Piera Cirefice is an Irish illustrator, who graduated from Falmouth University. Her love for the outdoors fuels her travel reportage work. Through en plein air watercolours and sketches she hopes to capture the atmosphere of the living landscape. Drawing on the natural environment Piera also uses traditional materials and techniques to address contemporary issues. With an emphasis on fluidity of line and mark makings she hopes to create sense of atmosphere and emotional evocativeness within her work.

We chatted to Piera about her startup and her move from her Graduate Residency at Blick Studios.

What made you decide to set up your business?

I’ve always known I’ve wanted to do something creative as a living since I was young and studying Illustration as a degree really cemented my determination to make it a reality. After travelling and working for a year after graduating I finally decided to take the step to becoming self-employed and establishing my business as an Illustrator. For me the advantages of being my own boss and doing what I am most passionate about was too great to ignore!

What’s the hardest thing you’ve faced since setting up, and how did you overcome it?

I have stumbled across a lot of challenges so far, but I feel you learn far more when you are confronted with these challenges. The hardest part I’ve found so far, however, is having the confidence and self-belief in yourself, as sometimes it can feel like you’re going into a downward spiral of self-doubt when it’s just yourself you have to rely on. However, tackling these doubts head on has really forced me to address those issues, and in turn given me the self- belief I need to make this business work. Building up that confidence and self-belief bit by bit is therefore how I try to overcome those internal obstacles within myself. Realising that you are the maker of your own fate/the only person holding yourself back is also something I’ve found incredibly empowering (in terms of breaking down these barriers of self-doubt).

What are you most proud of so far in your career, any highlights you’d like to share?

It doesn’t sound that exciting or glamorous, but for me the biggest highlight so far has been how positive and supportive my customers have been towards my work- especially the response I have received form my Mourne Mountain series, as this is a place very close to my heart. To receive emails of people taking photos of my enamel mug in the mournes really makes me thrilled- knowing that people are getting out and about in that beautiful landscape and enjoying my product whilst they do so! Taking on more bespoke commissions is also hugely rewarding as it’s a very personal piece for the customer/the recipient, so being able to capture something which has a deeper meaning/sentiment attached to it (be it a landscape or portrait) is a very fulfilling thing.

How have you found dealing with a new regime and having to separate work-life/home-life, do you have any tips or advice you’d like to share?

I think for anyone working as self-employed the separation between work-life/home-life can be one of the most challenging aspects, as you’re business does become a bit all-consuming and so it is very hard to switch off from that- especially when you’re starting out, like myself. As my working week is constantly changing I found it is challenging to establish a clear work schedule.  

Having said that, however, I’ve been fortunate enough to have a studio space with Blick Studios as part of their Graduate in Residence Programme and so that has proven incredibly beneficial for my practice. Having a separate space designated for work has been really important for establishing clear boundaries with regards to work-life/home-life. However, I found discipline and motivation are vital to help keep you’re working days on track, not just for work but also for knowing when to stop and switch off.

I feel this can only be effective if it’s employed and practiced so, as a routine can be established, it's something I am continually trying to work on.

A nice diary/planner or two wouldn’t go amiss as well!

Do you have any advice for those who are just starting up their new business?

I feel the main thing is to believe in yourself and your business (easier said than done I know!) But I feel it comes down to self-belief, and as women, I do believe we’re not encouraged enough by society to practice this in our every-day life. So, it’s about owning our agency and acknowledging our capabilities, unique skills and embracing the strength that stems from that. 

On a more boring note keeping track of your finances and documenting everything from an early stage, so as you have a clear idea of where your business is at, and enough reliable data for making financial forecasts is a huge help.

You've been residing at Blick Studios as part of their Graduate in Residence Programme for the last six months, what's your next step?

I don’t actually have another step planned, which I think is quite exciting! As my business is in its early stages I am trying not to hold it down with any pre-conceived ideas of where I see myself, rather wait to see how it will evolve and pan out, then see what step to then take from there.

But for now, the plan is to just keep creating and working at what I love. I am also working on a new body of work on the Causeway Coast which I will be launching in the next few months, and am very excited about!