Making a difference as a freelance illustrator and a carer

Sabrina Bramble

Freelance writer, Mental Health at Work

Mental Health at Work has partnered with Simply Business to support the UK’s self-employed with their mental health and wellbeing. Together we surveyed more than 700 small business owners to understand their challenges. Now we want to start a conversation and break the stigma surrounding mental health at work.

Today we’re joined by Rikin Parekh a children’s book illustrator, who has recently hit the number one spot on The Booksellers list with The Worst Class in the World in Danger! in collaboration with author Joanna Nadin. We talked to him about being the primary carer for his mother, success after rejection, and why making children laugh is simply awesome.


What does a typical day look like for you, Rikin?

I help my Mum with anything she needs​Supporting working parents and carers Web page While everybody can have challenges in their lives, parents often face additional responsibilities and difficulties that can make their working lives harder. This web page suggests ways employers and managers can help parents in their organisation.Free By: Confederation of British Industry View resource in the morning, get her breakfast ready, lay out her clothes for when she has a shower, and prepare anything else she may need during the day. I then go to work at a primary school​Wellbeing for Educators PDF With the COVID-19 pandemic changing the way we live our lives day-to-day, these are difficult times to be working in the education sector. This guide from Bupa Foundation explores the concept of Personal Energy, which can help keep you feeling calm. Free By: Bupa Foundation View resource, come back and do lots of drawing.

Mum is disabled so I am her primary carer, it’s a huge juggling act for me illustrating and caring for her.

Can you finish this sentence? ‘The best and worst thing about being freelance​Freelancer Wellbeing Hub Web page Being a freelancer in the film and TV industry can come with a lot of uncertainty and pressure. The Film and TV Charity have created this site to help you to learn more about your mental health, and find out what you can do to improve it.Free By: Film and TV Charity View resource is…’

You’re able to work when you want, but there’s always a slight worry about where the next bit of income​Practical financial skills to manage money Web page This guide from Finty aims to equip you with money management skills and an understanding of the link between your health and finances.Free By: Finty View resource is going to come in.

It’s an industry all about ‘who you know’ not ‘what you know’

Like many of the arts, illustration can be extremely competitive. How long did it take you to get your big break?

After university, I freelanced in the film/TV industry​Mindful Monday with the Film and TV Charity Playlist or series Working in the TV and film industry can be rewarding, but it can be tough too. The film and TV Charity have partnered with Emma Mamo from Mind to bring you a series of videos on subjects you might find helpful.Free By: Film and TV Charity View resource as a Storyboard Artist/Creature/Concept Artist for about eight years. Work was hard to find as it’s an industry where it’s all about ‘who you know’ not ‘what you know’.

A good few years later I struck gold and got agented by my first Agent. I illustrated a couple of books with them but was subsequently let go because my style wasn’t selling enough, which made sense as I was still very new to children’s books.

How did you deal with that sort of rejection?

I felt sad but it was the right thing, as my portfolio needed to mature and become much stronger. I spent a good six months finessing my portfolio, and was so happy to be picked up by my current agent, the wonderful Claire Cartey of HolroydeCartey and have been on a lovely illustrating streak ever since!

A man begins to paint

Congratulations are in order, as both you and author Joanna Nadin recently got to number one in The Booksellers chart for children and young adult fiction with book The Worst Class in the World in Danger!. Why is laughter so important for kids?

Quite simply because it’s fun, and whatever’s fun makes us feel good, and laughing is just one of THE best things we can do to achieve this when there are grey clouds, and life is that little bit tough.

I love your work Rikin, and growing up I was completely obsessed with author illustrator Mo Willems. What or who got you fascinated in illustration?

That’s really kind and humbling, thank you! I was, and still am fascinated by a lot of comic book artists, John Buscema, Sal Buscema, John Romita. The old, classic comic book artists who drew Spider-Man and the Marvel characters. I try to collect original comic book art, when financially possible.

It’s so important that we see more people from ethnic backgrounds

World Book Day (WBD) was earlier this year. What does World Book Day mean to you? Any unforgettable costumes spring to mind?

WBD reminds us all to keep reading and enjoying wonderful characters and worlds created by people who love to read, write and draw. I think one unforgettable costume would be when I went to one school dressed as ‘Mr Bump’ – I was working it!

Tom Percival’s books tend to deal with our emotions​Emotional energy PDF This PDF guide from Unilever explains what emotional energy is, and how it interacts with your wellbeing.Free By: Unilever View resource in a beautifully simple way, whereas critically acclaimed Oliver Jeffers work explores humanity and the magic of storytelling. Do you think books can make a difference to how children think about themselves and others?

I think they can, but it’s more important that children can see themselves in those books, and that’s why it’s so important that we see more people from ethnic backgrounds​How to have difficult conversations about race at work Web page This web page and PDF guide from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) offers a detailed step-by-step process that you can use as a template for starting conversations about race in your workplace.Free By: CIPD View resource in the world of authors and illustrators.

A young girl reads a book.

Your work is filled with vibrant colour, whether it be funny alpacas or the children you illustrate in Fearless Fairytales. Being from Asian descent, is representation and the depiction of that in books important to you?

Representation is really important. When I began illustrating I never really noticed or was aware of many fellow authors or illustrators in either the film/TV world or children’s publishing. And when I did find one or two, I felt really good and felt that yes, I could do this too. I think, for future generations, there has to be more representation, it has to be this way.

World issues like war and environmental challenges are lot to contend with as an adult, let alone a child. Do you think art can help express the way a child could be feeling about the world?

I think art is the perfect way to help expression on all levels. It’s the first things we’re taught, to be creative, to pick up a pencil, brush, to use colour, to build, to express ourselves.

And lastly, did you illustrate your mum’s ‘Mother’s day’ card this year?

Ha! I must have when I was a child! She prefers flowers opposed to cards so we spoil her with flowers or exotic plants. A few years back we took her to Kew and she loved it, being pushed around in her wheelchair!

Thank you so much Rikin for sharing your story with us, it’s been a delight.

Visit Simply Business to find out more about the challenges facing the self-employed and small business owners, along with practical resources to support you.


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