Sophie Melissa on Seizing Opportunities
Creative expression appears to be woven throughout Sophie’s identity. Her admiration for art and design started at a young age, even when she was growing up you would find her filling up sketchbooks and drawing on anything she could possibly get her hands on; from scraps of paper to the bedroom door.
Aged 14, she decided to join a circus school after having discovered a passion for gymnastics and spent her time there mastering trapeze. With the circus school being located in the centre of London, Sophie found herself travelling into the city multiple times a week, and it was here where she discovered art museums and iconic artists.
In high school, she was advised by her teachers that graphic design would be the ‘most sensible choice’ for her next step into college. It wasn’t until during her art foundation where she was on track to specialise in design, that she discovered that studying illustration at university was an option she could choose, “I remember thinking how incredible it would be to study illustration and to hopefully make a career out of what I love to do,” she reflects.
She went on to study at Falmouth University in 2014, where she found a happy medium between work and life. She would spend her weekdays researching and creating artwork of her own which she believes contributed most to her accomplishing what she has today; whether that’s exhibiting her beautiful portfolio of work with a distinguished style in places such as London and Sydney or picking up a number of awards.
Of a weekend, she would take a trip out to explore the stunning landscape that Cornwall had to offer which made the three years she spent there ‘some of the best years’ of her life. “I would go sea swimming, and spend time with such wonderful people, all of which had a massive influence on my work and who I am today,” she reflects.
It was in her third year of university when she began pushing herself even harder; stepping outside of her comfort zone and building a body of work that she was happy with. The hard work evidently paid off when she found herself booking a trip to New York and meeting up with art directors and agencies to present her portfolio, “The feedback I received was extremely positive and helped me gain confidence… It was at this point when I really started to see this as a possible career,” she tells me.
Towards the end of the year, Sophie was exhibiting at New Designers and won the ‘SAA New Talent in Illustration’ award which offered her a 6-month trial with the illustration agency, New Division.
“As an introvert who spends my days working alone with my cat for company, it was completely out my comfort zone to stand for 12 hours a day and talk to people about my work, but I really enjoyed talking to people in the industry and hearing their positive feedback… this is also how I came to meet the lovely team at New Division who have worked with me and helped me develop my career since,” she says.
Sophie’s first piece of commissioned work came through from her agents and was for Scouting Magazine, “I enjoyed this editorial brief as it was for a story on a scouting expedition not going to plan, and they gave me a fair bit of creative freedom.” Along with her first, she begins to reflect on other project highlights throughout her career, one of which was a commission she did for Fujitsu late last year, “it was the first time I had seen my work come to life which was a really exciting moment for me.”
Building a portfolio of work that was a true reflection of Sophie and her distinctively graphic, playful, and bold style seems to have been something she has never thought twice about and has played a key role in her developing her career in the industry. She knew that for her work to be seen by a wider, international audience, she had to start building a brand for herself online and began using Instagram as her platform of choice.
Much to her surprise, she was discovered through the channel and was invited to exhibit her work at Wacom in Australia and New Zealand, “Now I know how important it is to share your work everywhere you can, both at shows and online,” she emphasises. Understanding and seeing for herself how important this has been for her in her career, she continues, “I know some incredible illustrators who are just too scared to share what they do, people won’t find you unless you put yourself out there!”
With that in mind, I ask her what else she has learned over the years and would like to pass on to those considering a career in illustration, “I’d say work hard, don’t give up and create work you want to do… It’s not an easy career, so be sure it’s something you love and you’re passionate about first,” she reflects. “I see lots of people stop creating work when they’re not getting paid but in the beginning, it is all about evolving your portfolio setting yourself projects, for example, if you want to get into editorials set yourself similar briefs.”
Listening to Sophie’s journey so far, and her admirable determination towards continuously developing herself and her craft tells me that things won’t be slowing down for her any time soon.
So, what’s next? “Lot’s more work hopefully! I would love to design some book covers and have the opportunity to work on an advertising brief,” she tells me. “Over the next year, I’m hoping to travel more with my work and so I’m also working on making my equipment much more portable!”