IDI Student Success Stories: Sally Barnett

Here at IDI we love to see our former students achieve success. Recently, we caught up with BA (Hons) Illustration graduate Sally Barnett who has been commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery and the National Trust (Montacute House) to fully illustrate and design their Portrait Family Trail Easter 2018 to Autumn 2019.

We previously interviewed Sally in 2017, where she discussed her inspirations and her IDI experience as part of her graduation.


Because I began thinking I was already a professional designer, during the earlier stages of my degree course, I found the transition of moving from student to professional, an undaunting move. I feel this is one of the most important steps that I took in the whole process. Mentally, it seems like a huge academic step from wannabe Illustrator to professional designer, but it was actually more of a change in attitude; the stamp of approval.
Sally Barnett
BA (Hons) Illustration

I am an Illustrator and a member of the Association of Illustrators. I specialise in book illustration and book cover design for children’s or adult fiction, working with pen and ink, coloured inks, photographic textures and digital illustration. I also enjoy creating the narrative one can explore within album cover artwork.

Studying with IDI has given me an insight into the business of illustration and to hone my illustrative skills so that they are more in tune with what clients are looking for in a professional Illustrator.

I have enjoyed the journey of becoming a much stronger, happier Illustrator and with the support of the IDI staff and IDI students from around the world, not only have I succeeded beyond my expectations within the field of illustration, but also my life has been enriched.

Because I began thinking I was already a professional designer, during the earlier stages of my degree course, I found the transition of moving from student to professional, an undaunting move. I feel this is one of the most important steps that I took in the whole process. Mentally, it seems like a huge academic step from wannabe Illustrator to professional designer, but it was actually more of a change in attitude; the stamp of approval.

I started accepting freelance design work online and locally, during my first year. During the IDI online degree course, a student creates so much research and development work and completed artwork for real industry briefs and to a high standard, during your learning stage, it makes more sense to ‘be’ a professional.

I began my degree following a diagnosis of a long-term condition called fibromyalgia. I had to resign from being a civil engineer because I was not well enough to do the job anymore; it was too physically and mentally demanding. But I was determined I was not going to sit in a corner and feel sorry for myself. So I began the online part-time degree course with IDI, in the same year. It was not easy, I will not lie, even as a part-time student. At many stages, I wanted to give up and very nearly did. But I am so so glad that I carried on. I knew that if I had given up, I would have regretted it and that would have been far worse. The IDI team were very understanding during this stage.

I manage my condition as best as I can; it does not manage me. Working freelance suits me perfectly as I decide when to work and when not to. I have enjoyed every single day of being a professional Designer/Illustrator. I put in long hours to complete a project, but the work is therapeutic. And so far, my clients have been fantastic, so it has been a pleasure to work with them to achieve their goals.


Congratulations on being commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery and the National Trust (Montacute House) to fully illustrate and design their Portrait Family Trail 2018-2020.

How did this come about?

I was contacted out of the blue by National Trust and on behalf of NPG who had requested that I be considered for the contract. I had never created a tender before but was determined I was going to create one for this contract and make it good because offers like this do not come around often.

Montacute House Family Trail booklet, showing the two characters that will guide the visitors on their journey around Montacute House.

Do you feel like your experience with IDI helped you prepare for opportunities such as this?

Yes absolutely, they gave me the ‘know how’ and confidence to believe in myself as a professional.

Tell us some more about the illustrations you created for the Montacute House Family Trail?

On my initial meeting with National Trust, it was understood that the purpose was to inform visitors about who the people in the portraits were, their story, as well as teaching children and adults how to ‘read’ paintings. Also, to keep children and adults interested and active whilst other adults had time to look at the portraits and read the information provided in the House. Additionally, I also wanted the booklet to be relevant once the visitors had left Montacute House, allowing them to continue exploring and colouring/drawing after they returned home.

I had great fun hiding objects in the pages, one pattern may appear as friendly creatures, some characters appear hidden within the textures and patterns. The spyglass was used throughout the booklet as a point of reference; advising the visitors of historical information about the portraits or providing friendly helpful advice.

All images were hand drawn using pen and ink. The textures and patterns used in the illustrations were taken from the house itself, photographed and digitally manipulated. The drawings were then scanned into Adobe software and digitally enhanced.

This year marks 100 years since the 1918 expansion of Women’s suffrage in the UK, and 90 years since women were granted the vote on the same terms as men.

How does it feel to be involved in creative projects based on this milestone?

Amazing. I am so proud. I am determined to make my work relevant.

A close-up of ‘Jack’ the monkey peering through a spyglass, on the front cover.

There is an increased number of women studying design courses. However, there is still a gender imbalance in senior positions in the industry.

Do you think more should be done to push towards equality within the creative industries?

I think this starts at an early age; both girls and boys need help to believe in themselves. I would love to be part of a campaign to help children build confidence or address anxieties because finding confidence is hard work.

A blue parrot accompanies Jack around the House. All colour and textures throughout booklet were created digitally.

You previously mentioned Somerset has a very strong and supportive arts community; do you feel that there are opportunities for smaller creative hubs to grow and develop their presence?

I cannot comment elsewhere but there is support in Somerset, not just for individual/small groups of ‘creatives’ but basically anyone with a good idea for event organising, campaigning or other, has potential to gain support from the community and people are keen to get involved with small projects, in order to help them grow or to give them the platform they need.

The spyglass with parrot inside, helping children and adults how to explore the House.

Are there any other projects that you would like to see yourself getting involved with in future?

I would love to design a book cover and book illustrations for Folio Society or Penguin. Also, I would love to collaborate with revered artists in an Arts installation project.

Previously you mentioned your love of music and illustration, is this an angle of creativity you would like to develop further in future?

I am presently designing album covers as well as book covers; I love the narrative I can create in both. But I would also like to help present classical music to a younger audience by using illustrated books or animation, to accompany the music. I am therefore keen to explore animation.

Book cover (front, spine and back) illustration for Frome Writer’s Collective poetry anthology. Published 2018

You’ve had quite a range of different roles in various industries, including engineering!

What has it been like having such big changes in career direction?

I like challenges and I have never thought that there is a job I cannot do; I just have to prove this to the employer. So big changes are part of my life. However, I expect there is probably some psychological explanation about my ongoing need to prove myself.

Do you have any advice for students who are considering a design course with IDI?

It will give you the confidence you need to call yourself a Professional Designer or a Professional Illustrator, rather than creating artwork but feeling as though you are not good enough to call yourself professional, as was the case for me.

Album cover illustration for private client – yet to be published

So, what’s next for you?

This year, I would like to complete and publish my self-authored/illustrated picture book. It was my final major project for my BA (Hons) and it would be empowering to finish it as it surrounds a subject close to my heart: mental health.

Also, I am exhibiting my illustration work at the Frome Publisher’s Fair this July and I have just started to apply for national/international illustration competitions, i.e. World Illustration Awards.

But my long-term plan is in book illustration.

Selection of pen and ink images, some published within Dark Lane Anthologies. Published 2014-2018

If you would like to see more examples of Sally’s work, visit her website or Graduate Degree Show profile. Sally is also a member of the Association of Illustrators and an active blogger.

Also, our previous interview with Sally is available here.


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