Gemma Correll / How Illustration Changed My Life

Gemma Correll


I knew that I wanted to be an illustrator when I was five. I was obsessed with books and comics and cartoons. All I wanted to do, all day, was write and draw. I filled old notepads and every scrap of paper that I could find with stories and doodles. It helped me to get the thoughts that swirled around in my head onto paper. I entered and won a lot of drawing competitions and teachers at my primary school often asked me to make posters and flyers for school events.

I couldn’t believe that people actually got to draw pictures for a living. But I wasn’t sure that I could make it my career. I certainly didn’t know anybody who made a living from art. In my family, everybody had “sensible” jobs – teachers, nurses, accountants. I thought that I should take the safe route too, so through High School I prepared myself for a teaching career. I consoled myself that I could at least teach art or english literature.

I even enrolled in an English Lit degree course, with an extra year of teaching practice but quickly realized that that wasn’t really what I wanted to do, as much as I enjoyed working with kids. It was Illustration that really made me happy, that I dedicated so many hours of my life to. I still drew comics and filled sketchbooks with art every day. I was an Illustrator, even when I didn’t think of myself as one.

I studied at Norwich School of Art and Design in the UK, from which I graduated with a First Class BA (Hons) degree in Graphic Design, specialising in Illustration, in 2006. Even then, I wasn’t sure that I could make it my career. There were so many graduates who were more talented than me. But despite my lack of confidence, I started to get jobs. I worked a full-time job at a school as a Teaching Assistant and did illustration gigs on the side. I also started to create and sell my own merchandise, spending hours a day screen-printing greetings cards and sewing tiny felt brooches.

I joined Anna Goodson Illustration Agency a few years later, when I knew that I wanted to make Illustration my full-time career. I was so flattered that the agency wanted to represent me. It was a real boost to my confidence.

If you’d told five year old Gemma that I would someday work for clients like Walker Books (who published so many of my childhood favourites) and Emirates Airlines, Art Direct a PBS animated show (City Island) and write and illustrate my own books, I’m not sure I would have believed you. I still have to pinch myself sometimes! Anna and Sylvie have played a big part in that, finding the kinds of jobs that were right for me and my art style.

I also love that I am able to donate my illustration skills to non-profits, like Mental Health America, the Red Cross and numerous animal charities. I always wanted to do something to help others and worried that a career in art would not allow me to do that – but I was wrong! Illustration has allowed me to live a life that I love, every single day.