We all know that nagging feeling of procrastination when we put off a job, a study project, or a simple call to the tax office. The task is stuck in our head and keeps popping up, whether we wake up, work, watch a movie, or are at the gym.
The best solution is to just get it done. But sometimes, things get in the way and make it difficult or even impossible. There comes the point when we think about the task and feel more pressure to get it done than we did yesterday. Perhaps the client or professor has asked about the status, or the deadline of the tax office is about to expire.
Suddenly, an uncomfortable heat rises inside us that stirs us up. We should never ignore this moment. Our subconscious fires a final warning shot that we should listen to. It means that it is not too late yet… but it will be very soon. Even if our head could suppress or postpone it for a long time to do the task, our subconscious does not.
By doing so, we are making a few promises to ourselves and the people we try to reach.
For weeks I wrestled back and forth. What do I want? Am I a graphic designer, a T-shirt designer, or a communication designer? What job title or description should I put under my name?
In and out of college, I developed many interests. To survive in the marketplace, I needed to serve a niche. That was clear to me from the start. As an all-rounder, it would be difficult for me to be successful and, above all, happy.
Sergio Ingravalle – Illustrator
When I called and recognized myself as an illustrator, my life became easier. Even though I had already done some illustration jobs by then, this step was precious.
An illustrator illustrates.
He doesn’t create corporate designs, program websites, or layout magazines. He creates images. He draws, paints, cuts, glues, doodles. And that’s what I did from then on until people who visited my homepage could clearly see what they could expect from me.
Let’s face the truth. There are countless artists, illustrators, designers, musicians, and writers out there. Just take a look at Instagram or Youtube. We are inundated with people and fantastic talents working in the same field and who are more successful than we are. Each one has his own story, vision, views, and skills. But part of the truth is that countless clients worldwide are willing to work with us. There are enough opportunities for all of us.
If we want to reach people and create new opportunities with our creative work and ideas, we need to share them with the world. There is no other option.
We need a dose of courage to do this because suddenly, our work is no longer just in our drawer. People see them, can evaluate them, or ignore them. We have to get used to that, especially at the beginning, and by building sharing into our daily routine, we will sooner or later.
So let’s make a practical and realistic plan. A simple calendar will do. On which day do we share what and where with the world? If we stick to this plan long enough, it will soon become a habit, and we will learn to break the initial resistance step by step.
Working as a creative requires courage. A writer doesn’t know how his book will end when he writes the first page. An artist doesn’t know what her painting will look like when she starts mixing the colors. Even the most experienced professional cannot guarantee that his next work will be a masterpiece.
The final result is written in the stars. To charge for creative work, therefore, requires even more courage. The outcome is intangible, and its impact is initially hard to measure. We need confidence in ourselves, a form of self-awareness that makes us realize that we can only influence and control the process. We are paid for finding the idea, not for the idea itself.
Asking ourselves this question is crucial to our business. If we are an illustrator or a designer, our clients are usually advertising agencies and publishers. To make them aware of our work, we have several options.
Social networks are one. But who are we really reaching on Instagram? Are our followers really potential clients or mainly students, fans of our work, family members, and friends? Even though fans can turn into clients now and then, we should be able to answer this question.
It gets more concrete on platforms like Behance and Dribbble. This is where designers of all kinds publish their work. Someone looking for a professional illustrator or book designer is more likely to find someone here than on Facebook.
At design conventions and award shows, we mostly meet fellow designers instead of new clients. Giving talks at local events may be more effective.
To see where our target group stands out, we can simulate their view and path. Let’s imagine that we, as an illustrator, go on a search for a suitable illustrator for our project ourselves. We observe and register all our actions in the process: What search terms do we enter? Which website does our search take us to? Which platform seems most promising?
We have to walk in their shoes to see where our customers stand.
Last week’s post was about how “No” is a tool for freelancers. But to use it confidently, we need savings, a financial cushion that keeps us independent. It’s harder to say “No” when bills are piling up.
The freedom to say “No” when requests or price negotiations don’t suit us is fundamental in the long run. After all, we’d instead work on our portfolio or personal projects than accept a project request we had doubts about from the start.
Therefore, let’s set aside enough money to allow us to use “No.” This is only fair to clients and to us.
Requests from potential clients can vary. Some are detailed and precise, while others are concise and sparse on necessary information.
If we lack information to provide a quote or to confirm our availability, we are not afraid to ask. These can be questions in the illustration: How, where, and how long will the illustration be used? When is the deadline? Color or black and white? What is the print run, or what size is the format?
If in doubt, we ask several times until we have all the necessary details to make a realistic, transparent, and binding statement. Let’s prefer to be a little demanding initially rather than again and again later in the working process.
In general, these questions are a sign of professionalism. However, it can also happen that our counterpart reacts impatiently or even annoyed, and cooperation does not arise. In this case: Congratulations! If it already fails at basic things, we have most likely saved ourselves an energy-sapping, time, money, and nerve-consuming collaboration.
For freelancers and self-employed people, “no” is a powerful tool, like the computer, the Internet, Excel, Photoshop, pen, and paper. We use it, for example, when we don’t feel comfortable with a project request or when we’re negotiating prices.
Over time, we become more confident in using “no” because we can justify it with our experience. We learn to use it at the right time and realize that it does not imply any personal valuation, neither when we say it nor when we receive it.
We see it as an adjustment, similar to when someone on the street asks us if he is on the right way to the train station. If he is going in the wrong direction, we reply “No” and show him the right way. An honest “No” is precious for all sides. Let’s use it.
Our portfolio should only present the works that we like to repeat. Especially as beginners, we tend to show everything we have created. We should definitely resist this. Especially if the response to one of our works was strikingly positive, but we felt little ambition and passion about the work itself. Being good at something does not obligate us to do it for life.
Goethe says, “I can’t get rid of the spirits I called.” If we are not careful, we find ourselves doing years of work that do not fulfill us. Our hands may do it well, but our heart longs for something else. This will not make us happy.
When I decided to go the freelance illustrator route, I quickly noticed the differences between permanent employment. We usually have a commute in a permanent position that we do every morning and after work. This one we can find annoying and a waste of time. But the commute home has a valuable advantage. It makes a clear cut between our work and our free time, which helps us structure our daily lives.
As freelancers, this physical cut is often missing. Often, the place where we work and create is the same place where we eat, watch movies, and go to sleep. As a result, we quickly tend to lose track of time and merge our free time with our work time. In short, we lose piece by piece our life outside work. In the times of Covid, many permanent employees are in home offices, so they have experienced the same thing.
There are simple methods to create physical cuts if we can’t or don’t want to go to an external place, such as a co-working space. A fundamentally important one is to dress for work as if we are going to the office. Maybe not in a suit and patent leather shoes, but not in sweatpants or pajamas. This daily routine affects our attitude during work hours. Then, after work is done, slipping into sweatpants is not only a signal to us that we can leave work behind for the day. It can also feel good and earned, and there’s nothing to stop us from enjoying it.
As a creative freelancer, it’s almost impossible to win back clients’ trust once it’s been broken. “This campaign will go through the roof” or “this will be the best illustration you’ve ever seen” is like saying, “I’m the kindest and most generous person.” It’s not up to us to judge such things.
In his book “The Art of Game Design,” Jesse Schell writes about this formula. I read it in my 20s when I was thinking about becoming a game designer. Even though I eventually took a different path, I often think of passages from the book, especially this formula.
Originally it came from the experiential design of roller coasters and thrill rides and is a trademark of Sotto Studios. Horror movies, survival games, and even harmless pranks that scare our friends are based on this simple formula. This brief thrill and adrenaline rush are usually followed by relieved laughter. I think this is because we feel very alive at that moment.
There are always situations that can make us sweat. Even as designers and freelancers, whether it’s before client presentations, harsh criticism of our work, or when we feel that tasks are overwhelming us. In those moments, I try to think of this formula. Despite the external “threat,” we are never at real risk of losing our lives.
It helps me to take things a little easier. Stage fright and the tingling in the stomach before a presentation are exciting emotions. If I can suppress the initial panic and flight instinct, I start to enjoy it. This formula helps me do that because I realize that there is nothing that can really harm me.
Client: “You are the expert. I’m afraid I’m not creative at all.”
A client can tell a programmer, “I don’t know anything about computers, HTML, and website programming.” However, a client cannot say to a designer that he is not creative and that his opinion is not important.
Every person is creative in their activity every day. It’s because everyone searches for solutions every day. In addition, every person also has a sense of visual aesthetics. Even if they do not work in our professional field and struggle to express why they like or dislike something.
As illustrators and designers, let’s involve the client. We may be the established experts in our field, but nothing beats a fresh look at our work to make it better. After all, that’s what it’s all about. We want to create the best possible outcome for the project, the client, us, and the audience.
Some people may be too engaging in the creative process, trusting us too little and constricting our creative freedom. If the reasons are not destructive, there are always solutions to solve this—more on this in another post.