Abbey Withington is a Freelance Illustrator and Textile Design alumnus. Since graduating in 2014 she has worked with clients such as ASOS, M&S, Bailey Nelson and Moji.

Here's what Abbey had to say:

What did you enjoy about your time at Leeds Arts University and how did the course help you in starting out professionally?  

Leeds Arts University was an all-round great place to study and really hone in on what I wanted to do in my career after university. The three years I spent there flew by, I still miss being in the print room & having the luxury to develop your own work on a daily basis (what a dream!). I loved that the course was so free and got us trying out all sorts of techniques and areas we might not have ventured into.

Image: Courtesy of Abbey Withington

The course was ideal for me as I’ve always found myself somewhere in between illustration, graphic design & textiles, it showed me that that was okay! Not everyone has the fit the mould. My tutors were ace and always present to offer support or share some wisdom. They are all so lovely and upbeat, this definitely reflects on to the students and the atmosphere of the studio.   

We were lucky that Professional Practice was a big part of the course, looking back this was invaluable and really got me thinking about where I’d fit into the industry and how I was going to do so. We covered everything we could possibly need to know; preparing a portfolio, online platforms, finances and self-employment to name a few areas. Most of my friends and past work colleagues had none of this whilst studying, which is crazy! Leeds Arts University definitely gave us that head start we needed, and really pushed us to be the best we could be when graduating. It felt a bit less daunting knowing we had an insight into the industry before we actually entered it.

What did you do after leaving University?  

Straight after New Designers I was offered a job as an Assistant Print Designer at Joules. After working Freelance in the Greetings industry whilst studying, I felt like I should try something new and the full-time opportunity seemed great. I was there for a year and half working primarily across Kidswear. It taught me a lot about the process of printing textiles within the fashion industry, as well as manufacturing. However, I really missed paper products and wanted to focus more on trends and colour. Luckily, a job came up at the party company Meri Meri and so off I went.   

Image: Opal Video

Designing partyware, greetings cards and kids accessories was definitely fun. It pushed me back into product design, allowed me to travel to tradeshows and work on photoshoots which was something I’d never done before at this point. I was at Meri Meri for almost two years. It seemed like a similar pattern was starting to emerge working in-house for companies, I started to feel restricted and like something wasn’t right. I was happiest when I was creating my own work, on my own terms.   

Just before Christmas I went Freelance, which has proved to be the best decision I ever made. Sometimes I wish I’d done it sooner, however working hard for others really showed me I should be working hard for myself. Leeds Arts University played a big part in making this happen as in January I landed myself a place on the Duke Studios x Leeds Arts University Business Mentoring, which meant a free studio space for 6-months as well as weekly mentoring from Laura Wellington and James Abbott-Donnelly, the founders of Duke Studios. I learnt so much in such a short time and soaked up everything I possibly could. Laura and James really helped get my business moving and had my back on everything from Wholesale to legal advice.

Image: Courtesy of Abbey Withington

It’s almost been a year and I’ve worked with some great clients; ASOS, M&S and Bailey Nelson to name a few. Every project is different, and that’s what keeps me going. It takes a lot of self-discipline and a hell of a lot of admin, but I wouldn’t have it any other way!    

Do you have any tips or advice for current students or recent graduates wanting to work in your field?  

Work hard and be nice. Focus on your own work and try not to compare yourselves to others. There are so many people in this industry who mimic others rather than develop their own style, be confident in your own work, it’ll stand out. Get yourself online as soon as possible, Instagram is the best (free) tool to do so and the amount of work that it generates is crazy. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, whether this be about project budgets or general advice. If you don’t ask, you don’t get! Always stand up for yourself and make sure to lay down your Terms & Conditions because they’ll always be someone who doesn’t want to pay you for your work. Lastly, give yourself a break! Take time away from your screens and don’t let yourself burn out, it’s no fun!    

Finally, are there any future ambitions or projects in the pipeline you can tell us about?  

There’s a few projects going on at the minute. I’m currently in the early stages of making some textile products, which is exciting! The master plan is to start a brand which focuses on sustainable paper & textile products. There’s a few things in the works collaboration wise, but they have to remain secret for the minute! Lots to look forward to.