Introducing TOSH Resident: Rowena "Reena" Sheehan

6 Questions with Reena who is an Illustrator - animator. Discusses work-life balance, pursuing other passions, and shares tips getting started as a freelancer. 

6 Questions with the talented Illustrator - Animator | Rowena "Reena" Sheehan. Here's her story...

Reena you started with us in July and I have only just found out you studied Psychology before starting your career in illustration! Tell us, how did this happen? What is your story?

Psychology was, and still is, a subject I find very interesting. When I was a teen and working out what to do with my life, I was torn between studying psychology and art at university. I went down the Psychology route under the impression that art wasn’t something I could make into a sustained and successful career.
In my second year, I got interested in animated short films and vowed that once I had graduated, I would retrain as an artist so that I could be part of the process in making animated content.

It was a huge rollercoaster ride getting to where I am today with many setbacks. For one, drawing did not come naturally to me and I had to work very hard to push my craft. I am grateful I powered through, though, as I love working as an illustrator-animator.

What are the advantages/disadvantages of working as a freelancer?

Being freelance can be stressful at the beginning, you don’t have the financial security an in-house job provides. In the first couple of years, it’s hard to know when your next job is coming in and it’s a battle to stay optimistic when you’re in a quiet period. Saying that, once you’ve worked with a few studios and they come to trust you, you’ll often be called back on future jobs and eventually, the uncertainty that surrounds freelancing becomes more manageable.

As a freelancer, I get to work on a variety of different projects. One week I might be working on editorial pieces (magazine illustration), the next I might be working on explainer videos for charities. I rarely get bored as a freelance artist as there’s so much variety to it.

What I love the most about the freelance lifestyle, though, is the control I have over my time. If I want to take a month off and go tree planting in Iceland, I can (and I did, last Spring). I respect my time and so, as much as I enjoy my work, I also need to take time away to have adventures. For me, that is what I want from my life - to have fun!

What is your advice for people wanting to pursue a career in Illustration?

Drawing is hard, but it is a skill that can be developed with time and dedication. When I look back at work I did early on in my journey, I laugh - it’s awful, there’s no two ways about it. If you’re in that same boat, perhaps looking at your work and seeing that it’s got a way to go until it’s at a professional level, that’s okay - just keep at it. Draw every day, you will improve.

In terms of the business side of things, if you’re looking to illustrate within the animation industry, try and find a paid internship at a studio you like. If they’re not advertising any internships, get in touch anyway! My first ever job as an illustrator, I got because I reached out to the art director of a studio I liked and introduced myself. My plan was to ask for an internship, but before I got a chance, they’d offered me my first freelance gig. Don’t be scared to put yourself out there!

What do you love most about working at TOSH?

TOSH has been great. I’ve only been here three months, but I feel at home. The others here are lovely and we all support each other. Before I moved to TOSH, I’d been working from home and it could get quite lonely. Here, there’s a community, and that’s invaluable. We’re friends inside and outside of the office.

When you're not illustrating, what do you enjoy doing?

I also animate, though this is a newer skill than the illustration, and I’m actively advancing those skills. Outside of art, I’ve recently become really interested in the sciences. I’m currently redoing my Biology GCSE (just for fun) and have bought myself a microscope to look at the teeny tiny world around us. Have a Google of face mites (aka “demodex folliculorum”) if you want to see the creepy creatures that live on our faces.

I also love the outdoors and am often in the New Forest or around the coast going on walks. Given that I spend all day in front of my computer, it’s good to get outside when the working day is done.

What is next for Reena?

I recently received a grant from the Arts Council England to develop my creative practice. With their support, I will be advancing my cel-animation skills to the next level, while also learning to direct explainer videos to a higher level. I am keen to channel my creativity for use in mental health and science communication, and the skills I will learn through the grant will accelerate this new direction in my work. I am always keen to push myself and grow, and it is great that the ACE supports the growth of artists in England - I am very excited!

You can find more of Reena's impressive art and projects on her website and her instagram!