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How to cultivate good habits that will encourage creativity

Amy Ng
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Amy Ng

Amy is a teacher, writer and a self-taught illustrator. Her blog Pikaland, is popular stop for illustration lovers, students and artists who are looking for answers on how to find a balance between art, creativity and commerce. Amy is also an adjunct lecturer at a local design college and has created online workshops for artists; teaching them how to use their unique strengths to create their very own opportunities. She believes that we each have a role to play and a story to tell –- and her personal mission is to help you discover what that is.
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Phoebe Summers

Illustration: Phoebe Summers

We’ve all given excuses before: I’m too tired, I’m too busy, etc. Whether it’s to avoid going for that run you’ve marked on your calendar, or to enter your studio during the weekends when you’ve already put in 40-hour-weeks at your day job – procrastination is a tough habit to beat.

As creatives, we live and breathe design – whether it’s graphic design, art or illustration. Our minds are constantly running background tasks even if we don’t know it. You may appear to be chewing your food silently, but the real fact is that you’re thinking about that art piece you saw in a gallery a week ago. Or what about that time when you had that family vacation? Your kids were running around having fun and the only thing running through your mind is work – yup, the one you left back at home. Such is the mind of a working creative.

But there is hope.

We wind up this way (yes, I’ve been there!) because we aren’t living in the moment. And while that may sound like it isn’t anything particularly serious, it’s a bad habit. And bad habits are one of the biggest obstacles to getting things done. One way that has helped for me personally is to introduce new habits – things that when done time and time again, will help you get back on the creative track.

So here’s what has worked for me:

Making a list

To-dos, grocery lists, or even things you need for your trip – you need to write them all down. Because if you don’t, it’s going to be hiding in the recesses of your mind, just waiting for the most ridiculous moment to pop up and remind you of its existence. And then you’ll forget. Yet again.

Our brains can’t cope with too much tasks at any given time. And when you load it with a task such as remembering X, Y, and Z, you’ll leave little room for the things you want it to do. Like thinking up rad new ideas or joining together ideas to form new ones.

So let it all out on paper. Write every single thing down so that you won’t forget and your brain can get some rest!

Having a routine

What gets your brain juices flowing in the morning? Coffee? A run? A shower? Do that. Sometimes it’s good to establish a routine, especially those that have worked for you before. By having a routine, it frees up a lot of time thinking about what to do – you’ve an automated schedule to run so that you can leave your imagination where it counts the most.

Doing nothing at all

When your body is reluctant to do something – listen to it. It’s trying to tell you something. Instead of just dragging your body to the gym (or somewhere else you need to be), stop for a moment and just take a nap. Or just lie on the couch and read that book you’ve been putting aside. Maybe what you really want is to catch that favorite TV show? Then just do it.

You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how refreshed you’ll be when you start listening to your body instead of going against it. We’re not recommending that you flake on your appointments all the time – but sneaking in some time for yourself – especially if you don’t do it enough – will save your sanity.

Limiting time on social media sites

Yes, you heard me. It’s a time sucker. And when you’re refreshing that feed of yours, think of the time you could have spent on other, more productive things – things that could improve your art, or figuring out a way to earn more income through your art. Besides, reading too much Facebook is depressing – definitely not something you’d want when you’re trying to be creative.

Limit your viewing to 5 times a day, or only check your social media happenings in the evenings. Or perhaps it can be a reward for when you’ve checked things off your to-do list. The point is, get things done instead of watching others get things done.

Looking up. Or down.

We always look at things that are eye-level. Supermarket shelves are stocked so that their popular items are placed at eye-level. But look deeper – up the aisle and down as well and you’ll be surprised at the things you find. Life is a lot like that as well. Inspiration is everywhere, the saying goes. And it’s certainly not limited to the scope of vision that we’re used to looking at. So Remember: look up and down wherever you go. Soften your gaze a little.

Writing down ideas.

Much like the above, you should write down any ideas you come across. Not just lists of things. Business ideas, ideas for your art, a new way of experimenting with your technique – all these should be written down because as we mentioned earlier, our brain can only do so much. And once you forget them, it might be gone forever.

I’ve kicked myself so hard because I had on many occasions, a great idea that I forgot to pen down. I would then spend hours or even days trying so hard to grasp or fill in the blanks. It was a waste of time indeed. And that’s if I can recall it again!

Revisit ideas and combine them to create new things.

Once you have a book of ideas, take some time to flip through it when you’re stuck. You’ll be surprised at what you’ll find jumping out between those pages – because when ideas get together, the party is just getting started!

Doing the most important stuff first

Contrary to beliefs, your emails isn’t the most important thing that you need to do. So instead of firing up the Mail manager, you need to work on your work first. We get so wrapped up responding to things that we sometimes forget to create. So before you get sucked into the menial stuff, make sure to put your energy where it’s needed most of all – creating work that matters – before you start on the small stuff. Believe you me, it’s the small stuff that will suck the energy out of you before you know it!

Practice, practice, practice

All the above are simple measures to help you rein in your time. But without practice, you’ll fall into the same old bad habits that got you into trouble in the first place. So keep at them and you’ll find that all these habits will come naturally.

There you have it – my go-to list on creating new habits to encourage your creativity to flourish. Are these among the habits that you’re putting into gear post new year?

Amy Ng blogs at Pikaland, a popular stop for illustration lovers, students and artists who are looking for answers on how to find a balance between art, creativity and commerce.

Posted by Amy Ng on 02/29/16 under artists,business,idea generation
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A better way to keep up with new year resolutions

Amy Ng
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Amy Ng

Amy is a teacher, writer and a self-taught illustrator. Her blog Pikaland, is popular stop for illustration lovers, students and artists who are looking for answers on how to find a balance between art, creativity and commerce. Amy is also an adjunct lecturer at a local design college and has created online workshops for artists; teaching them how to use their unique strengths to create their very own opportunities. She believes that we each have a role to play and a story to tell –- and her personal mission is to help you discover what that is.
Amy Ng
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tumblr_mezct8aSQ11qgixkto1_500

Philip Giordano

Ah, new year resolutions. 

The long line of promises you make at the beginning of each year to be a better version of yourself than the year before. To eat healthier, to move your body more, to be more present. To read more, draw even more, and to be braver when it comes to asking for more.

It’s a good thing really, resolutions. So why can’t we stay on track past February? 

Because it’s hard to break 10 – or for the more ambitious among you – 20 habits in such a short time. 

Let’s face it. That long list of things you’d like changed or improved? They’re there because in reality it’s something you feel that you lack or aren’t paying enough attention to. And that’s really awesome because acknowledging them is half the battle won. The other half though, now that’s a real tough nut to crack.

It’s easy to write down faults you have and what you want to do to improve it. But faults, like habits, are hard to change. So what works?

I’ve stopped making resolutions 10 years ago. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t grow or change. Far from it. I quit my job, I took on freelance jobs, gave talks, taught at a university, learnt coding (among many other things), read more, and traveled more, etc.

Wanting to make changes to your daily life isn’t just filled with affirmations on how you pledge to be different. It’s about taking concrete steps, little by little, day by day to reach your goal. It’s unsexy. It’s tedious. It’s hard work. New year resolutions on the other hand, can be like bursts of positive emotions and hopefulness, Instagram photos with random inspiring quotes, and stuttered promises made when you’re drunk. Guilt and hopelessness sets in not long after.

So here’s what I recommend instead: make a to-do list.

Not some fancy schmancy list of life-changing resolutions that you tape to your fridge on January 1, where it stares at you every day when you wake up in the morning when you grab your milk – only to be taken down, tattered and stained with failure and regrets of not being able to tick them off at the end of the year. No more. 

Figure out what you want to achieve, then write down what you’ll do to get there. Heck, you can even omit writing out the big goals. Just write out what you’re going to do every little step of the way. I’m talking about the most boring, mundane things that will trick your body/mind to complete it. Don’t just throw up a big life goal without a plan on how you’ll get there – we all know when we don’t know where we want to go, we’ll just stay where we are. It’s comfortable. It’s nice. Change is hard. And we also know that if you don’t pencil things down (and subsequently tick them off), nothing is going to happen. Step by step is where it’s at.

So if you want to make a new resolution this year, do yourself a favour and start a to-do list.

You can thank me on 31st December.

Amy Ng blogs at Pikaland, a popular stop for illustration lovers, students and artists who are looking for answers on how to find a balance between art, creativity and commerce.

Posted by Amy Ng on 01/07/16 under business,freelance,idea generation
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New Sketchbook Skool Class by Penelope Dullaghan

Thomas James

Thomas James

Thomas James is an Illustrator who has worked with The New York Times, WIRED, Pentagram, Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, and many others. You can see his portfolio at thomasjamesillustration.com.
Thomas James

Screen Shot 2016-01-04 at 12.26.59 PM

“Illustration Friday friends, hello!
 
I wanted you to know that I am teaching at Sketchbook Skool for the first time! Sketchbook Skool is an online video course (or ‘kourse” as they say at Sketchbook Skool) that lasts six weeks and has a different teacher every week. We made more than a dozen videos in which I appear telling stories, sharing pages of my sketchbooks and doing some demos. Here’s a video trailer about the kourse
 
You can learn all about the Skool at their website, sketchbookskool.com
During the week I am teaching, I will be right there with you, answering questions and comments and admiring the artwork you’ll share! It’ll be so fun!
 
One of the things I love about SBS is the wonderful, supportive community that has developed there. There are thousands of people from around the world, some are professional artists and illustrators, some are complete beginners, all collaborating and encouraging each other. It’s a great experience I think you’ll love, too!
 
Enrollment starts today and the kourse begins on January 15th. I hope to see you in klass!
 
As a special treat (and for the very first time ever) Sketchbook Skool is offering a 20% discount only to members of Illustration Friday — like you.  When you check out, just use the code: Pennyatskool2016 and do it soon — it expires on January 15th.
 
Can’t wait to begin!”
-Penelope Dullaghan

Posted by Thomas James on 01/04/16 under art supplies,artists,business,children's art,classes,community,Events,idea generation,IF community,IF news update,illustration
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Should You Use Watermarks to Protect Your Art?

Thomas James

Thomas James

Thomas James is an Illustrator who has worked with The New York Times, WIRED, Pentagram, Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, and many others. You can see his portfolio at thomasjamesillustration.com.
Thomas James

Screen Shot 2015-07-16 at 12.34.26 PM

Do watermarks protect you from online art theft or devalue your work?

Let’s face it. Art theft is a reality. We see it happen all the time.

If you post your work anywhere online, you’re immediately vulnerable to those who want to grab it and use it for their latest article, T-shirt, company logo, etc. It’s simply a risk you take by having an online presence.

Watering Down

Some Illustrators choose to protect themselves by placing “watermarks” over there image. This means that they overlay a copyright notice of some form on top of their Illustration to discourage others from using it without their permission.

The question is: Does this cause more harm than good?

As an Illustrator myself, I definitely understand the desire to protect one’s work. After all, the images you create are the lifeblood of your business, so why wouldn’t you want to defend yourself from online predators?

However, it is possible to go too far.

In my opinion, the use of a watermark degrades the experience an Art Director or other potential client has when viewing your work, which is the last thing you want to do. Sure, it can be done in a more discreet way than the ridiculously extreme example above, but the value of an Illustration all comes down to its visual impact, so why would you want to do anything to diminish that?

Even with the dangers of online art theft, I strongly believe that watermarks do more harm to the artist than to the thieves themselves. Furthermore, any persistent pilferer with a basic knowledge of Photoshop can easily remove the watermark without too much trouble, so the benefit to the Illustrator is limited at best.

Finally, it’s important to consider the impression that this makes on your potential clients.

If you protect your images with watermarks, you may unintentionally convey paranoia, defensiveness, or unease, which just might make people uncomfortable, and deter them from contacting you to begin with. It’s not unlike the response you might get if you present them with a 10-page contract full of fine print and overstated legal jargon.

It’s simply not necessary.

Overkill?

Don’t get me wrong. Tracking down and stopping art theft is an incredibly frustrating activity, and it hurts to see your work being used without your permission, but I recommend thinking twice before using watermarks as a form of defense.

I don’t know about you, but when I enter a brick-and-mortar business and see security cameras at every turn, warning signs to “leave your bag at the desk”, and electronic sensors at the exits, I feel a little uneasy, even though I don’t plan on stealing anything.

Why would you want to do the same with your own business?

Do you use watermarks? Why? How do you feel when you see watermarks on an image?

Posted by Thomas James on 11/16/15 under business
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Why finding an agent can be a chicken and egg situation

Amy Ng
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Amy Ng

Amy is a teacher, writer and a self-taught illustrator. Her blog Pikaland, is popular stop for illustration lovers, students and artists who are looking for answers on how to find a balance between art, creativity and commerce. Amy is also an adjunct lecturer at a local design college and has created online workshops for artists; teaching them how to use their unique strengths to create their very own opportunities. She believes that we each have a role to play and a story to tell –- and her personal mission is to help you discover what that is.
Amy Ng
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Illustration by Mike Reddy

“The reason why I’m not getting work is because I don’t have an agent.”

I looked at her for a moment, and was deciding if I should tell her that if she’s not having any luck finding one, is because she should be focusing on doing something else instead. Like finding clients instead of finding an agent. I didn’t have that chance, because she continued to rattle off a long list of agencies that she’s contacted – all without luck, and so here I am.

It got me thinking. How many people out there believe that the answer to all their woes lies in getting signed up by an agent?

I bet there’s quite a fair bit who does. 

I’m not saying that an agent won’t get you work. I know they do. But I also know that a lot of times you’d have to show that you’re good at what you do (with actual paying clients) before they’re likely to take you on. Having a few people who know and have paid money for your work demonstrates that you have skills that people want. And when you have enough people who want to pay you for your services, you’re already in business. 

I’ve seen fresh graduates and a handful of self-taught illustrators scrambling to get representation, purely because they’re scared of what’s out there. Some of them would prefer not to talk about business or money because it’s a difficult subject and one that they’d like not to poke around even if they have a 10-foot pole. Handing all these important things off to an agent, while it’s convenient, does not detract from the fact that they’re better off learning about it at some point. And besides, that’s not what agents are solely for. 

Think of an agent as someone who can manage and find new avenues that you’re not reaching yet. They’re a treasure trove of connections and networking that allows you an insider’s peek at what’s on the table. Agents are great at negotiating contracts and getting you what you’re worth (or try their darnedest). What they’re not however, is a magical character who can guarantee you jobs and success just because your name is on their list.

Which leaves us with the chicken and egg situation:

If you have to beg and grovel your way to find an agent, you might not be ready for one just quite yet. Better to have them come a-knocking on your door (or invite them to see your potential with a well-crafted letter showing them who you’ve already worked with) when you’ve achieved a modicum of success through your own hustle, hard work and the right strategy.

And when that happens, you might just wonder if you need an agent at all.

Amy Ng blogs at Pikaland, a popular stop for illustration lovers, students and artists who are looking for answers on how to find a balance between art, creativity and commerce.

Posted by Amy Ng on 11/12/15 under artists,business,freelance
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Is Your Portfolio Website Too Demanding?

Thomas James

Thomas James

Thomas James is an Illustrator who has worked with The New York Times, WIRED, Pentagram, Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, and many others. You can see his portfolio at thomasjamesillustration.com.
Thomas James

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Illustration by Thomas James

One of the most important things to keep in mind when designing your portfolio website is creating a space that is inviting and pleasing to Art Directors and other potential clients.

The best way to do this is to make your design as simple as possible while putting your work, and any other vital information, front and center.

You don’t want to do anything to detract from the quality of your work or place any barriers between your visitor and your bio and contact info. This can be a challenge when you try to balance this with a desire for a compelling and exciting design, professional branding, and a memorable experience.

One of the simplest ways to improve the flow and navigation of your site is to remove anything that “demands” anything of your visitor.

This means not making them have to work or think too hard when they’re working their way through your website and your portfolio.

To clarify, here are 3 things to avoid in order to keep your portfolio website from being too “demanding” of your visitors.

1. Extra Steps

You should remove any extra steps that might be required for an Art Director to get to your portfolio or view your work.

Some examples of extra steps are:

  • Landing Page that your visitor must click through to get to your main site with menu options.
  • “Portfolio” menu button links to multiple Portfolio categories, which link to more specific categories, which lead to thumbnails, which lead to images.
  • Portfolio images that open in their own window, requiring your visitor to go back or even close a window to get back to your main gallery.

By themselves, these examples aren’t necessarily deal breakers, but they can add up quickly to ask too much of your visitor’s patience.

2. Too Many Options

Avoid the temptation to over-segment your work into too many categories. Just like with the images you choose to show, less is more when it comes to the number of categories you wish to include.

Contrary to what you might think, people don’t want to be presented with an overabundance of choices to make. Too many categories means too much thought on the part of your visitor, which slows them down and degrades their experience of looking at your work. Take them straight to your image gallery as quickly as possible without making them work for it.

3. Poor Navigation

Making someone have to figure out how to make their way around your site is another way to make them work harder than they should.

Most of us aren’t intuitive web designers, so it can be challenging to get this right, but if you give navigation the attention it deserves, you’ll be less likely to confuse or annoy Art Directors.

Make No Demands

Whether you follow the specific examples above, the main idea here is to make sure you’re not requiring your visitor to do anything except enjoy looking at your amazing portfolio and keep you in mind for future projects. Anything beyond that just becomes a turn off.

Posted by Thomas James on 11/09/15 under business
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Educating Your Clients About the Creative Process

Thomas James

Thomas James

Thomas James is an Illustrator who has worked with The New York Times, WIRED, Pentagram, Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, and many others. You can see his portfolio at thomasjamesillustration.com.
Thomas James

ideawork

Throughout your Illustration career, it is likely that you will be contracted by clients who have never worked with a creative professional before. Therefore it is important to be able to shed some light on the creative process. In fact, even when working with those who know how to work with an Illustrator, it is a valuable practice to educate them about your own personal process. As stated in the introduction, it always helps when everyone knows what is expected of them, as well as how the project might unfold.

How Do You Describe Your Creative Process?

A great way to do this right off the bat is at the point of your initial contact, which is often through your portfolio website. For more about this, read my article on the importance of including a Process page on your site.

In addition to this, I find value in outlining my approach when I first speak with them on the phone or via email. This lays the groundwork for the project and helps to instill confidence in the clients who are less familiar with how to proceed. Naturally, your personal style will dictate the way you tackle a given project, but in general it helps to explain such things as how you will gather information and produce concept art, as well as how your client might approach the revision process.

As a further measure, I like to reinforce this knowledge at each stage or milestone to make sure everyone stays on the same page.

Explaining Concept Art

In the beginning stages of a project, most Illustrators produce conceptual sketches that far from resemble the finished product, and this can be difficult for some clients to comprehend. After all, they’re paying you for something that doesn’t yet exist, and the quality of concept art is generally inferior to what they will eventually receive.

Therefore, it’s important to explain the way that they should look at the first work that you produce. Try to encourage them to look at the basic ideas that are being represented in the drawings, instead of the level of detail or rendering of form (or lack thereof). You may find yourself holding their hand much more through this stage, but doing your best to make your intentions clear from the start, and reminding them that the quality of work that they hired you for is still just around the corner, will help them to take the leap of faith necessary to see the bigger picture.

When you make the effort to educate your clients about the ways to interpret the initial concept art, you will decrease the amount of frustration that comes from an unsatisfactory response, or a request to improve small details in particular parts of the drawing that aren’t ready for that level of attention.

One way to get this point across might be to show the progressing stages from a previous project. This can help your client to see how your ideas develop over time, eventually surfacing as a compelling work of art.

Paving the Road

I encourage you to consider doing this extra work early on, as it will help your client to understand you and communicate with you about their needs. Anything you do to smooth the road ahead can be seen as an investment in a successful outcome that exceeds the expectations of your clients and makes your job more rewarding along the way.

Posted by Thomas James on 11/02/15 under business
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The Importance of Personal Projects

Thomas James

Thomas James

Thomas James is an Illustrator who has worked with The New York Times, WIRED, Pentagram, Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, and many others. You can see his portfolio at thomasjamesillustration.com.
Thomas James

altaweb

(Illustration by Thomas James)

Are you working on any of your own personal art projects, or just giving all your energy away to your clients?

If you’re like many Illustrators, chances are you’re not making personal work a priority, and your creative self-expression and freedom is being sacrificed for the sake of running your business. This is understandable, because the demands of a career in freelance Illustration or Design require a seemingly endless supply of time and effort, leaving you with little to keep for yourself. The thing is, neglecting to work on your own projects can have a negative impact on your creativity, your inspiration, and even the quality of your work. The good news is that it’s never too late to start, or restart, your own personal projects and tap into the following benefits of creating art for art’s sake.

Freedom of Expression

Pursuit of Creative Vision

Personal and Artistic Growth

Inspired Work for Your Portfolio

Alternative Source of Income

Development of Skills and Techniques

Exploration of New Ideas

Remember the days before you were a “professional artist”? You probably enjoyed all of the benefits listed above, and more. Isn’t that what made you want to create art for a living. The challenge now is to hold on to all of these rewards while working to please your clients and executing the daily tasks of running a freelance career. If you can manage to set aside the time to focus on your own personal Illustration projects, you will be a more inspired, productive, and satisfied artist.

Posted by Thomas James on 10/26/15 under business
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Increase Your Productivity By Having a Ritual

Amy Ng
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Amy Ng

Amy is a teacher, writer and a self-taught illustrator. Her blog Pikaland, is popular stop for illustration lovers, students and artists who are looking for answers on how to find a balance between art, creativity and commerce. Amy is also an adjunct lecturer at a local design college and has created online workshops for artists; teaching them how to use their unique strengths to create their very own opportunities. She believes that we each have a role to play and a story to tell –- and her personal mission is to help you discover what that is.
Amy Ng
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Illustration by Laura Callaghan

When I first left my full time job 7 years ago, I suddenly felt like a city mouse set loose out in the countryside. Time seemed to pass slowly at first, but then it got quicker and quicker. I had lots of opportunities for fresh air – but I found that often locked myself in, concentrating on work instead. More often than not, my hours were longer than a 9 to 5.

Freedom was stifling.

My timetable was turned upside down. Where before I could tell what I would wake up, it now felt like I could do whatever I want, whenever I want. And it started to weigh down on me. But wait, having freedom is great right? People come up to me and say things like “Oh wow, that’s so cool, I’d love to work for myself, like you, so that I won’t have a schedule to follow.” Except that it’s not like that at all. It was debilitating.

Weird things start to happen when you get too much of anything. In this particular case, I suddenly had a lot of time freed up, so that I could concentrate on freelance work and on my website; instead of having an alarm wake me up at 8.15 every morning (after many snooze buttons prior) and cursing the traffic under my breath each time I set off to work. I felt odd. Almost in a surreal way. As though time was this continuous line that ran without stopping or pause, and I was just a mere beat that time skipped over.

I woke up at odd hours, and slept even later than when I was employed full-time. Instead of dressing up and showering to go to work, I found myself lounging around in my pajamas and having extended breakfast while skimming over the newspaper (contents of which I wasn’t really interested in anyway). Hours could pass. And then it would be lunch, followed by a TV show that I missed. And pretty soon it was time for dinner. Where did the time go?

After a few weeks of this unstructured schedule, I found myself in a rut. My productivity plummeted instead of what I thought it would do – that I’d be super crazy productive and churn out lots to show. Alas, to my dismay, it wasn’t true at all. I couldn’t think straight – I felt like there’s a haze hanging over my head and weighing my entire being down. My work suffered. My happiness level went way down. I’d get irritable and defensive when anyone asked about my day. I’d get jealous of other people who had colleagues – my companion at home were two dogs who got to take a lot of naps during the day and wasn’t particularly interested in engaging in a two-way conversation with me, dog language or no.

I craved for something but I didn’t know what. And it was driving me nuts. I was a mice left out in the field too long and instead of thriving, I craved for a cage instead. A semblance of order. Walls too, so that I could figure out where I fit in the whole picture.

So I whipped out that alarm clock again, and set a time everyday for waking up. I took a shower. Dressed up a little. Put on make up. After that, it was straight to the table for a quick breakfast. An hour later, work began. No ifs or buts about it – non-stop working for an hour at which I could not surf the internet, read or watch anything non-related to work. And it felt good.

I felt a sense of purpose. I felt that I was in control of my situation. I found that when I focused my energy and attention towards a project I could get things done quicker and more creatively than when I dawdled around, aimless and listless. I went in search of inspiration, instead of waiting for inspiration to strike me like a proverbial bolt of lightning. I took constant, but shorter breaks in between, and felt my mind filled with ideas even when I did stop. I read a lot more, offline and online; I was ravenous for information and devoured everything in sight so that I could sort through things and find patterns and connect the dots. I organized like mad. I exercised regularly, and was able to set up a system where I could just stop my work and head down for dinner, and continue right back to where I stopped before.

I found that when I had a system in place, I didn’t have to worry about a lot of things. Having a schedule freed up my energy and time, so instead of spending them thinking “what’s next?”, I went on autopilot mode for the things that didn’t matter. My brain suddenly got a lot more room to think up new things instead of feeling guilty or having to keep track of things all the time. Go brain!

I wasn’t caged up, but I felt better. Instead of putting up permanent walls, I put up a chain link fence just so I can know where my boundaries are. I could peer out and see what’s out there, and I could also peer in to see if what I’m doing works. I had a structure. I had a ritual. I had a plan.

Year after year, the distance between me and the boundary that I set up in my mind grew. And after 7 years, the distance between me and that chain link fence is so vast that I don’t know where it began and where it ended. I’m not sure if there’s even a boundary anymore.

Freedom never felt so good.

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If you’re just starting out as a freelance illustrator or artist, here’s how you can start your very own ritual:

Wake up at a certain time every morning

Set that alarm clock for the same time, every night before you go to bed and no snoozing when it’s time to get up! This sets the day with a tone that means business – getting out of bed takes incredible effort, especially if you don’t have a place to physically report to work everyday.

Dress with pride

Pyjamas are comfortable. And yet they don’t make you feel as though you can conquer the world. Take a shower. Put some lipstick on if you like to. And take pride in how you look – it affects your work and mentally prepares you for tackling tasks for the day; even if you’re not leaving the house! 

Eat, and eat well

Don’t just grab a cold roll from the fridge – make sure you eat properly to refuel, because you are what you eat! My lunch hour is an hour where I can unwind and relax a little, so I like to plan it in advance so when the clock strikes one, I’ll sit back to read the latest Time magazine, or indulge in a little Mindy’s Project while I eat. I generally avoid snacks in between meals – I like to focus on my work so it’s 3 square meals a day!

Schedule time out

Go out for a run, or take your pet for a walk – it’s important to step away from your desk at certain points of the day. The danger of being a freelancer is that you’re almost always glued to your desk for 14 hours straight, which can quickly lead to burnout. Schedule time out often so that you can see things with fresh eyes.

Aim for a cut-off time, and end it with a ritual

Some people stop working completely at 6. Sometimes I stop work for dinner, before continuing again until 9pm. But I try my best to not work past 10, because I’d be waking up the next day again to do work anyway. So I walk my dogs with my husband after dinner, which often signals the end of my workday. For you it could be a hot bath, dinner, ice cream, or even supper – the point is to have something to look forward to that will physically and mentally signify that you’ve done the best for the day.

Amy Ng blogs at Pikaland, a popular stop for illustration lovers, students and artists who are looking for answers on how to find a balance between art, creativity and commerce.

Posted by Amy Ng on 10/21/15 under artists,business,freelance
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Creating Your Promotional Strategy as an Artist

Thomas James

Thomas James

Thomas James is an Illustrator who has worked with The New York Times, WIRED, Pentagram, Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, and many others. You can see his portfolio at thomasjamesillustration.com.
Thomas James

bells_web2

Do you have a Promotional Strategy?

Promotion plays a major role in the success of your freelance business. In fact, you may find yourself spending more time on this task than any other, even creating art. After all, if you don’t continually find new clients, you won’t have anything to Illustrate aside from your own personal projects, which means you won’t be able to pay your bills.

In order to get the most out of your marketing efforts, it’s important to create a strategy that you’ll follow in the days ahead. That way you can simply execute your plan rather than reinvent your approach again and again.

Here are some common steps involved in a basic promotional strategy that you can consider applying to your own business:

Build a mailing list.

If you’re aiming for a specific market, make sure you’re promoting yourself to the people who work in that field and only show the type of work that fits their needs. To do this, you’ll need to build a targeted mailing list of relevant contacts.

Create and send your marketing materials.

Design promotional items such as business cards, postcards, e-mail newsletter templates, etc. It’s a good idea to try a combination of direct mailings and email marketing to see which methods work best for you.

Announce your arrival.

Immediately send out your promotional materials to establish contact and introduce yourself to your target audience.

Promote on a schedule.

Don’t make the common mistake of sending out one promotional mailer or email and then sit back and wait until somebody contacts you. Keep your marketing efforts on a regular schedule while being careful to not send updates too frequently. Somewhere between every 60 to 90 days is a commonly accepted frequency.

Manage your mailing list.

Add to your list of contacts as you find new potential clients and check the information regularly to be sure that it’s up to date.

Use social networking.

Seek out and introduce yourself to the artists and Art Directors in your target market. Build real relationships with people and become a part of the larger Illustration community.

Making it Work for You

How you apply these concepts to your own business will depend on your budget, your personality, and your available time. If you follow these guidelines when promoting your business, you will have a much better chance of being noticed and remembered amongst a growing sea of Illustrators who are trying to make their mark in the industry.

What’s your promotional strategy?

Posted by Thomas James on 10/19/15 under business
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