10 Things i’ve learned on my freelance journey so far…

It’s pretty much 4 years since I went freelance now. It’s been a brilliant, rewarding experience, and I couldn’t imagine going back to working a ‘proper’ job. I’ve learned a lot since I started out, so I figured it might be a good time to round-up a few of the things I’ve learned so far:

  1. Working from home is tough: It’s hard to get used to being alone all day, it can get pretty lonely and having no-one to bounce ideas off can feel a little frustrating at times. Studio pets are great though and I’ve found it’s been really helpful to get out and see people too. Building up a network of friends and like-minded freelancers to meet up with, swap stories and experiences and even collaborate on projects and exhibitions with helps it feel a bit like you’re part of a bigger community.
  2. Time Management: You’re your own boss and if you want to get paid, you have to keep on track of your own time and put in the hours. Luckily there are ways to combat this, I’ve found tools such as Toggl really useful for keeping track of my time throughout the day and on different tasks and projects.
  3. Keep a record of your projects: It’s a great idea to keep a spreadsheet with all your jobs listed – it’ll help you keep track of clients, jobs, income and invoices, you could even add columns for time taken on a project, purchase order numbers, and any outgoings too. It’ll help you with your tax return at the end of the year, and make quoting for similar projects much easier.
  4. Manage your finances: Life as a freelancer is full of ups and downs, you’ll have a dry spell, wondering whether this is it, then several huge projects will come along at once. To make it easier on your finances, it’s a good idea to put some money aside during the good times, to see you through any rough patches. It’ll make it a much more bearable experience and you can get on with self-initiated work and self promotion without worrying too much about the next pay cheque.
  5. Creating extra income streams: A great way to use spare time is to work on creating extra income streams. Extra income streams support your freelance work and once set up, they can drip-feed you a bit of extra money every month. Examples include an online shop and selling prints and products, having products in local shops, teaching, tutoring, and creating stock imagery, eBooks, or resources.
  6. Create a routine: I’ve found it pretty hard to get set into a daily routine if I’m honest. BUT once I found one that worked for me, I found it a great way to make sure I get stuff done and make time for certain tasks. It means I start work at a reasonable time and stop work before having dinner. It also means I make time for a bit of downtime too.
  7. Downtime is important: It’s really important to take time out for yourself, to relax, unwind and generally take stock. You’ll feel better, happier and more inspired for it. I’ve struggled a fair bit with this, but over the past year or two, have realised that there’s more to life than work.
  8. Do some exercise: It makes you feel better, healthier, happier, more productive and it’s so easy not to do when you’re busy working from home. Last year, I got a Fitbit and realised how little I moved. I’ve since built going for walks (often taking a photo on the way as a little creative task) and doing a bit of exercise into my routine and have felt a lot healthier.
  9. Make time for personal work: It’s really important to make time to do some self-initiated stuff. It fuels your creativity, enables you to play, experiment and try out new ideas and ways of working. It can often lead to some of your best client jobs, and new ways of working can feed into client work too.

    IMG_6676 copy
    I painted this map for fun, but it has led to some of my biggest commissions.
  10. Nurture client relationships: Clients are the lifeblood of your business and word of mouth counts for a lot. A lot of my newer clients have come from recommendations from existing ones, so it’s really important to make a good impression.

‘Yesterday’s World’ Map – Behind the scenes.

Earlier this year, I was approached by the lovely chaps at Creative Sign Co. to produce a visitor map of ‘Yesterday’s World’ – an attraction/museum based in the sunny seaside town of Gt Yarmouth. It’s a fab collection, showcasing old packaging, tradesman’s tools and lots of other weird and wonderful objects. They have a great display of old cameras and even an apothecary too.

Now the project is all finished, I thought it would be nice to share some of the process here.

After a couple of site visits, conversations and hundreds of reference photos, I got to work sketching out a plan of the building, the rooms and areas both upstairs and down, onto squared paper.

Once both floors were planned out, with everything lining up, I transferred the drawing onto isometric paper, where I started working upwards, plotting in the walls and walkways and making sure the map was clear and easy to read. 

I altered the plan on both floors to accommodate the 3D nature of the map, ensuring all areas could still be seen. Once the detail was all roughed in, I scanned it and dropped the drawing into a rough indesign layout and sent it off for approval.

After a couple of inevitable tweaks, I was able to start inking up the final drawing. Using the lightbox I traced over the rough in ink, with crisp lines, adding in more detail as I went. Once inked the drawing was ready to be scanned again, imported into photoshop and coloured up digitally.

For the colouring, I used solid colour layers with vector masks for each of the large areas – the floor, walls etc. This makes the colours far easier to alter once it’s all coloured up. When the base colours are all down, I started painting in the detail, shading etc and when finally happy with it, I dropped it into the indesign layout again, and sent it off to the client for approval.

Once approved, I made the file ‘print ready’ and sent it off to the client.

It’s brilliant seeing the illustrations you’ve worked on in their final environment, in this case, printed as 2x massive panels, to be placed both inside and outside of the attraction, as well as on a printed map and as a downloadable file from their website. This was one of my favourite jobs so far and I had a lot of fun and learned a lot whilst doing it.

The final project can be seen over in my Behance portfolio HERE

Freelance – A Year In

Just over a year ago, I finally took the plunge and ventured out into the big, scary world of the freelancer.
My first new batch of business cards
Despite it being something I’d been considering for a while, the security of having a full-time job kept me from taking that initial leap. In spring 2012 however, the recession finally took its toll and I was made redundant from the little company I’d been working at. This was the push that I’d been waiting for. Rather than rush out to the job centre, I set about preparing myself for a life of freelancing. This was a fantastic opportunity and I was determined to make the most of it. Like they say, when one door closes, another opens.
Luckily, I’d been taking on the odd freelance project in my spare time to satisfy the urge to do my own thing. So already had a taste of what to expect.
Map – Work in progress

Although I had a couple of clients already set up, one of my major fears now was that they would stop giving me work for whatever reason. I was a tad worried about keeping all my eggs in the same basket. So I set about planning how to get some more. It started off gradually, but as the year has progressed, I’ve been gaining more clients. Mostly my enquiries have come through social media, chance meetings, and on the back of personal projects that I’ve undertaken. I feel pretty lucky that I’m yet to implement my plan… though it’s there, waiting, for when I need it.


Lily the studio bird
Working from home was something that I’ve had to get used to. I already had my studio set up in the spare room, so taking on a rented studio space seemed like an unnecessary cost. Although It would be nice to have a space where I could see and talk to other people, working from home has its benefits. You can drink as much tea as humanly possible, wear what you want, and listen to whatever music you feel like. Which is nice. I also got myself a little assistant too, a small parrot, (green cheek conure) who is a welcome distraction when things get a tad stressful.
Another thing that I’ve had to get used to is the lack of routine. There’s no-one to be annoyed if you’re late into work, and no-one to tell you to go home at the end of the day. It’s something I’ve admittedly struggled with to a certain extent, but am hoping I’m finally getting on top of. I’m still working longer hours than before, getting up earlier, and working later too. I still have to learn to put work down.
My skill set has grown with every new project, in order to accomplish the wide variety of projects being sent my way. I’ve learned a lot more about photography, 3D illustration and much more about working in Adobe Illustrator. I’ve also picked up a lot of new crafting techniques, crochet, needle felting and embroidery, as well as doing a bit of woodworking too for various books I’ve worked on. A fair few of these are now things I now want to carry on with in my spare time.
I’ve really enjoyed the journey so far, I’ve done some work I’m dead proud of and projects that I feel incredibly lucky to have been involved in. There’s been times of frustration, sleepless nights and stress, but they’re by far outweighed by the good. The best thing is that I’m now responsible for the work that I do, and that means doing every job to the best of my ability.
I’m incredibly grateful for the people who have given me a break, involved me in their fantastic projects, commissioned maps, illustrations and who have given me the chance to be my own boss.