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July 24, 2023 —

Meet the Maker: Carole Hillman

Following a successful fashion career in France and the UK, Carole Hillman moved into illustration and pattern design, creating beautiful nature-inspired works from her Southampton home studio
Illustrator and pattern designer Carole Hillman inside her Southampton studio
Sine Fleet - contributingeditor of 91 Magazine
Sine Fleet
91 Magazine contributing editor,
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Hi Carole, how would you describe your work?

It’s a subtle combination of pattern, texture and soft colours mixed in their best harmony. It is sometimes very close to folk art.

Illustrator and pattern designer Carole Hillman inside her Southampton studio

What inspired the idea of setting up your business?

I needed work that was suitable for me around my family life. My kids weren’t at school when I first started. During lockdown (like many other people) I spent more time on Instagram. I started to post more of my work on my page and I did a lot of art competitions just for fun and to practice my drawing. I saw there was an interest, and I had many lovely comments. I also had my first commission and worked with a magazine. I decided to open my Etsy shop at the same time.

How did your career begin?

I have a degree in fashion and studied pattern design in France. I worked in the fashion industry for few years and took the decision to go and live in London 12 years ago, to become fluent in English and I had the dream to work for Vivienne Westwood. I have always been a big fan of her work. Unfortunately, I didn’t have that opportunity! Happily, instead, I met my husband and decided to live closer to the south coast and have our family.

Collage prints inside the Southampton studio of illustrator and pattern designer Carole Hillman

Sketchbook and paints inside the Southampton studio of illustrator and pattern designer Carole Hillman

Where do you find creative inspiration?

I find it everywhere…. I find it comes in waves. The beautiful British countryside is one of my favourite themes to work with. I had the chance to live near beautiful places in Hampshire. I love to go for long walks with my kids. I will never be fed up of looking at beautiful little cottages in the middle of nowhere. I sometimes imagine my work on the walls of these cute houses. I love to visit book shops and have a look at wildlife, decoration and art books. When I have the opportunity, I go to London for the day and see what exhibitions are taking place at the Tate… one of my favourite places in the capital!

How would you describe your style?

It is naive artwork and a poetic mix of nature, animals, and patterns. I love folk art and my illustrations are certainly inspired by it – maybe from my Polish heritage.

Alphabet folk prints inside the Southampton studio of illustrator and pattern designer Carole Hillman

Card designs by illustrator and pattern designer Carole Hillman

Are there themes that run through your work, or that you are drawn to?

I love to draw nature, and I am also obsessed with birds. You can almost always spot them in my drawings.

How did you first discover your love for what you do? 

I didn’t really plan anything to start with. I just loved the fact I could work when I wanted to and have this total freedom to plan my working day around my family life. When I bought my first iPad and starting to draw digitally I became very quickly addicted to it and couldn’t stop. I did a lot in a year’s time. I did many craft markets all around the UK after Covid, many of which were very successful and gave me more confidence in my work. I also started to offer wholesale orders to independent stores and galleries, and I was very happy to see my work travelling to the USA and Europe.

 inside the Southampton studio of illustrator and pattern designer Carole Hillman

Could you describe a typical working day?

My work day starts after I drop my kids off at school. I have a big coffee, turn on some music and after that it is simply never the same. It is also why I love my work. It varies widely, depending of the commission I work on, getting things ready for markets… of course some tasks are repetitive. I make sure all orders are packed ready to go on time. I also make sure I have enough paper, ink, envelopes etc. I print everything at home, so it is important to have everything I need. I work a lot on my computer – I simply do everything – from social media posts, my website, invoices… sometimes it can be very intense and stressful. Days are short as school finishes at 3pm, so I need to get everything done before then. But that never happens! I work evenings and weekends every so often.

What is the ethos behind your business?

I took the decision for now to print everything in my studio. I am more confident about controlling the quality of my product. I also print in smaller quantity on acid free paper made in the UK from responsible sources. All packaging is plastic free. I’m trying very hard to recycle everything to protect the planet. I also recycle all my ink!

illustrator and pattern designer Carole Hillman

Tell us about your work process… 

I work mostly on my iPad. It is very practical because I can bring it everywhere! I am aiming to make new prints and cards all year long. Christmas is one of the most important times of the year and I have to think ahead for new collections, like I used to when I was working in the fashion industry. For example, June – July I will be working on Christmas greeting cards. Sometimes working on a screen all day can be a bit dull. That is why I also love to try new techniques and stepping out of my comfort zone. I have recently created a limited edition collage series. Currently, I’m also working on air dry clay – it’s such fun to experiment with new materials and add more variety to my work.

What sort of space do you work in?

I work in my home, and have a little space where I can leave my mess. I also love to work in the garden. Working on my own in my place is the perfect fit for me but I can sometimes feel a bit lonely, so I love to go to a nice coffee shop or a co-working space to have the opportunity to meet people.

designs by illustrator and pattern designer Carole Hillman

Art print by illustrator and pattern designer Carole Hillman

Has your work evolved since you began? 

When I first started my business I didn’t have a plan. I didn’t really see it as a legitimate business, but I have learnt a lot these last few years. My knowledge about branding and marketing was very limited initially. I am still learning but I know more about what I am doing and where I am going. I have massive doubt sometimes but it is my number one passion, and I couldn’t do anything else. As an illustrator there are millions of opportunities – for example just within a year of starting as an illustrator, I illustrated an article in a magazine, and I worked with the town council to create urban art for the cultural district of Southampton. I am new in this industry, and I’m looking forward to new projects and to see what other opportunities arise.

Is there an element of your work that you love the most?

The creativity and opportunities are endless. I love meeting customers during markets and the thought of people having my artwork in their homes fills me with joy. I feel very lucky to have my work in amazing places and shops. I recently traded with the beautiful Salford Museum in Greater Manchester.

Illustrator and pattern designer Carole Hillman drawing flowers on iPad

Floral cards inside the Southampton studio of illustrator and pattern designer Carole Hillman

How valuable is the online community to your work?

I sell my work on Etsy and my own website. I find with social media that it is often hard to maintain visibility. I love making fun videos and interacting with my community! I also send newsletters every month with some offers and discount. Social media is a great way to have a direct link with potential customers and brands. But I also love the direct exchanges I have received during markets.

Working as an independent – what are the joys, and what are the challenges?

Working as an independent is great because I can plan my time as I want. Working on commissions and seeing a full project being a success is pure joy! But it can also be overwhelming to do every single task on my own. I am part of a great creative community in Southampton. I organised some craft markets during the year at Southampton City Art Gallery. Having some support from other local artists is very precious. I find it hard to turn down work as self-employment is sometimes challenging. But I have to do what feels right and appeals to me. Its a balance to be creative and stay true to myself whilst earning a living.

Peony, daisy and orchid floral cards inside the Southampton studio of illustrator and pattern designer Carole Hillman

How do you approach marketing and PR?

I have had to learn a lot more about how to promote my work. The relationship with customers is so important for me! That’s why I always make sure I offer the best quality products to them. I find social media so uncontrollable – sometimes it feels very difficult to have enough visibility. So, I am trying to find other ways… we have to be creative!

What have been your business highlights so far?

I think my alphabet prints collection has been very popular. Many people have made very nice comments about it. M is for Moon and S is for Sun prints are my best-sellers. I was very pleased to work with the council of Southampton and create urban digital work. So when I go in town, I can spot some of my works and that is so rewarding and makes me feel proud.

 

Collage work inside the Southampton studio of illustrator and pattern designer Carole Hillman

What’s one thing people would be surprised you do in your job?

I make all my cards by hand. I print, cut and fold all of them. In the future I would love to work with a professional printer, but I have so many different designs, the cost can be restrictive. I can also be awake in the middle of the night to write down some ideas for future projects.

Do you have any creative hobbies?

I love knitting, running, and doing yoga. I think it is so important to try to find a good balance working from home, as it is easy to stay immobile all day long. I have also a massive passion for Harry Styles these days, but who hasn’t? Great music to work with! 

Art print by illustrator and pattern designer Carole Hillman

Folk inspired cards inside the Southampton studio of illustrator and pattern designer Carole Hillman

Do you have any advice for independent creative businesses just starting out?

Take your time. Try to do many workshops online or in person. Be part of a creative community near where you live. Meeting creative people can offer you great opportunities and it is a time saver. But most importantly, HAVE FUN!

What does the next year hold for you?

I have few a projects coming up… I can’t say anything yet as I’m still negotiating. I am also thinking about creating new decorative ornaments made of clay or wood. I am also thinking about organising some workshops in my studio. 

QUICK-FIRE QUESTIONS

Describe your work in three words: Creative, whimsical and poetic

What are your creating rituals? Put on some music, drinking a lot of coffee, working in a nice place with a nice light!

Tea or coffee? I am a coffee addict! 

Mountains or sea? Mountains! I was born in Savoie in France not far from the Alps!

Night owl or early bird? Early bird. Having two young kids… I have no choice!

carolehillman.com

@c.hillmanillustration

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