Alumni Services

Nicola O'Byrne

Succeeding in her dream job as a freelance illustrator and author has made all of those long hours and hard work worthwhile for Nicola O'Byrne.

Name Nicola O'Byrne
Degree Course BA Visual Communication (Illustration)
Year of Graduation 2010

Your time at the University

I chose Edinburgh College of Art because my Art teacher spoke highly of the education she had received there, and because of its reputation as a more traditional college with a strong emphasis on drawing. I was impressed by the Illustration department in particular and was fortunate to visit when a degree show was on, where I met children’s book illustrator Catherine Rayner, who was just graduating and has been a huge influence on me.

The Illustration course at ECA held a lot of freedom to follow your own interests while responding to a brief, and in how you organised your time. I liked this aspect a lot and think it teaches useful skills about independent research. The work load particularly in the final two years prepared me well for life as a freelance illustrator. I got on well with my tutors, who were each very different in their approach to their practice, and each had a lot to offer the students

Tell us about your Experiences since leaving the University

I am working full time as a freelance illustrator and author. The bulk of my time is spent on picture books, and my clients include Nosy Crow, Bloomsbury, and Scholastic. I also work in Art Licensing where my clients include Hallmark, Museums and Galleries, and The Art File, and recently my cards have been stocked in Foyles bookstore and Fortnum and Mason.

The opportunities that came out of the degree show, and D&AD in London were paramount to launching my career as an illustrator

Nicola O'Byrne

In my final year at ECA I entered the Macmillan Prize where I was Highly Commended, and through that met several publishers such as Macmillan, Walker Books and Random House. At D&AD I met my agents, Bright Group International, and within 3 months of graduating had a 2 book deal with Nosy Crow, of which the first book, Open Very Carefully (which I created for my degree show at ECA), won the picture book category of The Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2014. Open Very Carefully was also Highly Commended in the UKLA Book Award, and longlisted for the Kate Greenaway Medal.

My second book with Nosy Crow, Use Your Imagination, was published in August 2014 and I have my second book with Bloomsbury, My Little Star, by Mark Sperring out in October this year.

The opportunities that came out of the degree show, and D&AD in London were paramount to launching my career as an illustrator. Any person working freelance in a creative industry should expect obstacles and frustrations upon entering their chosen career path, but I think the advice I received from my tutors in my final year as well as the high quality of the education I received while at ECA prepared me well for what is a challenging and highly competitive career path.

Alumni wisdom

Work hard, put in long hours, and do more than you think you need to. It will pay off