Freelancers: When the phone rings, let’s pick up!

What sounds so simple is actually not so easy for everyone. When we talk eye to eye with someone, we have so many possibilities to communicate or present ourselves. Mimics, clothing, body language, voice. Even our fragrance sends signals.

On phone calls, our ways of expression are limited. All tools are omitted, except for our voice. To underline our interest in the conversation and convey our concerns clearly and unmistakably, only our words and how we express them remain.

This can be challenging, especially when we go through briefings with business clients, share feedback, or negotiate prices. As freelancers, it can be intimidating, especially in the beginning, even though we’ve waited so long for that first client call.

In the worst cases, we procrastinate until the ringing stops. But we don’t let that happen at all. It wouldn’t be fair to ourselves. We’ve worked too hard to be found, and now we’re letting it slip away just because our heart is pounding faster? No way. Instead, we keep reminding ourselves that the phone is usually only ringing because someone is interested in our work.

To all of you who relate to this, let’s make a promise here and now: If the phone rings, we’ll pick it up. That’s our decision today, so we don’t have to worry about it tomorrow when the phone rings. Who knows what creative adventure awaits us on the other side of the line.

Writing for ourselves. Blogging in the hope of helping others

Daily writing, whether about our activities, our jobs, our lessons learned, our experiences, our setbacks, our successes, or just how our day has been, is first and foremost for ourselves. For some, writing down thoughts and feelings can be an outlet or a way to express themselves creatively. For others, it helps create order and structure in their minds.

The moment we share this with the world, we have no expectations. We don’t wait for likes, comments, and feedback. We have already received the reward of the written words while writing. Now we can only hope that other people can benefit from it as well. We can’t do more, and we can’t expect more.

Sketching is visual access to your brain and emotions

Sketching and visual note-taking of ideas and emotions are visual blueprints of our thoughts. It is not the quality of the sketches that matters. It’s the quality of the content. No masterpiece can save a bad idea. On the other hand, a good idea can stand on a napkin with stick figures and simple shapes.

Capturing it pictorially forces us to organize our thoughts beforehand and target the topic’s core. When writing, we can quickly get lost in complex and incomprehensible sentences. When visualizing, our mind works in a more compressed way. The best thing about it is that we can share them immediately with others and thus achieve results more quickly.

Developing new 2-in-1 habits is possible

When we are developing a new habit and incorporating it into our daily lives, we can try to link it to another new habit.

An example: When reading books, I mark text passages that particularly interest me with a highlighter. I have marked many exciting sentences in many books, but I don’t pick them up again, or only rarely. Therefore, I have made it a habit to open one of the books daily and record 1-3 sentences or text passages in the Evernote app.

That’s the primary habit. Within that, I have implemented another new habit. Even though I was typing on my grandpa’s analog typewriter on a keyboard by the time I was 12, my typing speed slowly increased. To this day, I type with a maximum of three fingers and have to constantly look at the keyboard.

I wanted to change this for so long but never found the time. Now that I have internalized the first habit, I have started to type the book passages with 10 fingers and without looking at the keyboard. In doing so, I’ve built two new habits in one.

We can apply the same to a wide variety of areas. If we’ve started jogging for an hour every morning, we can turn on that audiobook or podcast we’ve been meaning to listen to for so long. If we’re learning a new language, we can draw the vocabulary instead of writing it down to improve our drawing skills. Discovering the possibilities may take a little time. But they are there.

Let’s work the way Lionel Messi plays football

Playing soccer has always been my hobby and passion. I used to play in local football clubs three to four times a week. Most of the time as a goalkeeper.

As a teenager, I played as a striker in football clubs. I thought that was a suitable position for me. After all, I scored many goals on the small pitches in my neighborhood or in the indoor sports hall during school sports.

But in championship games, the pitch is larger. Here you don’t play 5 against 5, but 11 against 11. I was utterly overtaxed. Suddenly it was a completely different game. I didn’t know how to move right, I was blindly chasing the ball, and after a few minutes, my lungs and thighs were burning like hell.

On the big pitches, it’s not just about physical condition and skills. “Football is a game of the mind,” said Holland’s legend Johan Cruyff, and a game lasts at least 90 minutes. That’s why it’s essential to manage your energy, judge the timing for a full sprint, and let the ball run instead of the legs. A striker cannot afford to waste his energy carelessly. A striker lurks, then explodes at the decisive moment when a promising pass reaches him, or the opponent makes a mistake. Then he focuses all his energy, concentration, and talent on the objective: to score a goal.

I didn’t understand that at the time. Instead of using my energy effectively, I was constantly trying to be moving. I thought that if I didn’t, my coach would substitute for me. The problem was that I lacked strength and concentration in the few offensive situations. I was simply scoring hardly any goals.

In my working life, it helps to keep reminding myself of this. Being diligent or busy does not automatically mean being effective. I need to focus my energy. As an illustrator, I can’t afford to start a commissioned project immediately if all the necessary points and questions haven’t been clarified. I risk wasting my client’s and my own energy and time. It usually helps to hold off, review the situation, and go full throttle when the path is clear.

Let’s instead do it like seven-time record world footballer Lionel Messi. He’s already a living legend and scoring machine. According to sqaf.cluband besoccer.com, a striker runs, on average, 9.5 km in a game. On the other hand, Messi runs an average of 7.906 in Champions League games, making him the second least running player in the competition. If that’s not a role model for effectiveness …

Good advertising, evil advertising (1)

There is something hypocritical about the way we humans deal with advertising. One moment we’re complaining when the YouTube video is interrupted once again. At other times, we’re shivering the whole night in front of a store to get the latest smartphone, which, from a technical point of view, is barely more powerful than the cheaper competition.

If we despise advertising, it is because we are aware that we are not only distracted by it but influenced by it. Advertising triggers our most diverse emotions, which are supposed to animate us to take action. We feel manipulated, guided, glided. We don’t want to be treated like that.

But where is the line between “good” and “evil” advertising? Does it even exist? When I go to the supermarket to buy milk, I’m facing a shelf full of different milk cartons, all carrying the more or less same liquid: Whole milk with 3.5% fat.

But the packages, on the other hand, differ significantly. Some are lost in quantity. They seem to have been designed without much affection. The package shows a glass in which the milk is poured. Since the background is white overall, the milk appears grayish, almost like wet concrete. In addition, the information is kept too small, making it harder to read than the competition’s designs. An interchangeable logo makes the appearance even less attractive. Price 1.39€.

The situation is different with one of the competitor’s products. Again, the packaging says whole milk with 3.5% fat. But here, the info is concise and evident at first glance. The manufacturer’s coat of arms crowned adorns the azure packaging. In the background, radiantly bright milk also flows into a glass with illustrated cold drops of condensation. The packaging design makes you want to drink a fresh glass of milk while conveying a sense of tradition and quality. Price 1,69 €

We eat with our eyes first! Let’s assume that this sentence is true and that the milk in both packages is from the same cow. Have we been manipulated by the excellent design when we reach for the more expensive one? Were we tricked and cheated out of the 30 cents? Or did the manufacturers simply invest more time and money in a sophisticated presentation to offer the customer an exceptional drinking experience? Maybe the manufacturer sees milk as something holy. To him, it’s not just something we pour over our cereal every morning as a matter of course. He sees milk as an elixir. It’s Mother Nature’s gift to humans to survive and enjoy.

We do not know the reason for the additional effort. Maybe it’s about pure profit motive or the founder’s deep appreciation and love of food. But the fact is, we as consumers get more for the 30 cents extra cost. The decision as to whether this “more” justifies 30 cents is then entirely ours.

Don’t believe what I’m writing 

I write this blog for two reasons. Writing helps me organize my thoughts. It is an attempt to make them more tangible to me. Formulating forces me to focus on the essentials, which allows me to fill in gaps and identify contradictions. In short, afterward, I realize whether what I have been thinking corresponds to my reality.

On the other hand, I have gained much experience in the creative industry over the last 20 years. Starting with an internship at a small advertising agency, then an apprenticeship and a degree, and ending with many years of freelance work as an illustrator.

Both reasons are equally important to me. It is a pleasure if the reader can use and take away something from my experiences for his or her own journey. After all, I know from my own life how much people can positively impact others.

But they are and remain my very subjective experiences and views. If I write in a post about how I think it’s helpful in the home office not to work in jogging clothes or pajamas for various reasons, that’s entirely my view. It is my experience. It cannot and should not necessarily be taken as law. Some people would vehemently disagree with me on the jogging pants question. And that is perfectly okay. Everyone eventually finds their own methods and makes their own experiences. There is no right or wrong sometimes. I avoid formulations like “you must” and “you shall” when writing. No one can know what works best for the other. That is up to each of us.

However, sharing your own experiences can have a positive effect, especially on young people. It can motivate, encourage, warn, and provide clarity. That’s why I do not expect it, but I am happy if you gain something of value for your path in my texts.

What we do is not who we are

It starts with the language. In Germany, we say, Ich bin Illustrator, Ich bin Maurer, Ich bin Psychologe (I am an illustrator, …). This formulation creates a strong connection between work and identity: I am what I do.

But this attitude is risky and can be unhealthy. From a connection, dependency may arise. So, as part of society, I am measured by what I do. At the same time, I begin to measure myself by it. It’s constraining.

What happens when a serious injury forces a professional football player to end his career? Or when a 5-star chef loses his sense of taste? Is his identity lost with that? 

In Italy, they say Faccio l’illustratore, Faccio il muratore, Faccio il psicologo. This means as much as I make … or I work as … The language creates a distance to identity.

Once we realize that what we do is only a by-product of who we are, our lives will become easier. We deal better with criticism, detach more easily from expectations, and take the freedom to redesign our lives.

A toddler does not hang up his drawing. The parents do

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”

Pablo Picasso

What exactly makes a child an artist? The first thing that comes to mind with this is fearlessness in creating. A toddler who sees a pencil and a piece of paper doesn’t hesitate for a moment. She doesn’t wonder if the paper is rough or shiny. She doesn’t consider whether the crayon is sharpened or dull. She starts, draws lines, taps dots on the paper, and tries different colors.

As soon as she is done, she puts down the pencil and runs to her friends or the next toy. She has already forgotten her work. She does not sign it and then carefully puts it in a folder. For the toddler, the picture has no value. When my son scribbles lines on a paper, I’m the one who keeps it or hangs it on the wall. He, on the other hand, moves on.

From an adult’s perspective, this is enviable. It is not about fearlessness but the absence of judgment. The child does not yet evaluate her work or compare herself. She has no expectations towards herself, her abilities, or her talent and does not think about the expectations of others. She just does it and then does it again.

This approach we can take as a model because, out of fear of the outcome, we often don’t even start or, as Homer Simpson would put it, “Trying is the first step towards failure” 😉

A sketchbook can be an outlet. It’s where we can try things out, make mistakes, and record bad drawings or ideas. The pages are not masterpieces. They are our playground. And when the book is complete, we close it and just move on. 

Drawing skills are not a requirement for creating illustrations

When we talk about the profession of an illustrator, we usually think of drawings. But drawing talent is not necessarily required to create an illustration. A cursory doodle while talking on the phone, a photo collage, or a child’s drawing can be an illustration when used in the proper context.

In art, the artist usually tries to externalize his inner emotional world. On the other hand, an illustration always serves the viewer, the audience. The illustration is a call to action. It captures the reader’s attention in a magazine, encouraging him to read the article. In advertising, an illustration style can be distinctively associated with a product or service. In a medical book, the purpose of illustration is to simplify complex content.

As long as an image that is not a photograph conveys or supports a message, it can be considered an illustration.

Boredom: A crucial part of creating an illustration

Creating a portrait is a process full of ups and downs. Some parts of the face are always exciting to draw, while others drag on torturously.

The most exciting and crucial part is the eyes. The eyes never lie, they say, and this is just as true in portrait drawing. A perfectly drawn ear cannot save the work if the look is not on point.

It’s pretty different when drawing long, dark hair. I often put off this part as long as I can because it’s by far the most monotonous. For hours I draw one line over the other. In the process, I usually feel boredom at the beginning. Sometimes even frustration and the feeling that I am wasting my life. In the best case, a kind of meditation develops after a while, where my thoughts drift away and time flies.

But I know hair is also part of the finished portrait, just like the eyes. Knowing that this part also has its place and needs my full attention helps me deal with the monotony. Better yet, I can adjust to it. Often, that’s when I turn up the music loud, talk to friends on the phone, or run an episode of Breaking Bad on the iPad.

Every “dream job” has its small and large downsides. However, if we enjoy doing something and are passionate enough about it, we can counter these phases consciously and positively.

Creativity isn’t good or bad, nor holy, nor wicked. It’s simply human

When we create things, shape our environment and develop ideas, it triggers the most diverse feelings in us. Often it is frustrating, sometimes fulfilling and satisfying. Even a sense of pride in our own work is possible.

Creative work, it seems, has something magical about it. Sometimes we are overcome with the belief that we alone can change the world, improve it and reach for the stars with our work. To live a creative life is to live a valuable, contributing, good life. Without becoming blasphemous, creation from nothing inevitably has a spiritual, religious connotation. It must therefore be positive.

The truth is that creativity is just as cruel and destructive in nature. Torture methods of all eras are full of creativity. So are smoking campaigns, propaganda tools, and any weapons. Even the targeted starvation of the enemy by cutting off supply passes as a war strategy came from creative thinking.

I’m not sure why I’m formulating this thought on creativity right now. Maybe because I find myself putting it on a golden pedestal from time to time. Sometimes in front of others and sometimes in front of myself. Yet, like everything else that makes up life, it is dual. And thus, responsibility arises within the creative process. I find it grounding to keep this in mind from time to time.

Let’s be the bad guy once, not over and over again.

Saying “no” or asking follow-up questions can be difficult, especially at the beginning of our career. Yet we usually save ourselves a lot of trouble by doing so.

If we are not satisfied with the terms of a job request, let us communicate our concerns to the client. These can be about the budget, the briefing, the deadline, the creative process, and more.

If we don’t address the issues right away, we’ll have to do it at a later time. And then it gets complicated for both sides. After all, we’re already in the middle of it by then, and the questions we didn’t ask blow up in our faces. That can be very upsetting and annoying, especially for the client.

So let’s be upfront about everything from the beginning and insist on answers before we start working. Worrying that our concerns will stress or even scare off the client should not be a reason not to do it.

Are all the issues resolved? Great, we can get on with the project. Have we lost the client through our necessary urge for clarity? Great, we’ve almost certainly saved ourselves a challenging assignment that would have been nerve-wracking and financially difficult due to the inevitable hurdles in the process.

When in doubt, let’s use the big No just once at the beginning, instead of little No‘s over and over again later in the process.

Bye bye – taking a break till June 27

Hey guys,

At the beginning of March, I decided to write a thought about creativity, freelancing, and illustration every working day and publish it here.

More than three months later, a nice vacation is just around the corner. For a long time, I thought about posting here daily during this time as well. I will not do it and observe if it is easy for me or maybe even good for me to take a break.

I thank you for your visits up here. See you in ten days.

Ciao ciao
Sergio