Colourful illustration featuring fantastical creatures

Our Journal

Meet Jack Viant - From Plymouth-born student to international illustrator

Jack Viant, graduate of BA (Hons) Illustration, has come full circle with his recent appointment as Lecturer on BA (Hons) Illustration. We spoke to him about his Arts University Plymouth experience and what it's like to be an internationally published illustrator.

Illustrator and Designer Jack Viant has been appointed as a Lecturer on BA (Hons) Illustration at Arts University Plymouth. Specialising in children’s illustrations, Jack is published by Bloomsbury, Miles Kelly, Hachette and Oxford University Press, and represented by the Bright Agency.

Jack is a graduate of ours who has a long history of association with the university. While studying at a local secondary school Jack first came to us as part of a work placement. In 2011 he attended a summer school that we held for gifted local students. In September 2012 Jack joined a foundation year to prepare for degree-level study and then from September 2013 to June 2015 he studied BA (Hons) Illustration, graduating with a First Class honours degree.

We caught up with Jack to find out what his journey looked like from student to professional illustrator, why he loves working with local businesses and what it was like to be headhunted by one of the world’s most respected creative agencies.

Jack in a waistcoat and suit looking to the side with a moustache and a bowtie

Jack Viant

How has your time at Arts University Plymouth changed your life?

“I’m Arts University Plymouth’s number one cheerleader. I’ve studied and worked at the university in one way or another for at least the past decade and I’m thrilled to come full circle, after my illustration career has really taken off, and be able to share my experience with the BA (Hons) Illustration students.”

“As a teenager, I felt like I lost all confidence during my time at school, but after I joined Arts University Plymouth I felt that confidence reawakening. I met so many people, I was encouraged to do my own thing creatively, I signed up as a student buddy to support others, hosted events, fundraised… With encouragement and support I relearned all of the social and interpersonal skills that school had drummed out of me. It honestly felt like a metamorphosis.”

Colourful illustration featuring fantastical creatures

What would you say to somebody thinking about studying at an arts university?

“I can’t recommend learning a creative skill at degree level highly enough. When I started university I had a predetermined idea of what ‘good’ art is. With such rigid ideas, for the first year I kept making mistakes and it felt like I was setting myself up to fail. What a wake-up call. The lecturers helped me to start again and relearn everything that I thought I knew.”

“After a rocky first year, in my second year I was selected for an industry placement at Hallmark and it was an absolute gamechanger. I’d been overthinking everything, but then I lived in Bradford for two weeks and worked in the Hallmark children’s department, where they saw the potential in me and set me to work. I might have spent months on a project as a student, but at Hallmark they’d ask me to create ten designs every day and I tried to rise to the challenge. Over those two weeks I illustrated pirates, dinosaurs, monsters… it felt like I created more work than I had done in my life before that point. And it was really fulfilling.”

Work by Jack Viant, featuring illustrated children's book covers

Work by Jack Viant

How did your experience at Hallmark change your direction?

“Armed with what I’d learned during that industry placement, for my final major project in my third year I illustrated a picture book for children, which was exactly what I’d been aiming for when I signed up for the degree. My lecturers encouraged me when I graduated to keep my momentum going, so I went to New Designers and met with businesses including Oxford University Press, the Science Museum and Woodmansterne Cards. I fancied working in a pub for a bit, which seemed like a good way to pay the bills while I chased illustration work, but then a lot of opportunities came up quite quickly and I regretted trying to do them around full time work!”

Lots of illustrated reptiles and dinosaurs on a white background

What sort of work were you offered when you first graduated?

“My first big commission was to brand Supha’s Street Food Emporium in Plymouth and I was proud to have the chance to work with a business that would be visible on the highstreet. Later I worked with Urban Splash to help bring to life the Squiggly Wiggly Giant Squid installation in Royal William Yard, designing activity packs and vinyl stickers for children. That was another example of a way that my work became visible in my home city, which helped me to grow in confidence. The organisations I worked with tended to come back to me with one or two big projects every year, which helped to sustain me in those early days.”

“It’s difficult when you’re starting out as an illustrator to juggle commissions alongside whatever other work you need to take on to pay the bills. Fortunately for me, because I became known for being good with people during my degree, my tutors remembered me and suggested that I should apply for a Graduate Associate position at the university. Working here meant that I’d spend more time in a creative environment again, which is really inspiring.”

A bright and colourful illustration of a hot water balloon with a zebra in the basket being looked over by a sun with sunglasses on

Was it difficult, separating your time as an artist from the work that was initially paying the bills?

“At first, my work as an illustrator in my free time and my work for Arts University Plymouth were quite separate, but I worked hard to try to align the two things. I signed up as a short course tutor, where I’d design and deliver ten-week evening courses to members of the public. I moved into the university careers team and gained experience of leading groups of students, sometimes more than 80 at a time. And there were chances for me to help the illustration team in our Pre-Degree campus, which I jumped at.”

“By this point, I knew that I had a love for illustration and for teaching, so I took on a Preparing to Teach in the Lifelong Learning Sector qualification in my free time. It was the busiest I’ve ever been! An opportunity came up to formally teach young people in the city through our Young Arts programme, so I took it. In 2018 there was a short-term chance to teach BA (Hons) Illustration students, and by chance it was teaching the module that I’d benefited so much from, with the Hallmark internships. It felt really exciting to help out with that.”

Jack Viant 2

Jack Viant

How did you end up getting signed by one of the world’s most respected creative agencies?

“Alongside teaching, I began creating illustration and design work for Dynamo Limited. Working with them, I specialised in delivering illustrations to meet challenging deadlines, for example on publishing projects with very tight turnarounds. And consistently since graduating from my degree I’d posted new work regularly on social media, to ensure that the work I was doing was visible. Which is how the Bright Agency found me. They’re a global agency, based in New York, who represent some of my favourite illustrators, and they emailed me to say they’d be interested in representing me. I was overjoyed!”

“Within weeks I had my first commission from Capstone. Then I was working for a Korean publisher. Then Noodle Juice. And then I worked on a series of four books for Hachette. Then Miles Kelly… It was such an intensely creative period, I worked on hundreds of illustrations, pop-up books, board books, picture books, insects, pirates, prehistoric creatures. So many great opportunities came in quick succession. One of the projects that I’m most proud of is The Monster Who Was Scared of Soap, a Bloomsbury book written by Amy Sparkes.”

An illustration of a witch on a broomstick with a large crescent moon with a face in the background and lots of animated creatures on the broomstick

How did you come full circle and return to BA (Hons) Illustration as a Lecturer?

“As well as my illustration work, I began supporting Distance Learning at Arts University Plymouth, focusing on BA (Hons) Illustration students from overseas who begin their studies remotely for the first year before joining us on campus for their second. Meeting these students from places like Shanghai and Singapore was a great experience and for me reinforced my desire to teach. Which meant that when a position as Lecturer on BA (Hons) Illustration came up, I felt qualified and ready to unify my practice by balancing my illustration work with teaching students how to become illustrators.”

“As a Lecturer, primarily I want to make sure that students can learn from my experiences and graduate from university with realistic expectations of themselves and what their future careers could look like. I want to empower students to look at what they want and how to get there, but also how to engage in work that is fulfilling and will ultimately become sustainable.”