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Susie EK Illustrator Edinburgh

November is here and as the nights turn colder, it’s the perfect time to cosy up with a good read and a cuppa. Following on from the Creative Edinburgh Awards 2019, we’ll be highlighting those who helped make the night happen with a series of spotlight blogs.

Our Awards are designed with the community at the forefront and give the opportunity to celebrate the nominees and winners, as well as the attendees and participants.

Over the next few months, we’ll be sharing the stories of the freelancers, local businesses - new and old - and innovative creative studios who keep Edinburgh’s creative community shining.

First up in our new series, we spoke to illustrator Susan Kavanagh, known as Susie E.K, who created the Creative Edinburgh Awards 2019 artwork. We spoke to her about her fusion of science and art, collaboration with fellow artists and the peaks and troughs of freelancing.

For many creatives, the start of your career can be best described as a balancing act.

By day, Susie E.K studies biology. By night, she works on her illustrations.

Starting her creative career studying at a polytechnical university in Milan, she learnt the basics of graphic design before switching to a degree in biology.

Instead of pushing her illustrative work to the side, Susie saw this as an opportunity to intertwine both fields, letting science inform her art, and vice versa.

“A question I receive a lot is 'how can you do such different things in one lifetime?', but part of me thinks that they are not so different,” Susie explained. “Even though at first glance they might seem completely different worlds, they're kind of interconnected. I think there is something creative about science and science itself, especially biology, gives the opportunity to see microscopic worlds that you don't get to see on a daily basis so it's very mind-opening. Vice-versa when creating art in your spare time or as a side-job it’s important to be able to think outside the box and I use those skills to be a good scientist.”

Like many freelancers, the most valuable asset is time, and Susie balances her studies with her creative work by squeezing her art into any spare hours, including bus journeys spent filling up her notepad. While her biology degree is taught by the books, illustration gives Susie freedom to explore her creative side and develop her skills independently.

“My illustration is totally self-taught,” Susie said.

“The biggest issue I think when you’re self-taught is that some people won’t take you seriously because you haven’t had a ‘proper’ education in what you’re doing. I was self-conscious about it at first, but then I realised the customers don’t care. If they like what you do, they like it no matter what piece of paper you have.”

With these self-taught skills, Susie has gone on to work on a variety of projects, including tour posters for her favourite musicians and an upcoming graphic novel (which is strictly under wraps for now). Where does this varied inspiration come from? Dreamworld.

“It’s quite hard to explain, to be honest, it's not as smooth a process as you may think. Usually, in order to remember my dreams, I wake up in the middle of the night and I’m like ‘oh I’ve had an awesome dream and I have to remember it the next morning because I can't draw it right now' so I just write down a sentence or a word that helps me remember,” Susie said.

“It really depends, sometimes I wake up and the drawing basically comes out from itself without any effort, sometimes I just make a sketch, but I'm never sure if it really represents what I want to depict so maybe some months or even years pass and the sketch just stays there in my notebook until I work on it again. It's difficult because dreams are emotional and I have to represent them in one specific image, I find that is the most difficult thing to do.”

Another major inspiration for Susie’s work is music. From just one look at her Instagram feed, you’ll spot eccentric posters brandished with tour dates and band names. So, what is it about music that sparks these drawings?

“Musicians are my favourite customers,” Susie said. “Because they’re artists, they really understand what you’re doing and most of them say ‘just listen to our music and whatever inspires you draw it’. That’s awesome because you have no pressure.”

Most recently in her musical collaborations, Susie has been working with Italian rockers Keemosabe, who appeared in X-Factor Italia, on a much larger project which combines creatives from across disciplines - and is top secret for now…

Susie’s favourite music influenced work-to-date was a tour poster produced for Chicago-based psychedelic rockers Post Animal.

Susie said: “I liked the process and the style I used and they were absolutely impressed by it as it really represents their music very well. They make psychedelic rock and the poster was full of mushrooms spinning around. I think that was one of my favourite works. Also, I love the band very much, I've been a fan of them for so long so working with them was fantastic!”

As for many creatives, there’s a reality to this balancing act that brings struggles and stresses; ones which Susie is not shy to discuss.

“If I had to choose only one career, it would definitely be the creative one because I think I have a creative type of intelligence, not a logical one, so it's more natural for me to be an artist, but it's quite obvious and pretty well known that artists get quite a hard time paying the rent sometimes,” Susie said.

“It doesn't give you safety money-wise so I never know how to approach it. I feel like I want to have a job that gives me that safety and still be able to do creative things without the pressure of relying on money from them. I think I work better if I don't have that kind of pressure, I feel more free, otherwise, it's very stressful if I only have my creative job to rely on.

"It's not a very romantic way to see art, but I have to think about these things."

"In an utopical world, I'd probably be an artist full-time, but right now I think I will keep on splitting my life into being a scientist and artist at the same time.

“I always say, especially on Instagram as I have a lot of following from very young people, they are going to school and always say to me that they can’t find time to draw and they always ask me how I do it, but I don't want to tell the truth. The truth says sometimes I don’t sleep at all and sometimes I don't eat. I don't think I am a very great role model. If I say how I really do it, I always make a disclaimer ‘don't do it like me!’

“It's hard, but if you're very passionate about something, you’ll find a way!”

You can find more of Susie’s incredible illustrations via her Instagram page or website.

A huge thank you once again to Susie for producing the artwork for our Creative Edinburgh Awards 2019!

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