March 8, 2017

Alison Carmichael : The Score

Yesterday, we celebrated International Woman's Day with 30 amazing pieces of advice from some of the industries finest. But... who created that incredible logo we heard you all ask? None other than the award-winning hand lettering artist; Alison Carmichael. We caught up with Alison to find out a little bit more about her story and how she ended up mixing with us 'orrible lot.

YCC : Tell us a little bit about how you ended up in the industry and what gave you your big break?

AC : I graduated from Ravensbourne with a graphic design degree and I had a keen interest in illustrating letters and started considering how I could make this into a career. Someone suggested to me that advertising agencies might be a good starting point for possible commissions and so armed with some contacts and a small portfolio of lettering work, I went about setting up meetings to show my book. I’m not sure if or when I got a “big break” as my career climb was very gradual and it took a long time to establish myself. I guess that winning recognition and a couple of awards for a slightly controversial direct mailing I did in 2006 helped establish my name and things started to really take off around that time.

YCC : Is it tougher being a female illustrator? What were the differences?

AC : It’s hard to say whether it’s tougher being a female illustrator as I’ve never been a male one! But my personal experience is that it doesn't make any difference, not that I notice anyway.  I like to believe I have been awarded work because I was the right person for the job. But, I’m lucky in as much as I don't work IN an agency so I’m not involved in any of the politics that might go on.

YCC : Did you know only 11% of creative directors in advertising are female? Does that surprise you? 

AC : No - this doesn't surprise me at all. A lot of women in their 30’s inevitably have families and perhaps it is underestimated how much of a mental and physical demand the role of parenting is. I would imagine that working as an advertising creative director is incredibly hard to do simultaneously with the demanding job of being a parent, not to mention the cost implications of childcare and impracticality of it all.  It’s not impossible but it certainly wouldn't be easy. I also think that many women take time out to have children and then lose a bit of self confidence and find it hard to get back into their old career at the same level. I think it’s a pity if it’s not possible to do both….. but I am sure that the women who do it often feel pulled in all directions and compromised. You’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t!

YCC : Do you find your professional relationships differ when working with male and female creatives?

AC : No, not at all.

YCC : A lot of female creatives leave advertising, as they find the industry can’t support their ambitions to become a mother and be successful. How did you master juggling having children and working? 

AC : There’s really no perfect solution and I feel like I am always winging it and juggling. You just have to find what works for you personally and that changes all the time.  I think I have finally achieved a good balance now and I know what works and what doesn’t work for our family. I have found it challenging in the past trying to do both though and there is a lot of trial and error. Luckily, I have the luxury of working from home. That said, my main struggle with having children at first was how it used to effect my ability to fully commit my mind to both my work and equally to my children. It’s mentally very hard to perform both demanding roles to the the best of your ability at the same time.

YCC : How did you work around the idea of maternity leave being self-employed/ freelance?

AC : Perhaps foolishly I didn't really take any maternity leave both times I had babies. This was mainly due to my own (perhaps irrational) fear that if people thought I had gone off to have a baby, the work would stop coming in, especially as my career was really taking off at the point that I had my first child.  Self-employment paranoia! Looking back, I wish I had been a bit kinder to myself at that time of my life. There is no “one size fits all” solution to juggling children and working - You just have to work out what’s possible and if it doesn't work, change something. I think that learning to say no, is very valuable. Not sure I’ve ever mastered that one though…

YCC : How important do you think it is to support young women in the industry, we know you have supported the efforts of the YCC in the past and served as a D&AD judge and more recently, this year, with the Creative Circle?

AC : A lot of people helped me - giving time, opportunities, and advice when I was starting out, and it’s come full circle in that I feel I want to help young creatives in any way that I can and I am always open to people asking advice.

YCC : Do only powerful women succeed in the creative industries? Or do you become a powerful woman, because that’s the only way you can stand out? 

AC : “Powerful” is a bit of an intimidating sounding word!  I don't think you have to be “powerful” as such -  I think it’s helpful to have a strength of character though, be committed to succeeding and to love what you do. You also need to trust in your own judgement. Self belief can take you a long way. I also think it is really important to be open to ideas, willing to listen and learn, to change, to collaborate, to use everything as a potential opportunity. I think that unfortunately, women are riddled with self doubt, definitely more so than men. We do often tend to be apologetic and self deprecating, which is a shame.

YCC : Being in the industry for 25 years, how have you seen it change for women? 

AC : Women’s rights and issues are much more widely discussed and I like to think that by the time our daughters grow up and make decisions about their futures, they will have a more empowered attitude about themselves and their future possibilities than the last generation did. Things are definitely changing for the better all the time and it’s exciting times ahead for girls!

YCC : What would your one piece of advice to a young female thinking of becoming a creative? 

AC : Only one? That’s tricky... Trust that your contribution is as relevant and important as anyone else's and behave accordingly!

YCC : And finally, what would your advice be to your younger self? 

AC : Stop worrying what everyone thinks of you. Honestly, no one cares… they’re too busy thinking the exact same thing and worrying about their own shortcomings.

We owe a massive thanks to Alison, for all those who want to see more of her amazing work, follow her on Instagram or head over to alisoncarmichael.com

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