Feeling burning stress is a warning shot we shouldn’t ignore

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.

Illustrator ≠ Artist

When people visit me in my home office or see my office via Calls, they are often surprised and sometimes even disappointed. At first glance, it hardly differs from the office of a tax consultant.

If we think of artists, the image is usually beautifully chaotic, in a studio with high ceilings, the walls, and the artist full of paint. Pens, brushes, and unfinished sketches are scattered everywhere.

It might look like this when I’m trying new techniques or need watercolor splotches for my illustration. But as a freelance illustrator, it’s all about one thing: efficiency. We serve with our skills to achieve the goals of others.

The clients are often magazines and agencies with strict deadlines. The goal is to achieve visible results in a short time. Any available means are okay for this, such as Photoshop. If the client’s feedback on a portrait is, “Could the person smile a little more?” it doesn’t mean I redraw the mouth completely. Deadlines often don’t even allow for that effort. Using the distortion tool in Photoshop, I pull up the corners of the mouth in a few seconds until it fits. If the client is satisfied with the result, my work is done.

Find the courage to give ourselves a job title before even starting

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.

Competitors: Rivals or partners in crime? Our choice

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. 

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Sharing our creative work should become our new habit

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.

Clients pay us for the process, not the outcome

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.

Where do our clients spend time and hang around?

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.

Do you want to see the world like an artist?

Maybe you don’t feel blessed with creative talent or are not yet exceptional in your skills. But there is a hack that allows us to see the world differently and with a new view. It allows us to see it through the eyes of an artist right here and now. Are you ready? Ok.

Look for something natural in your environment, for example, a cloud or a leaf. Your task now is:

How would you explain what you see to a blind person?

Give it a try. I will go into more detail in a future post.

About criticizing creative work and being criticized for creative work

“Whoever has created something has to be asked.”

Florian Schroeder (reproduced quote from his friend)

This quote contains everything required to give and receive criticism. When we create something, it is basically to be valued. Provided is the abstinence from laziness and that it is not intended to be destructive in nature. It is, first of all, a contribution and, therefore, something positive. It is unimportant at what level the creator is. A student, as well as a professional, both deserve a minimum of respect.

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The difference between learning in school and studying design and art

The most significant difference between school and a design and art degree is that it’s no longer primarily about getting good grades. Studying is about experimenting, developing joy and ambition in creative work, gaining new perspectives, and learning from others.

It may happen that our vision of a project does not match the professor’s vision. This is fine, as long as we have considered and tried out his objections and idea in the creative process. After all, the long experience of professors is a gold mine for us. The chance to benefit from them is a privilege. But design and art are harder to measure in their impact than a math path or a Spanish exam.

So instead of chasing good grades as usual while satisfying parents and teachers, it’s all about being creative. In this way, we come closer to our own voice and calling. This is what makes us interesting for future clients and job applications. Once we have achieved this, no one is interested in grades anymore.

Saving money to keep the power of saying “No”

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.

If we need more information from the client, let’s ask

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.

The precious power of using “No”

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.