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a vulnerable blogpost.

If I’d read these words a year ago, they would have hit me in the gut. Rather than use this post as a measuring stick for your own creative career, use it as proof that the world is surging with opportunity. Being a freelance illustrator is such an adventure. Let me prove it to you:

On Monday, I received an email with the headline, “Congratulations 2024 Winner” from The Communication Arts. I read the message three times before it sunk in: I was one of seventeen winners in the 2024 Communication Arts Illustration Competition. There were over 3,500 entries, and I was top seventeen.

I’d never put much stock into art competitions, but this one was different—my work would be featured in the Communication Arts Annual and mailed to publishers around the world. I was stoked.

That same day, my classmates and I set up our gallery show in London. I’ve had a gallery mishap before, but despite the nerves everything went well. Our tutors repeatedly proclaimed that the Cambridge School of Art Children’s Book Showcase was a “highly anticipated event for London publishers.” We were giddy thinking of what the week would bring.

The next day I received an Instagram DM from the senior editor at one of the largest book publishers in the UK and United States. They were responsible for many of my favorite childhood books, so I could barely believe my eyes when I read: “Audrey! I just saw your gallery show - absolutely stunning artwork. Would you like to stop by the office for a meeting?” I nearly did a flip.

The next morning I hopped on a train to London and walked to their office. It was unlike any publishing house I’d ever seen. Firstly, it had multiple floors: Floor 1- Children’s Books and Gift Books, Floor 2- Cafeteria and Marketing, Floor 3- Middle Grade Fiction, Floor 4- Adult Fiction, Floor 5, Floor 6, etc. When I entered the waiting room (they had a waiting room!) I signed a privacy agreement on an iPad. I sat on a couch surrounded with floor-to-ceiling shelves of my favorite books. They had art on the walls larger than my kitchen. I didn’t know offices like this existed. 

The editor greeted me, took me up to the cafeteria, and introduced me to two other ladies. We ate snacks, talked about midcentury art, our favorite children’s books, Europe, and my experience doing an MA in Cambridge. I spread my work out and they poured over it, saying things like, “This line is so good,” or “This shape is so thoughtful.” I was in corporate heaven. I told them about my goal to write a children’s book every week in 2024 and pulled out my stash of stories. They eagerly read my creations. The editor asked me for PDF versions of all my graduate work, and told me we’d “be in touch.” I left feeling like I’d won the lottery. 

Hours after her initial DM, a prominent magazine my family has received for years asked to interview me and feature my art in an upcoming issue. When it rains, it pours.

My mood is very attached to my monthly cycle, and I knew my Progesterone and Estrogen would be crashing the day of the Private Viewing. On these days, I’ve learned to take it easy (work less, stretch more, and eat a cheese sandwich). But there was no avoiding the private viewing. 

Everything would culminate on Thursday night. All our hard work, and all our school’s connections would coalesce. On top of that, our course tutors would give a few lucky students the “printmaking award,” the “iSeek” award, and the prestigious “Walker Book Prize.” I probably said a dozen prayers on the train.

Thursday night came. I clung to my classmates, collected postcards, and was acutely aware of my shallow breathing and a knot in my stomach. I couldn’t stop biting my lip and I struggled to relax. 

“ILLUSTRATORS. AUTHORS. EVERYONE. IT’S TIME FOR THE AWARDS.” About one-hundred of us illustrators, agents, and publishers crowded around the tutors. They divvied out the printmaking awards and the “iSeek” award. We clapped and eagerly awaited the announcement for the coveted “Walker Book Prize.” “Walker Books” is one of the UK’s largest and best publishing houses. They’re known for their unique artistic children’s books that put illustrators’ happiness first.

The “Walker Books” lady read from a sheet, boisterously explaining the legacy of Sebastian Walker and the mission of their publishing house. She held a golden envelope above her head. “A one-thousand pound prize!” She exclaimed. “We give this to the best illustrator here. Whoever receives this award is the best in your class.” We were all ears. She glanced at her list. “This year was extremely competitive. We were seriously debating between seven students. It was so neck-in-neck, that I just have to mention some people before we give the award. Where’s Audrey Day?”

I raised my hand and felt tears well up in my eyes. The whole gallery turned towards me and my classmates excitedly whispered their congrats. “Audrey, we love the stillness and softness of your art. It’s simply stunning and you will be making books.” I cursed my hormones and swallowed really hard. Sometimes it’s hard to be the honorable mention. She then read the names of two of my classmates (I was in such a trance I don’t even remember who they were). I left soon after and bought a cheese sandwich.

The next day, I woke up to an email from another heavy-hitting UK publisher: 

“Hi Audrey! I loved your gallery show. I’m sure you’re swimming in inquiries from agents and publishers. I was wondering if you might like to drop by our London office to discuss possibly working together.”

I was bouncing off the walls.

The “Friends and Family Night” was the exact opposite of Thursday. I spent most of the day laughing with friends, and making little videos of my classmates’ exhibits. Some of our best friends from Cambridge navigated the wonky train routes to London just to see my exhibit! I felt so loved. When it ended, I took down my art and carefully walked it home in the pouring rain (after taking everyone to Five Guys of course). 

That night, I casually flipped through the pages of my message book. I was about to throw it in the back of a drawer when something caught my eye: 


We love your graphic-novel type work and especially your horses. Let’s chat! 


The Biggest Publisher You Could Ever Hope to Know

At this point I felt like I was peering through a window at someone else’s life. I excitedly crafted an email arranging to meet the following week.

A year-and-a-half ago, I was scared of a lot of things. I worried about our finances living abroad. I worried my program wouldn’t lead to any unique opportunities. I worried I’d leave England with a degree and nothing else. When we introduced ourselves, I’d catch myself justifying why we were here, as if to say “Don’t worry, we’re taking the safe route. Being here makes sense.” Meanwhile thinking “This is terrifying. Are we gonna be okay?” 

Pursuing children’s book illustration felt so indulgent. I loved my work so much I couldn’t help but think it would end. The real world can’t be like this. A lot of people are slogging through jobs they hate, and here I am drawing pictures all day. Eventually the world will say, “Alright, you had some fun. But now it’s time for you to get a real job.” Right?

Graduating from The Cambridge School of Art, I stared down my worries. It was time to see if the real world had room for another starry-eyed artist. Through the course of the show, publisher meetings and interviews, my anxieties were crushed to bits then thrown off a cliff. The world will always have room for passionate, hard-working people.

Two of my best friends signed with agents the first day of the gallery show. Publishers from the ranks of Simon & Shuster were tucking their business card in students’ message books. When flipping through a friend’s story, I was surprised by the words “project acquired” on the back cover. The world is dripping in opportunity.

Most board-games can’t be won by skill alone– they require an element of luck. If success follows similar laws, then we have to rely on some of this board-game serendipity in our own lives. We can’t control the number we roll– just how often we roll the dice.

“Most people miss opportunity because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” –Thomas Edison

Through the publisher meetings, train-rides, and ceremonies of the week, I realized I hadn’t made any art. I missed my everyday work and was excited to sit at my desk and make something. Recognition once in awhile is fun because it means you’re affecting people. But the extreme, sporadic highs of recognition are nothing when compared with the steady, constant high of doing the work every day. 

I wasn’t happiest receiving congratulations for my year-and-a-half of master’s work. I was happiest doing my year-and-a-half of master’s work.

-Audrey Day

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I love this blog post. Your writing, just like your work is stunning!! So glad all your hard work is paying off. You deserve every accolade.


Amy Day
Amy Day
Feb 29

This is so, so amazing, and I am so, so excited for you!! 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻🙌🏻💛



Audrey, What an inspiring blog post! While we’re not at all surprised at the accolades you’re receiving, we’re nonetheless thrilled at what’s happening in your life! Cream always rises to the top.🥰 —your grandparents-in-law, Deane & Nancy Burbank

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