Through this series, Community Spotlight, we are highlighting a range of designers who inspire us with their boundless imagination and resilient spirit. We hope that in doing so, they too will bring inspiration to your doorstep.

For this spotlight, we were excited to chat with Lindsay Elissa Coils, a lifelong artist who's been freelancing since 2003 and to this day displays an unquenchable thirst for design and a love for learning. She fully charmed us with her perspective on art and growth, and are confident you'll feel just as inspired by her story. Everyone: meet Lindsay!

Q: Hi Lindsay, would you mind introducing yourself to our community?

Hi, I’m Lindsay Elissa Coils, an illustrator from Northumberland, UK. I love reading, animals, anything crime-related (apart from committing it), drinking too much tea, photography, golden rum, and an afternoon with a flat pack and some instructions. I’ve lived on the coast all my life aside from a brief stint in London where I worked at a theme park and did work experience in several design studios in central London. I love cities but the beach is where my heart lies. We have a beautiful coastline here in the North East, dotted with castles and unspoiled sandy beaches. My parents had a touring caravan so after school on a Friday, we’d head off for the weekend with one of my friends in tow. We’d meet up with friends every weekend in various places across Northumberland.

I was quite the tomboy growing up and that’s never left me. I hated sport at school until I started karate at 13 and since then I’ve enjoyed keeping active. During the summer months, I have a studio ‘assistant’ (my sister and brother-in-law's cocker spaniel Archie) whom I look after while they’re at work. It’s nice to get away from the screen for a walk with him every day. I’ve been with my partner for 16 years but we live blissfully apart (which may well be the reason we’ve made it to 16 years - ha ha!). We share a goldfish who lives at his house, named after the Jamaican athlete (Yohan) Blake. Sadly, (Usain) Bolt is now in the swimming pool in the sky. We go to Edinburgh in Scotland every year for Hogmanay. Last year was the first one I’d missed in 20 years because of the pandemic. My dad is a retired HGV Driver and my Mam was a postmistress and an amazing cake maker (though we sadly lost her in June 2006). My artistic ability definitely comes from her; we’d sit in the caravan for hours when I was young drawing from my favourite Disney books.

Q: How long have you been with us at Design Cuts?

I think I found out about Design Cuts on Instagram. It’s where my scrolling (procrastination) usually takes me so it’s the most likely source. I’m so glad I did. It was shortly before the pandemic, I think, as I remember it became my regular place to hang out during all the amazing live sessions. My bank balance is poorer for it but my knowledge is so much richer. I’m sure that will resonate with quite a few of the regular Design Cutters. I think there’s a takeaway in every class whether it’s what you do or not.

Q: What was your graphic design journey?

It’s a cliché but I’ve loved drawing since I could hold a pencil. In fact, my primary school teacher bought me my first set of Caran D’Aché coloured pencils which I still have to this day. I was a (very young) 15 year old when I was due to leave school with no real clue as to what I wanted to do. I loved languages but art was my first love (I’ve since qualified in British Sign Language and am currently learning German again). I decided to buy myself some time by staying on for two years in 6th form and slyly wrangled it so that I was just doing art all day every day. At the end of the two years, I did a graphic design course at Newcastle College followed by a two-year advertising course where I specialised in visualising. Afterward, I took a job with Burberry so that I could save up enough to move to London to look for work. I couldn’t get a job without a house and couldn’t get a house without a job.

Upon my return, I was on my way to work one morning when an articulated lorry ploughed into the side of my car on a roundabout. I often still feel the side effects of that crash even after all this time. I used my ‘moving to London’ money to buy a new car and saw it as a sign that it wasn’t meant to be. Not long after that, I heard that a studio in Newcastle that did licensing work needed a designer. They gave me some Disney lineart to do traditionally and offered me a job off the back of it. I was in the right place at the right time. We worked on lots of different character merchandising: packaging, jigsaws, greeting cards, stationery and gift wrap, games, apparel, tableware, point of sale, style guides, that sort of thing. We mainly worked with Disney and Warner Bros but also Nickelodeon, Looney Tunes, Cartoon Network, etc. I worked there for several years before I was made redundant when they ceased trading, and I went freelance. I’ve been happily freelancing since 2003 with only a brief meltdown when I wanted to be a prison officer. Don’t ask!

Q: Where do you find inspiration for your work?

Everywhere really. The usual places are art galleries, independent shops, Pinterest, Instagram, weekends away and days out. I love animals and the outdoors so anything nature-related is always up there as inspiration. The woods, the countryside and the beach are my happy places. I’ve been lucky enough to travel a bit too and those experiences have definitely broadened my horizons. I think you see the world differently as an artist. I’m obsessed with beautiful skies and how the light falls on different surfaces. I sometimes wonder what it would be like to watch an animation or movie as a non-artist and just see it for what it is.

Q: How would you describe your style?

I’ve always loved animation so I think there’s an element of that sort of style to my work. I tend to draw rounded characters, a bit childish, cute and colourful. I’m represented by an illustration agency so the work I have to do for that purpose is very much like licensed character work. When I’m doing personal work it gives me the chance to play a little more. I can try different styles and have a play with various brushes and even traditional tools. I work in Photoshop, Illustrator and Procreate. I think your style should evolve over the years as you learn and move with the times.

Q: How did you come up with the name Slinkeee for your business?

The name Slinkeee came about during a drunken night with my best friend over a madras. He’s an art director who now lives in Las Vegas but we’ve been friends since we were nine years old. I was tired of being fobbed off when I rang to speak to commissioning art directors for work. They always asked which company I was calling from and then I’d never get any further because I was ‘just a freelancer’. I knew that if I was Lindsay from (insert business name) I’d stand more of a chance of getting through to the right people. I jokingly said to my friend that if I was called Slinkeee Illustration they’d probably be more likely to give me the time of day. It was a spur-of-the-moment comment and it just seemed to fit perfectly. It was like a moment of clarity and I bought the domain that week. I initially thought of it because of my surname but I’m also a child of the 70’s (like the slinky toy). The three e’s of my logo also make coils, like my name. I knew that Slinkeee could work for any other areas I wanted to add over time. I also have a Slinkeee Handmade Etsy shop (which I’m now phasing out) and my upcoming Teemill shop is called Slinkeee Togs.

Q: What aspirations do you have as an artist?

Prior to the pandemic, the only work I did was freelancing for studios, publishing companies, and design agencies. I didn’t sell my own work which seemed crazy to me when every other illustrator seemed to be doing it. I had been asked by a few galleries to supply them with some work a few years ago but apart from that, I didn’t sell my own work at all. I just watched every other illustrator do it. I joined a creative membership at the beginning of 2020 and did a digital boot camp with them the following May. It really opened my eyes to what I could and should be doing. The first thing I did was enter a competition to produce a tee based on The Great Outdoors. I ended up winning with my monochrome print of a bear in the mountains. I started to create my own products and opened an Etsy shop at the end of July (which is mine and Slinkeee’s birthday). I’d like to build on that over the coming months. It’s a chance to do more personal work and experiment a little with products.

I was commissioned to paint a poppy in acrylics last year which I’d never used before. I hadn’t painted since I was at art college and I left college in 1995 (yes, I’m that old). I’ve just bought some watercolours and gouache so I’ll be experimenting with those in the near future. I’d forgotten how lovely it felt to hold a paintbrush and mix paints. I’d love to do more print-on-demand artwork. I’ve recently dipped my toe in and now have a few greeting cards on Thortful. I’m also in the process of creating a Teemill store selling tees and hoodies. I’d love to do some digital products for Design Cuts in the future and a brand new website is on my ever-increasing 'to do' list. I’ve enrolled in Summer School this year where you get briefs to create seamless patterns based on a certain theme, after loving my first ever Winter School. It’s a lot of work but I love the outcome and you can then use what you create for your own products. Technology-wise, I’ve been lusting after a Wacom Cintiq Pro for years but I need to upgrade my Mac first. One day…

Q: How did you first start getting clients?

When I worked at the studio, we worked alongside a licensed Disney studio, so in the beginning, I got lots of work from them until the boss tragically died. I then started working for another licensing studio locally. I was thrust into freelance with no business experience and no clue what I was doing. I’d had no contact with clients at the studio. A couple of places offered me a full-time job but by that time I knew freelancing was for me. I really missed studio life in the beginning but I realised it was OUR studio I missed, not A studio. Over time I started getting work in from other studios but it definitely wasn’t easy. I often travelled to see potential clients when I couldn’t really afford it in the hope I’d get some work out of them. I was very naive in the beginning. You don’t have to be where the work is. That’s what the Internet is for. It’s still difficult to keep a constant workflow going because it can be a feast or famine. I’m not allowed to show some jobs which in turn doesn’t enable me to attract new similar work. It can also make it look like you’re not working much because you’re not able to share anything. That’s why personal work is as important as the stuff you’re being paid for.

Q: What are your top tips for designers looking to start their own business?

  1. Treat it like a business. It’s not a hobby and likes don’t pay the bills. Don’t get caught up in how many followers you have. You’re better off having 100 engaged followers than 10,000 who never engage at all.
  2. Never stop learning. If you can afford to invest in courses to improve your knowledge, do it. Big businesses pay for their staff to learn new skills and you should be no different. There are plenty of resources online for learning. Look no further than this very site for amazing free content. Also, YouTube is not just about cats fitting into the smallest of boxes, there’s also some brilliant tutorials on there for EVERYTHING.
  3. Keep your contacts over the years and be sociable. You never know where the next opportunity will come from so burning bridges is never a good idea. Tell people what you do. You don’t know who they might know. I got my studio job because my next-door neighbour’s nephew knew that the studio were looking for someone, preferably someone who liked Disney. Er, hello.
  4. Practice. You only get better by making mistakes. They’re not mistakes actually, only lessons you can learn from.
  5. Be legal. If you’re making money, make sure you’re registered with whichever body you need to be registered with. Nobody wants to be chased by the tax man.
  6. The mantra of my creative group is ‘Keep Going’. There are always going to be days when you think things aren’t going your way. No successful business gave up at that point and neither should you. I’d encourage anyone to chase their dream. You’re at work most of your life. Make sure you enjoy it.
  7. Take time out if you need it. You need to look after your mental well-being as much as your body. Burnout is not a good look on anyone. My most creative ideas come when I’ve been able to relax a little. Look after yourself. If you need a more supportive chair for your back, buy one. It’s an investment and your future self will thank you for it.
  8. Work smarter, not harder. Repurpose your work as well as your social media content. Your work doesn’t have to be a one-off illustration, graphic or product. That animal/vehicle/person you drew could be a print, a greeting card, a sticker, part of a surface pattern print. You get the idea.
  9. Use the people or businesses you follow as inspiration, not as a comparison. Their creative path will be different from yours. This is a tricky one to get right but you do you. That’s your superpower.
  10. Don’t copy. You can be inspired by something or someone without being a total copycat. You’re a creative so be creative. Copyrights are there for a reasons, so are businesses like ACID.

Q: Which graphic designers do you look up to?

Not so much graphic designers but illustration wise I definitely fangirl over Aaron Blaise who is an ex Disney artist and responsible for young Nala in The Lion King. I’m guilty of purchasing many of his courses over the last couple of years. There are honestly so many artists I admire, Disney’s Nine Old Men, Tom and Tony Bancroft, Preston Blair, Lois van Baarle, Catherine Rayner, Beatrice Blue, Erika Wiseman and Simone Grünewald. There are obviously lots of DC artists I love too: Lisa Glanz, Gia Graham, Molly Suber Thorpe, Belinda Kou, ShoutBAM, Peggy Dean, Addie Hanson, the list is endless. I knew that I wanted to spend this year learning new skills and more about illustration as I’m obviously not a trained illustrator. I enrolled on Draw21 and Skillshare and attend the Design Cuts sessions every week to learn from the best.

Q: What are your favorite DC products to use?

I’m sure I’m not alone in being a bit of a DC product hoarder. There are lots I still haven’t had the time to try but I often use the Letter Builder and Grid Builder by Ian Barnard. I used them for the lettering pieces shown and also for a recent client job. I tend to buy brushes and fonts over elements only because as an illustrator myself I don’t like to use someone else’s illustration and claim the work as mine. I love ShoutBAM’s brushes and have several of Molly Suber Thorpe’s brushes because I’m determined to practice calligraphy. I also love Lisa Glanz, Wooly Pronto and The Pigeon Letters. I also have the Complete Mock-up Templates Bundle (now expired) which is great for showing how a design could work on the product. After all, that’s what potential clients want to see: how you can make their product look awesome.

Thank you so much, Lindsay, for letting us get to know you! If you would like to explore more of her design work or show her some love, you can head to her Instagram!

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