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Through The Eyes Of A Queer Artist In The 21st Century: A Conversation With Scott W Mason

British Fashion Illustrator, Scott W Mason isn’t just another name in the industry. His work has reached far and wide, and has big client names under his artistic belt – Apple, Ted Baker, Selfridges, Samsung, Armani, you name it! His illustration style is mainly abstract, producing eye-catching visions of movement with just the right amount of colour and flow.

Originally from Hampshire and a graduate from Falmouth University, Scott studied Fashion Photography where he started to incorporate drawings into his photos. Fast forward to now, his Instagram exhibits his impeccable art skills through beautiful renditions of couture garments and fashion weeks, stunning original artworks and portraits, and some humorous yet artsy depictions of everyday life of a creative.

Scott and I got to talking on zoom and we instantly connected! Being creators from different streams and at the same time, freelancing and working on our own terms, we had a lot to share and express to each other various myths and concerns of living in a creatively challenged world. Not just that, I got a chance to deep dive into his personal journey as well, that shaped him into ‘The Illustrator Scott’ you see through his work.

Before diving into the in-depth interview, make sure you give Scott a follow on Instagram to check out more of his work: @scottwmason

Hi Scott. Would you like to introduce yourself to our readers? We’d love to know the real Scott behind this illustrator guy we all see and love on Instagram!

Firstly, so happy and a little nervous to be here. But here goes… I’ve been drawing since I was born but doing illustrations and putting my art online since I was 12 or 13 years old, but fashion took centre stage when I was 16, especially when I got obsessed with watching America’s Next Top Model. Being a young kid, you can’t really do photoshoots like that so I used to draw my ideas instead. I then moved to fashion photography, from there I got my introduction to the fashion industry. I remember when I was 12, I used to draw comics a lot, I got a few of my comics professionally printed, saving up enough money from my paper rounds to get about 100-150 copies, although I ended up selling a grand total of about 10. My mum and dad were super proud, this one time they got the cover printed onto my 13th birthday cake.

I remember I even did an artbook where I got 20 different artists from around the world together, all found on an online art community and we all chipped in to get this artbook printed, so I was a pretty ambitious and creative kid.

How did you transition from fashion photography to illustrating and expressing your creativity through art on an everyday basis?

When I was in college I didn’t draw much. In fact, I was a little embarrassed and hid the fact I drew. I went down the photography route because my photographs turned out a lot nicer than I could draw at that stage but family members would always say ‘what happened to your drawing??’. After a year of struggling with photography, I started drawing more since that was always my thing. I graduated and went on to become a freelance illustrator and have been one for the past 7-8 years. I’ve delved into other areas as well to have income – marketing consulting, social media marketing, commissioning portraits, among other ways of earning some dollars, as we all know being an artist is a hard way to pay the bills.

Your published interviews and your social media platforms mostly refer to you as an illustrator. Do you consider yourself as an illustrator more, or an artist? Are they different from each other?

I think there’s a difference. But I’m not entirely sure what the difference is. I feel like illustrators tend to the commercial brief and for artists, they create whatever they wish to create. Sure, they go for a similar outcome, but the way to go about it is different. What I create is a rendition of something that already exists which could mean I’m illustrating something or I’m reacting to something like an artist would, I don’t know... I feel like there’s a bit of a hierarchy - like artists are perceived to be at the top most of the creative ladder.

For instance, if an illustrator did what they did but on a canvas rather than on a piece of paper, that would be classified as fine art rather than an illustration. I just think its how you present yourself. Illustrators predominantly work on a project/brief basis, whereas artists don’t answer to anyone. They are truer to themselves. I feel like I’m turning more into an artist now, probably because no one gives me any project work, haha!

As an artist/illustrator, especially working in the fashion industry, did you ever feel the commercial aspect of it affected your integrity of work in some way?

I think it does affect in a way. I think there is a stigma around producing your work for commercial use. There’s always been this discussion around if fashion illustration is art and some fine artists can look down on illustrators. For artists, they create purely for expression. I sense a certain negativity towards illustrators sometimes. It’s like we’re the more bread and butter artists!

Art was always your passion! And we see that through your work now. Do you feel there was a certain euphoric moment that made you realise your one true calling in life?

When I was younger I spent a lot of time by myself keeping occupied, I was happy by myself. I didn’t go out as much in my teens and I used to draw a lot and art became escapism where I could draw whatever I imagined. I was also a pretty chubby kid, I think I may have resorted to art to have escapism from that too. This continued into when I was like 15 -16, I’d happily cancel plans with friends just to draw and continue with my own projects. But I don’t think there was a specific moment when I realized this was my ‘true calling’ it’s just been consistent throughout my life and drawing is a necessity for me so might as well try get paid for it.

Would you like to walk us through the personal/professional challenges, even glory moments in your career, that impacted your life hugely?

Obviously being gay has impacted my life– I came out to my parents when I was in university and ashamedly I did it over the phone. The very thought of doing it made me physically sick but I don’t think I ever thought I couldn’t do it. I also didn’t think that my parents wouldn’t support me but it was more about disappointing them. I started crying when I said it aloud and my mum consoled me saying, ‘Don’t cry, its okay.’ I was crying because of the relief of not having to hide this secret anymore. I remember when I was going to meet my ex boyfriend’s parents in Italy, my Nan texted me asking ‘oh what are you doing in Italy?’ and I hadn’t come out to my extended family yet but I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it, I told her where and why I was headed and she was like – ‘Oh lovely, have a nice time.’ I knew if I didn’t make it a big deal, then it’s less likely others will too. I know this isn’t the case with everyone, and its much more challenging and even impossible for many out there who want to come out to their loved ones so I’ve been extremely lucky with my experience.

As for professional challenges - I’ve always been happy being an illustrator behind the screen, but I’m so not an on-screen person when I need to be. I instantly get nervous in front of people, being social at events and similar things. I’ve turned down opportunities because I’d have to do it in person. I know that if I would be more upfront and confident and just say yes to things, I would have had a bigger range of clients, hence more work. I turned down an opportunity from a university to conduct a fashion illustration Zoom call for students since it was in front of an online audience and I was scared. I was an insecure kid right from the start and I never put myself on the forefront that much, only my art. And that insecurity feeds into the present me sometimes. Even silly things like speaking on Instagram lives, I did about 5 of them just silent, but people enjoy following accounts more if they know the personality behind it so I’m trying!

It seems like your family is really supportive of you! Are they the same for your passion and creative career as well?

My family has always been supportive when it comes to my creative freedom and profession. I’m the first one in the family to go to university which they were really proud about (admittedly for a career I’m not doing…). I’ve got an older brother, who’s an electrician and works with my dad now so he’s the down to earth one and I’m the arty farty one. My Nan used to buy my comics when I was younger so even they were supportive. Although there have been times where support waivers, like when I used to be home all day drawing and my parents were like, ‘Oh are you working or drawing?’ It’s like there’s a difference between the two for them. My dad was a little creative as he had his own small record label and created zines when he was younger. And when I used to do comics, he’d help me out with it because that’s where his creativity came in as well with me.

Has there been a drastic change in your life ever since you moved to London from your hometown?

When you move out you’re obviously a lot more independent. You can go out any night of the week, stay up drinking all night, turn up at work in yesterday’s clothes, but I feel that only happened in the beginning. I quickly slipped back into my old ways of being a hermit afterwards, just sitting home and drawing. I believe there needs to be a balance. Living in London, it does feel like anything could happen! You could bump into someone on the street that would change your life and career forever. It just opens you to a whole world of new opportunities, you just have to be present for them, obviously it’s hard to do now as we’re all in a pandemic but this has given me time to reflect and once life returns back to some sense of normality I think I’ll definitely make more use of being located in London. Social Scotty here I come…

Share with us the hard-hitting realities, myths and misconceptions of working with big names, and being a freelancer in a creative field.

A lot of people don’t know this but I also do freelance marketing consulting/design work for a jewellery brand, I really enjoy the change of pace and scenery working on that, I’ve also learnt a lot from it in regards to marketing myself as an illustrator, also the consistent income helps majorly, it’s been a god send lately as the pandemic made all illustration events dry up which are a majority of my illustration income. So that’s cemented the importance of having multiple income streams for me as a freelancer, never rely on just one income source because if that goes you’re going to be struggling.

But one of the most common myths I can think of and that I’d want people to know - even if you have a couple big names on your client list, it’s not like these people are ringing me up every day and are giving me constant work. It’s not continuous. I’ve been professionally illustrating for 7 years so if you divide my client list by the number of years I’ve been doing it, it’s not all that much. Of course, when people take notice of those names, they immediately get the sense I must be good and that confidence factor plays a huge role in getting future work. I do get DMs from followers on Instagram asking me how to go about it, but the thing is there isn’t one absolute way to go about getting these clients. In fact, even with Apple, their email actually ended up in my junk box and my first thought was - why would they be emailing me? I still don’t know how they found me but I guess it proves the importance of having your socials and website up to date.

But I would always advise this - You always have to pitch yourself to people, no matter the position you’re at. You have to put in that effort at every step of the way if you wish to see yourself reaching that hill top. I’m far from reaching the summit but I’ve sent countless emails out in hopes of getting work, the hustle doesn’t look like it’s going to be able to stop anytime soon.

There’s this thing with creative souls – we fantasize and picture our lives a certain way. Even though you’re doing amazing things at this point in your life, I’d like to know if there were any dreams or goals of yours that didn’t pan out well for you.

Oh absolutely! You know when you leave university, it feels like you’re on a high to do everything and more in your life. Its feels like the industry is waiting for you to work with them. In your head, you have this elevated sense of achievement, thinking your portfolio is shit hot and that any brand/magazine would be lucky to work with you. By 25, I actually thought I would be this millionaire artist who’d have his work everywhere. Also, all of us live in this mindset that we need to make it in our 20s, and in our 30s expected to be settled down. But that’s really not the case. I couldn’t really achieve everything I had planned for myself but I am happy that I could do this much so far. I think back to when I graduated and expected to work with all these major brands but I look back at my work and think ‘I’m happy that didn’t happen’ my work has finally achieved a level where I wanted it to be but I’ve still got a long long way to go. But I am happy with the opportunities I’ve had so far, I’ve managed to travel to other countries to do illustration events and if I told that to my 14 year old self, I wouldn’t have ever believed it.

Any passions, interests aside illustrating?

I think I’ve always been a creative kid so I’ve always had a million things in my head. When I was younger, I always used to write. I remember being 12 and wanting to publish a book, since it’s a quicker way to tell a story. For instance, if you write ‘a massive city’, you’ll think of a massive city immediately, but with art, it’ll take probably 3 days to illustrate the same. I’ve done some writing before and its enjoyable, I also restarted my blog and have been at it now. Music is also a big thing in my household because my dad had his own little indie record label. I would love to be a musician, but can’t sing for shit but I would love to incorporate music into my art in some way. I would love for all my interests like animation, film, music, design etc to be incorporated into my art somehow.

What defines you more - Old school or Tech Geek?

Definitely old school. Nothing beats having your pens and paints out, and drawing something, creating a tangible thing. But I do like experimenting with digital techniques like photoshop or drawing on a photo digitally. For me I’m a lot better doing anything by hand, I’m not too good with drawing digitally.

Since I’m a firm believer in sustainability and environmental justice, I’d love to know if you are too and if you feel being sustainable in today’s times and even in the future is the way to go. If yes, how do you live or practice being eco conscious in the tiniest bit possible?

I 100% believe in it, right now admittedly its not a big part of my life. But I do want to incorporate it more in my life. I do small things like I’d take a rucksack shopping and have a little-to-no dairy intake, even though I do love my cheese. I try not to buy things I don’t need. I’ll recycle everything I can, but there are times I do waste a crap ton of paper, being an artist. It is tricky at times and I’m trying to find alternatives to it. There is a long way to go for me if I have to take the sustainable artist route. But I believe if everyone makes even 2-3 conscious choices, it’ll make a whole world of difference.

Thank you for doing this with me, Scott! This was amazingly insightful and I'm so sure it would be for our readers as well.

You're an absolute treasure. :)


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