Helloooo my fine readers! It’s been a while since I wrote a main post for the blog- I’ve been updating other sections here in the meantime, particularly “Story Corner”, which is totally new and very exciting! If you haven’t had a peek yet, please go ahead- I attempt to update at least every month with a poem or story of my own creation, illustrated of course! They’re all child friendly, and the whole idea behind it is that I want people to share stories with each other more- storytelling is supposed to be an activity that brings people together, after all! (There’s more info on the section itself, take a click in the bar above!)
How is summer going for you? Summer days seem to last forever, so I hope you’re taking some time to enjoy the sunshine!
I was talking to a good friend of mine the other day who had her graduation this week- her hard work was rewarded with her BA in Surface Pattern Design! A huge congratulations to anyone and everyone who won the battle against their degrees this summer, I hope you all had an equally brilliant time surrounded by friends and family- and managed not to throw your hats directly back down into your faces!
She was a little worried, though, as I’m sure a lot of you might be, about that lingering something that’s at the back of your mind throughout your final few weeks at university…
WHAT HAPPENS NOW?!
As it’s exactly a year now since my own graduation, I wanted to write this post for everyone who’s taking that leap of faith from uni into the big, bad world of the creative industries- and hopefully offer you some support with figuring out what you want to do next, with my own experiences since leaving… Mainly focusing on that chicken and egg question, ahem:
DO I LOOK FOR A STABLE JOB? OR DO I FOLLOW MY DREAMS?
(Nb, of course, the choice is often not this black and white. But if you want to go freelance, you might understand what I mean here.)
When I graduated all sparkly-eyed last year, I was worried. Everyone was. For a lot of us, education was the main thing we had known since we were five years old, more if we had attended pre-school. As many of us decided not to continue with the Masters course, it would be the first memorable year in our lives that we wouldn’t have an institution to return to come September; the first year when we would have to create our own routine from scratch.
I can guarantee that no matter how cool and collected your friends may have seemed on the surface, we were all terrified of this. Absolutely knee-knockingly terrified.
Over the next couple of months, a lot of my friends got jobs to fund their artwork. Some had decided after three years of university that illustration was not the direction they wanted to take with their life- they would obviously keep their art as a hobby, but not as a business- and have found great happiness in a completely different direction. Some began part-time work, so they would have enough time to run a small art business as well.
But this began to scare me even more. A lot of the part-time hours went up gradually- the people whose contracts they were often didn’t mind, as they were earning more, and could save lots more for nice things… But after speaking to a few of them, I heard similar answers that amounted to the same thing: “I don’t really draw any more. I don’t have time.”
Art and Illustration was all I wanted to do. Ever since I could draw and knew the words for it. And the idea that another job could take over to the point where I couldn’t draw or paint anymore really shook me up. I looked for creative jobs that might include what I wanted to do (children’s illustration) but most of the jobs I found were a lot more admin or computer-based, and were looking for candidates with a lot more experience than me. I wanted to be right in the thick of it, illustrating picture-books and fiction, so I knew I was probably going to have to freelance it. So I followed my heart on that one, and for almost a whole year, I’ve dedicated all my time to illustrating- improving my skills, and selling work, paintings mainly. (Of course, I’m quite lucky in the fact that I don’t have as many expenses as some of my peers, so the pressure was off a little there.)
It’s been really good, in the main! Anyone who reads this blog often will know that I display my work in a lovely community interest gallery and shop a couple of towns over: they’ve given me some great opportunities that extend beyond my exhibitors fee as well, such as helping to paint a Shaun the Sheep that was donated to a local school as part of the trail that’s just opened in Bristol (thanks Aardman!) using a design from the 8-year-old winner of their design competition. I’ve had great fun doing a Christmas Market and being part of this year’s North Somerset Arts Week show in Portishead- from which I received two commissions from a truly lovely lady- the final paintings were delivered this week and she was very chuffed!
But something that people might not mention about freelancing is that it can sometimes get a little lonely. When you have projects on that you love, and are truly inspired by, you will never feel it. You’re transported, often into the worlds you’re creating- and unless the inspiration runs out, or you’re really hungry, you love working alone because you can hear yourself think so clearly. A huge proportion of my year has been like this.
But it’s when the doubts start that it can become a problem. The day that you feel pressure because you’re not selling as much as you hoped this month, even though next month it’s fine. The day that even after 10 attempts, your drawing just doesn’t look right. The day that you wake up dreading going downstairs to work because your drawing went wrong 10 times yesterday, and why are you even doing this anymore? In most jobs, you will have other people around you as a support network, but unless you have a critique group that you’re a part of, as a freelance illustrator you might be tempted to go it totally alone (sometimes out of pride!)
As someone who feels pressure quite often, this was becoming a problem. I was sticking to my written schedule like glue: if I for some reason hadn’t racked up my 40 hours of work on projects during the week (usually due to other clubs or voluntary things) it would spill into my weekend. I was probably trying to do too much in a day, and then feeling let down that I hadn’t managed it all. I felt pressured because I always like to look ahead- to save for a rainy day, and all my profits were going back into the business.
Around mid-April, when I was handing out leaflets for the North Somerset Arts Week in the local area, it was something that was plaguing my thoughts. Not constantly, of course- there were still lots of days which would fly past and I’d feel happy and accomplished at the end of them- but it was a recurring dilemma when I was feeling bad. Do I get another job to ease my finances and allow me to save a lot more, but risk not having time to draw? Or do I continue being completely freelance, and sometimes being subject to intense worry that this might not work out? I saw a colourful leaflet in one cafe I delivered to that was advertising for “bank staff” at a nearby nursery. I picked it up, initially thinking, “that sounds fun, and could be great inspiration too. I won’t get it, but I can have a look, at least.”
I got in touch. The lady was really lovely, even though their recruitment day had passed she said they were still looking for new bank staff, and that if I’d like an interview, she could set me up with one. I thought of this in the same way I do commissions or projects that don’t work out in the end: “it would be great to try, and great experience, even if it doesn’t work out.” The interview went well. The second part came around, where I had to design an activity to do with some of the children whilst being observed. I had spoken to the interview panel about my other job being an illustrator, which went down brilliantly- so I wrote them a short story about a magic tree, and illustrated it- and encouraged the children to draw their own magic trees at the end (see Story Corner for the full story and image!)
I was offered the job. The manager was lovely: she said she was aware I had another job and that I could say no to them at any time, she asked if I had any preference on days, and she was very happy for me to come in two-three days a week, depending on who needs cover, and keep the other two for my illustrating. I’ve done my first two weeks, and all three of the managers have told me what a fantastic job I’m doing. They had a BBQ yesterday for the staff, and raised a toast to everyone for their help so far this year, and they even invited me. When I asked if they were sure as I had only just started, they said that I was one of the family already.
And this, my friends, is the moment I had been waiting for. It was one of the greatest times since leaving university that I’ve felt respected as an illustrator: they gave me flexibility and pressure-free kindness to flourish. I probably was feeling pressured because I was putting pressure on MYSELF- to draw this, to draw that, to do my accounts because they need doing, to finish that submission BECAUSE YOU WANTED TO FINISH IT BY LAST WEEK AND IT’S TAKING FOREVER, it’s never going to be perfect, so just check it once more and send it how it is!
And you know what- contrary to my worries, this job has actually helped my illustration work like you wouldn’t believe. The children (those hilarious, amazing, lovely children!) are giving me me bucketfuls of new inspiration- they always want me to read them stories, (they have some of the most fantastically written/illustrated books out there in their bookcase, so it also acts as more market research as to what they like!) and I could start a book with the fantastic things they ask or tell me. I’ve junk modelled boats and motorbikes, eaten four pretend icecreams on the trot, sang songs about monkeys and frogs, and had lots of cuddles.
And by observing my kind, lovely and efficient bosses, I’m learning how to be a better boss to myself. I am becoming even more decisive about what I need from my illustration hours each week: I’m almost finished organising my sample folder for Andersen Press full of new work!
In fact- this post has been rather text heavy: so here’s a little sneak peek from my Animal A-Z which will feature a couple of characters in this sample folder! Here is Bertie MacMannon, the Highland Cow- or rather, H is for Highland Cow! (Take a look at my Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/CarinaRobertsIllustration for the other animals!)
So, finally, my advice to all you new graduates who are worriers like me:
Think hard, and follow whatever it is you want to do (and don’t worry, it might well change!) Don’t just take a job because it’s a job. Take a job that will nurture the rest of your life- if you want to illustrate too, like me, make sure it pulls you in the same direction as your artwork, so you don’t feel torn all the time. RESPECT YOURSELF. Don’t accept a job from anyone who is going to milk you for all you’re worth; take illustration work and part/fulltime work that is going to push you, accept you for who you are, and help you succeed. If they don’t respect you, they shouldn’t have you. The same goes for fulltime freelancers- be the boss to yourself that you would want in another person!
And above all- don’t feel like you have to choose between your heart and your head. Sometimes you can follow both, and come to the same endpoint!
Keep going with what brings you joy, I’m rooting for you all!
– The AutumnHobbit
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