Case Study: Proactivity

A painting showing people reaching for stars with hot air balloons flying in the sky.
Image courtesy of UAL

Rebecca Hendin – Taking the proactive approach

BuzzFeed illustrator, Rebecca Hendin graduated from Central Saint Martins’ MA in Communication in 2014. Here, the relentlessly proactive illustrator, cartoonist, designer, artist and animator reflects on the benefits of pushing your work out into the world.

Taking a proactive approach is something I feel strongly about it. I started university in California and a big part of what they pushed at us was that if you want to be an illustrator – and I’m sure it’s true about any other similar, difficult-to-get-into, competitive field – you have to push yourself out there, you have to be telling everyone you’re an illustrator. That was drilled into us constantly.

‘Before I got the job at BuzzFeed, I was the person who always said ‘if you need something done, I can do that.’

Rebecca Hendin

Make yourself visible

From the time I was doing my BA, I was getting in touch with magazines and sending them my illustrations because no one is going to know you exist if you don’t put your work out there.

I made a blog and created a website and as soon as I graduated I continued to spam the internet – whether it’s on Facebook, on Twitter – with my work. And by spam, I don’t mean it in a negative way, I mean making your work visible. I’ve had a lot of jobs through Facebook and Twitter. I use my personal pages as a place for my art and if you do that for long enough, people will start to follow you for your work. And even if they don’t need an illustrator, they might recommend you to someone who does. One thing tends to lead to another.

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The importance of passion projects

When you have something you want to make, something you’re passionate about, it’s important to be proactive about that too. Some of the coolest results I’ve had were things I did simply because it was interesting to me.

I got the job where I am now, at Buzzfeed, because I was signed with a cartoon syndicate in the US to do political cartoons and I wanted to draw something about the British election. My syndicate didn’t do anything with British politics, so I wrote it up as a passion project and I sent it out to 30 different magazines. It was published in Politico – BuzzFeed turned it down. They said this isn’t really the kind of thing we do, so we won’t publish this, but we like your drawing, so would you like a job? 

I don’t think opportunities are sat there waiting for you most of the time – you have to shove yourself into the situation and I do that constantly. Before I got the job at BuzzFeed, I was the person who always said ‘if you need something done, I can do that.’ I’m in a full time role now, so I don’t do so much of that now, but I still post a lot online, and a lot of that is simply because I work a lot. On a slow week, I’ll do a couple of illustrations, and on others, much more - one week I did 15.

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Being in the right place at the right time

I think you need to know the right people and to be in the right place at the right time and you need to be proactive to put yourself in those situations.

For example, I’ve been going to these illustrator meet-ups called Yo Illo for years. It’s a bunch of illustrators who get together – the idea is that illustrators spend a lot of their time sat behind their desk alone. It’s a pretty ‘lonely’ job, but going to these meet-ups has opened up new opportunities.

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Put yourself forward

When you see a call-out, submit yourself. Never be scared to put your work out there and talk about what you do, whether it’s in person or online.

If you go to a university like CSM, you’re given an incredibly open remit – you get to design your own course, so you decide what you want to be working on. I decided I wanted to work professionally while I was on my course, so I would turn in work that I was doing professionally for my uni work. It’s important to stay focused on what you want to do. Work a lot.

Make a website as soon as possible. Use social media, make a website as soon as possible, email people - just because you’re a student doesn’t mean you can’t do that.

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‘Never be scared to put your work out there and talk about what you do, whether it’s in person or online.’

Rebecca Hendin