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Insight from an Illustrator

Being a freelancer means I sit at home, in the studio, a lot. I love the nature of my work, but sometimes I go a little stir crazy with only my own thoughts spinning through my head. Sure, I listen to podcasts, videos on YouTube and read blog posts for instruction and/or inspiration; but those only go so far. The immediate connection I feel when speaking with another artist (especially about art) is vastly different.

I love talking to other artists. I admire their observations and points of view because they are different from my own. Their experience and advice has helped me break through a lot of roadblocks sooner and (I think) more successfully than I would have been able to without them. I am so grateful for their time.

Recently, I was speaking with Alice Ratteree. She is an amazing artist whose work I am incredibly fond of. If you aren’t familiar with it and don’t understand why I’m gushing check this out.

Anyway, we were discussing art as a career she revealed that she just accepted a full time position with the Arts Council in her town. I was shocked. For someone (me!) whose ultimate dream is to be a full time, freelance artist, I couldn’t understand why a fellow creative would go to work for the man.

She explained she’d spent three years as a full time freelancer overworking herself creatively by saying “yes” to any project that came her way. This didn’t leave very much time for projects she felt passionate about because she would be creatively drained at the end of every day. “Working freelance 7 hours a day, 5 (or more) days a week takes a physical and mental toll.” She also mentioned that some of her work felt rushed and she hated that. She is so dedicated to her craft that she wants the flexibility to give her work the time it needs to be the best it can be.

As she was saying this, red flags began cropping up. Feelings of scarcity have been plaguing me lately and I have been saying “yes” to anything that comes my way no matter how I feel about it because I want to be sure I can pay all the bills. I mean, I have to survive right? However, I have noticed I take less breaks and I am more and more drained at the end of each day.

So having a full time gig totally works for her. It might work for some of you too and that’s awesome; but a lot of us (me!) don’t have that sweet set up. So how can we work the system so that we can pay our bills while still doing what we love to do?

Work smarter!

First, figure out what it is you love to draw. You should only be submitting work that you want to do (this was mind blowing information for me). Do you love to draw animals? Great! Create a series of animals that includes 8-10 pieces that all fit together as a collection. People respond to repetition and it shows that you’ve mastered a subject.

Next, find ways to connect with real people. Social media is awesome and it works for a lot of people, but it lacks the immediate connection of speaking face to face. It’s more difficult to see your eyes light up when you talk about what you love if you’re posting to Facebook or Twitter than if you’re sitting across from someone. Alice was telling me that she met a local magazine editor at a local conference and ended up inviting her to lunch. She brought her portfolio to the table (literally) and has been illustrating for them ever since! Be authentic and you will shine because your passion is infectious.

Finally, do the work! If you are just starting out spend 2-4 hours every day making stuff! Experiment. Play. Think about what you want to send as a promo or a dream project that you would love to get paid to do and just do it! You don’t need permission or a company deadline to light a fire under your butt. In the words of Alice Ratteree, “If you stick with it and do these things, something will eventually emerge.”

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