Justin Poulter’s Valentines Interview

A Valentines Date with Justin Poulter, legendary freelance illustrator…

Valentine’s Day can get a bit of a bad wrap sometimes; all the red glitter and tacky Valentine’s slogans can be a bit much… But love it or hate it, it is a great excuse to celebrate those around you and spread some extra joy. 

We took a gander through our little black book of contacts this Valentines Day and picked out some trend-setting creatives to interview. These creatives were chosen because they are advocates for amazing team work; Fahud Ahmed is a motion design legend and mentor extraordinaire and Sophie Cullinane is a leader on creative projects that utilise a whole breadth of talents. But first let’s talk to Justin Poulter…

Justin Poulter is an illustrator and art director from Cape Town, SA. He has some very big names on his client list; from Coca-Cola to Britannica Books. His work is an absolute treasure trove of colour and character, bound to brighten even the greyest of days. Currently represented by Jelly London, Justin’s studio is based in East London. 

Justin Poulter's Noodles Illustration

FreshMeet: We’d love it if you could tell us a little bit about your journey into this industry to give us some context for this interview!

Justin: I had my heart set on an internship or junior position at an illustration studio based in Cape Town that had been a huge influence on me. I’d been skipping class to freelance for them towards the end of my time at Uni. Unfortunately, when I graduated they gave the position to someone else so instead I decided to start my own company with a friend from Uni. This went surprisingly well and we began getting regular work mainly in advertising. 

After about two years running this small company I decided I needed mentorship, so I sent an email to my favourite studio in the world at the time ilovedust not expecting to hear back. Eventually I did hear back, and after a few emails I bought a ticket and relocated to Portsmouth, UK. This was my first time out of the country I grew up in.

FreshMeet: It’s always a learning curve joining the creative industries and finding out about so many new companies and options that are out there. As a junior designer, which agencies did you have a crush on?

Justin: Ilovedust was my first full time junior position and was also my favorite company at the time. I learnt a lot about the process during this time, working under a lot of pressure with a high turn around of jobs. I still highly value this experience and feel that I do still work in ways that I learnt then.

FreshMeet: So much of working as a creative is working in teams, bouncing thoughts off of one another to reach new ideas. Which artist or designer would you love to collaborate with this year?

Justin: The thing I miss the most about working in a company is the collaborative aspect. I’m lucky to share a studio with some amazing illustrators that I do bounce things off often and vice versa. 

I would love to collaborate with an animator this year on a typographic project. I particularly like the work of Stephen Ong, he makes things move in a way that seems like it would work well with my illustration and lettering style.

FreshMeet: If you were only allowed to fill your home with artwork by one artist, which artist would you choose?

Justin: That’s a really tough question! There are too many artists that I love, but if I had to name one I like a lot at the moment I would say Bill Rebholz. I love his naive and distorted characters combined with really good lettering styles.

FreshMeet: Mentors come in many shapes and sizes, from line-managers to distant inspirations. What do you think makes a good mentor?

Justin: I think a good mentor is someone who is both critical and encouraging. Someone that truly believes in your work and abilities. I’ve been lucky to work under some great creative directors. 

Justin Poulter Sticker Designs

FreshMeet: Can you name a recent graduate, junior or fresh talent that you think will go far in the future?

Justin: Alva Skog who is also repped by Jelly. I love her style, it’s unique and brilliant. She’s been getting some awesome commissions and her work keeps getting better!

FreshMeet: People often joke about having a ‘work wife’, ‘work husband’ or ‘partner in crime’, which of your peers or colleagues is a truly supportive beacon? And what do you think it takes to form a great team at work?

Justin: My agents at Jelly London have been hugely supportive on every project I’ve done with them. Very proud to be on their roster. Jelly handling the administrative side of jobs leaves me all the time I need to dedicate to creating the best work I can. I also share a studio with an illustrator called Pate (Paul Pateman). We often bounce ideas off each other and share thoughts and criticisms of each other’s work. An extra set of eyes on your work helps a lot when you’re working on your own.


justin Poulter mega rides illustration

FreshMeet: Are you still in love with what you do? And if so, how have you maintained a healthy relationship with your work?

Justin: Absolutely. I think keeping yourself creatively stimulated when work is quiet is really important. Using personal projects to explore new styles, mediums or ideas is crucial for personal growth. Even if you don’t share the work with anyone, giving yourself room to experiment will only benefit you.

FreshMeet: Have you ever burnt out, or fallen out of love with this industry? If so, what brought you back?

I’m not sure if I’ve ever truly burnt out, but I have been over worked before. As a freelancer not knowing when your next project will come in, it’s easy to take on too many projects at once. It’s important to trust your gut feeling and to know your worth when deciding to take on a project. If you do decide to work for less than you would usually charge, make it clear that you are doing this and only do it if the project is meaningful to you. 

FreshMeet: And lastly, what message would you give to any new-talent (such as a recent grad) trying to enter the industry on how to approach their dream careers? 

Try to think of your work in a commercial sense. In other words, how your work could be used by potential clients. Always take care in presenting your work. If you are thinking of going freelance, familiarise yourself with the administrative aspects of running a business. Good relationships with colleagues and clients are crucial. And of course, always look to improve your work and process!

Thanks to Justin for taking part in this interview! As a freelance illustrator your time is precious and it means a lot to our community that legends like you take the time to spread advice and support! 

If you enjoyed Justin’s interview then you might enjoy our Valentines Day interview with Fahud Ahmed, Motion Design Director and Mentoring Expert. Or perhaps, Sophie Cullinane, a leader on creative projects that utilise a whole breadth of talents.