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To celebrate International Women's Day, we're talking to some incredibly talented ladies about their careers, how they got there and their advice for young women. First up - Jennifer Darr. 

Jennifer is the mastermind behind French Connection's incredible illustration work - you'll find her artwork on our website, across social media and it also pops up in the occasional email. We caught up with Jennifer to chat all things inspiration, how current affairs affects and inspires her work and her biggest piece of advice for young, budding artists. 

Make sure to follow Jennifer on Instagram too.

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Tell us about the path to your chosen career. 

The path to my current career has been a little zig zag-y! I was born and raised in Brisbane, Australia, and being arty from day dot I chose to study degrees in both Fashion and Graphic Design. I was working as a Fashion Designer for an Australian label when, in 2014, my new husband and I decided to put life on pause and travel Europe for a few months as an extended honeymoon. Quite unexpectedly we fell in love with London and travelling and decided to give life a go on this side of the world!

It was at this moment that I was afforded the absolute luxury of a time out. Of space, to truly consider what I wanted from my life and my career. While I did enjoy parts of designing for fashion labels, I didn't ever feel like I could truly own the work I was putting out and to be honest I always found office environments quite stressful to work in. I (luckily) somehow ended up falling into a part time role with an online boutique based in London, who made use of my artist skills and from there I started to get requests for illustrations from the boutique customers and the rest is history!  We briefly moved back to Melbourne, Australia in 2016 and it was here that I went full-time freelance and also launched my online print store. Since relocating back to London again I have continued expanding my client base skills and I am working on designing more of my own products for my store.

Have there been any moments over the last few years that you’ve considered a turning point for your career?

My work is always drastically effected by my life and the cities I've lived in. Moving continents 3 times in as many years certainly gives you a broad view of people and cultures! As does my love of travel.  For me, I feel my work is quite often a reaction against any negativity or instability I sense. I like to create art which adds joy to a viewer, that might illicit a positive reaction and often aims to uplift or inspire. I use my art as a conduit for turning a negative into something beautiful and channel my emotions into something that may help others to see beauty in the world around them. In the current uncertain political climate its even more important for us to be spreading kindness and hope rather than falling into a spiral of worry and negativity.

What keeps you going and what makes you jump out of bed in the morning? What has been your proudest moment?

It's always an amazing feeling when a client is overwhelmingly pleased with my work. And nothing beats the feeling of creating something from nothing. Unlike my early career when many hands touched the projects I would work on, being a freelance Illustrator means I can often say "this is completely mine" that I can proud of something I've created.  I love that I can constantly learning new techniques or skills and that I'm never quite certain of whats going to be on my desk tomorrow. The thrill of the unknown and hope for the future keeps me coming back for more, it's brilliant that anyone can pop into my email inbox with a great collaboration or commission idea. I'm certainly never bored in this job!

Did you know straight away what you wanted to do or was it a case of trial and error for a few years to find your calling? We want to know everything!

I think I've always been "an artist" but for the longest time I just didn't believe my job title could also be "Artist". Unfortunately growing up I never had any role models or guidance to tell that it was a viable career. The old stereotype of a "starving artist" hung heavily over my impression of the profession and led me to move into the more commercial fields of Fashion and Graphic Design. It probably wasn't until the world of Instagram exploded that I finally saw every day people, every day women, actually carving a life for themselves from their art. It planted the seed for me that I could do the same.

What is the most valuable thing you have learnt from you career? 

That I can choose my path, and that nothing is out of reach with a little hard work, persistence and a bit of luck. Around the time we first moved to London my husband very wisely told to me not to over think my next move, just to take the first step and then figure it out as I went along. Over the years there have definitely been moments of "Jump and build wings on the way down", its taught me its okay not to have a detailed plan as long as I am evolving and putting in the work.

Are there any particular women or female entrepreneurs that have inspired you and why? 

It's a wonderful time to be a female entrepreneur right now and there are countless women that I would say inspire me. Creatively, the female artists I find most inspiring are my contemporaries that I've connected with via social media. Having a little creative community to rely on and swap feedback and advice with is invaluable.

Where do you most commonly find inspiration? How do you keep your ideas original and fresh?

A great deal of my inspiration comes from the immediate world around me, it could be as mundane as the weather changing or people watching, but I'm often influenced by my travels and everyday observations in London. I always have a book lying around half read and a good stack of magazines too. Of course working from home I spend a great deal of time online so Pinterest and Instagram provide a constant scrolling stream of inspiration, as do old movies and the music I listen to. 

I've found the best way to keep my ideas fresh is to execute them as they come along, if I follow through and create something then I can keep moving on to searching for 'the new'. Otherwise if I hold on to an idea for too long it becomes almost like a block for any new inspiration.

Do you have any specific advice for young women with regards to their career? 

Try to find your passion and don't be afraid to dance to your own beat and perhaps most importantly; just start. I spent far too many years thinking I "couldn't" do this or "couldn't" do that and it wasn't until I started taking action that I really got anywhere. Especially with art - it pays to make mistakes and the only way to get better is to practice. If you can, I'd also try and find a mentor or someone you can rely on for advice. I certainly wish I'd had someone there to guide me on the business side of things when I started up, but as I said previously, the best way to go is just to take things one step at a time and the path will reveal itself as you go.

And finally, how do you think female entrepreneurs can continue to help and support each other?

It's wonderful to see a shift in focus to female artists & entrepreneurs recently. Social Media has given a voice and a platform to women who perhaps would have been previously drowned out in a male dominated field. Fortunately for me, my experience in the creative industries has been largely impacted by women and I've seen the amazing things that can happen when we cheer each other on. Community over comparison! I think its sometimes forgotten that there's plenty of room for everyone to have their own version of success and a supportive community mindset goes a long way to empowering women. For younger generations the visibility and accessibility to female role models in particular is a wonderful thing and I hope this movement of sisterhood and solidarity continues to grow.

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