So here we are. The year may not be entirely over, but we’re approaching the end of my first year as a freelancer. A lot has happened this year and it’s been quite a challenge! Of course, it’s been a crazy year in general. Like stepping into another world. First, we had the wildfires in Australia, then coronavirus, and now the massive anti racism protests in America and beyond. The world seems to be at the brink of taking a big step – whether forward or backward, I’m not sure.
While I’ve always been politically interested, I never really made politically engaged work. I find it challenging to represent my feelings and thoughts in a single image, without losing the nuance and sensitivity that political issues demand. My work often aims to bring some happiness and good cheer to the world. That feels a little bit superficial now, compared to how some other artists are using images. I have a lot of respect for people who can communicate political issues in an impactful way. I’m not capable of that, but I try to stay aware of the small things I can do as a visual artist and to read up about the issues.
It’s been a strange, big, wide-ranging year and I’m not sure how I feel about it. I’ve been reflecting on the situation and thinking about everything. I’ve realized I’m in a kind of limbo. Many things I’d been looking forward to have been cancelled. Although I’m a genuine introvert and I don’t need a ton of social contact to survive, I’ve been struggling with this nagging sense of “and now what?” How am I supposed to network without being able to attend events with other illustrators? How do I sell prints without art markets? It’s difficult to make real connections now, since everything is still online. I’m missing a sense of progress; I feel like I’ve stagnated, and everything seems to be on hold.
So I’ve been focusing on the things that I can do. I’m updating my website again. I’m really trying to figure out how potential customers navigate on my website. I’m not happy with the way it is now, so I’m changing things up to be more mindful of that. Increasingly, I try to look at my work from an entrepreneurial perspective. What does my portfolio look like? What am I missing? What kinds of commissions would I like to do? I’m working on some illustrations to cover my bases: I don’t often draw animals or food, but I’m doing it now, so that potential clients can see I have those skills, as well. Generally, as far as commissions go, it’s not going too badly. I got my first big illustration commission from a well-known national organization. Before I sent in my quotation, I tried to get information from many different sources. It’s great that there are online forums where you can ask more experienced illustrators for advice.
Pricing your work is incredibly tricky when you’re just starting out. Especially since this isn’t necessarily something you focus on at the academy, and you don’t have much experience with guessing how long a project will take. I’ve noticed I’m starting to get a clearer idea of what is a fair price. Three good tips I got were:
Ask what you think is fair, plus 15% safety margin.
It’s better to ask too much and end up negotiating, than it is to ask too little.
Don’t try to calculate your hours exactly, but settle on a project price. The actual time you’ll spend will vary from project to project.
So there is some progress after all. Other than that, I’m thinking about all the steps I took this year. There have been quite a few, after all. I’m glad I have my own studio now. At the start of the year, that’s one thing I really wanted. And it does make a difference. I can concentrate better, I feel more serious about my work. And I am more productive, there are way fewer distractions than at home, and I have a good desk chair, so less pain in my back (top tip: get a laptop standard! Way better for your neck). Now I’m working on a reliable income from illustrating, that was the second goal I set for myself. For now, I still have a part-time job, but it would be awesome to be able to live off my creative work. I’d also still like to move to Utrecht, ideally as soon as possible, but that will probably take a little time. I hope I can find a place that allows me to focus entirely on my illustrating career, where I have enough space and a supportive community.
I would love to eventually make more expansive work. I’m really focused on my path as an illustrator and entrepreneur, the kind of work I want to do and how I can get there. I realize that the steps I have to take are small now, but hopefully they will get bigger and bigger, like a snowball rolling downhill, accumulating size. I’m making a list of my dream clients and dream commissions. I’d love to work on a stage for a theater performance, or to make a large sculpture. I want to make more murals and I’d like to design toys one day. I want to illustrate a book and do all of the visual design for a festival or a building. I still want so many things, and hopefully if I keep shouting it off the rooftops, all of them will happen one day.