Tell us briefly about your personal and craft background
Well I actually had no formal training as an illustrator. I’m a self-taught artist. Mary Joak started while I was in university. One day I opened my books and found sketches. Apparently, I have been scribbling on the back of my notes during some lectures (lol), which was how it began.A lot of practice over the years got me to where I am now. It required a lot discipline and by the grace of God I started from hand drawing to digital illustrations so I actually do both.
Since I started, majorly on freelance basis, I have worked on personal projects; portraits, wall art. My artworks are also available on products such as phone case, mugs, throw pillows, wall clocks and so much.
I also have two artist websites that I use to sell my art; you’d find them here –
On the other hand, I have worked with designers over the years (fashion & swimwear designers) for new collections and even individuals who need customized art. Most of the commissioned illustrations cannot be shared as they are strictly for the brief of the clients. All works that can shared are visible on my instagram handle @mary_joak
As an illustrator, do sometimes find it hard to completely create what you visualize?
Yes, there’s a thing called artist block. You’ve got ideas but can’t seem to figure out where to start, there’s no clarity or sometimes nothing seems to be inspiring you so ideas are basically dry. Creative exercises, playing around with diverse ideas and just taking a step back to look at what I have been able to achieve since I began helps. I know I have a job to complete for clients so I visualize the excitement the clients will feel upon the final work.
I must also add that before I begin any new job, I ask detailed questions even run some ideas by the client so I can better understand what they really want.
Do you feel that illustrators are underrepresented and not taken seriously in the fashion industry and why?
Some people in the fashion industry appreciate illustrators; many still don’t value or understand their use especially in Nigeria.
While we are in a similar art profession, some fashion designers will under price an illustrator and expect a good job. Not all fashion designers have the ability to interpret their ideas in clear sketches that clients may fall in love with, hence the need for an illustrator. Some may even ask you to do a job with no intention of paying up and the next thing you know, some of your ideas have been used in a collection.
In this profession, there’re different level of talent and expertise and of course there are those who are ready to accept whatever the offer is because they are either trying to build a portfolio or just have basic knowledge to do what is been asked. These are some of the setbacks one might face.
However, compared to few years back, I think there’s been a bit of an improvement and I expect that things may turn around gradually.
How do you stay motivated and inspired to keep working even when you are demoralised?
I inspire myself in varied ways – I view other artists’ works, a few scribble (practices), or catch up with mates, look at fashion photography, a walk in the park. Generally something quite relaxing and fun helps me bounce right back.
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