This freelance illustrator from St. John’s counts Google and Nokia among her clients

A woman in jean jacket walking down street lined with lit up lanterns.
Freelance illustrator Geri Coady’s artwork is inspired by Japan. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, she would usually travel there once a year. (Submitted by Geri Coady)

In January, Geri Coady boarded a plane from the U.K. on a trip to Japan.

She’s a long way off from St. John’s, where she grew up doodling.

The freelance illustrator’s destination was a small café called Shirankedo in Itami, a city in Hyogo Prefecture. She was there to see her own handiwork: the café’s logo, menu and business cards.

Though she did the café design a few years ago, it wasn’t until January that she was finally able to board a plane to Japan and visit due to the country’s strict COVID-19 policy.

“That was absolutely amazing, to just walk down the street, get out of the train, look at my map, walk down the street and just kind of see my branding there,” said Coady, who lives in Nottingham, U.K.

Growing up in St. John’s, Coady said, she was “always drawing.” When her home got a computer, she started working with digital art as well, and she took a lot of art courses at her high school.

A brick storefront with a sign that says Shirankedo, featuring a squirrel mascot.
Earlier this year, Coady was finally able to visit a café, Shirankedo, that hired her to do design work. (Submitted by Geri Coady)

While her art teacher tried to convince her to go to art school, she didn’t want to be a fine artist — which is what she thought art school would set her up for. She was also interested in technology.

Years later she said she learned about art programs that prepare graduates for work in graphic design, advertising and marketing.

After high school Coady attended the College of the North Atlantic and left with diplomas in computer systems and networking, graphic design and print production technology.

Eventually she ended up as the Idea Factory’s art director. In 2013 she left that position to launch her own freelance business, and two years later she relocated to the U.K., where her husband is from.

She can remember the exact moment she decided to make the leap to freelancing. She was in the U.K. attending a talk by a designer named Jessica Hische that encouraged people to find a fulfilling career. As soon as the talk ended, Coady had made up her mind to resign from her steady job and launch her own business.

Now her clients include companies like Google, Nokia, Scholastic UK and more recently, St. John’s-based SucSeed as the illustrator for its children’s book series.

Laughing, she said she can’t believe her career in computers and design led her to her own freelancing business.

“I’m definitely over the moon. Of course it would be kind of hard to believe. But yeah, it’s definitely a fulfilling career in many ways.”

Geri draws Japan

Coady said she considers her work as an illustrator different from an artist.

“Illustration is more like problem-solving because I’m working with clients and illustration tends to have a goal.”

On top of her freelance design work, Coady has a creative outlet in a side-passion project, Geri Draws Japan, that she started in 2017. She creates art prints, stationery and goods inspired by Japanese culture that she sells online and at events.

“I do my client work, but I also love the fact that I get the chance to create my own prints and paint designs, stationary, greeting cards, all sorts of things,” she said.

She said being a freelancer gives her the choice of who she takes on as clients. Some of those early clients were from Canada, the U.S. and U.K.

“I really enjoy having the freedom to kind of pick and choose who I want to work with,” said Coady.

One of her recent projects was working on children’s books for hydroponics social enterprise SucSeed. Working with the St. John’s company appealed to her because of its focus on social responsibility, she said.

A pin of a green bird against a pink blossoming tree.
In 2017, Coady launched Geri Draws Japan: art prints, pins, stationery and goods inspired by Japanese culture that she sells online and at events. (Submitted by Geri Coady)

A 2019 residency at Almost Perfect gallery in Tokyo, which concluded with her first exhibition, is her career highlight, she said.

“To have my own exhibition in the country that inspired me the most, is absolutely a dream come true,” Coady said.

As an illustrator she doesn’t have the same connection as artists have to the art world, she said.

“To be able to kind of go out of my comfort zone and do something like that was really fantastic.”

Living in the U.K. has also been helpful to her career, she said, because travelling abroad is easier and networking can lead to new jobs.

Freelancing has given her the freedom to select her clients and choose what she wants to make, said Coady.

“That’s just been a dream come true, really. I really love that I’m able to do that as a stage in my career.”

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