can. Meeting people and drawing together or working on joint projects is a great way to get noticed professionally.

Within a year I began exhibiting at Comic Con and it has been an incredible experience since. I had no idea that doing this would help me get work and experience whilst doing something incredibly geeky and cool.

You were a Maltese early-adopter of crowd-funding platforms like Kickstarter, through which you've successfully funded your project The Ugly Duckling. Why did you opt for this platform, and how did you manage to make it work for you?

Until I got my current job I struggled to find work in one of the most competitive cities in the world. I had no industry experience to help me get work so I was sending several CVs and portfolios per week in the hope of snagging something more permanent than freelance work. In the meantime I kept drawing and making things but I needed money to make the actual product. Some of my British friends where using Kickstarter at the time so I tried it myself, and succeeded. Working on these small projects kept me sane and in London until I found an industry art job.

Crowd funding is a great way of getting projects off the ground but they require a lot of work and dedication. It is not advisable to use crowd funding without a network of people who support your work unless you have an absolutely brilliant piece of work that doesn’t require much in terms of funding amount.

I’ve used Kickstarter to fund two projects so far, and I’ve cancelled a major project after getting funding from the publisher.

You’ve also secured a job with Cartoon Network Europe not too long ago. Could you tell us a bit about what the job entails, and what kind of work environment it is?

I was incredibly lucky because I was recommended to come in for an interview for an intern position. I must have done something right by bringing along my self-published comics because I got the intern role with the European creative team last May. I worked really hard to prove myself until I was offered a Junior Designer role.

I love the job because it is very varied. The European creative team is responsible for stuff like creating vector assets and style guides, storyboards for assorted show promos, and other cool things I’m not allowed to share. Basically I work as a hybrid illustrator and graphic designer.

The office is based in Soho, which makes lunch breaks a bit difficult in various ways – wallet wise mostly. Our floor is full of toys and character prints making it a pretty fun space to work in. We don’t have to wear ‘office clothes’ and are encouraged to be kids whenever we can.

What do you look forward to in 2015?

Being a bit more financially stable for starters... but also working on improving my trade by drawing more and hopefully taking some animation classes during the evening. I also have a couple of projects planned in early development stages, varying from comics to indie gaming.

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