If you want to become a successful artist, you need to put in the hours. But having inspiration for your work is just as important.
All artists will have days when they perhaps feel uncreative or uninspired. So, it’s crucial you find something to spark your imagination and get your creative juices flowing.
Someone who knows that all too well is Pete Clayton.
A freelance illustrator and animator with a background in graphic design, Pete specialises in a variety of different work.
That list includes illustrations for brands, multi-channel campaigns, packaging and a variety of animation projects – for businesses big, small, far and wide.
Born in Essex but bred in Plymouth, Pete grew up in Plympton. He studied firstly at Plymouth College of Art and Design (PCAD) – now Plymouth College of Art – doing various creative courses, before heading to Cardiff School of Art at Cardiff Met, to study graphic communication.
He explains: “I have been working in the creative industry for 15 or 20 years now and started out in my career as a graphic designer.
“For the last 10 years I have been doing this with a firm in Plymouth but have also worked abroad in the same field for sometime.
“More recently, I have taken the plunge into full-time freelance life. My illustration and animation business really started out as a side hustle and, over five years or so, has developed into a proper business.”
So, where does Pete get his inspiration from?
“Inspiration for me comes from life in general,” he says. “Getting out and away from the desk, talking to people, hearing a turn of phrase that will spark some imagination and get the creative juices flowing, as they say!
“I sometimes feel I have conditioned my brain to a degree to listen out for things and translate them into illustration form. I’m in the habit of keeping lists too to capture and bottle inspiration as it comes to me as well.
“I still get that same buzz and excitement of creating today as I did when I was drawing cartoons as a child.”
Pete has a couple of exciting projects in the pipeline, which he says he has to be “tight-lipped about at the moment”.
One project he can talk about is an animation he worked on recently for the Berlin Green Party.
“The job came through my illustration agent,” he says. “The aim of the party political broadcast was to promote the Green Party’s candidate and all the ideas and plans they had for the city.
“I was supplied a rough video and then I animated over it in Photoshop in a more traditional frame-by-frame animated technique.
“With my client work, I always hope to collaborate rather than ‘work for’. Collaboration and relationships are key for me and a great foundation to do great things.
“Also, in all my work I’m always looking for a special idea or something clever and unique to communicate visually. Ideas are very important to me within my work and I feel without them, a piece of creativity can lack substance. For me, it’s not only all about pretty pictures.
“One additional avenue that I hope to achieve within my personal work is the promotion of positivity and inspiration.
“In late 2020, after a turbulent year, I produced an illustrated positive vibes book based on a series of works I posted on social media. I am by no means a self-help guru. I am, like most, a bit clueless and searching for understanding and better days.
“But I have a passion for visual storytelling and like to dispense advice from my point of view and if it can help other people along the way, then that would be the main goal.”
A Plymouth boy at heart, Pete loves Britain’s Ocean City and its rich culture. That’s why he’s so keen to remain a part of it.
He says: “I am based here, first and foremost because it’s my home. I grew up here and found my way back here after living abroad for a while. It’s the place I feel most comfortable as I feel I know the city and its characteristics.
“Plymouth is a great cultural city – very vibrant not only with the art that’s popping up, but also the people of the city, the little independent shops and cafes, the museum and art galleries, the creative communities and the fact we are situated by the coast. We also have the moors, countryside, woods and beaches a mere stone’s throw away.
“All the above attracts and keeps me here and keeps me interested. It’s great to be a part of it all really in my own, small way.
“As a city, Plymouth has evolved for the better over the years. Growing up here I remember a rougher environment, for sure. Then I went away and came back to a different vibe helped on by Drake Circus and the University buildings and development of the Royal William Yard.
“There’s a real good vibration with Plymouth Artists Together and with the Plymouth Design Forum (PDF) – of which I’m a member – who both bring together a community of creatives and promote artists and designers alike on our doorstep.
“I’ve seen more independent cafes and businesses pop up, and also everything Nudge Community Builders does down at Union Street and Stonehouse creates a real caring and community characteristic to Plymouth.”
In fact, the biggest or at least the most impactful Plymouth-centric work Pete has ever done was for Nudge.
He explains: “Nudge approached the PDF in 2019 with a competition project titled ‘Urban Magic’, with the aim of bringing some creative joy to Union Street.
“With some research, I found out that Union Street got its name because it united the three towns that are the main city, including Stonehouse and Devonport.
“My idea was simple: splashes of colour and thoughtful messaging which expressed a union and a coming together – all of which also in my mind expressed what Nudge does as a community builder.
“It was obviously my hope to spread positivity and inspiration there, very much like in my own personal work. I hope with the Union Street project and with my personal work that local people are inspired to get up and go, smile or to simply have a nice day.
“I think the biggest Plymouth stepping stone, in terms of organisation, for me in my journey was PCAD.
“I look back at my time at the college and I’m thankful it was there on my doorstep and is still there now for lots of budding creatives. I’m not sure how or where I would have ended up had it not been here.
“I did a BTEC in art, a photography course and finally a Foundation degree where I specialised in graphic design. It was there where I really began carving my path and eventually a career as a creative for myself.”
Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdowns have affected the way in which many of us live and work. And it’s no different for artists.
Pete admits: “I was extremely lucky over the 2020 lockdowns to be working. I was busy. At the time I had and kept my part-time graphic design job, as well as being busy with my illustration and animation business.
“I felt very fortunate compared to people who I know who were put on the furlough scheme and afterwards were made redundant. I think an element of luck and drive has meant I’m still here doing the job I love and which I am passionate about.
“In any case, I kept on keeping on and trying to survive and keep that work coming in. It was a very strange and weird time and I tried to remember how lucky I was and am and not to complain either.
“I was working, my family and I were healthy, and I had a lot to be thankful for considering the effects of Covid-19 and all the lockdowns since March 2020.”
Pete has some advice to any creatives who are emerging from lockdown…
“I would like to think that any creative inside or outside of a lockdown would have instinctively carried on creating,” he says.
“I am creative at heart, it’s my hobby as well as my profession. Admittedly I’m a bit of a creative nut, though. Whether or not you are like that, just get yourself back out there again.
“Take the step forward. Start reading articles, books, creating again, formulate a plan, ask your favourite artists for advice, ask to get featured on your favourite blogs or websites, arrange meetings with people and business you’d like to work with. Anything and everything you can think of.
“I’m a firm believer that the more you promote yourself, the more you’ll eventually get back. And if we go into another lockdown… don’t stop doing the above. You can still thrive and make a living and keep your business ticking over.”
So, what’s in store for Pete in the future?
“I simply just hope to keep on creating and animating pretty pictures for the rest of my days,” he laughs. “I don’t, at 39 years of age, imagine ever retiring.
“Quentin Blake still does his thing now at 88! Not that I’m comparing myself to Mr Blake but if I can have a long career into my later years, then that would be awesome.
“Achievement is a weird notion to manifest into an attainable thing anyway. For me there is no finish line or end goal. Life and work is a series of milestones and once you’ve reached one peak, there’s more to climb in the distance ahead with more beyond that, too.
“Long may I keep on going! Oh, if I make it to my eighties or nineties, I’d consider that a great achievement. I hope I’m old before I die.”