Hannah Warren is a highly experienced freelance illustrator best known for her whimsical, character-led style with a nod to retro design. Due to the high recognition value of her style, her lists of clients grows steadily. Among them you will find Google, Nike, Johnson & Johnson, Virgin Books and many more. Wacom recently joined that list, when we asked her to create the hero artwork for the newly released pen display tablet Wacom One (check out this article for more information), which we introduced at the CES. Why? Looking at her artwork you might understand right away. If not, continue reading – we had the chance to take a deep dive with the wonderful Hanna Warren.
The style of your illustrations is often described playful, bold and deceptively simple. Although creating artwork like this is far from easy, your illustrations are easy to grasp and inspire novice digital artists to take their creations to a new dimension. The Wacom One, besides improving the everyday, was created for exactly that reason – with this perfect match, we just had to ask you to create our hero image. This is, how we got in touch with you. We’re so excited to share your answers to our questions and can’t wait to have you take over the Wacom Instagram channel this weekend.
Becoming a freelance illustrator and designer
Quite a lot of professional creatives remember having drawn ever since their childhood. Was is the same with you? What made you study Graphics Design at the Royal College of Art?
Yes, absolutely. I was always drawing as a kid, practicing drawing animals from encyclopaedias (no internet at home back then haha) or drawing characters from my favourite TV shows. I was always making something and just found that creative subjects made more sense to me. I’m so lucky my parents let me follow a creative path and didn’t ever try to make me become a banker or something like that! I applied to Central Saint Martins during my art foundation course at Brighton on the advice of my tutor as I was still a bit undecided as to whether I’d follow Graphic Design or Illustration and in the second year you get to specialise in one of those pathways. I also really wanted to study in London and was so excited to get to move there. A new adventure.
What did you learn at Central Saint Martins?
At Central Saint Martins I learned that I definitely did not want to be a Graphic Designer! I also learned that there were many many MANY more talented and creative people than I could have imagined. I felt like a very small fish and the first year swallowed me up. A new city and lots of work, I really struggled actually. The second and third year of focussing on Illustration, print making, drawing, story telling, painting some animation, the lot. Was so brilliant. I really miss those times! It is also when I got my first Wacom tablet after taking an animation pathway ran by Gaelle Denis. It meant I could start to learn to draw digitally which was a real game changer for me creatively.
Is that, why you topped that education with a Master in Communication Design at the Royal College of Art? What do you refer to when you mention “meat and concrete”?
I wasn’t finished experimenting with illustration yet. And after a year in the “real world” post CSM, I realised that I needed some more time to figure out my way of working and the RCA was an amazing opportunity to do that. I went back to drawing traditionally on large scale pieces and also experimented with animation more. The course was a real mix of designers, illustrators and people working in experimental film and sound and more sculptural work. It was great to have that space and environment to play for 2 years. I really worked differently to how I do now.
So, when I say “meat and concrete” I’m referring to a particular project where I used collage in quite a sculptural way but I worked in monochrome. One project I also drew lots of meat (!). It’s so far from my current work, I don’t think you’d recognise it as mine! When I graduated, I still worked in this way – drawing by hand and using collage but I struggled to make the characters and environments sync and went back to drawing digitally with using textures from paper and photographs. I was happier working that way too.
Being a creative is often seen as a wonderful job. But, in order to live from it, you’ve got to earn some money. Had you already been earning some from your art at that time? Do you recall how you got those jobs?
It’s so hard in the beginning. So many talented people to work alongside and it can feel like a race to success. But really it’s a slow, steady build and something you just chip away at until one day you are eating your dinner and sat in your home and you realise that “I paid for this with drawings!”.
But before that, it’s part time work and side hustles and whatever you can do to keep making your art. I have worked in shops, cafes, did some teaching, all in order to support being an illustrator. My first two illustration jobs came straight after RCA. One, a little animated Ident for The Discovery Channel and the other for Phaidon for a book for Danish restaurant NOMA.
Very different jobs and I learned a lot from them. They came to me from people I had met previously.
What happened after graduation, how did your professional creative career evolve?
I continued to work on smaller illustration editorial jobs and some book jobs alongside working part time. I was quite nervous to contact potential clients as I didn’t ever feel “ready”. I applied for a business mentoring program that was run by SPACE Studios in London and that was a great help at getting me back on track with the business side of illustration and marketing and organising my portfolio. So many things that you don’t really understand while studying!
I shared more of my work on social media and improved my website. I started to get more interest from larger clients. And I felt that it was time to approach agencies for representation, as I was ready for a bigger push in the industry. I contacted Jelly London who are still my agents today and they have helped get my work to places I’d struggle to otherwise, working for Google, Johnson and Johnson, Nike, The New York Times, Wacom of course : ) This is all over 10 years working now – It’s a slow and steady journey! And the uses for illustration are constantly growing. It’s an exciting time to be an illustrator.
You teamed up a lot with the Jelly Kitchen guys to animate your illustration – how did that collaboration start?
Jelly Kitchen are Jelly’s in-house animation studio. So it has been a natural collaboration for personal and commercial projects. It’s been great to see the drawings I make move! They animated character GIFS for Nike, some massive billboard sized characters for Cannes and recently the illustration I created for Wacom. They are great : )
What is the Hanna Warren style?
To us, and we believe also to other clients, it is your style of illustration that attracted us. Do you think that’s true? If you were to describe your style, what would we read?
Well thank you! I think I just draw things as they feel to me, rather than how they look. The characters I draw are always a bit wonky but have energy and positivity in them. At least that’s what I’m trying to do! It’s a playful mix of bold colours and shapes, happy scenes usually, though I have tackled some serious subjects too. All with a bit of gentle humour and human awkwardness.
Do you recall: what influenced you to develop this? When and how did you “find” it?
Drawing everyday. Watching people a lot. I always sketch loosely on paper with pencil or brush pen and then work from those original drawings using my Wacom tablet and Photoshop, trying to maintain that initial free use of line and energy. For a while I was working on a weekly column in the Sunday Telegraph which involved drawing characters in different situations and that really helped me draw quickly and freely. Playing with colour palettes and experimenting using texture within illustrations too has been fun and helpful in developing my style.
So, how does your workflow look like? What do you do to achieve your style? Anything you pay particular attention to or try to avoid?
As mentioned before I always start with a sketch on paper – usually just layout paper, nothing fancy as I scrunch up a lot of drawings!
I then scan the work into my computer. If I’m using a brush pen and want to keep the lines in the work, I make sure I scan at a higher resolution (600DPI) otherwise, if it’s pencil sketches, it’s a low res scan.
I then use Photoshop to clean up the sketch, making the layer a lower opacity. So I can draw on a new layer over the top of the original sketch.
I make sure to work on separate layers for each element of the illustration – the head of a character, jacket, glasses etc.. And if it’s a more complicated image, I’ll also put them into different folders within the file. Having a layered image makes it easier to change colours later on, or add more texture to something. I have learned that the hard way!
What will we see of you next?
As we learned, you’ve become interested in animation, how come?
I love animation. But my own skills are limited to making simple animated GIFS usually to share on social media. It’s another way to communicate the idea and takes a character illustration to the next level. You can inject more life and fun. I’d like to make animated stickers for people to share. But I’m also missing traditional ways of working too. So I’m going to see if this year I can find time to get printing again and making physical objects too.
So, next to animated illustration, what else will we be seeing of you next?
I’m just getting back into work after maternity leave but have some projects in the pipeline including a regular collaboration with a green energy company in the UK. Some animated experiments and who knows what else!
By now you’ve become quite a popular illustrator and designer, which made us wonder. How much of your time do you spend to create artworks for clients and how much is still just for fun?
I try to keep up as much personal work as possible. My phone is full of photos of things I’ve seen that might be a good illustration. I keep sketch books too and draw in them as much as I can. Client work takes priority though, but it is really important to keep making work for yourself as that is what makes you grow as an artist and keeps people (and those paying clients) interested in your work.
We’ve learned that you love bikes. Why come they fascinate you so?
I love cycling and have cycled in London since moving here almost 17 years ago. I just love the freedom that it brings and in a jam packed city like London it helps to get about with your own pedal power. It’s good for the body and brain and for the environment. What’s not to love?!
One last question: Which are typical situations in which inspiration strikes you?
When I’m outside, walking or cycling. People watching is one of my favourite things to do. And in a busy, energetic and diverse place like London there is inspiration everywhere.
“Thank you, Hannah!”
We want to say “Thank you Hannah, for giving us a closer look into your world and for sharing that inspirational information with us and our readers.”. Does this article make you want to get creative on our Wacom One, too? Then check out our article about getting started with the Wacom One. If you want to know more about Hannah and keep track of what comes next, here is where to find and follow her online:
Psssst: And don’t miss her taking over the Wacom Instagram channel this weekend – it’s going to be just fab.