Steph Coathupe on Never Giving Up
As a little tyke, Steph had her own way of releasing her creativity and expressing herself. Back in the day, you would find her constantly doodling, drawing or making (which I’m hoping for the sake of her parents, was not on the walls). Turning it up a notch, the hobbies turned to full-time education at Manchester School of Art, where Steph studied illustration. Now a freelance illustrator, specialising in editorial, lifestyle, and books, there’s still as much love for drawing and doodling as ever.
“Solving problems visually is my favourite thing to do, and I love communicating with puns and little details,” she tells us. Having the ability to wake up to do this every day through bright coloured art is Steph’s vision of complete success and what truly makes her happy.
Entering the wonderful world of self-employment after graduating back in 2014, the illustrator now bases herself from her “little flat in the Northern Quarter”, Manchester’s hub of creativity and independence, sharing her home with beloved cat, Noodle, and partner, Vic. Steph gives us her take on how working remotely benefits her, “being freelance is really great because I can switch it up all the time, and I work pretty much entirely on Procreate so my studio can be anywhere!”. But also, understanding the barriers that walk hand-in-hand with freelance work is paramount to being successful, “having the flexibility and freedom is great, but an important part of freelance is having the self-control to just sit down and get work done”.
Giving us a little taste of what her freelancer day-to-day looks like, Steph gets up early, channelling her inner early bird – something that perhaps doesn’t always feel so natural to somebody who takes after their Nana Grace and is a real night-owl at heart. Following on from the morning ritual, “I spend as much time as I can drawing, and in-between annoying my cat I try to get some admin done.” And outside of the 9-5? “I loiter in bookshops to fawn over all the beautiful picture books, spend an uncomfortable amount of money on coffee with friends, and tell my cat how utterly perfect he is.” Lucky, lucky Noodle… I wonder what the world would look like if we all got told that every day?
Some get to where they are professionally on a linear path, and others get there by weaving in and out of side streets, alleyways and dirt tracks. And so, I wanted to know how Steph got to where she is right now? Working from wherever she wishes, in a profession that she loves, fueled by what sounds like a lot of really great coffee. For the illustrator, this route made sense ever since she was a child. But it was university that concreted for her the reality of it being possible.
Reflecting on her days spent in Manchester as a student making incredible friends and the realisations the experience taught her, “my degree really helped me realise that being creative for a living is actually possible, although it still feels fake a lot of the time.” But the road to the here and now really hasn’t been as straightforward as it sounds. Steph’s story she shares is that of a difficult one, and one that in speaking out about can hopefully resonate with even one other person and help them in not feeling alone.
“Towards the end of my degree, I got depression. When I first got it I just didn’t know what was going on. I can’t describe how awful that was. In the last 5 years, there have been a handful of moments where I honestly considered letting go of my dream, forgetting about illustration, and just stopping drawing altogether. My whole life up to this point had revolved around something I just couldn’t seem to do anymore. I ended up feeling even more lost and scared which made it even harder to make things,” she reflects.
“Whoever said creatives need depression have obviously never experienced how impossible it feels to be creative when you’re depressed. Luckily, I have a brilliant bunch of friends and family who never let me give up and encouraged me to get help. I’m finally in a place where I really feel like I can be creative again. Depression is an ongoing battle. Sometimes it feels like I’ve lost 5 years to it, but I’m comforted by the fact that if I can get through that I can get through anything.” And this area within her life has created a proudness of herself that overrides all other accomplishments, and that is of not giving up.
As a creative, whether it be an illustrator, coder or tea cosey knitter, the moment you feel you don’t have the ability or inspiration to create is an incredibly difficult hurdle to overcome. And these barriers are ones that the illustrator has faced head-on, time and time again. When these blocks present themselves, Steph has approaches in place to start to knock them down. “Going for a walk always helps clear my head when I start overthinking things. If I manage to drag myself out of the house, networking events are great to meet lots of cool people and talk about what you do!” As somebody who has self-confessed to spending too much time on Twitter, the fact the platform keeps Steph in the know of events, lectures, talks and reviews that help to inspire her means she can technically class it as homework – how very productive!
And, while we are on the subject of helpful approaches and insights to overcome barriers I wanted to know, what’s a piece of advice that holds the most impact on the Chester born creative? “Don’t wait until you’re ready. If you’re anything like me, you’ll never feel ready. You’ll never feel like the portfolio is polished enough to send off. You’ll never feel like the piece is finished. You’ll never feel like you’ve got enough experience or skills or knowledge. You will never feel ready, but it doesn’t matter, just swallow the feeling and do it anyway.”
This piece of advice relates to something so many of us are guilty of. Countless many times we stop ourselves doing what we really want because we don’t feel ready. Or we feel scared of putting ourselves outside of our comfort zone, and so we stay perfectly still to think about what would have been. Steph’s advice teaches us to grab the bull by the horns and find out what happens when we take the plunge and go for it.